For the last couple of weeks, I have had appointments with small groups of children to discuss gender and gender stereotypes. I drew a chart with boy on one side and girl on the other. At first drawing this felt really wrong, because I believe gender is a spectrum, not at all this binary list of “boy or “girl”. But the reality is, most of the information they receive throughout the day and in our world is very binary. I really wanted figure out where they were at and to meet them there. The first day, I asked, “Do you think there are certain things that are boy things and certain things that are girl things?” At first they all laughed and said “No! Everyone can play with everything!”
Then one child spoke up, “Wait… actually I know of something. Rocket ships, Legos and superheros are boy things.” The reaction of the other children was mixed. Some children agreed while some children offered examples of girls who loved these things. RR said that she plays Legos all the time and OR told us that his sister loved girl super heroes. The conversation went on like this. One child would say something was specific to a certain gender and other children would offer examples to prove the statement false.
Children who initially spoke up against these stereotypes begun to unload their own ideas of boy and girl. On the girl side initially was girl superheros, riding bikes, pink, red, dresses and long hair. On the boy side was rocket ships, boy superheros, action figures, Legos, riding bikes, basketball, blue, playing guitar, short hair. I was shocked (but not that shocked) at these initial reactions but I felt really hopeful because they were each willing to listen to each other and change their minds. We went through each thing on the list and I asked, “Is it true that only girls like pink?” Each time they decided most things were not specific to gender. The list ended up looking almost identical on each side. When we were done with our conversation, I opened up the drawing table and RR immediately went the to table to draw-
The next week (last week) I had a conversation with some of the children from the week before and some children new to the conversation. We talked about some of the things that were on the initial list of boy and girl things. These things were not true. These things were gender “stereotypes”. I explained a gender stereotype as “a story about a certain gender that isn’t always true.” Most of them thought of many ways in which they both fit their gender stereotype and broke their gender stereo type. We wrote down some of the ways we broke gender stereotypes:
MH plays with legos, RR likes pretending she’s a boy in games sometimes, KM sometimes wears “boy” clothes, SS puts lipstick on, AW sometimes wears his princess dress and both SS and AW’s favorite color is purple. Then we thought of other people who we have known or have seen that break gender stereotypes. MH’s brother wears purple onsies, SS saw a woman with a beard and mustache and a girl skateboarding.
SS suggested that we draw people who are breaking gender stereotypes-
This week my focus has been asking them to turn inward to really think about their own gender. So far we have talked about preferred gender pronouns and started on our gender self portraits. This topic is so big and already such a huge part of the their inner dialog about who they are and what they can be in this world. It’s both saddening and motivating. I want children to be able to stick up for others who may not fit into their box or any box. I want each child to feel like they can be everything they want to be.