The conversation continues around safe spaces with my young students. This time, talking about power and influence in spaces and how that changes the impression of safety. If you ask the average 14 year old whether they have any power or influence, the chances are, they’re gonna say NO, NONE, not at all, none whatsoever, ok, well maybe over my little brother.
I start the conversation about Power and Influence (emphasis required) by asking the girls to place a number of name cards in order of most to least power, as they see the world (this is an activity I stole off the facilitator of a young women’s consultation, THANKS!). The cards say Girl, Boy, Young Man, Young Woman, Adult Man, Adult Woman, Old Man, Old Woman, Police, Honourable (elected leaders), Chief (unelected leaders) and God.
Once they’ve rated the cards, we discuss why they put who where and then I ask them to rearrange them according to how they THINK it should be. This is always interesting and can really bring out some of the hidden fears, prejudices and thought processes of the young Australian woman. In one group, the participants had all the men above the women in their ideal world and when questioned, their reasoning was along the lines of “men earn more money”, “men have better jobs”, “men are stronger”. Of course I agreed that, that was the CURRENT situation, but did they think it SHOULD be the situation. They looked at me blankly as if a world where men did not hold all the power, privilege and opportunity was just entirely beyond their mental grasp. In another group however, they placed Honourable and Police first, then piled everyone else up on top of each other in a big mess and had Girl and Boy underneath. This was a really fascinating and creative way of saying, “everyone has different levels of power based on different criteria that are just too hard to sort out in this 1.5 hour session – BUT we do know that elected officials and the long arm of the law should have some level of power of the rest of us and that children should not be expected or required to carry any level of power or responsibility”. They didn’t say it quite that succinctly, but that’s essentially what they meant. In this exercise there’s always a few girls who want to give the women all the power because they feel like the balance needs to be redressed with some serious positive discrimination before any kind of equality can be reached. I really love these girls because they seem to have a really good understanding of the depth to which women are discriminated against in the world and are ready to be radical and extreme to fix it. I think I like them because they remind me of myself, indignant, independent and unafraid of pissing people off. Maybe they would behave differently in a different classroom (eg: a classroom with boys, or with an official teacher) but when they’re with me, they feel confident to just go all out and name prejudice and discrimination for what it is, which is really refreshing.
I use this activity for a number of reasons;
a) it’s a good way of introducing the concept of “power” into the conversation which gives the girls context and structure in which to discuss with each other their own interpretations of power in their lives.
b) it usually leads on to great conversations about power dynamics between men and women and across the ages. The girls can usually start discussing how adults, young people and old people have different power based on life cycle, experience, money and knowledge which is the first step to understanding the complexities of power in society.
c) it’s a group based, practical activity which is particularly good with a group who are reticent to speak directly to a “teacher” but are happier conversing amongst themselves and then leads on to direct questioning about the groups decisions which are easier questions to answer than open ended discussion topics.
I sometimes wish I could video, or at least audio, record these conversations. I think I would find it endlessly educational to go over what the girls had said, and endlessly useful to have concrete transcripts to return to when planning my lessons and programs. I try to remember to do things like take photos of the results and note comments of particular interest but in the fast paced flow of conversation and debate it’s hard to remember and mostly, the moments of clarity and exceptional brilliance are lost into the ether with only the faintest memory in my mind. Which is why I try to keep this “diary” a record of my successes and failures in the big scary world of the teenage girl.
Until next time, when I start the conversation on Influence. A far more complex and conflicting discussion to be sure!
Image “power” used under Creative Commons license from atomicshark