Discover more from Living Off-Brand
"Are you a boy or a girl?"
Why do we put so much emphasis on this question in schools and in life?
My daughter did not spend much time in preschool. It was the November after she turned 3 when she started, and by the following March, Covid was running rampant and everyone was staying home. At the time, we enrolled her because we wanted her to socialize around kids her age; as an only child, she spent most of her time with her parents or grandparents. I know that my desire for some free time played a big role in that decision, too.
She was not a fan. Every drop-off was a tear-filled ten minutes of negotiations. Her teachers assured me that once I was gone, she was happy and having fun, and that seemed to be true with the videos they sent me of her erratically dancing in the middle of a circle or listening intently at story time. I had not been as able to shake off these rough separations; often I would go right home and lay in bed, pondering whether I was doing the right thing, taking my turn to cry the tears I held back as she reached for me while the classroom door closed.
It didn’t help that I wasn’t always on board with the teaching I was seeing. The teachers themselves were great - warm, loving, helpful - but they had a classroom routine, which included learning the days of the week and the different kinds of weather (which I was fine with, obviously) but also a daily lesson on who was a boy and who was a girl.
Once, I got a video of this lesson. The teacher asked all the boys to stand up, and Amelia, who either hadn’t quite learned what they were teaching, or was always wanting to do what everyone else was doing, or both, stood up when she saw her classmates stand up. And the teachers giggled at her. “No!” they teased. “Amelia’s not a boy!”
I was not a fan. Part of me thought, yes, the majority of the population identifies as man or woman and perhaps this is a fundamental thing for children to know. But most of me knew that these teachers, unintentionally I’m sure, were contributing to the binary gender system of old. Amelia would say things like, “Daddy’s a boy because he has short hair,” and I would have to correct her and say girls could have short hair, too. Yeah, I get how confusing that is; maybe young brains are only capable of handling binary systems.
But this week, I read “Our Six Year Old Wanted to Use ‘They/Them’ Pronouns. We Had No Idea What We Were In For” on Huffington Post, and I think maybe young brains are more capable than we give them credit for. In fact, I think young brains are more capable than old ones.
Even now, three years later, she regularly brings up gender. “Mama, are you a girl?” she’ll ask me out of nowhere. And I say, “yes, that’s how I identify; I feel like a girl. Do you feel like a girl?” And she says, “Yeah, I’m a girl.” And I say , “Okay, well, if that ever changes, it’s okay. You don’t have to be a girl if you don’t want to.” By then her attention wanes and she’s engrossed in some other topic or toy.
Just last night, she said randomly at the dinner table, “Daddy is a boy so he can’t have babies.” And I said, “No, Daddy can’t have babies,” and I paused to think (mostly wondering where she had learned that from when I should have been wondering if there was anything I should say next), but took too long and by then she was onto how one of her classmates got hurt at recess. If my old indoctrinated brain had moved a little faster, I could have told her that there are men who can have babies, that I follow one on Twitter. I wonder what her young brain would have done with that.
I worry that this concept of binary gender learned early on has already solidified in her brain. A friend who loves to babysit Amelia has a teenager who is nonbinary, and I flinch every time Amelia uses “her” instead “they” when talking about them. I use “they,” and I’ve explained to Amelia that this person doesn’t feel like a girl or a boy, but Amelia sees painted fingernails and pierced ears and hears a soft voice and adds it altogether to mean “her” - these same gender norms she was taught in preschool.
No, I don’t worry that this concept has solidified. I know she can and will change over time, like I have. It’s just so surprising that children are still being taught this way. I can’t help but wonder what her concept of sex and gender would be if she had never gone to that preschool. Part of me wishes we had never sent her.
So much about parenting revolves around regret. Even though I thought the woman in the essay handled her situation decently, I can feel her regret. It’s so hard to know what to say or do in tough situations, and parenting is nothing but tough situations. I know she did her best. I know I’m doing my best. It’s just, with parenting, one’s best still never feels like enough.
At school, Rachel goes by “they/them” and wears their “neither” clothes. This does not go well. First graders live in a black and white world, and their classmates ― especially the girls ― don’t know what to do with a long-haired person who wears boys’ clothes and doesn’t seem to have a recognizable gender. Rachel uses the boy’s bathroom or the girl’s bathroom, and their classmates want to know if they are a boy or a girl.
“If you’re not a boy or a girl, then you’re a monster,” one little girl says to Rachel.
- “Our 6-Year-Old Wanted To Use 'They/Them' Pronouns. We Had No Idea What We Were In For.”
Oof. That last line there broke me.
I saw this meme on my social this week, and it feels true if the only three you are allowed to pick are “work,” “sleep,” and “family.”
Last Sunday was the Oscars, and my husband and I managed to make it through the first two hours before calling it a night. Of course that means we missed most of the big awards like Best Picture, but we hadn’t seen many of the nominated movies (yet) anyhow. Even though they’re over, my fellow writer friend and screenwriter Lillie Gardner gave a great round-up of this year’s nominees. And even though I’m sorry my boy Austin didn’t get an Oscar for his all-encompassing role of Elvis, I know he’ll get his chance later, and I couldn’t agree more with Lillie’s review.
Finally, my brain is holding space for two conflicting feelings: 1. Why the heck is Elvis on the Best Picture nominations list? It’s a fun movie for sure (and I even cried), but Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker bizarrely narrating the whole story is very “Whose idea was this?” energy. And then, 2. Oh my goodness, Austin Butler is phenomenal as Elvis (I mean, is he even acting or is he just actually Elvis?) and his performance deserved a better film to star in. So, for me this was a top-favorite thing stuck inside of a less-favorite thing.
- Lillie Gardner
Yep, that’s Barack Obama and Joe Biden fighting crime together. There were giggles throughout the library workroom when this came through the book drop yesterday. The tagline? “Justice has no term limits.” My husband immediately put it on hold. Stay tuned for his review.
What I’m Reading:
I stumbled upon Lindsey Deloach Jones’ essay “A Story I Don’t Know How to Tell” this week, and I love her honesty and uncertainty. These days, we are trying to pigeon-hole each other into categories we can understand, and Jones is thoughtful enough to realize these categories just don’t seem to be working, nor should they.
Now we are only a few sentences in, and you believe you know several things about me: I am a female, a liberal, and all else that implies. Furthermore, you have determined, by virtue of my being those things, all the other things I am not.
And you either like this — you approve — or you do not.
- Lindsey Deloach Jones
What I’m Watching:
We’ve been watching a lot of new stuff lately, which is great, but also kind of exhausting, so this weekend was all about the guilty pleasure. So we watched an old favorite: Pacific Rim. I don’t know how they got Idris Elba to sign up for this goofy alien/robot movie, but he steals the whole show. “Today, we are cancelling the apocalypse!” Classic.
And even if it is a goofy alien/robot movie, it is also the inspiration behind the Mako Mori test, another theory, in addition to the Bechdel test, that explores feminism in movies.
My daughter had yet ANOTHER snow day on Friday. This is the first snowman I’ve ever made to have hair.
Follow my daily joys on my Twitter page
Hope to see you next time. Make sure you don’t miss it - subscribe!
Want to share with all your friends? Hit the button below.