Yesterday, I had an absolutely amazing seminar at university. The purpose was to challenge stereotypes and to consider how we inadvertedly exert them on the children we teach. One of the workshops I went to was about children who have gender issues, be it feeling they are in the wrong body, liking to dress up as the opposite sex or just those who don’t confirm to the gender ‘norms’.
After making a list of the physical and biological features that make us male or female, we were asked to justify to the person next to us what it is that makes us male/female without referring to the list. The few things we came up with were of course weighted in stereotypes, and even at this point we had to question the stereotypes - are they cultural stereotypes of gender or gender stereotypes? And we talked about how our gender is transactional, so do we ‘have’ a gender as a child, do we become less of a woman after the menopause, what happens if we have a breast removed through cancer, if we are unable to have a child etc? It was absolutely mind blowing, and don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I am female, but why am I? What makes me a woman? And if I can’t define my gender, is it even relevant? Surely in that case I am who I am, I do what I do, behave the way I do and feel how I feel because I am me, not because I’m a woman. I’d imagine being free of those stereotypes and being able to do/be what you want to be and breaking those boundaries must be really invigorating and I’m going to be conscious of it from now on and just focus on being myself and letting others do the same.
And then of course we questioned how we deal with gender at school, how we pigeon-hole children at school, how often you say “I need some strong boys to carry this table for me”: it’s challenged everything. It really was amazing. I don’t know if writing this blog can ever do justice to the thoughts and discussion that went on yesterday, but I wanted to document and share the experience, even though it is my second blog in one day!