Friday, August 31, 2012

Fighting the Preschool Gender Police

Good Heavens, the gender policing starts early! What kills me is the extent to which it is done by the kids themselves - and I'm talking about preschoolers here. SchmoopyBoy was once told by one of the little girls in his class that he could play with her and another girl later but now they were doing "girl stuff". Another time a little boy told my husband, as he applied sunscreen to SchmoopyBoy's face, that he shouldn't use that sunscreen, that it was for girls, because there was a picture of a sun on the container that looked feminine to him. The last straw came one day when I was picking up SchmoopyBoy from school, and he wanted a story before we left. I started to read an I Spy book from the class collection. One of the little girls joined us. On one page the book read "I spy ballet slippers" and as we scanned the page for the ballet slippers the little girl said "That is for girls."

I could not let that go. I had to correct her. "Actually, boys dance ballet too. They wear different shoes than girls, but ballet is for both girls and boys."

The next time I came to pick SchmoopyBoy up, I made a point of bringing in a picture of myself and a male dancer from back in my younger ballet dancing days. I searched out the girl and showed her that there was both a girl and a boy ballet dancer, but they were wearing different ballet slippers. Needless to say, once it got out that I had a picture of ballet dancers, everybody in the class wanted to see it - both the girls and the boys. So all the kids in the class got a lesson that day.

The teacher was thrilled. I had spoken with her before about my concerns about how gender was or was not presented and enforced in the class. I do believe we are on the same page, but the children bring the ideas to class that they have learned at home. When she hears something like what I described above, she addresses it, but she can't always hear everything. She mentioned she would love to have pictures of girls and boys doing things associated primarily with one or the other gender, similar to the photo I brought in, so I volunteered to provide her with some. I sent her:

pictures of male and female ballet dancers,

pictures of a princess and a prince,

pictures of male and female doctors,

pictures of male and female astronauts,

pictures of male and female teachers, and

pictures of male and female police officers.

She sent me a note of appreciation:
I appreciate your taking time to find the pictures for me. As teachers, we have many ideas we would like to do but don't have the time. We can use the pictures in many different ways. Thank you for also finding not just male/female pictures but also pictures that had people of different ethnicities and ages.

Yes, the different ethnicities, that too was no accident. All children, be they male or female, regardless of their heritage, should be able to see representations of themselves. I think it is important for children to be told "You can be anything you want when you grown up" and also see examples of people who look like them who have accomplished their goals - to perhaps see a future version of themselves in these representations.

I would like to think that I have helped plant a seed of thought in that little girl, and possibly other kids in the class. They responded so positively to the one ballet picture I brought in. I don't know how the teacher is using the other pictures I sent her. Hopefully the children will respond positively when they see those pictures as well.

1 comment:

  1. So glad you're fighting the good fight! The gender policing that starts in preschool just kills me. Before preschool, Mikko had no idea it might be odd to wear pink or dance ballet or hold a doll, but his peers tried to set him straight. Sigh. I'm just glad he mostly ignored them. But I still get the shivers when I walk into toy stores and see the aisles of toys for girls (pink! dolls! household implements!) and boys (dark! action! superhero! vehicles!).

    Anyway, I love the pictures you found. I remember when we were at the midwife's for one of my prenatal checkups that Mikko was really interested in the stethoscope and other instruments. While he was playing with them, we all said something to the effect of, "Maybe he'll be a doctor one day." And then I almost choked on it. Why not "a midwife" someday? Or a nurse, like his great-uncle?