The Guy and I were taking care of some important errands the other day and decided that instead of racing home to catch The Kid at the bus we would just pick her up at school and have dinner on the base. After calling the school we went to the playground to wait for her.
There was a class, my guess would be first grade from the size of the students on the playground taking advantage of the recent stint of excellent weather in Yongsan gu, and their teacher was on a nearby bench grading papers while the kids played. A large portion of the students were using what seems to be a monkey bar replacement, using rubber coated rings hanging from chains instead. It’s a popular structure. As usual, some of the kids would swing one or two rings in, and kick the next ring over the support beam, out of reach, to attempt to make a longer reach…kind of a challenge to each other. When they bore of this the kids will take turns holding a ring, turning themselves upside down and kicking the next ring back to place, and move on. As I watched a short line of kids waiting to cross one girl swung out to flip over and kick the ring down in this manner, and while she was upside down her teacher yelled to her:
“Hey! [Girl’s name], that’s not Lady like! Act like a lady, and let [Boy’s name] get that down for you!”.
There must have been visible anger rolling off of my skin b/c The Guy grabbed my arm and informed me “It’s not your place to say anything to her”.
And while he usually gets this kind of thing, I am pretty sure I do not agree w/ him.
First of all, “Lady like”? WTF? What in nine hells does that even mean?
I can tell you what it means to me.
Smile and nod.
Keep your knees together and ankles crossed.
Don’t speak unless spoken to.
Always sit there helpless and let a man rescue you and do everything for you.
Never have an opinion.
I could go on…
Further more, if it isn’t my place to speak up for those girls, whose is it? It isn’t enough to make sure that my own daughter knows that she isn’t incapable of doing anything she puts her mind to. If those around her grow up thinking that they have to conform to some gendered code then I might as well spend my time talking to walls. It matters, b/c those girls are going to grow up to be her peers, her friends, her potential love interests, her support system when she isn’t able or willing to come to we, her parents (even though I hope that I am instilling in her a trust to be able to). They are going to be the ones helping her form her own idea of who she is and what she is capable of. She will go to them to share her dreams and aspirations.
And if the best lessons taught to these girls (and the boys too!) is that they must stand back and let one of the boys do everything adventurous for them, then I am not confident that they are going to be able to understand her dreams and desires. I am afraid that receiving messages like this, from a public school teacher, is going to enforce the concept that boys are default, w/ the world designed around them, and that being a girl is an option like an automatic transmission or an audiophile stereo system. Something other, something extra. Something that is there and available for you to use, but something you could really live w/o. We need to send messages to our girls that they can and should do things for themselves, that they can and should try to solve their own problems w/ their own know how. We need to make sure that these girls know that the only limits on them are those that they place upon themselves. It isn’t our place, or a teacher’s place, to put limits on what a girl should or shouldn’t do for herself.
And that is not even to say what that does to the boys around them who see this behavior, passed on from a woman to the next generation of women. This boy, who wasn’t nearly as confident as the girls were in flipping over to do the same task, now understands that his role is to step in and solve wimmin’s problems, b/c it isn’t acceptable for them to do it for themselves. Here, we have a standard of masculinity that is being held up as something to strive for, and if you fall short, you are not only letting yourself down, but now all of those girls for whom it is your job to save. That can be a pretty ridiculous standard to meet, and to have forced upon a boy of seven. Instead, we should be showing him that the girls around him are just as capable as (and yes, sometimes at some things even more so than) he is. That it is OK for him to wait and let her figure it out for herself. That there is no shame in letting a girl (or a woman) help you w/ something or not jumping in and doing it for her. That he is not the default. He is not second class, but he is an equal to this creature that he is being taught is different from him. That is just as hurtful. These boys will also grow up to be peers, friends, possible love interests, and people w/ whom our daughters (and other sons) wish to share their dreams and aspirations. They need to be prepared to share those dreams and be supportive of each other in whatever role they choose, not limited by their gender.
It’s a tough road to navigate, being a child whose whole world is filled w/ an onslaught of gendered material that tells them what they are and are not suppose to think/feel/do. We don’t need teachers to enforce those, but rather to break them down.
And we, as parents, and by default the first teachers that our children know, need to be there to break those concepts down too, to smash them w/ a sledgehammer. Our children are, whether they know it or not, depending on us to do that. To make sure that the world is ready to accept them as is, not forcing them to change for it.
We talked it over. I am pretty sure The Guy gets where I am coming from. I try hard to remember that he is still seeing the world through his male privilege and might not realize or detect all the things that are thrown at us as girls and women and everything in between. While I may have not chewed that teacher out on the spot about her careless remark (deservedly so!), I was able to have a great conversation about why that is important w/ him, after which I think he gets a little more why I feel so strongly about such things. And I am pretty sure that next time he will be ready to fight that same battle w/ me.