Just came home from dropping dd at preschool where she told a boy who had fallen in some mud, "Boys and mud go together, and bruises." Fortunately I was standing next to dd and said, "I know some girls who get muddy and bruises too." She looked up and said, "That's me!" I think I need to talk to this teacher about gender and stereotypes, but I need help. I love this teacher, she's smart and creative and adores the kids. She takes them outside a lot, gives them unstructured time and plenty of room to be themselves. But I think maybe she just hasn't thought about gender much. She regularly separates boys and girls for no particular reason, eg always puts worksheets with their names on them in 2 rows, boys and girls; lines them up for pictures as boys and girls; etc etc etc. We live in a rural area where gender differences are assumed to be universal. I do know of one other mom of a boy who has mentioned some of these issues to me, but I don't know if she's ever talked about them with the teacher. I'm thinking about maybe finding some links to some very basic articles about gender and how stereotypes affect children, perhaps . . . and just telling her I found this, thought it was interesting, something like that . . . I already told her about the school in Sweden where they do everything gender-neutrally, and the teacher was completely clueless about why they would want to do that! And the other parents standing around thought it was a terrible thing to do to those poor children . . .Anybody have any suggestions or links?
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help with talking to preschool teacher about genderpost #1 of 363/12/12 at 8:35amThread Starterpost #2 of 363/12/12 at 10:56am
I would just talk to her, expressing your concerns in a friendly way. I live in a rural area with similar issues, and I haven't had much luck with the "Here's an article to consider" approach. The teacher may disagree with you completely, but knowing that you are watching her might change her behavior some. That may be the best you can hope for. I would be very specific about the kinds of statements/practices you are wishing she'd avoid. (For example, I recently expressed to a family member how much I dislike the phrase "girly girl," and why. It will be hard for that person to use that phrase in my presence without knowing it bothers me.)
Good luck with this.post #3 of 363/12/12 at 12:38pm
Piling their papers boy/girl is likely an easier and more efficient way for the kids to find their work... instead of looking through 20 papers, they just look through 10. Lining them up for pictures, saying boys in one line, girls in another is a fast and easy way to make two lines and get that picture done before everyone get cranky. You may have other more valid examples but those two, I actually see as an efficiency tool more than anything. The fact that this teacher encourages outdoor play and allows them to really be themselves is more telling to the type of environment your child is in than the fact that she breaks the kids up by sex in these instances.
Trust what you teach your child at home. If you are secure in your beliefs, your child will be too. Preschoolers categorize. It's what they do. It's their way of making sense of the world. Saying that boys and mud go together is not the same as saying girls can't like mud. It's just an observation and she's not exactly wrong for having it. Boys and girls do play differently and there are some biological reasons why they do. Boys do tend more towards mud and injuries at that age. Are their exceptions? Of course! There are plenty of boys who love dress-up and girls who smash cars together! However, the ability to recognize all the shades of gray develops as a child matures and gets more experience in the world. Your response was just right and that will stick more with her than being in the girl line for pictures.
Consider donating some books to the class library. "Horace and Morris but Mostly Delores" is a great book about boys and girls choosing what they like as opposed to choosing what they are told to like. How about "Do Princesses wear Hiking Boots" or "You Forgot Your Skirt Amelia Bloomer" though "Amelia Bloomer" is a little wordy for your average preschool circle time.
It never hurts to have a conversation with the teacher on the matter but sometimes we have to choose our battles. Unless she's breaking the kids up by sex and sending the boys to the legos and the girls to the play kitchen, I wouldn't worry about it too much. If you love everything else about this teacher, this may not be the hill to die on.post #4 of 363/12/12 at 1:13pmpost #5 of 363/12/12 at 2:57pm
I think that whatsnextmom makes a good point, that often these things are done unthinkingly out of convenience, but I don't think they should be. It is just as easy to say, all the kids who like green here, all the kid who like red over here ( or dogs/cats) etc. Just because it's a habit doesn't make it a good habit. Most kids are forming their ideas of gender and gender norms at this age, it is prime time to challenge their beliefs and reconsider. Many people who identify as gay or with non-traditional gender roles say that around kindergarten was when they started to really notice they were different. This age group is already rife with attitudes like girls don't like cars and boys can't play dolls, there is no need to throw fuel on that fire.
I"m also rural, and I've been trying to make a difference in this in my school. I think that all those kids that are so lost when they're teens have spent a whole lot of life feeling like an outsider, before they got to the highschool gay-straight alliances and such. And, when my dd came home asking for a new lunch kit because people made fun of her for being a girl with a "cars" lunch box I felt sad for her, and angry for all girls who want a Cars lunchbox (or whatever!). ( Good thing they didn't see her underwear! lol ) It doesn't matter how strong I am in my beliefs, the clear message on the playground is different and there's nothing I can say to change that. At best she learns that not everyone thinks like us; at worst she learns that everyone thinks differently than us. Either way, she learns that there are for sure some places in the world where she will be punished on some level for being who she is, even at a sheltered 'safe' place like school.
This article is fabulous http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/26_01/26_01_tempel.shtml
and these are some good reading resources:
A few more recent books ( My Princess Boy, 10,000 Dresses to name 2 great ones) are missing from this list but it's pretty comprehensive. I found that the library at my school was pretty receptive to buying books suggested by parents, especially more inclusive ones. I also brought the issue of gender norms up at the Parent council meeting, and have done a bit of networking with some teachers as well. I'm trying to get a poster project underway but it's hard to coordinate people - the ones who are interested of course have a gajillion things on the go.post #6 of 363/12/12 at 5:22pmQuote:
It does matter though. Kids make choices at certain periods of their lives to fit in but that doesn't mean those are life choices. In preschool, boys and girls spend a lot of time trying to identify what is "for girls" and what is "for boys." It passes. In 4th grade, boys and girls start getting teased for playing together. That passes too. Lots of girls become name brand fashion hounds in middle school and again that passes as well. We all went through it and yet it seems like there are plenty of capable and free-thinking females on board. Most kids come back to their roots when raised in a communicative and rational manner. What you say matters and that is really the ONLY thing you can totally control in your child's life.
I know, newer parents really hate this sort of talk. I do understand the fear and worry. I'm just saying that you don't have as much to fear as you think. Look around... this isn't the 50's. We've hit the point where girls are statistically doing better in school, more are going to college than boys and they are out there in the work force doing things they are passionate about. How many girls do you really meet that feel their only option is to be housewives? I haven't met any. If anything, it's the boys we need to stress about who are being drugged up for ADHD at higher and higher levels because they don't work as well in the female dominated elementary school system that values female behavioral traits over boys now.
Boys and Girls are different... thank goodness. They are equally capable but they are different. Kids are going to recognize that and they may even point out what they see. They go through phases that make you wonder if they have EVER listened to ANYTHING you ever said. Then they turn around and make you proud. I know, it's not what anyone wants to hear when their kids are 4 and 5 but give it 10 years, you'll worry less about boy and girl lines.post #7 of 363/12/12 at 5:26pmpost #8 of 363/12/12 at 9:15pmQuote:
I'm not sure what this has to do with being bullied. No, my DD hasn't been bullied for being different. She's pretty bully proof despite having plenty of targetable traits. My DS was bullied for years resulting in pulling him out of a school program he loved. He wasn't bullied due to gender issues but bullied just the same
The OP likes this teacher. She seems to like her a lot. It doesn't sound like there are lots of options. So the teacher has the kids line up by sex, that's hardly the same as berating and bullying a child for gender differences and we do ourselves a real disservice when we suggest they are.
If your child is having such issues, I highly recommend interest based activities that support them. DD's a classroom aide in a theatre and she has a transgender child in her class. He's totally accepted in that environment. I grew up in theatre as have my kids and it's a real oasis for different children. The arts in general are a good place to start.post #9 of 363/12/12 at 9:39pmThread Starter
Thanks for all the input. Donating books to the class library is a great idea. I love the rethinking schools article.
Have to go with Jen on dividing by gender as a convenience. I'd hate to make the teacher's very challenging job less convenient, but I don't see the need to emphasize the differences between boys and girls.
I know the women's studies I took in college was a long time ago, so I'm trying to find some more recent stuff on boy/girl differences. Not finding much that convinces me either way. But I still think that it's a slippery slope from "boys and girls are different," to "How are they different?" to "Boys are like this and girls are like that," then "Boys SHOULD be like this, girls SHOULD be like that." Every time a girl is girly or a boy is rambunctious, somebody says, "See, girls and boys really are different!" If a boy is girly, nobody says, "Oh, maybe they're not so different after all," they say, "That weird boy is acting like a girl." And yes, I do think it is generally much harder for boys than girls, it's just that my kids happen to be girls.
True, women don't expect to be housewives anymore (though every at-home parent in my kid's playgroup is a mom), but I think it's mostly economic.
Interesting article here about how women are still sorely underrepresented in technology and math fields, even in spite of the fact that they perform better in school in general and go to college at a higher rate.
Jen, here's an article that might be of interest to you. I'm hesitant to give it to my kid's teacher, though, because I don't want her to take it negatively.
Welcoming more comments.post #10 of 363/12/12 at 10:03pmpost #11 of 363/13/12 at 5:23amQuote:
I really disagree with you. Boy papers on one table and girl papers on the other table doesn't lead to bullying and suicide. I suspect that teens who do end up committing suicide over gender/sexual orientation issues are far more troubled by how their parents have reacted to them than how their preschool teacher distributed papers.post #12 of 363/13/12 at 6:44amQuote:Originally Posted by Linda on the move
I really disagree with you. Boy papers on one table and girl papers on the other table doesn't lead to bullying and suicide. I suspect that teens who do end up committing suicide over gender/sexual orientation issues are far more troubled by how their parents have reacted to them than how their preschool teacher distributed papers.
But what is the process that leads parents to reject children who do not conform to gender roles? Separating worksheets by sex (as well as other similar activities) has apparently made an impression on the OP's child. I'm not saying that the OP's child will grow up to expect rigid gender roles in her children, but that's because her mother (and hopefully other influences, like books she reads) is challenging these constructs. You can't just say "no big deal" and not address it and assume she will magically understand that gender roles are actually not rigid despite input otherwise. And if queer bullying doesn't start with a rigid view of gender, then what?post #13 of 363/13/12 at 8:41am
I'm not saying that that one act of separating papers by boys and girls causes bullying and suicide - I'm saying that institutionalizing what is gender normal, and underlining the differences between boys and girls when we know that not everyone fits neatly into those categories, is the starting point for bullying and suicide. It would be horrifying to most parents if their children were told to line up by skin color or religion; there is no doubt that sorting people by these criteria is prejudicial. Why would sorting by any other significant means not be prejudicial as well? Sorting by boy/girl makes sense because it is widely accepted that those are the only 2 options. By not creating space for other gender ideas when we know they exist we perpetuate the stereotypes. Girls are separated from the boys and repeatedly told they belong in the girls group, so their need to attach finds similarities between the group and they act to become more like the group. Girls who do not fit well in the group get identified as different, and start to become an outsider. My daughter doesn't have any gender issues that I'm aware of, but she avoids mentioning that she loves "Cars" at school and at playgroups. She gets teased for loving the color orange instead of pink. She prefers to hang with a couple of the quieter boys, and gets teased for that. Fortunately she is a pretty solid, well balanced and socially competent little kid, and it pretty much rolls off her back. I can see her change her behavior tho, and I can see how a more sensitive kid, or a kid who really was struggling with gender issues could feel left out and stigmatized. I've seen my kids come home struggling with wanting to play with the boys, or with one of their friends being teased because he wanted to play with the girls. I know they make choices of clothes and accessories based on whether they are going to get bugged about it or not. It would be unnatural for them not to. They are all reacting perfectly normally to the system they have been put in.
ETA: so far as queer kids being more troubled by their parents than their peers, that is a cop out. For starters, several of the kids who have committed suicide for being bullied have said in their blogs or suicide notes that they have been loved and accepted by their families and close friends, and have been described by others as loved and well supported. It appears that the sense that they would never fit in outside of their group was overwhelming, or in some cases that they would never be able to get away from their tormentor(s). Certainly some kids, maybe even many kids, with gender issues have trouble being understood at home but to use that to discount how they are also not being understood at school is missing the point.post #14 of 363/13/12 at 9:09amQuote:
It think we'll need to pick this discussion up in 10 years. Your child is young and you are clearly passionate and very worried about outside influences but until you see how strong your children are, I don't think you'll understand where I'm coming from. I was raised a vegetarian and an atheist and have been raising 2 children the same. On top of that both my kids are unusual and break all sorts of gender and age stereotypes as did I growing up. I send my kids to school everyday where they are bombarded with ideas we don't prescribe to and yet, they hold strong to what we as a family feel is right. The trick really is confidence and rational thinking. My children come across a person telling them they'll go to hell, that they'll get sick from not eating meat or that someone their age shouldn't be able to do that and they see fear, ignorance and insecurity. They come home to rational conversation, the ability to recognize and respect other beliefs, compassion for what motivates others, an educated position on their own beliefs and parents who trust them to make good choices... fearmongering and cluelessness can't compete with that. I know that even if my children grow to make different choices that they'll at least be ones they have really thought about and that they will continue to be good people.
The bullying of gay people stems from fear... the fear that we are all so weak that any influence can change us. When we give SO much power to how papers are stacked, we feed right into that mentality. There are so many battles to be fought but we can't fight them with more fear. We fight them by raising children who think for themselves despite outside influences not stressing over what line they stand in. It's slower progress but it's progress that really matters. In our family, we talk about "cards." We know that if we fight EVERY infraction, that we will just turn into white noise and no one will listen. We'll just be "that family" who freaks out over everything. However, if we are play our cards when it really matters, we get real results that make the most difference. When the kids come home frustrated we'll say "is it worth a card"... sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't.
Edited by whatsnextmom - 3/13/12 at 9:31ampost #15 of 363/13/12 at 9:13ampost #16 of 363/13/12 at 9:33ampost #17 of 363/13/12 at 9:48am
Well, I'm still not sure if it was me you meant to call "clearly passionate" etc. (I just joined the discussion and threw in my two cents) but I do agree with the others that separating children by sex is problematic. The OP's child is proof that it does actually resonate with them. I think it's a fair analogy to say that separating children by race also makes a big statement about how to classify people, and few would find it appropriate.
I don't think anyone is saying that lining up boys and girls immediately leads to bullying as a direct causal effect. But this is another brick in the wall, so to speak, and certainly worth talking about. Also, for some boys and girls (not the OP's DD, apparently), this act is directly problematic. Gender is not strictly binary. Some children do not conform, and that can indeed lead directly to bullying when they are forced to declare their gender (and when the declaration does not fit with social expectations). Ask some of the mamas right here on MDC, this isn't a theoretical problem but a real one.post #18 of 363/13/12 at 9:53am
I haven't read all the responses in detail (although I think that suicide isn't necessarily an endpoint, gender bullying does start in school and teachers can play an important role in preventing that), but this article might be helpful for the OP.post #19 of 363/13/12 at 9:54am
Whatsnextmom- Your assertion that this is a young parent issue, and that we'll all see the light in 10 years is dismissive. You have no idea how new a mom I am, or what other experience I am basing my comments on. I shouldn't have to tell you that my eldest is 22 for you to consider that my comments might be valid, or at the very least not a result of inexperience. Frankly, I'm not especially worried about my kids; I don't like that they are exposed to this stuff, and I am going to talk about it and try and change it, but they'll be fine. I'm far more worried about the kids who go home to parents who freak out when their boy wants to wear nail polish, and that my community and my world seems to think that it's ok to marginalize people who have different genders or understanding of gender roles. We all have a responsibility to make our world a safe place, to reduce bias and to let children know they are loved.
(edited for clarity)
Edited by Jen Muise - 3/13/12 at 11:34ampost #20 of 363/13/12 at 12:15pmThread StarterQuote:
Hm. Didn't know I was acting so much from fear. Will have to think about that. And I definitely don't want to get into a battle, wouldn't do that unless a situation was very extreme, to say the least. Mostly I was wondering about ways to open a conversation about gender with an open-minded person who perhaps hasn't thought about it very much. This conversation is giving me lots to think about. Thanks to everyone.
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