We are parents and educators committed to a just and equitable society. This blog is a forum to share ideas and resources to help us teach our children and ourselves about social equity issues.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Gender Spectrum Parenting

Hello Parents and Teachers,

I have been thinking recently about how children develop healthy gender identities. Last year, Nathan Shara from Seattle Safe Schools came and spoke with our parent group about biological sex, gender identity and gender expression. What struck me about his presentation was that before it, I saw gender identity as a particular concern of the LGBTQ community. After however, I recognized that all of us, LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ, are restricted and harmed by rigidly defined gender roles.

 For most children and adults, our gender identities match our biological sex, so gender and sex appear synonymous, and this synchronicity is considered “normal.”  Gender therefore appears (incorrectly) to be a biological imperative, rather than a social construction. For many adults and children however, biological sex and gender identity are not the same and growing up in a world with tight definitions of maleness and femaleness is a profound source of painful non-belonging.  As I noted above, this pain does not just affect those who are gender fluid, but causes all of us to limit ourselves. What man or woman, boy or girl could embody all the “ideals” of maleness or femaleness, and at what cost? Last year I was surprised to see that our kindergardeners had absorbed messages about what boys and girls were “allowed” to do and had started gender policing each other. One of my son’s male friends had been teased at school for wearing nail polish. Another made the observation that, as the after school chess club was entirely male, “girls must not be good at chess.”

Our children have taken in since birth hundreds of messages every day about what boys and girls are allowed to be, (and indeed, the message that one is only either a boy or a girl,) so it should not have surprised me, as it did, that they use these messages to make sense of their world. Often it is parents who are knowledgable about LBGTQ issues through personal experience, or who find themselves parenting a gender questioning child, who educate themselves and proactively strengthen their child to resist these messages describing restrictive gender roles. However I might argue that every child would benefit from learning to question these messages, not only to prevent teasing and bullying, but to allow our children to experience their full humanity.

In this effort of education and inquiry, here are two resources which provide insight into these issues: Gender Spectrum, a website providing gender sensitive support for children and teens, and Sociological Images, which provides commentary and insight into the social messages we and our children receive every day. The links will bring you to specific bookmarks within each site which I found particularly helpful for this topic.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Movie Night

Hello parents and teachers!

I want to bring your attention to several great DVD's which are available from our school library. (Did you know that parents can create their own library account and borrow material?) These DVD's are also available at the Seattle public library.

The first, That's A Family, gives children from a number of different families an opportunity to present their family to the audience.The families are adopted and biological, gay and straight parented, inter-generational and multiracial. It is appropriate for children and adults and can help start conversations with your children about diversity appreciation and empathy building.

The second DVD is Race: The Power of an Illusion. It was produced by PBS and is an excellent documentary for adult audiences. It is three parts of 50 minutes each. The first covers the myth of a biological basis for race, the second a history of race and the third a look at the results of this history in the present day. The school library just purchased this video and we may be viewing part of it in a workshop later this year, but it is available now for your viewing. Here is the link to the PBS website about it.

The Heterosexual Questionnaire

Hello Parents and Teachers interested in socially just parenting!

One of the things I read over the summer which has stuck with me was a short essay by M. Rochlin titled, “The Heterosexual Questionnaire,” from Privilege: A Reader, edited by Michael Kimmel and Abby Ferber. I have included part of it below from an open Internet source for you to read. Take a look.

1.       What do you think caused your heterosexuality?
2.       When and how did you first decide you were a heterosexual?
3.       Is it possible your heterosexuality is just a phase you may grow out of?
4.       Is it possible that your heterosexuality stems from a neurotic fear of others of the same sex?
5.       If you’ve never slept with a person of the same sex, is it possible that all you need is a good gay lover?
6.       Do your parents know you are straight? Do your friends and/or roommates know? How did they react?
7.       Why do you insist on displaying your heterosexuality? Can’t you just be what you are and keep it quiet?
8.       Why do heterosexuals place so much emphasis on sex?
9.       Why do heterosexuals feel compelled to seduce others into their lifestyle?
10.   A disproportionate majority of child molesters are heterosexual. Do you consider it safe to expose children to heterosexual teachers?
11.   With all the societal support for marriage, the divorce rate is spiraling. Why are there so few stable relationships among heterosexuals?

What struck me about this piece, and will likely strike you as well, was how well it illustrated the concept that certain social identities are considered “normal” in dominant US culture.  Others, not considered “normal,” are made marginal or pathological.  Dr. Steve Jones described these as “one up” or “one down” social identities. The normalization or invisibility of a social identity can be difficult to see if you share that identity, but is often obvious to those who do not share the "normal" identity. This checklist which poses questions from a perspective of homosexual normality, highlights the often invisible normalization of heterosexuality.
We are given information continuously from birth about how these various social identities are valued in our dominant culture, so if you ask older elementary students, “Which is it considered better to be? A ___ or a ____?” they will be able to give answers in line with our dominant United States culture, even if they personally think differently. Some examples from Dr. Steve Jones of our dominant cultural norms:

Social Identity
“One up” group
Racial Identity
European American
Sexual Orientation
Mental function
Fully mentally able
Marital Status
US citizen
Physical ability/ appearance
Able bodied, attractive

 Unfortunately, the value hierarchy of the dominant culture does not need to be taught to be absorbed, as children are already exposed to it hundreds of times per day in large and small ways. However what does need to be explicitly taught is the ability to recognize, reconsider, and eschew the validity of this hierarchy of social identities.
Take care all,