“Loyola Gives” While Keeping With Your Social Justice Sensibilities

Posted on: January 20th, 2016

Around December, many Loyola departments participate in “Loyola Gives,” a holiday-time campaign to buy Christmas gifts for needy families. This year I was responsible for shopping for a four-year-old girl in the Gannon Center’s adopted family.


Predictably, this girl’s wish-list included all things princess: Elsa and Anna from “Frozen,” Princess Sofia, and Barbie. The who’s who of little girls. Seeking to fulfill her Christmas wishes, I dutifully perused the Target toy aisles.


And I perused and perused. In fact, I made several laps of the aisles, seeking to find something – anything – that would delight this girl and yet not terribly offend my social justice sensibilities.


More than the princesses themselves, it was the accompanying merchandise that bothered me, for these toys primarily consisted of various forms of beautification: dress up in a gown and heels like Princess Sofia, carry a matching purse to Barbie’s, bejewel your own tiara like Elsa’s. Whereas the “boy” aisles included options to construct buildings, drive cars, spar with swords, and throw balls, the “girl” toys focused almost exclusively on emulating their idols’ physical appearance – a sense of beauty, I might add, that is largely white, thin, and overly-sexualized.


As I continued my laps of the toy aisles, it struck me that this shopping experience was a quite apt analogy for how I see social justice in my work in the Gannon Center.

In so many important ways, we have made great progress toward recognizing the dignity and equality of women. In the U.S., women vote, go to college, serve in the military, lead companies, and so much more. It is not unusual, particularly in academic circles, to hear public discussions of resisting sexism and gender stereotypes. Target itself made headlines this fall for removing the pink and blue backings on their toy aisles, seeking to diminish the gendered nature of children’s toys. As such, particularly since women’s enrollment in college now surpasses men’s, it may even seem anachronistic for a university to have a women’s leadership program.


Yet, as evidenced so clearly in the Target toy aisles, young women today are still socialized in what it means to “be” women – to be passive agents, to value beauty over brains, to minimize their abilities and contributions. (This is not to mention the values of aggression and violence engrained in our young men, a topic for another post.) Women, even those most unapologetically feminist and most academically and professionally ambitious, arrive at college having lived amidst and no doubt been shaped by these pervasive social messages.


A key aspect of my work with the students the Gannon Center serves, therefore, is to challenge these subtle, entrenched attitudes and to encourage students to do the same. For me, this is a social justice imperative – to ensure that our young women are not only afforded equal opportunities but also that they are empowered and enabled to pursue them.


This work reminds me of lines from the famous Oscar Romero prayer: “We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.” By fostering college women who are passionate and knowledgeable about leadership dynamics and social justice issues, we hope to engender a society in which little girls have more options for Christmas than princesses.


Thanks, Target, for reminding me that we still have more work to do.

By Sarah Hallett

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