by Julie R. Sissman

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:

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.

© 2011 Lilith Magazine