Somwhere in Jackson County, Wisconsin a woman is teaching her first grade students about gender identity, expression and stereotyping.

If you read the article, it’s pretty basic stuff.  Melissa Bollow Temple reads classic chidlren’s books like William’s Doll to facilitate discussion and challenge ideas about “girls’ toys” vs. “boys toys”.

She teaches the class that it is “OK to be different”. It is okay to have been born elsewhere, to have different colour skin, to dress differently from the people around you.  She asks the class to come up with positive examples of people in their lives who’s behaviour may not always conform to gender stereotypes.  One boy proudly announces that his dad has a purse. “That’s OK,” the child concludes.

She challenges her own behaviour and language. She uses gender neutral language when possible. She avoids dividing her students along gender lines and allows the children to make their own choices about which bathroom they feel comfortable using.

She is awesome.

Many children will grow up with their biological sex and gender identity in concert.  These are the kids we see represented in media and often in our own lives. It’s easy to assume all children are like this.  We might wonder why on earth we would complicated matters by discussing gender beyond the “boy/girl” binary…especially with six-year-olds.

Melissa Temple says, “My own thoughts about gender curriculum shifted when I became a mother.”

My Green Bean is a little boy who, as far as I know, identifies as such. When he was a baby, I saw the way gender stereotypes were thrust upon him.  I also saw how, despite my efforts to offer balanced options in terms of toys, clothes and entertainment, the Bean developed an early, unwavering love of cars, trucks, sports and construction vehicles.

Because he is a boy, he is allowed to enjoy these things in peace. His interests are encouraged and never questioned.  This makes me happy.

What made me less happy was an incident last year, when The Bean announced to his preschool class that his favourite colours were pink and purple.  While his teacher was supportive, his peers stated emphatically and repeatedly that “pink is for girls”. When he told us what his friends had said, both The Man of Mans and I assured him that neither boys nor girls had exclusive rights to any colour.  But it was too late. A few days later, he came home parroting “Pink and purple are for GIRLS!”

His new favourite colour is gold.

But my Bean is still drawn to all things pink and purple.  Left to his own devices he will colour in purple and choose pink clothing.  Once we were at one of those ‘Build Your Own Bear’ places and he stared intently at a lavender specimen before asking, “Is that for girls?”

So, no…it’s not too early. If my little boy wants to play with purple bears or colour with pink crayons, I want him to be able to do so. In peace. I want his peers and the world at large to accept those preferences the same way we accept his rough and tumble play with trucks and soccer balls.

Despite how it may seem, not every child is a “boy” or “girl” in the ways we’re familiar with.  Some children are neither  boys” nor “girls” at all.  I believe those children have the same right to be who they are as the kids who’s gender expressions are comfortably familiar.

My friend, the genius poet Festrell, wrote the following piece called Confessional, which sums it brilliantly:

This room is my confessional
And you are all my witnesses
That I am afraid – I am fucking terrified
To be…a woman

And we are born into this world with certain roles laid out for us
We are born into this world with certain roles laid out for us
And they tell me, “There’s nothing to fear, lil girl,
You just ARE a woman.”
But they are lying through their toothy smiles
Their eyes undressing and oppresing me
Because if it’s all about just BEING a woman
Then how come I can BE a woman BADLY?
How come everything I do and say
Is not the lady-like female way?

And my mam always told me that
“Life is not like a box of chocolates, anak,
How can you even get a husband if you throw your
shoulders back,
Bum out, chin up and SMILE! BE a WOMAN!”
And I go, “Mom, I look like a duck that’s been injected with
Botox”
She doesn’t even know what Botos is, but she shakes her head all
the same
Her eyes asking God why she couldn’t get a REAL daughter
Why instead she got this
Ass-kicking, suit and tie wearing, dungeons-and-dragons-playing,
Mouth like a vacuum-cleaner when she eats
Mouth like a motherfuckin’ Chris Rock on a bad day when she talks
Face like a shitsu, walk like a drunken b-boy,
Romantic like a nymphomaniac, hard liquor-drinkin’
Too smart for her own good
Let’s-fuck-shit-up-and-pick-up-whatever-gender-we-feel-like
Kinda daughter.
The kinda daughter that wasn’t woman enough

Because for her, to be a woman
Meant to shut up, do what you’re told, get a husband, get kids,
Get married, wear a dress, be pretty, be thin, be chaste, be perfect
Let them push you around
Let them push themselves into you
Let them pillage your temple and walk away with the prize
Because for her, to be a woman, meant to be everything
That I was not

So if I’m NOT a woman, then what the fuck am I?
I’m sure as hell am not a man
I mean, I tried to be, but hormones and surgery
Are too expensive and not the way for me
I’m too mannish to be a woman
I’m too girly to be a guy
I’m genderfucked and a genderfucker
And you DARE tell ME
“There’s nothing to fear lil girl, you just ARE woman”
Because we are lying through our toothy smiles
Undressing and oppressing femininity

I am afraid, I am terrfied to be a woman
Because there are little girls out there who want to be ninjas
Little boys out there who want to be geishas
Little girls who just want to travel the world and leave
A string of heartbroken housewives behind them
Little boys who just want to find a good man
Settle down, have some kids
Little boys and little girls the whole world over
Who are being told “throw your shoulders back,
Bum out, chin up, and SMILE! BE a WOMAN! BE a MAN!”

And I am too afraid to participate in this gender binary state
I’m afraid of a world that tell us HOW to be
Instead of acknowledging the ENTIRE SPECTRUM of what it is
to be a WOMAN
And one day, someday, there will be a place for us geeks, freaks and
ninja babes
But until the, until then
This room is my confessional and each and every single fucking
one of you
Are my witnesesses
That I am AFRAID…to be a WOMAN?
And we are born into this world with certain roles laid out for us
We are born into this world with certain roles laid out for us
But sometimes…we just have to find our own damn way.

I read Festrell’s words and I am moved. I hear Ms. Temple’s story and I am grateful that somewhere out there, is a teacher who is making space for ALL of her students.  Hers is a lesson for all of us.

Comments

  1. Nat says:

    I have such a crush on Festrell…

  2. Tina says:

    Awesome, and so true. My daughter favours pink and princesses even though she’s only 2 and has never had a peer group. Where does she get it from? She also plays blocks and cars with her dad (and cooking with both of us). She can make a pizza or a salad and hammer in a nail. She wants to cuddle and bathe her babydolls and make them zoom in her wagon.

    But we have never dressed her in pink. Why does she now love it so? As a feminist I always believed that pink-loving was socialized only, but now that i’m in charge of a whole new human, I’m just not so sure.

    I think it’s more vital to teach confidence and self-reliance, though. I want my kid to have the guts to stand up to her friends, at some point, either in defense of someone else or an ideal, or to assert her own rights to love what she loves, be it pink, purple or blue. And to recognize when people are being treated poorly. Empathy, I guess. Teaching respect for diversity doesn’t quite include empathy for everybody, too. But in a world where my wonderful husband gets crap from other men for being a stay at home dad, we’re far from there.

    • nadinethornhill says:

      But we have never dressed her in pink. Why does she now love it so? As a feminist I always believed that pink-loving was socialized only, but now that i’m in charge of a whole new human, I’m just not so sure.

      I used to feel the same way, or at least I thought typical gender preferences were more socialized than they appear to be. I worried about it for awhile, but as The Bean has grown older, I’m less concerned about where his tastes originated as much as I am about whether they’re authentic.

      I realize that I don’t think that socialization is a bad thing, per se. Humans are social creatures. We influence each other and that’s probably fine. What I object to is when broad trends are perverted into unflexible imperatives. Maybe, generally speaking, girls do tend to like pink and boys like trucks. That’s cool. It’s when it becomes girls HAVE TO like pink, boys HAVE TO like trucks and everyone HAS TO conform to a the familar, dicotomous gender norms that it becomes problematic for me.