Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Raising Kids, Gender and Notes to the Teacher

Earlier today, I was fortunate enough to run across the Twitter account for GOP Teens.  While for a few moments, I thought the site genuine...a more detailed look revealed its satirical posture. In particular, the following tweet resonated because of a recent run in my spouse and I had with our son's elementary school.

Today's #TeenChallenge! #Boys: Wear a #tie to #school. #Girls: Wear your #grandmother's pearls.

Two weeks ago, the kids at the school were encouraged to wear pink or blue in order to predict the sex of the principal's upcoming birth.   As detailed below, this activity troubled my spouse and I and we felt compelled to not let our son participate and to let the school faculty and administration know about our objections.

We did fear, however, we were falling into the echo chamber of our own household conversations and we might be making a mountain out of a molehill...after all, the parents at the playground thought this event as nothing more than innocent fun.  Were we becoming alarmist weirdos finding misogyny at every turn (though, there is quite a bit of it in most corners)? The GOP Teens tweet reaffirmed my sense of (self)-righteousness in this circumstance.  After all, the premise of the tweet is that such a gendered school promotion is a clear smacking of all the negative baggage of traditional sexist stereotyping.

Here's our letter:

We are writing to you because we were rather dismayed by something our son said upon his return home from school this evening. Specifically, he indicated that “he needed to wear pink or blue to school” to reflect whether he thought Dr. X would be having a girl or a boy. While we think it is so lovely that the children would be interested and invested in Dr. X’s pregnancy, and we wish her and her family all of the best, the idea that the children are being encouraged to consciously participate in building gender stereotypes is deeply troubling.

At an age, when the children already appear to be distinguishing themselves and often separating themselves on perceived differences, and where boys and girls often seem to self-segregate, the idea that the school system would be highlighting the differences between the sexes as opposed to the similarities and equating these differences with colors is disheartening.

Ultimately, building such categories of difference creates a foundation for the perpetuation of gender stereotypes and sexism, which are still pervasive throughout our society. We are well aware that contemporary culture through media and commercialism make it almost inescapable for young children to avoid associations of blue with masculinity and pink with femininity. We have a strong feeling no little boy will choose to wear pink because of the stigma associated with masculine (even formative ones) identities becoming contaminated with femininity. Such associations make it seem abnormal for boys to like pink or girls to like blue…potentially dangerous associations when it comes to the formation of self-identity in terms of gender and sexuality.
We strive to teach our children that colors in a crayon box are without gender. It was quite troubling to see how upset our son became when we indicated that he would not be dressing in this way.
We very much hope that the children are also producing artwork and other items to send their positive thoughts to Dr. X. Again, we wish her and her family the very best. We just strongly feel that what may seem like an innocent behavior to request of the children is ultimately reinforcing pervasively negative stereotypes within our society as the pink and blue ascribe, essentialize and stratify gendered identities.
We felt it important to raise these concerns with you. We are very concerned and that our son may be quite sensitive to this topic tomorrow and we ask that you discuss it with care and be mindful that he may feel incredibly left out. We were quite torn about how to respond to this situation but in the end felt it better to try and teach him an important larger life lesson than go along with something that for the above reasons we strongly disagree with.
Torso and Oblong 

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