On Thursday my attention was drawn to a new part of the daily routine for the girl’s kindergarten class. As soon as I saw it I knew I had to do something to have it changed. Today was my first chance.
A simply drawn boy wearing a baseball cap, and holding a bat and ball, coloured blue with the word BOY. His counterpart in pink with a pretty dress and holding a flower with the word GIRL sits beside him. Both on the bulletin board next to the calendar, a counting chart, and other simple items used to subtly teach the kindergarten class basic numerical skills.
The teacher touches the head of each student she deems as “boy”, counting as she goes. “Seven boys.” The number gets written on the wipe off board under the picture representing “boy”. She then touches the head of each remaining child, counting. “Five girls.” That number gets written on the board too. An addition sign gets added between them, and everyone counts on their fingers. “Twelve kids. Seven boys and five girls makes twelve kids.”
Now, my ideal kindergarten is gender neutral. At this age there really is no reason at all to discuss “boy” or “girl”, what each means, and how we each fit into societies gender binary – at least not at school. At the very least, if it can’t be a neutral space, it should be a equal space. And these disgustingly stereotypical figures are far from that. If we must count girls and boys, we need to ask the children “Who identifies as a boy?” Then count the raised hands, marking the result under the word (no picture) BOY. “Who feels like a girl?” Then count those raised hands, marking those results under the word GIRL. But I think we can do better. Why reinforce a false binary by bring gender into question at all? After all, there are more than two sexes, more than two genders (and the terms boy and girl can refer to either gender or sex, which just further muddies the water).
Why not ask “Who likes baseball?” and “Who likes football?” and add those two numbers. Switch it up, and the next day ask “Who likes veggies?” and “Who likes fruit?”. Every day of the week could be a different pairing of questions. After all, we don’t need to come up with the same answer every day. Some kids may vote yes to both, some may not raise their hand at all. This way we practice our early math skills, learn something interesting about our friends, AND we don’t reinforce any false notions about gender or sex – which have no place in a kindergarten class to begin with.
I spoke to kid kid’s teacher about my concerns today, and I’ll be honest. I’m not sure she understood my concerns at all. She thanked me for bringing them to her attention – but it was very much a canned response… what one could expect from someone who has never really given much thought to their own gender or sexual identity, someone with CIS privilege, who has lived in a very small, heteronormative box, their entire life. While I don’t hold this against her, it does mean it may be time for a little educating. Issues of gender and sexual identity are vitally important to the health and safety of our young people (and the adults they will become), and even something as simple as being told they are BOY… simply drawn with a baseball cap, bat and ball, coloured blue… can hurt, when that child knows -inside- it’s not right.
It’s a late night for the Smith household. We just got home and kid-kid is fast asleep. We went from a late afternoon photoshoot (my husband serving as an assistant) straight to my parents place and spent the evening/night there while they went out to visit with friends and listen to music. I’m always happy to help out watching my youngest sister and the older gentlemen who live there, but it was a very late night for the little girl – so it’s nice to have her in bed now.
My photo shoot today was the first in my The Power of SHe project. It was with a fabulous woman named Sigrid. She dressed in full Viking kit, complete with sword and shield. And I was thankful for the mild Winter weather as we were shooting outdoors – down near the ice flows on the river. I can’t tell you how excited I am to finally have the time to devote to this project. It’s been in the planning for a couple of months now.
Initially I began working on a project I called Celebrating Motherhood… but it became clear to me that this was only one aspect of our story – the shared narrative of what it is to be Women. So Celebrating Motherhood has been swallowed by The Power of SHe. The motherhood segment will receive it’s on exhibit space – as I believe it deserves it, but it is part of an even greater project celebrating all that we, as women, are.
So today, the first of several planned shoots for this exhibition took place – and it feels damn good to finally be moving forward on it. I really enjoyed working with Sigrid, and am sooo looking forward to doing the remaining work on the pieces we’ve begun creating today. I’d have liked to have started the post-shoot work already, but as I mentioned… kinda busy with family. 😉
I have a few more shots planned out in my head for which I’m seeking the right “models”. And no, I’m not looking for professional models. I’m looking for real women, with stories, with lives, with histories… And even if I don’t have something planned that would be right for YOU, and you are interested in participating, drop me a line. Perhaps you will inspire the next shot in this project.
Here are a few things I know I’m looking for:
- a nursing mother engaged in an extended breastfeeding relationship
- a nursing mother currently nursing two children
- a woman willing to appear in her skivies in a public place (nothing erotic, I promise)
- a woman willing to be photographed in a body suit outdoors in Winter
- any women with interesting hobbies or histories (Sigrid was one who inspired me with her story, and the image/shoot was built around her)
- a drag queen (drag queen’s may not be women but their art is in celebration of women)
This project excites me to my very core. It will bring about questions for some, and answers for others. It’s about finding unity amongst diversity, what makes us Women? What defines us? Where do we draw our strength? How do we find our power? It will be an amazing journey!
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
– William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
The fact remains, that while this is a nice sentiment, there is a lot loaded into a person’s name… especially when the name and gender don’t match. I know I gave a lot of thought to my daughter’s name before gifting her with it. A child who grows up feeling their name doesn’t fit, or doesn’t belong, is a child who grows up with a lot of pain. My daughter can choose to be called Lily-Ann, Lily, Lil’, Ann, Lilian, or my son could choose to be called Andy – not all of us are fortunate enough to have our gender at birth, match with our gender as we grown into personhood.
There has been a surprising amount of stories about transgendered children in the news recently, and it’s an encouraging thing. Most of us know very early on if our assigned gender matches our actual gender, and until recently people tended to “poo poo” these thoughts away – especially when a young child brought them up. It gives me hope knowing that parents, and adults in general, are giving more credence to these children and accepting them at their word. That there are adults who are willing to step in and help them transition to their actual gender before the hormones of puberty kick in, and make it even more difficult to do so in the future.
So, what’s in a name? I’d say a whole lot. Especially when Don is actually Donna, or Nicole is actually Nicholas.