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“Sometimes my uncle wears black nail polish.” The students took a moment to think about this.
December 21, 2011 6:37 AM   Subscribe

One teacher's approach to preventing gender bullying in a classroom.
posted by desjardins (88 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite

 
Murse?

This is wonderful. I'm glad this woman is doing this. It's not enough though. She's in a position where these kids are likely to trust her implicitly and so she can do a lot of good. But her power to form their thoughts and opinions is nothing compared to the power that their peers will wield in five to ten years. And those other kids won't have had Ms. Melissa and will have internalized gender norms, homophobia and all sorts of other baggage from their parents.

We can't fight this just in elementary schools. Which, of course, isn't to say that we shouldn't be fighting it in elementary schools as well, but it's too tempting to read this and believe that, because of his experience with Ms. Melissa, little Andrew won't fall in line and jeer "faggot" along with his friends at the effete boys in high school.
posted by 256 at 6:47 AM on December 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've felt compelled to at least click "like" every time a different Facebook friend shares this.

The more this sort of acceptance is taught early, the less bullying there will be -- and fewer screwed up, confused, scared, ashamed people there will be. I really wish someone had told me at a young age that gender is a combination of how people feel and a set of social conventions, and it's okay to be a little weird.
posted by Foosnark at 6:48 AM on December 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well that was just delightful. Someone get that woman a cupcake and a rainbow.
posted by kavasa at 7:01 AM on December 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


Does she know she is a girl?” she yelled, and announced she would never buy her clothes again.

Forget gender studies, etc... are people in this day and age seriously unfamiliar with he concept of tomboys?
posted by empath at 7:03 AM on December 21, 2011 [22 favorites]


I would like this person to be my daughter's teacher, immediately. Thanks.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:06 AM on December 21, 2011


I think this is a great thing. But I also wonder how much "out of gender box" behavior is based on attention seeking. By encouraging acceptance, a good thing, people who get attention because they don't follow traditional stereotypes might seek new means for attention.

In grade school my friend's younger brother used to wear his mom's cloths and run through the house. If we had ignored that as "normal", what would he have done next to get our attention? What if it was physically harmful to himself or others?

Make sure that the children who are bending gender rules are doing so because they are interested in what they're doing, and not just doing it because they're interested in getting attention. And if they're looking for attention make sure they're doing things worthy of attention and give them the appropriate amounts of attention. Over doing it can cause even bigger problems.
posted by LoudMusic at 7:08 AM on December 21, 2011


"The more this sort of acceptance is taught early, the less bullying there will be -- and fewer screwed up, confused, scared, ashamed people there will be."

I want that to be true, I really do, but I don't think it will be. Good on her for trying, but it's like abstinence only sex ed. Kids don't listen, they don't care. I seriously doubt any of this will make any difference. I have kids in my family between 22 and 2 (not all my own obviously) and most all of them went to Williamsville schools. That's the school district of Jamey Rodemeyer. My kids are in the elementary school that feeds his high school. Have nieces are in the junior high. And the others are in the high school. I've seen the non stop antibullying programs that are drilled into all these kids in all three schools. Signs are EVERYWHERE and have been for years and years. The kids have it in class regularly, all the time, constantly. The teachers really do try. From top to bottom the district does what it can, puts on a good show, and most of the teachers take it seriously. Kids are kids. Kids are mean, kids are intolerant, kids are honeybadgers. Kids are just awful. They don't give a shit what we tell them. I don't belive this is learned from adults. I don't believe it's because they're rich or poor. It's just how they are. I will spend the next 20 years trying my best to stop my all kids from being the bully at school, and support them as best I can if they are on the other side, like I was.

(I really don't mean to sound like an old miserable bastard here, but I know that's how this reads, so be it.)
posted by Blake at 7:09 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I showed off the pictures on the hallway bulletin board around the words “It’s OK to Be Different.”

How dare they brainwash children with such liberal nonsense? Has someone called Fox News yet? Maybe they have, say, two minutes they can fill talking about this teacher.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 7:10 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wish I could be happier about this, and this woman is clearly a great teacher, but all I can think is that the publicity around what she's doing will cause parental complaints, and that this article's spread on Facebook is just going to lead to lots of publicity for parents in her classes saying things like "My son is a boy's boy, and that's how we raised him, and we don't think this woman should be interfering with our family's values by teaching him to 'tolerate' behavior we don't approve of!"

My bet: in a year or less, this woman is out of the classroom for good, working at some sort of anti-bullying nonprofit.

On preview: glad it's not just me, Philosopher Dirtbike.
posted by Wylla at 7:13 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


If we had ignored that as "normal", what would he have done next to get our attention?

In general, it doesn't actually work that way. If the child was acting out, ignoring the behavior (and rewarding 'conforming' behavior) teaches the child that acting out doesn't get them any attention, positive or negative. If the child is acting out, punishing the child teaches them that acting out gets them attention (even if it is negative).

However, on the off chance that the child ISN'T acting out, ignoring the behavior has no negatives while punishing it has significant ones.
posted by muddgirl at 7:17 AM on December 21, 2011 [11 favorites]


As a bullied, gender nonconforming child, this would've meant a lot to me.
posted by Lieber Frau at 7:22 AM on December 21, 2011 [18 favorites]


I think this is a great thing. But I also wonder how much "out of gender box" behavior is based on attention seeking. By encouraging acceptance, a good thing, people who get attention because they don't follow traditional stereotypes might seek new means for attention.

This has not been my lived experience, nor does it well describe the gender-nonconforming children I know. I would find it pretty awful if - for example - one little kid's skirt-wearing was punished/shamed on the assumption that it was attention-seeking rather than just "hey, the kid likes wearing this glittery skirt, because many people historically have enjoyed wearing glittery, flowing garments".

I personally will never, ever forget when I got my hair cut short my father's miserable and angry voice when he told me, "You're all butched up". Or when I got in trouble for "dressing like a witch" because I wore a black skirt and a dark purple shirt together, something that had not even occurred to me to be any different from wearing a dark skirt and a light shirt. I'm sure my parents viewed those things as "attention-seeking" because after all, I was being different and in our [honestly, otherwise pretty loving and supportive and generally happy] house, looking different was by definition considered to be selfish and attention-whorish.

I went through a lot of anxiety about figuring out the unspoken social rules [which has always been hard for me] so that I would not accidentally violate them. Even now, I'm super flinchy about nuance. (And I'm still gender-variant, so there.) And I'm also a giant clothes-horse. You can try to take away the butch haircut and the big shoes, but as soon as the kid has her own money and her own shoe storage and clippers, you are totally SOL. And your kid will never talk to you about that stuff ever again.
posted by Frowner at 7:24 AM on December 21, 2011 [34 favorites]


Immense thanks to people like this.
posted by odinsdream at 7:26 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Someone get that woman a cupcake and a rainbow.

Maybe she would prefer a truck or a wrench set.....
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:27 AM on December 21, 2011 [26 favorites]


I wish I could be happier about this, and this woman is clearly a great teacher, but all I can think is that the publicity around what she's doing will cause parental complaints, and that this article's spread on Facebook is just going to lead to lots of publicity for parents in her classes saying things like "My son is a boy's boy, and that's how we raised him, and we don't think this woman should be interfering with our family's values by teaching him to 'tolerate' behavior we don't approve of!"


people with biases will always complain when spaces become more open/safer for a more diverse range of expressions, people and behaviors. ultimately they do not get to "win." i think this is certainly an area where openness and safety for kids and their gender fluidity/identities is going to "win."
posted by anya32 at 7:29 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


This might not help with bullying, but this may help bullied kids know that the bullying is wrong. That can help a lot.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:31 AM on December 21, 2011 [15 favorites]


empath, I'm not sure what difference familiarity with the concept of tomboys is meant to make. I copped plenty of nonsense in school from teachers and other students for having minimal interest in playing with the girls at recess, and I doubt that many of them, were unfamiliar with the concept of tomboys. I wasn't even the kind of tomboy that necessarily wanted boyish hair and clothes, either, I just wanted to play soccer rather than jump rope. Seeing people step outside of gender expectations is deeply uncomfortable for many people, even if they do have some kind of intellectual knowledge of or models for it. (And as much grief as I took, it was nowhere near as bad as what got dished out to the boys who were more interested in hanging out with the girls. Tomboys may be marginally acceptable -- as long as they grow out of it eventually -- but boys who wanted to play "girl games" were not.)

Kids do learn models for gendered behavior young. I got into -- not quite a fight, really, but at least a spirited exchange -- with a four-year-old I was babysitting because we were playing safari and I wanted the woman doll to drive the Land Rover that was taking the sick animals to the animal hospital. He wanted the man doll to drive. He REALLY wanted the man doll to drive, to the point of insisting that the woman doll couldn't. And the funny thing was, his parents were non-traditional and extremely progressive (his mother made a point of gently sticking up for me one time when her more-traditionally-brought-up niece was commenting negatively about the purple streaks I had in my hair at the time). When I mentioned the exchange to his mother in the "here are the funny things the kids did today" debrief, she said "Huh. You know, I guess when we're going places in the car as a family, it is mostly his father who drives. Funny that that happens, and that he latched on to it like that." So, yes, it's work to undo that kind of thinking, and it sounds to me like this teacher has hit on a good way to start teaching children critical thinking skills, empathy and self-confidence. One teacher, one class, one step in the right direction.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:31 AM on December 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Actually, the best part of this was the end, where a parent thanked her when his/her son asked for a Baby Alive doll and didn't care if it was for girls. It maybe says something about generational shift or where she lives or whatever, but clearly an important part of teaching kids to think critically about gender is to have parents who won't freak out at the idea that their kids might be thinking critically about gender.
posted by LMGM at 7:32 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


One other point to consider: the name of the blog refers to Jackson County, Wisconsin. This is a rural county in the west-central part of the state; the lone city (Black River Falls) only has 3,600 residents. It's also the administrative home of the [Native American] Ho-Chunk Nation.

The author of this piece teaches at a bilingual school in Milwaukee, but this rural teacher is sharing the lessons with her own community. When you're thinking about this kind of support only existing in larger cities, or places with visible, active communities of LGBT folks, this is even better news.
posted by Madamina at 7:33 AM on December 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


Children at this age are extremely open to this... but it's also extremely easy for the to be pushed back the other way. It need to be emphasized in every classroom, all the way to 12th grade, and teachers need to be trained... it's not something that comes naturally to most of us. A couple of observations, as a teacher:

I'm really surprised that she can line up the children by gender... in both of the districts I've worked for, that was strictly against the rules, and I don't know anyone who did it.

I'm male and have long hair, and I usually have this conversation with my first-graders at the beginning of the year because one asks me why I have long hair even though I'm a boy. My answer is along the lines of "Because I choose to," and we go from there.

Sometimes, though, they'll all ignore the fact that I have long hair and say it about some male student... say it to me, even, like, "Mr. Huck500, only girls have long hair, right?" while looking right at me. That makes me laugh.

I've even, no joke, had a boy with long hair say to a classmate that only girls have long hair. It's a conversation I have many times throughout the year, even with the same child, and it can be about my hair, about what toys they play with, about who they play with, etc. It takes some work.

I have a boy this year who's big, athletic, and popular, and he says all the time that his favorite color is pink. All the other boys accept this without question, and some of them have started saying the same thing. This has actually been a 'thing' at my school for a few years, and the upper-grade boys soccer team (yes, I know, separate soccer teams) chose to have their t-shirts printed in pink - the ones they wear when playing against other schools.

This is in a very affluent, conservative area, but the moms at our school, even though they conform very heavily to gender roles themselves in most cases, also support efforts to de-emphasize them in their children. I had a mom share a picture of her son wearing a Disney Princess dress... she showed it to me and other moms kind of defiantly, but everyone thought it was cute.

The element that's missing, though, is a standardized policy and program in all schools, the continuation into Jr. High and High School, and also training for the teachers. There are still teachers who joke about the boy who's into showtunes in the teacher's lounge, and while that doesn't necessarily translate into the classroom, it probably means they aren't dealing with it positively.

I think we're heading in the right direction, but, as always, things could be moving more quickly.
posted by Huck500 at 7:35 AM on December 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


This is first grade. Six-year-olds.

If this teacher has so much gender bullying going on that she feels she has to do this, she has much bigger problems to fix than the actual gender bullying. Like, basic day-to-day, moment-to-moment classroom management.

If you find yourself stuck in a hole, step one is to stop digging.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:37 AM on December 21, 2011


I love when people on MeFi threads have such fatalistic attitudes..."it's not enough, though" and "I want this to be true, but I don't think it will be." Look, one teacher doing something positive in one classroom isn't going to stop world wide bullying. But you're wrong if you think there isn't more attention paid to bullying and its effects these days than there was when I was a kid (granted, that was 40 years ago, but still). Every little bit helps. And maybe in 40 more years, it will be that much better. I'm sharing the article and maybe that will help, too.
posted by Kokopuff at 7:38 AM on December 21, 2011 [16 favorites]


On one hand I am heartbroken that in the 21st century we still have to have the conversation that gendered toys and stereotypes are ridiculous. The idea that you still have to clearly state boys can play with dolls and girls can like to play toy cars is saddening and I really thought that we would have gotten past it by now.

On the other hand, I'm delighted that a teacher is stepping up and helping children find out that they can be who they want. Really, little girls that prefer to wear jeans and t-shirts and play soccer and with toy cars shouldn't have to justify it. And little boys who like to play with dolls and carry purses shouldn't have to justify it. This continued and prolonged insistence that wearing some type of clothes and liking specific types of games has anything to do with gender hurts everyone.
posted by teleri025 at 7:39 AM on December 21, 2011


If this teacher has so much gender bullying going on that she feels she has to do this, she has much bigger problems to fix than the actual gender bullying.

That's not true. Gender bullying is a part of what many people consider to be "normal" child behavior. You could have a perfectly "managed" classroom, from one perspective, but still have gender bullying.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 7:41 AM on December 21, 2011 [17 favorites]


I call my man purse a backpack.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:42 AM on December 21, 2011


Good on her. She could have decided that since it wouldn't fix everything everywhere, it wasn't worth the effort, and not bothered. But she didn't, and she's making an impact on people. Kudos, and I hope more people take from her example.
posted by sandraregina at 7:42 AM on December 21, 2011


You could have a perfectly "managed" classroom, from one perspective, but still have gender bullying.

Yeah, but you know what you'd also have at that point? A better perspective on the actual problem.

Why do we insist that the problems are always systemic, and not "You're actually just not very good at doing your job, so fix that first and then come talk to me about the systemic problems."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:47 AM on December 21, 2011



If this teacher has so much gender bullying going on that she feels she has to do this, she has much bigger problems to fix than the actual gender bullying. Like, basic day-to-day, moment-to-moment classroom management.


This is classroom management. Sticker charts and counting and redirects might stop the kids from saying this stuff out loud (or where the teacher can hear) but actually addressing the attitudes behind the bullying is more effective.

I am just impressed that she found the time in her day to do this. It's not often that a teacher actually gets to choose something to teach anymore.
posted by that's how you get ants at 7:48 AM on December 21, 2011 [13 favorites]


If this teacher has so much gender bullying going on that she feels she has to do this, she has much bigger problems to fix than the actual gender bullying. Like, basic day-to-day, moment-to-moment classroom management.

Please tell me you're not a teacher...
posted by Huck500 at 7:50 AM on December 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


I will never forget the teachers who told me that I brought my bullying on myself. "Don't give them fuel for the fire." And I'm 40. This stuff digs in, deep, and any adult voice against it that a kid hears is a good thing even if it isn't a magic bullet.
posted by JoanArkham at 7:51 AM on December 21, 2011 [12 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell, what are you basing your judgment of incompetence on? Do you have evidence, or is this an assumption you're making?
posted by facetious at 7:52 AM on December 21, 2011


But I also wonder how much "out of gender box" behavior is based on attention seeking.

Or maybe they actually honestly feel that mud and trucks and snakes and dinosaurs are cool and Barbies are stupid and they totally hate everything pink and won't wear it ever*.



*I am now secure enough in my masculinity that I have come to accept pink. But only as an accent color.
posted by louche mustachio at 7:55 AM on December 21, 2011


I love when people on MeFi threads have such fatalistic attitudes...

I know it comes off that way, but I'm really sincere when I say that what this woman is doing is wonderful and I want to see more of it and I know that every little bit helps.

It's just that I don't think this problem can be solved entirely in the elementary school classroom and too often it seems like that's the only place we're trying to solve it.
posted by 256 at 7:55 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Someone get that woman a cupcake and a rainbow.

Maybe she would prefer a truck or a wrench set....
.

cupcakes and rainbows are clearly gender neutral. My male SO likes cupcakes so much more than I do, and my grandfather adored rainbows.
posted by jb at 7:56 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why do we insist that the problems are always systemic, and not "You're actually just not very good at doing your job, so fix that first and then come talk to me about the systemic problems."

I honestly have no idea what you are trying to say. In what universe is helping children understand that people are different, and that they should accept those differences, possibly be a sign of incompetence?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 8:00 AM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow, I had no idea "it's okay to be different" was still such a controversial message. Much less on Metafilter.
posted by chaiminda at 8:00 AM on December 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Christ, the sturm und drang fatalism and inability to appreciate victories here is so tiresome. I realize the internet is a perfect breeding environment for snark and scorn but I wish people would acknowledge what a destructive surrender that cynicism is when it comes to large societal changes.

It's laziness, and it's used as a defense by so many people for doing NOTHING. Oh, it's just so small, so little, it won't matter if I ignore it this time, if I don't speak up here, if I throw this trash out the window, if I don't ask about that bruise, if I don't go vote this time. Refusing the see the larger victory in the 0.000000001% this contributes to it is the exact opposite side of that surrender coinage. It's the fuel of complacency.

Everyone wants the Rosa Parks moment but fuck all the little tiny things that led up to it and all the small efforts that followed through on it. That's bullshit. The saying "if you're not part of the solution then you're part of the problem" is exactly about every person who sniffs at positive action as not enough on its own. Fuck you.
posted by phearlez at 8:02 AM on December 21, 2011 [47 favorites]


You know what, phearlez. You're right. I picture these kids in ten years and imagine that most of them will have long since forgot and failed to internalize this message and it makes me want to guard against the complacency that can come from considering this sort of thing too much of a victory.

But fuck that. Some of them will remember and will internalize it, at least a little, and over time that's how we win. I hereby retract and apologize for my doom and glooming.
posted by 256 at 8:16 AM on December 21, 2011 [11 favorites]


Forget gender studies, etc... are people in this day and age seriously unfamiliar with he concept of tomboys?

They would prefer the old-fashioned way of dealing with tomboys: shame and pressure them into wearing dresses, and ignore how unhappy this makes them and the fact that it never EVER works the way the nosy gender conformist expects it to. Denial.
posted by General Tonic at 8:26 AM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I love hearing stuff like this. I do find the boy/girl lines so super-emphasized these days in other aspects of society (I personally think it's partially rooted in a backlash to the increasing openness and toleration in many areas, such as women's rights and gay rights) but I truly feel that even if these children are only hearing this message from their teacher, it plants a seed against the messages they're hearing everywhere else, that may eventually grow and display an alternative. It only takes a little bit to open a mind.

Taking the time to be thoughtful with young children, teaching them to analyze and question what surrounds them is such a good thing. The boy/girl axis is pretty important to little kids and they absorb it on every level. A bit of time with careful presentation can reap loads of difference and tolerance. And starting so young is crucial, I have found, while the concepts are still malleable, and have not been absorbed into their unconscious reactions.

Honestly I'm glad to see elementary schools focusing more on bullying and social skills these days - when I was growing up this stuff was brushed off with "kids will be kids". This is not to say it doesn't happen still - of course it does - but I see a lot more diversity and tolerance in these things at my children's school than I experienced at mine. Even small things like older boys kissing and hugging their parents goodbye at the door without acting embarrassed - it's all signs of hope to me that eventually these messages will overpower the backlash.
posted by flex at 8:33 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


People -- adults and kids -- love to divide the population up by petty bullshit, so I really don't think attacking the attitudes is going to help, because you will always run up against kids, supported by their equally judgmental parents, that disagree vehemently. And, well, they're entitled to think that "boys should be like this; girls should be like that." What they aren't entitled to do is to bully other people into conforming, or send their little soldiers out into the world to do likewise. So attacking the behaviour is about all I think people can reasonably do.

It's also not just gender-related stuff. People have all kinds of hangups and create unnecessary restrictions based on appearance of all kinds. Granted, the gender stuff is what gets people weirdly angry and aggressive.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:38 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cool Papa Bell, I seem to recall you frequently playing the contrarian in several FPPs that attempt to discuss the social myth of a gender binary. Is there a particular reason for this?
posted by odinsdream at 8:39 AM on December 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


They would prefer the old-fashioned way of dealing with tomboys: shame and pressure them into wearing dresses, and ignore how unhappy this makes them and the fact that it never EVER works the way the nosy gender conformist expects it to. Denial.

Another one of those "everyone family isn't like this?" moments, because there was never even a hint of negative connotation to "tomboy" in my family.

posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:40 AM on December 21, 2011


I visualized Allie on her special day, excitedly ripping open gifts in front of her family and friends only to find, again and again, the gifts were things that she would never be comfortable with.

This teacher seems to be reading a whole lot into someone being what we used to call a "tomboy".
Do they not have tomboys anymore?
posted by madajb at 8:44 AM on December 21, 2011


I'm starting to wonder about tomboys too. I was a huge tomboy, I still am. I haven't seen many young girls these days who are tomboyish. In fact, I see more girls who dress like their mothers (could this be a cultural thing?).
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 8:48 AM on December 21, 2011



I really enjoyed this piece. First of all, yays to the teacher for addressing the issue and incorporating it into her lesson plan.

When I taught, I had a student that I thought was a boy. I was disabused of that issue by other students in the class. "Miss, that's a girl!" I apologized and in a quiet moment we discussed how she wanted to be addressed. We had an honest discussion (you can do that in high school) and we rolled from there. Some times it's not so much a gender issue as a "what can I do to make you comfortable in my classroom" issue.

I'd like to say that we have come such a long way in a very short period of time, and there is so much further we have to go. I am confident that as long as small steps like these are being made, that one day gender variance, etc will be as controversial as oatmeal.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:50 AM on December 21, 2011


Leaving aside the question of whether the "gender normal" kids in the classroom will be permanently affected by this teaching (who knows?), it's valuable to those students who don't fall into that category. Acceptance and validation from an important adult at this stage of their lives can sustain a person through a lot of difficult times later.
posted by tuesdayschild at 8:56 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just to be clear, I think what this teacher is doing (in a rural school district) is a good thing....I am just not sure that the person (in a big city) who has so widely deseminated this on the internet has done her a service.

I suspect that having this story go viral is more likely to result in this (easily identifiable) teacher losing her job (and going to work at a nonprofit in a big city because its hard to get another teaching job once you've lost one due to a parent outcry) than it is likely to result in other teachers adopting her methods.

So I am not trying to be negative toward this teacher and what she's doing or be the posterchild for Metafilter ironic dismissal, or anything.

"I'm starting to wonder about tomboys too. I was a huge tomboy, I still am. I haven't seen many young girls these days who are tomboyish. In fact, I see more girls who dress like their mothers (could this be a cultural thing?)."

Ms. Moonlight, it might just be the communities that I've lived in recently (big cities in the US and UK), but in my experience, tomboyishness is far more stigmatised now than it was when I was a kid in the 80s. Anything less than a Disney-princess obsession is taken to mean that the little girl in question is "making herself ugly" or "bolshy" and will be spending the rest of her life alone. (I hear very little homophobia, no assumptions that tomboy = lesbian or transexual, just the assumption that even slightly gender-nonconforming girls are going to be failed heterosexuals.)

Playgrounds near where i live are full of little boys playing on swings and climbing frames while little girls sit quietly in their dresses on the bottom rungs. Parents who let their little girls dress like tomboys from the 80s (or even those who let them wear, say, jeans and a purple t-shirt) are fairly stigmatised, told that their children will be lonely misfits, etc. Again, anecdotal, and probably unrelated to this teacher's and her students' experiences in a different setting...but still surprising for me to see in this day and age!
posted by Wylla at 8:56 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


so much gender bullying going on

"Gender bullying" really encompasses everything from the stink-eye from going into the "wrong" bathroom, to the constant stream of familial disappointment for not liking the "right" things (especially when they are presents), to, yes, out-right harassment from one's peers.

When you're gender non-normative, pretty much every facet of every day life carries with it a sting of some sort. It's definitely enough to add up to put even first-graders into a constant state of distress.
posted by Wossname at 9:00 AM on December 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


i don't remember tomboys having an easy time of it or them getting off the hook for "failing" to be feminine. i mean, yeah, i'm sure people are aware of what a tomboy is, maybe they just think it's shitty.
posted by beefetish at 9:01 AM on December 21, 2011


This teacher seems to be reading a whole lot into someone being what we used to call a "tomboy".
Do they not have tomboys anymore?


The kid's own grandmother screamed "Does she know she's a girl?" and then said she'd never buy her granddaughter clothes again. Sure, it's a bit much to imagine that the kid would be disappointed at every gift ever, but it sounds like much more than "Oh, there's a girl who dresses like a boy". It's like "Oh, there's a girl who dresses like a boy and who people routinely mistake for a boy and whose own grandmother makes her think that she's failing at being a girl." Ughghghhg.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:04 AM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, I applaud this teacher for promoting acceptance in this way.

I am FTM. Everyone in my family, friend, and professional circles has been super supportive throughout my transition. But many of them were not accepting, at first.

A major reason why? They were not accepting mainly because they thought other people would not be accepting. "No, you can't come out, what would grandpa think?!" Turns out, grandpa proudly introduces me as his grandson whenever we're out together.

I had been so worried about his reaction and other people's reaction to his reaction... that I delayed my transition by about 10 years. Which sucked a LOT, lemme tell ya.

What a fucking vicious circle it can be if you don't make the effort to break it.
posted by Wossname at 9:16 AM on December 21, 2011 [14 favorites]


It's like "Oh, there's a girl who dresses like a boy and who people routinely mistake for a boy and whose own grandmother makes her think that she's failing at being a girl." Ughghghhg.

My own wife used to go visit her father in jeans and sneakers and come back in frilly dresses courtesy of her stepmother.
I think every family has a family member who doesn't get "it", whatever "it" may be. That doesn't mean anyone is scarred for life.

Maybe it's just been too long since I've been in elementary school, but I can't imagine anyone giving more than 5 seconds thought to a girl who regularly wore pants or t-shirts.
Hell, in my childhood, the default uniform was jeans for everyone (except for those corduroy days, but the less said about them, the better).

It just seems to me that there's a lot of mountain of a molehill going on here, but second-guessing someone who is there everyday is something I am reluctant to do as well.
posted by madajb at 9:21 AM on December 21, 2011


“What if she doesn’t like pink?” I thought. “What if she likes tigers and dinosaurs?”

I totally endorse her position in this paper, I have a daughter and I'm constantly faced with all sorts of unfortunate assumptions about her. So, I get it (as much as a pretty privileged dude can).

But pink wearing pink, frilly stuff and like dinosaurs are totally not mutually exclusive. My daughter can attest to that.
posted by oddman at 9:24 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interestingly enough, in one of those odd coincidences, the theme of the Sesame Street on right now has everyone learning that it is ok for boys (in this case Telly and Baby Bear) to play with dolls.

So, hey, Sesame Street is on the case!
posted by madajb at 9:24 AM on December 21, 2011


One of the interesting--and challenging--things about this kind of story is that the kids who really bring the issue to fore (like the 'tomboy' girl in this story) are actually *not* kids who are remotely interested in disrupting or breaking gender norms--they just want to swap teams. It's not that Allie doesn't see some things as "girl" things and some things as "boy" things--it's that she wants to wear the "boy" things and actively doesn't want the "girl" things. That is, she is just as invested in there being a rigid set of coding for what constitutes "boyish" and "girlish" as her grandmother is--she just wants to be able to apply the code to herself in a nontypical way.

None of this is to criticize the teacher or what she's doing, of course--she sounds like a fabulous and caring teacher. But there's a curious mismatch between her diagnosis of the problem (OMG, you can only buy pink clothes for little girls and clothes with rocketships all over them for little boys) and the case that actually forces her to address the issue of gender stereotyping. Most of the little boys I know who are heavily invested in wearing girls clothes (and for whatever random reason I happen to know several) have no interest whatsoever in challenging the idea that girls should like pretty pink princessy things and boys should like rocketships and trucks and tractors etc. They just want to be girls--and the more girly a girl the better.
posted by yoink at 9:28 AM on December 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I also became very aware of using the phrase “boys and girls” to address my students. Instead, I used gender-neutral terms like “students” or “children.” At first, the more I thought about it, the more often I’d say “boys and girls.” I tried not to be too hard on myself when I slipped, and eventually I got out of the habit and used “students” regularly.

Oh, wow. I'd never thought about this. Making a note to remove "ladies and gentlemen," from my classroom vocabulary. Thinking hard about "guys." "Folks" is good... Gotta start leaking more on "folks." I know there are transgender students in our student body, but I don't know precisely who they are, so, thank you for the article. It will help me be more mindful.
posted by BrashTech at 9:35 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Oh, heavens. Gotta start leaning more on "folks", I meant. I don't leak on anybody.)
posted by BrashTech at 9:36 AM on December 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


It just seems to me that there's a lot of mountain of a molehill going on here

I'm probably slightly short of "tomboy" on the gender-variance scale. I'm also a straight woman who has, throughout her life, been teased constantly on the playground for the way I dress or didn't dress, 'outed' as a lesbian by supposed friends, cajoled to just come out of the closet already by family members, etc. Of course I don't think my own childhood harrasment was anywhere near as bad as for kids who are actually gay, but it was still upsetting for people to label me as something that I'm not, and it would have been easier if some teacher had told me, "You can be who you want to be, and express who you are in any way you want."

On preview: yoink, that is a possibility but, again, as a tomboy I don't think that's necessarily true. I don't want to be a manly man today - I just want to wear tuxedos when I want and dresses when I want, and not wear make-up, and not shave my legs, and knit, and watch costume dramas on BBC America. When I was a kid, I didn't want to be a boyish boy. I just wanted to wear pants and read and play with dolls and play wallball and grow my hair out. I wanted to be me.
posted by muddgirl at 9:38 AM on December 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


cupcakes and rainbows are clearly gender neutral.

Well, any sensible person without dietary restrictions should like cupcakes; that's a given. Rainbows I am more agnostic on. I do not look down on people for liking either. But wrench sets are very nice, too, you must admit.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:41 AM on December 21, 2011


Interestingly enough, in one of those odd coincidences, the theme of the Sesame Street on right now has everyone learning that it is ok for boys (in this case Telly and Baby Bear) to play with dolls.


Wow, Fox News has got me so well trained that I'm about to blow a vein in my forehead just thinking about what sort of stupid controversy they're going to create over this.

Resolution for 2012: complete moratorium on anything related to Fox News.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:45 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


On preview: yoink, that is a possibility but, again, as a tomboy I don't think that's necessarily true.

Oh sure--there are kids who are genuinely just indifferent, or like to play both sides of the fence: but they're not the kids who typically bring the issue to a head (as in this article)--because when they get pushback it's easy enough for them to say "o.k., what they heck, I'll dress 'girly' for school then." I just find it interesting that the kids who actually make this issue really salient--because they are so heavily invested in a particular gender role that they'll endure the mocking/questioning/bullying it brings about--are actually in perfect agreement with their tormentors about the importance and coherence of strong gender identities. They just want to be put in Box A rather than Box B.
posted by yoink at 9:46 AM on December 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I can remember life lessons I learned at 5 years old, from a very good teacher, Carmen. About tolerance and patience and self worth, about how wrong bullying is, about sticking together for the good of everyone.

I also remember life lessons I learned at 6 from Miss Lupita. What a horrible teacher. I learned about abuse of power, and how it is wrong, and how bad it is to enforce conformity. Me and another friend stood up for a classmate who had wet his pants and was forced to stand crying in the middle of the room to be mocked. I peed my pants and stood with him. My friend went to get Carmen to fix the situation.

If it had not been for Carmen I may have believed Lupita's bullshit. Carmen did not touch gender issues, so it was not until high school that I realized how much I had internalized the role of gender police. What a dick I was before that.

So yeah, this is good. First graders are sponges absorbing all kinds of knowledge from their peers and older people.
posted by Ayn Rand and God at 9:48 AM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


it would have been easier if some teacher had told me, "You can be who you want to be, and express who you are in any way you want."

And maybe that's the part that bothers me.
Rather than teaching kids "Hey, everybody likes different things and that's completely awesome" which is an admirable lesson, and one everyone should learn, she seems to be teaching them "There are boys things and girl things, and girls can like boy things, and boys can like girl things".

In other words, "who cares if you are different?" becomes "here are the ways you are different, but it's ok".

A subtle difference and maybe now I'm over-thinking the whole thing, but Elmo is on and I have to find something to distract myself.
posted by madajb at 9:51 AM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Interestingly enough, in one of those odd coincidences, the theme of the Sesame Street on right now has everyone learning that it is ok for boys (in this case Telly and Baby Bear) to play with dolls.


They also did this several years ago .
posted by brujita at 9:53 AM on December 21, 2011


Don't be so quick to dismiss the effects of early childhood education about prejudice. The Jane Elliott experiment is a great example.
posted by bq at 9:56 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's also OK to seek attention.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:56 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


They just want to be put in Box A rather than Box B.

And in this case, Alie explicitely stated that, for the time, she wants to be gendered as a girl, not a boy. So I guess I don't see why that's relevant to Alie.

I also don't think it's true that people who are transsexual, as a class, "are actually in perfect agreement with their tormentors about the importance and coherence of strong gender identities." This is definitely true for some people who are transgender (just as it is true for some people who are cisgender). Otherwise the old WPATH standards for transitioning, which asked for rather strict gender-conformity, would have been completely non-controversial.
posted by muddgirl at 10:05 AM on December 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Rather than teaching kids "Hey, everybody likes different things and that's completely awesome" which is an admirable lesson, and one everyone should learn, she seems to be teaching them "There are boys things and girl things, and girls can like boy things, and boys can like girl things".

That may be admirable but it's also very vague. This reminds me of the studies about race from Nurtureshock. In short, it's much more effective to be specific when talking to kids about group differences.
posted by bq at 10:09 AM on December 21, 2011


Wow, Fox News has got me so well trained that I'm about to blow a vein in my forehead just thinking about what sort of stupid controversy they're going to create over this.

Resolution for 2012: complete moratorium on anything related to Fox News.


i'm with you on this (not that i watch fox news). people in the policy world are always trying to be aware of the opposition's potential response(s) before taking a step forward. good to know what could happen for sure. but i do not think it is always worth it to not ask for what you want just because the opposition is going to host a sad parade against you. i have seen all too frequently a derailment (not even just slowing) of progress towards equality/civil rights due to fears of the oppositional response. some things are worth fighting for. and making your own noise about.
posted by anya32 at 10:13 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just find it interesting that the kids who actually make this issue really salient--because they are so heavily invested in a particular gender role that they'll endure the mocking/questioning/bullying it brings about--are actually in perfect agreement with their tormentors about the importance and coherence of strong gender identities. They just want to be put in Box A rather than Box B.

I dunno--my own 4-year-old daughter only wears "boy" clothes. Recently one of her preschool classmates called her a boy, and she said vehemently, "Don't do that! I'm a girl even though I wear boys' clothes." She doesn't want to be in Box A or B--she wants (right now, it does change) to be allowed to be the kind of girl she wants to be.
posted by not that girl at 10:37 AM on December 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


I just find it interesting that the kids who actually make this issue really salient--because they are so heavily invested in a particular gender role that they'll endure the mocking/questioning/bullying it brings about--are actually in perfect agreement with their tormentors about the importance and coherence of strong gender identities. They just want to be put in Box A rather than Box B.

Feh. I ended up transitioning, but as a child, still made clothes for my Barbies (after which I promptly engaged them in battle with my Transformers) and was into My Little Pony before Bronies even existed. These days, cig-gendered people sometimes give me shit for not liking football. Whatev.
posted by Wossname at 10:46 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hate the title of "tomboy." A girl acting like how she wants doesn't necessarily mean she wants to emulate boys. Kids are people, gender is fluid, and why people care what activities kids like is beyond me.
posted by agregoli at 11:53 AM on December 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


madajb: "Rather than teaching kids "Hey, everybody likes different things and that's completely awesome" which is an admirable lesson, and one everyone should learn, she seems to be teaching them "There are boys things and girl things, and girls can like boy things, and boys can like girl things"."

Uh no, she seems to be dismantling the framework that the kids walked into the classroom with by challenging those specific assumptions.

She's not teaching them trucks are for boys and dolls are for girls. They already get that from everywhere else in the world 24/7. She's getting them to question the utility of that kind of categorization, rather than just taking it as a given.

You know, rather than just telling them how to think, she's challenging them to think for themselves. I'd rather get my kid to ask "why should I care what kind of things I'm supposed to do, I'm going to do what I like", than merely repeating some "diversity is good" slogan.
posted by danny the boy at 12:19 PM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


She better watch out, the parents are going to make her drink hemlock. I can see parents getting in a tizzy over this.

Also, the article made me wonder... Why the hell are there boys bathrooms and girl bathrooms in grade school?
posted by CarlRossi at 1:01 PM on December 21, 2011


But pink wearing pink, frilly stuff and like dinosaurs are totally not mutually exclusive. My daughter can attest to that.

I have a video of my 5-year-old daughter, wearing her pink frilly party dress, eagerly volunteering to be the first one to hold the boa constrictor when the Reptile Man came to her classmate's birthday party. And she is in her room right now playing Cars, "except my Lightning McQueen is a girl."

She has a male friend who is super into My Little Ponies, except his Pinkie Pie and Applejack and Rainbow Dash are all boys; we had a big talk about how Lily's ponies are girls, and the ponies in the show are girls, but William's ponies are boys, and that is totally OK and normal and there is no "but they are REALLY girls" because everyone gets to choose how they play with their own toys.

We're never going to be able to completely reverse the gender binarism coming from the culture at large. But sometimes it's enough to sow your own seeds of doubt, to give parental support to the idea that the people who insist on there being Girl Things and Boy Things are full of shit. It's certainly better than NOT doing that because it will never be good enough, you know?
posted by KathrynT at 1:17 PM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


We're never going to be able to completely reverse the gender binarism coming from the culture at large.

Maybe, in the same sense that we will may never eliminate racism either. But we certainly have a lot of progress that can be made, and never is a long time, and I think we've been seeing it get slowly chipped away.

Sexism is part of it (must protect male privelege). Marketing is certainly part of it (the drive that created pink leopard-print hand tools for women and "Alpha Nail" polish for MMA fighter wannabees). Plain old blind "tradition" is part of it ("boys don't have long hair!"). Over-emphasizing the importance of gender in everything from language to the colors of baby blankets is part of it.

(And here's where I recommend "Delusions of Gender" for just how pervasive this stuff is. I particularly loved the analogy the author made with handedness. "Good morning, right-handers and left-handers!")
posted by Foosnark at 1:48 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


She's not teaching them trucks are for boys and dolls are for girls..

Maybe, maybe not.
Making a list of things that are "for boys" and then saying it's ok for girls to play with them is not the same lesson as "Here are some toys, go play with whichever one makes you happy".
posted by madajb at 2:12 PM on December 21, 2011


I think what she's trying to do in this case is to relate it to an assumption the kids may already have -- which gives her a starting point that the kids can understand.

If I were a kid trying to make sense of the world (and let's be real here: when are we not?), I'd find it way more confusing to have someone say "Do anything that makes you happy" and then question multiple facets of that. Starting from a rule or assumption and then breaking it down into something slightly more complex, especially while saying "You can choose to stick with what you know, if that's more comfortable for you," seems to make more sense to me.
posted by Madamina at 2:24 PM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Again, as a first-grade teacher of 10 years or so, the more specific the message you give to a six-year-old, the better. I've heard, for example, one of my girls tell one of the boys that Barbies are for girls (after he talked about playing with a Barbie), and if I say, "Hey, we should all play with whatever toys we want," it's the proper message, but it's a bit too abstract for some of them to make the connection.

If, however, I say, "Hey, I liked to play with Barbies when I was 5, and lots of boys like to play with dolls, so I think it's cool that John likes to play with them," it's a much more specific message, and in my opinion that has more of an impact.
posted by Huck500 at 3:05 PM on December 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Did anyone else read this story about the identical boy twins, one of whom is heading to transition surgery? And apparently always knew she was a girl?

http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2011/12/11/led-child-who-simply-knew/SsH1U9Pn9JKArTiumZdxaL/story.html
posted by etaoin at 4:00 PM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I, too, have always hated the term "tomboy." Wearing jeans didn't make me something other than a girl.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:00 PM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's really evident in this thread who actually has experience teaching little kids and who doesn't. Rest assured, if there was a much better and easier way to prevent gender bullying, we would all be doing it.
posted by that's how you get ants at 7:29 PM on December 21, 2011


And in this case, Alie explicitely stated that, for the time, she wants to be gendered as a girl, not a boy. So I guess I don't see why that's relevant to Alie.

I also don't think it's true that people who are transsexual, as a class, "are actually in perfect agreement with their tormentors about the importance and coherence of strong gender identities."


But I didn't say anything about transsexuals per se. If anything, I'm talking about transvestitism or cross-dressing--which may or may not be related to transsexualism in any given case. The point about Allie is that she is actively distressed if the clothes she wears or the hairstyle she adopts betokens "girly." There is no way at all that she is simply blind to or uninterested in the conventional gender codes--she is strongly invested in sending the strongly "male" coded visual signals. Yes she wants to identify as a "girl"--but she is actively policing her outward appearance to make sure it is rigorously scrubbed of any markers to that end. That is what I meant about wanting to be in "Box A" rather than "Box B"--"Box A" referring simply to the codes of clothing/hair/make up etc., not to do with biological sex at all.
posted by yoink at 9:38 PM on December 21, 2011


Yoink, that's actually a really interesting point you're making, possibly without realizing it. Allie is "actively policing her outward appearance to make sure it is rigorously scrubbed of any markers (of being a girl)", but to you and I'm sure many others this is synonymous with actively wanting to be a boy. I wonder if there is a way she could communicate not wanting to be put into a gendered box as long as one gender is assumed to be the default.
posted by tigrrrlily at 9:44 PM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


To expand on my earlier comment, I experienced the word" tomboy" with relief, when I was a child. Finally there was a sort of name for what I was. I could be something other than "it" or a he/she or simply a freak. Really, what I think that word did was give adults a comfortable label for me, because I made them feel so acutely uncomfortable. My parents, who were mostly very accepting of my gender variance, would often struggle to explain what I was, boy or girl, to people outside the family. Calling me a tomboy made it an easier pill for those people to swallow.
posted by Lieber Frau at 6:24 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


But really, I think that the idea is tomboys are supposed to grow out of it, not become genderqueer dykes. I used to look at the cover of this videotape and think well, maybe I'll turn out like that.
posted by Lieber Frau at 6:33 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, it was pretty clear to me, even as a kid who was fairly comfortable with "tomboy" as a label, that this is how the narrative was supposed to go.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:35 AM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


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