Live from the Lilith Blog 1 of 2

February 16, 2018 by

Please Join Me in Sending a Gender Email!

email-marketing-3012786_1920As I walked down the hallway of my daughter’s pre-school classroom, I heard a strange noise. “Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop.” What was that noise coming from my daughter’s classroom? I looked in the door, thinking it would be a hand-made musical instrument or a child knocking blocks together in a certain rhythm. I was dismayed to look in the door and see the noisy culprit – high heeled shoes on the three-year old girls. The girls were walking slowly and gingerly around the classroom, trying not to fall because of the shoes. Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop. The three-year old boys, in contrast, were moving around the room with ease and comfort.

I was then motivated to write what I now call my “gender email.” I’ve sent it to the schools and camps that my daughters go to, asking them to think critically and intentionally about how gender plays through for students/campers. 

I want us all to raise strong, healthy girls with high self-esteem and confidence. I want us all to raise boys who see their full range of humanity open to them, rather than a narrow view of what ‘masculine’ means. I want us all to raise transgender, queer and gender non-conforming kids who are strong, healthy and proud, affirmed and celebrated for all of who they are. I want a world where my children – where all children – have a full range of opportunities open to them 

I invite you to use this email as a model to edit and send on to your own kids’ school administrators, camp directors, and community group leaders (or forward to friends/siblings with kids). If we each take up this important issue, and each school does professional development around it, we could, together, have a big impact. (Obviously, if your child doesn’t go to a Jewish school, then you wouldn’t include the Jewish-related items. Similarly, if your kid is well past pre-school, you would put in different examples.)

To give extra motivation – I first sent this email to the preschool, not knowing what response I would get. They took it up very seriously and appreciatively, spending time on a professional development workshop for faculty and administrative leaders on the topic. Here’s to building a world where all children see a broader range of possibilities!

Here’s the “gender email”:

Hi xxx,

I hope you’re well! We’ve been having a really good year. Thank you for your leadership! 

I’m writing now to ask for your help. I’m ongoingly surprised by how often people try to limit kids’ choices – at the doctor’s office, where they say to my daughter “Do you want princess stickers or fairy stickers?”, while I hear them say to the boy standing next to her, “Do you want superhero or car stickers?” At the arts shop, where they say to my daughters, “Do you want pink paint or purple paint?” and say to the boy next in line, “Do you want red or blue paint?” It seems to be everywhere. 

Our children spend so much time in school, and their teachers and administrators have such a powerful influence on their individual thinking, as well as their group dynamic. I wanted to learn more about how you think about gender at this school. I’ve seen a number of articles recently discussing how gender is “taught” (formally/consciously and unconsciously) to children, which brought these questions to mind:

  • Are girls encouraged towards math and science as much as boys are? Are boys encouraged towards reading and art as much as girls are?
  • Do teachers offer all children varied options for exploring the world (“Would you like to play with puzzles or blocks or art/crafts?”) and equivalent suggestions for play-acting (“Would you like to dress up as a firefighter or a nurse today?”)? 
  • Why are there high heel shoes as part of the dress up corner (which my child reports only the girls use)? The other day I saw the girls walking slowly and gingerly around the classroom so as to not fall in the shoes, while the boys were moving around with comfort and ease. Maybe the dress up corner could include only clothing, without any shoes? 
  • For Torah and holidays – There are so many more men in the stories and holidays than women. Are teachers/administrators going out of their way to bring women’s stories and women’s voices in? Is Esther viewed as a critical protagonist or as a confused and scared accomplice to Mordechai? Are other women brought in to the curriculum? Is Miriam highlighted as a critical player in the Pesach story as well as Moses? Are Ushpizot invited into the sukkah, in addition to the traditional group of Ushpizin
  • Is a critical eye brought to bear around Hebrew language and gender, so that, for example, girls are singing Modah ani and boys Modeh ani during morning tefilot? Do teachers facilitate conversations about how limiting Hebrew is as a gendered language for God, tefilah, songs, etc.? 
  • Are teachers aware – and do administrators who observe point out – any subtle differences in ways that teachers interact with boys and girls? 
  • What ongoing professional development and ongoing feedback is included/provided for faculty – especially those who may have grown up in communities where girls and boys were not given the same opportunities? 

I’m hoping that school can be a place where my daughter’s – and all children’s – options are kept as open as possible – which is only possible if their teachers have an awareness of these types of things and how limiting they can be. Especially since many other children will be perpetuating gender stereotypes with their words and actions, I’m hoping the teachers will help keep open the windows to opportunity.

Our society, through media and assumptions, tries to keep children in limiting gender “boxes,” and I’d love for this school to be a place where all of the kids can be – and are encouraged to be – outside of the boxes the rest of the world tries to put them in.

In case you’re interested, I’m including the links to a few of the articles that prompted me to write now. I’d be happy to hear your reactions. And I’d love to hear more about how school thinks about these issues.

Thanks for listening,

And here are the articles Julie recommends, that led her to write this letter in the first place:

1 – This piece resonated a lot with me because I’ve been struck how constantly adults greet my daughters with, “Hi! I love your dress/hair/shoes/coat/etc.” I’ve been bothered, but couldn’t quite articulate it to myself. This does a great job.  

2 – A notable quote from this article: “Our goal is to provide children with the opportunity to become their best self, and that means removing limitations imposed by gender stereotypes.”  

3 – A documentary about masculinity in America and how messages and media box boys in. 

4 – This piece shows how gender bias has real impact later on. And if we don’t start combatting it very early on, I worry that it gets harder and harder to fight against later on. 

5 – This one talks about common stereotypes, how ubiquitous they are, and how they can harm. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.

  • Harvey Weinstien

    I found your letter and ideas quite intriguing!
    I was a little confused by one point, which seemed to be the catalyst for this entire episode. You seem to be insistent on giving the children the freedom to choose their own gender roles and keeping their options open as much as possible.
    However, you suggest removing the shoes from the dress up box!?!?!
    Clearly both the boys and girls in this class are drawn towards the more stereotypical gender roles (at least as far as shoes go). Why would you try to bend them towards your idea of how they should view gender?
    If it would have been only the boys wearing high heels and the girls running around unencumbered, would you have been distressed?
    Once you have decided to let the children choose their own gender identity (good bad or indifferent decision) leave it at that and just let girls be girls.
    Harvey Weinstien