What gender lines?

A couple months ago, J Crew touched a nerve among conservatives everywhere with an emailed ad that showed a 5 year old boy having his toenails painted pink by his mother. It even inspired an article by the Culture and Media Institute titled “JCrew Pushes Transgendered Child Propoganda”. Last November, the blog Nerdy Apple Bottom became an overnight sensation as she relayed the story of her son who decided to wear a girl costume for Halloween, the parents who were appalled by the decision, and the school that finally told her it would be best if she just left.  And Mom Author Cheryl Kilodavis chronicled the life of her young son who loved to wear jewelry, sparkles, and anything pink by writing the children’s story book “My Princess Boy” – a tale about a 4 year old boy who loved things that are traditionally girly, and the teasing he endured because of it. In doing so, she not only taught others about acceptance and awareness, she also helped many other families come out with their young sons who leaned more towards dresses and make-up than trucks and war games. And she inspired a rampant debate about the appropriateness of little boys dressing as little girls. Even the Jolie-Pitt clan have unconsciously sparked a revolution on “gender-neutral” parenting when consistent photos of their ultra tomboy daughter Shiloh emerged, and the proud parents stated that Shiloh would rather be a boy than a girl – and that is was more than ok with them.

The truth is, while it appears the majority of the population doesn’t even bat an eye when it comes to boys who want to “act like girls”, or girls who want to “act like boys” (especially here in California), there are still many who are very uncomfortable with the idea of gender lines being virtually erased. The schools are no exception. Kids, who are used to a certain mold for people to fit into, might not be so easily accepting of those who are different from them. This includes boys who want to dress like girls, or girls who would rather play with boys, and other behaviors that blur those gender lines – and could get them seriously hurt by someone wishing to teach them a lesson about what’s considered “normal”.

This is what caused an Oakland school to take on a very unique lesson in the classroom to teach about differences in others – specifically about gender characteristics and how it differs in everyone.

Were you aware of animals that can actually change their gender when it proves to be more convenient? How about the fact that some genders of animals actually take on the characteristics of the opposite gender? Redwood Heights Elementary School in Oakland has pioneered a program developed by Gender Spectrum. Using the animal kingdom, as well as a discussion about colors, clothes, toys, and other things that might be dedicated to only boys or only girls, the school is giving lessons in gender identity and expression – and hoping to tackle stereotypes and prejudices. The underlying lesson stressed is that “color is color”, “toys are toys”, and “activities are activities”. This program was introduced at the kindergarten level to help quash future bullying, as well as to help students thrive in an environment they may have been teased in otherwise.

However, some parents are voicing their concern over this, stating that this program is actually creating gender confusion, and even that these lessons are something that should be taught at home – not at school. And many of these parents were outraged that, while sex education requires a permission slip from parents, their children were being taught about these kinds of differences without any kind of permission needed. The Pacific Justice Institute (a law firm that specializes in the defense of religious freedom, parental rights, and other civil liberties) even encouraged parents to keep their kids home on the days these lessons would be taking place in an article they placed on their site, warning that the program was teaching that there are more than two genders, and that the teachings are not in line with the values of most Oakland families. While the school maintains that there are no lessons being given in sexual orientation, it's insinuated by those opposing that introducing topics of boys wearing girls clothing or playing with dolls appears borderline on discussing transgendered individuals – and moving into topics of homosexuality.

On that note, have you heard about what’s going on over in Tennessee?  Students and teachers are prohibited from talking about homosexuality from kindergarten to 8th grade. Dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, legislators claim that since homosexual unions don’t naturally reproduce children, it’s an inappropriate topic for the classroom and should only be discussed at the family’s discretion. And while I can see that topics on any kind of sexual activity might not be a discussion to introduce to a kindergartener, I still find this rather disturbing. What of the 6 year old who has gay parents? What kind of message is this sending to them if they are not allowed to talk about the fact that they have two mommies or two daddies? What about the 7th grader who knows that it’s unsafe to come to their parents about their curiosity or knowledge that they are in fact gay, and are being told they can’t go to their teacher either?

And what kind of lesson are we giving to kindergarteners when we aren’t teaching them tolerance – that some boys like to wear dresses, that some girls like to cut their hair really short, that boys in ads wearing toenail polish is actually ok? When this world is built on diversity, when we’re doing our damndest to tackle the rising epidemic of bullying that is plaguing our schools, when it’s a major concern that there are students who have killed themselves because of the natural differences that lie inside them – why would any parent fight a program that teaches acceptance of those that are different than you…or that it really is ok to not be cut from the same mold as everyone else.

When did teaching about tolerance become wrong?

Thank god parents like Apple Nerdy Bottom, the mom of the “Princess Boy”, and the mom of the pink toenail polish wearing kid exist – so that they can put the message out there that being unique and unwilling to live by everyone else’s standards isn’t so uncommon after all.  Perhaps lessons like the ones being taught at Oakland’s Redwood Heights Elementary School will be deemed normal one day, as well.

Want more?  Check out my blog at Wine Country Mom.