There’s a good article in the Times this week about challenging gender stereotypes and allowing kids to just be who they are in school:
At the Park Day School in Oakland, teachers are taught a gender-neutral vocabulary and are urged to line up students by sneaker color rather than by gender. “We are careful not to create a situation where students are being boxed in,” said Tom Little, the school’s director. “We allow them to move back and forth until something feels right.”
Nothing wrong with that.
I’ve never understood the overwhelming need for adults to push children into narrow gender roles before the kids themselves even really understand what those roles mean. There’s nothing about a dress or nailpolish that requires a vagina; there’s nothing about Tonka trucks or cops & robbers that requires a penis. Kids aren’t born neurotic about their gender orientation. Many little boys play dress-up in women’s clothes, just like little girls. I hardly think that’s damaging. And I don’t see the point in trying to force a five-year-old into a restrictive identity that limits how he or she can enjoy him/herself.
From the article, it seems that many parents are more concerned about how their child will be treated by the outside world than about the fact that their child wants to dress in a gender-variant way. That’s certainly understandable. No one wants their child to be ostracized, and no parent wants to set their child up for (at best) teasing and (at worst) physical assault or even murder.
The answer, I hope, will come from shifting the social adherence to gender roles, not from forcing children to conform to things that are essentially constructed and relatively inauthentic in the first place (but certainly still “real” in practice). But the adults who defend pushing children into the social roles matching their biological sex do so on the grounds of “protecting” them — when it actually seems that what they’re protecting is their own discomfort.
But it’s coming along, and allowing children to have any more fluidity in their gender identity is unquestionably the right decision. It sure is a step forward from this:
Catherine Tuerk, a nurse-psychotherapist at the children’s hospital in Washington and the mother of a gender-variant child in the 1970s, says parents are still left to find their own way. She recalls how therapists urged her to steer her son into psychoanalysis and “hypermasculine activities” like karate. She said she and her husband became “gender cops.”
“It was always, ‘You’re not kicking the ball hard enough,’ ” she said.
Ms. Tuerk’s son, now 30, is gay and a father, and her own thinking has evolved since she was a young parent. “People are beginning to understand this seems to be something that happens,” she said. “But there was a whole lifetime of feeling we could never leave him alone.”
Thanks to Shannon for pointing this article out.
- Why fix the problem when we can push for a feel-good policy that won’t work? by Sheelzebub October 31, 2006
- The Gender Education Achievement Gap: how it used to be, what changed, what “they” say, what researchers say, and the way forward by tigtog March 26, 2013
- What the “Boy Crisis” is Masking by zuzu August 17, 2006
- Working Girl by Jill November 1, 2007
- How to write about lady-scientists (e.g., stuff they cook that ISN’T dinner) by Caperton April 2, 2013