About Me

My photo
Lake Charles, Louisiana, United States
Hello, and welcome to my blog! I like to write about children's literature, fandom studies, video games, feminism, and pop culture in general. I've recently earned my Ph.D. in children's literature ( Fall 2012) at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. I also teach English (composition, British literature, and women's literature) at Sowela Technical Community College. Oh, and I like cats! [Banner image artwork by Yuki Midorikawa]

Sunday, October 23, 2011

When I was a boy

I love, love, love Melissa Bollow Tempel's article in Rethinking Schools about teaching and encouraging gender variance in the classroom. Tempel talks about both her experiences as a mother and a teacher in dealing with children who defy gender stereotype. Her primary example is a student named Allison who prefers to go by "Alie." While Alie identifies as a girl, she is not comfortable appearing as one. Does this mean Alie secretly wants to be a boy?

If a girl dresses as a boy, does that mean she is transgender or lesbian? Sadly, few people understand the difference between gender identity and sexuality. Parents forbid boys from playing with dolls, wearing dresses, or painting their nails hot pink, not because they're afraid other children will ridicule these young gender deviantsthough that is inevitably the excuse that is givenbut because they fear such behavior can influence a child's sexuality.

Forward-thinking teachers and parents like Tempel have so much to undo when they broach the topic of gender variance with young children. Children are not born homophobic, nor are they born to reach for gender-specific toys and clothing. These learned behaviors lead to even more hate and discrimination outside of the classroom, and cause the gulf between genders to only widen.

How often do we conform to learned gender behavior in our everyday lives? As Tempel points out, how many teachers ask children to line up according to gender. "Boys in this line and girls in this one!" "Whites in this one and Blacks and Browns in this one!" "Christians in this one and Non-Christians in this one!" Why are we so accepting of human variancein many case, we even joyfully celebrate our differences, and rightly soexcept when it comes to gender?

As beautiful as books like William's Doll and The Paper Bag Princess are, I find it sad that there is such a great need for these kinds of books. Why deny a child who wants to take on the pretend roll of a parent, to nurture and love a doll? Why discourage another child from being brave and adventurous simply because she is a girl?

Toy makers capitalize on young children's early identity crises and advertise to them (in place of their parents), convincing them that if they wish to be "normal" then they had best play only with those toys that are gender appropriate. But the blame cannot be placed solely at the feet of companies like Disney, whose brilliant Disney Princess marketing brand has earned them in excess of 4 billion dollars. We can either wait for our children to be as brave as Alie, who chose on her own to become a gender deviant ... or we can teach children to be brave. We can show them that men can wear nail polish and women can drive Harley's. We can explain that sometimes boys can have boyfriends, and that it's no different or better than boys having girlfriends ... or girls having girlfriends, too.

In parting, the article reminded me of a song I used to love (and still love): "When I was a boy" by Dar Williams. Enjoy: YouTube

No comments:

Post a Comment