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Monday, January 02, 2012

Non-judgemental Judging

In the last while, I've seen an interesting article being passed around.  Those who pass it on often include comments about how great it is, and if only everyone did this, or how glad they are that they've raised their own children this way, etc.

When I read the piece myself, I wanted to like it.  I really, really did.  It dealt with things that I see as major issues when it comes to how messed up our culture is when it comes to gender stereotyping.  In the end, however, I couldn't.  The article bothered me.  I read it again to try and pinpoint exactly what it was that bothered me about it.  Here is the link for you to read.  See if you can spot it yourself.

It's Ok to Be Neither; One Teacher's Approach to preventing gender bullying in a classroom

It's an interesting situation, but can you spot the problem?  I mean, besides the fact that Will Smith's son isn't named Trey, but Jaden (perhaps she meant the character's name, Dre).

Keep in mind, through all this, that we are talking about a child in first grade, which means she's about 6 years old.

For me, the problem is encapsulated in the following statement.

I have just begun to empathize with the challenges that gender-variant children deal with. For some it may seem inappropriate to address these issues in the classroom. My job is not to answer the questions “Why?” or “How?” Allie is the way she is (although asking those questions and doing some research in order to better understand was definitely part of my process). My job is not to judge, but to teach...

This teacher says it isn't her job to judge, yet that is exactly what she had done.  Little Allie, you see, is "gender variant" because she likes "boy" things.  The very concept of gender variance can only exist through gender stereotyping.  Though she devotes such effort to make Allie feel comfortable, she continues to make gender based assumptions and project them onto Allie. 

Let me explain.

The article beings by talking about Allie refusing to take off her hood in class.  It turns out to be because of her hair being in a ponytail instead of braids.  The teacher braids her hair for her.  Problem solved, right?

Nope.  Apparently, her wanting braids instead of a ponytail is part of what makes Allie "different" from other girls. 

The article is filled with all sorts of weird, inadvertently judgemental statements.  Let's start with this one.

Allison was biologically a girl but felt more comfortable wearing Tony Hawk long-sleeved T-shirts, baggy jeans, and black tennis shoes.

Excuse me, but what the hell is the connection between being "biologically a girl" and being more comfortable in t-shirts, baggy jeans or tennis shoes?  Right here, the teacher is the one being judgemental, as though her clothing choices were somehow a contradiction to her being "biologically a girl."

Her parents were accepting and supportive.
Of what?  The fact that she likes to wear practical clothing?  Good for them!  That's what 6 year olds SHOULD be wearing.  What the heck is she supposed to be wearing?  Little kids need to be wearing clothes that allow them to run and play and move around in comfortably.  Granted, it can be hard to find such clothes in the girls clothing section.  That's why we bought our daughters' clothes from the boys section.  It makes me wonder what the other girls in the class are wearing that makes little Allie's clothes so unusual.
Her mother braided her hair in cornrows because Allie thought it made her look like Will Smith’s son, Trey, in the remake of The Karate Kid.