Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Who wears the pants in this family?

In the spirit of challenging old ideas, today's post will deviate from our usual food and exercise format.

This morning I read a very intriguing article:  It's Okay to Be Neither.   As an educator myself, I have to applaud this woman's approach to tenderly understanding and accepting her students, and her efforts to teach them without bias.  I was particularly fascinated by her choice to avoid grouping her students by gender, but instead by a rotating set of variables (“If you like popsicles, line up here. If you like ice cream, line up here.")

The true root of feminism, I believe, is refusing to be limited by gender stereotypes.  Now, I do not believe men and women are supposed to be the same.  We are different.  I believe our differences are complementary and wonderful.  But why can't we teach all kids that being a nurturer is a valuable attribute?  Or that learning the skills to be a good provider is important for both boys and girls?
The first week of kindergarten, my younger daughter’s teacher told me that she had a heated argument with a boy while they played dress up. “She insisted that boys can wear dresses if they want to,” the teacher told me.
I'll admit, I'm not sure I'm ready to see men wearing dresses to work/church/play.*    However, there's a principle here that I can't ignore.  What if, during imaginary play, children were taught that no one need be ashamed to wear the dress?  Quite possibly, we would raise a generation in which men who spend time with their children are known as "fathers" and not "babysitters", who value their wives and the responsibilities a parent takes on.  Women who choose staying at home to raise and teach their children would not feel like second-class humans for being "just a mom".  And for those who are afraid of what this might do to a child's sexual orientation, I don't believe that allowing a boy to pretend to be a mom makes him gay any more than I believe that allowing a girl to wear pants makes her a lesbian.  Sexual orientation isn't grown in such a way.

Within the Crossfit community, blasting through nonsensical gender stereotypes is part of the package.  It's not preached, it's just the way it is.  Lifting heavy isn't just for men.  Women can be both strong and feminine.  Everyone is encouraged to work hard and to cheer each other on.

When I was young, I was a "girlie girl", so the prevalent gender stereotypes of the day were not a hard sell.  However, whenever I wanted to play with my brothers' Tonka trucks, I was told that girls don't play with those, and I was steered back to my dolls and dress-ups.  As a teenager, I had a great desire to play drumset, and to learn to skateboard.  My mom discouraged me from those pursuits, because they weren't "ladylike".  I didn't rebel.

What if, instead of wasting time teaching (however unwittingly) "boys do this" and "girls do that", we taught all kids to be kind and loving?  What if we taught boys and girls that bullying is not to be tolerated and differences are to be celebrated?  In reality, Ms. Melissa's article was never about sexual orientation, but about providing a safe environment for all children to learn -- not just about reading and math and art, but about how to behave and interact with so many different people in a world rich with diversity.
My job is not to judge, but to teach, and I can’t teach if the students in my class are distracted or uncomfortable. My job is also about preparing students to be a part of our society, ready to work and play with all kinds of people. 
I like her style.

*(Although, in ancient society, everyone wore "dresses".  And when trousers were invented, men quickly claimed them as male-only attire and women who attempted to wear them were scorned.  Now, women may freely wear trousers, but men's dresses have been relegated to the closets of female impersonators and transvestites.  But I digress.)

1 comment:

  1. My mother-in-law always wanted to play with trains, she became an electrical engineer.

    In my sister-in-law's family, the girls made dinner and the boys did the dishes (it is what worked in their schedules). When in elementary school (a couple of decades ago), one of the boys professed that it was the boy's role to do dishes. Needless to say, that caused quite a stir in the classroom.