Sunday Reflections: The Living History Museum Project Taught Me It’s Harder to Smash the Patriarchy Than I Thought
Years ago when The Teen was in the 4th grade, I was introduced to the Living History Museum Project. This is a project where the kids are asked to research a historical person, put together a presentation board, dress the like person and then act like the person as if they are in a museum.
When our family was first introduced to the project, I was livid because the girls received a pink piece of paper with their all female choices and the boys were given a blue piece of paper with their all male choices. I wrote a post several years ago about this and I’m happy to say, this year my child received a white piece of paper with several choices both male and female. That’s progress and I appreciate it. In fact, this post is not about the school or the teachers. It’s about how we internalize misogyny and the patriarchy and don’t even realize it.
So Thing 2, a space loving kid who wants to be an astronaut, choose Sally Ride. She read books on Sally Ride. She already had an astronaut costume to wear because she wears it almost daily. We were excited and ready to go. She wrote a speech, rehearsed it and then asked me to watch her give a sample presentation. She put on her costume, stood their like a statue and asked me to “push the button” so she could give her speech.
“Sally Ride was born . . . . She was the American woman in space . . . Her mission was . . . She married . . . She died . . .”
They had to give five facts and those were her five facts. When she was born, two facts about her career in space, when and who she married and when she died.
Here’s an interesting fact about Sally Ride. It is true, in 1982 she married fellow astronaut Steve Hawley. They later divorced in 1987, so they were married about 5 years. However, she later had a life partner for 27 years named Tam O’Shaughnessy. O’Shaughnessy was Sally Ride’s partner at the time of her death.
We live in a home where we talk openly and often about feminism. I feel like I have taught my daugthers a lot about thinking critically about the ways that we talk about and portray women in media. I am raising little feminists. And as feminists we’re very open and affirming of the LGBTQ community. Our dinner time conversations often involve talking about things like the news and the media we consume.
And I know that Thing 2 is listening. I recently bought her a boxed set of I Survived books and she laid them all out on the floor to look at them. “Mom, come here,” I heard her yell from the other room, “Do you see what’s wrong with these books?” I looked and then she explained, “They all have boys on the covers. There are no girls on the covers of any of these books.”
And yet, when asked to do this assignment and find five critical facts about Sally Ride to share, one of those facts involved Sally Ride being married to a man for five years. She passed over a ton of Sally Ride’s accomplishments in space and science and choose to highlight that Sally Ride was married to a man. I can’t help but thing about all the important facts she neglected in order to highlight this one fact.
So here’s the thing I keep thinking about this: there’s still a lot of work to do. My kids are intelligent, informed kids who have been taught to think critically about how we talk about and portray women, but there’s still a lot of work to do. I’m going to keep doing the work because they deserve it.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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