Friday, 29 March 2013

Gender dialogue...

 I have spent some time today participating in a dialogue of sorts in a Swedish Reggio facebook group. The dialogue is focussed on gender, and how we work with it and is based on a blog by Cristian Fabbi - What do we talk about when we talk about gender education in preschool?

And boy oh boy has this got me thinking - and replying a whole load...

here are some of my thoughts from that dialogue...

Sometimes I think the discussions about gender are wrong. I feel that somehow the focus is always about giving more to either boys or girls (there always seems to be a focus on one of the genders) or at least this is how so many are interpreting it - and this I think can cause friction, as there is often the feeling that if you are giving someone something you are taking it away from another - in other words that if we are giving women power it means we are taking it away from men or vice versa. 
I believe that the focus should be equality - that there is no taking away, that there is only adding on

In the preschool arena this can mean that we do not take all the pink and girlie things away to make them equal to the boys, but we ensure that there is enough of all sorts of toys/materials and enough access to all the the materials for all genders.

 I remember in the early days of my preschool teaching life that I found that my attempts to create equality was to make it more boy-like. On Fridays we had film time at one preschool I worked at, and a lot of thought used to go into what film we should watch. I ALWAYS excluded the Fairytopia films (that were very popular with my own preschool-aged twin girls at the time) because they were so "girlie", and then I realised that it was not fair to either the boys or girls that I did this - so I brought the Barbie Fairytopia film and the children watched it - and it was the BOYS who showed the greater interest in the film - suddenly a whole new world was opened up to these 3-6 year olds with a variety of characters and a female as the lead role who showed fear and bravery, generosity and friendship - and yes its coated in a thick layer of pink. 

Recently I put fairies in the magic world we created at preschool where I work now - and watched a car-crazy boy lovingly pick up the fairy, give it hugs and then proceed to play - there were also cars available and it was a girl who had the fairies driving the cars. 

  • By adding lots to the scene I am contributing to diversity, to the opportunity to try out new things and to express more "languages". 
    Lotta Rajalin (who is head teacher for several preschools on Stockholm, including Egalia BBC article about Egalia - oh and they say Egalia is the Swedish word for equality - JÄMSTÄLLD is the Swedish word for equality - think egalité and you realise the word means equality - but not Swedish... talks about a spectrum with girlie girl on one end and boyish boy on the other - and on this spectrum we can all be found, regardless of our sex. It is our gender that can be found ANYWHERE on the spectrum, so a child who is biologically a boy can be found closer to the girlie girl end than the boyish boy end - it doesn't make him any less a boy - this is his sex, but by limiting what he can do, like and have access to, does limit him as a person, it makes him less true to who he is - and the same applies to the girls. 
    Just like a rainbow merges from red into yellow through a whole variety of orange shades, and from yellow to blue through a whole variety of green shades and then back to red through a variety of purples - this is how we are as gender - some are clearly primary colours we see the likes and interests and we can see them as typical boy/girl (the girlie girl and the boyish boy)- but the majority of the rainbow is made up of all the other shades - and by treating all children as a primary colour we are robbing them of their complexity.
     Maybe, and now I am rambling my thoughts somewhat - we are all white light... we are the WHOLE rainbow - just as there are 100 languages.  
    Having worked a year with Lotta Rajalin it has certaily influenced how I think and feel about gender...

    I think it can be very hard, even here in Sweden, to have proper discussion about gender equality when the media still represents women and men the way they do - how do we support the PARENTS to allow their sons to dress up as princesses (I seldom find parents worrying the same about girls dressing as knights as they do worry about boys dressing as girls - and this is probably due to the fact that males still have a higher status than females) - how do we give teachers and parents the tools to question what they see? There are too few of us to influence now much more than what we are doing already - but we can influence the future - and I mean too few of us in the sense that the MEDIA is just so enormous, that culture is more than skin deep and ways for thinking for many are very hard to change (there is the saying, you can't teach an old dog new tricks) - which is sad - I think there are many brilliant people working for the gender equality - but they are often met with hostility - as there is that fear of taking things away - they feel the word "hen" (a gender neutral way of saying he/she in Sweden, instead of saying hon or han) is taking children's identity away (and yet forget there are many languages that do not have separate words for he/she). 
     When I worked at Lotta's preschool there was never a focus on using the word hen INSTEAD of hon/han but as a compliment, as an extra word, adding on to our language (or the Swedish) to enrich it - to give the opportunity that the plumber that was coming to fix the pipes could be male or female - we are allowing the children (boys and girls) the possibility to envision that THEY can fix the pipes - that all types of work are a possibility for them, that there are no men's jobs and women's jobs.
    At my work I try to do the rough and tumble, the picking up and stuff my dad did with me as a child (not my mother) - I want the children to see that strength has nothing to do with gender - mind you my height has always given me the edge for that - I have worked with 13 male teachers over the years - only 3 of them have been taller than me! (I also think that children need plenty of positive body contact to feel safe). 

    A few years ago I worked at a preschool where we had a consultant that came once a week to help us with our work with gender - and she came into my department and criticised the dress up clothes in the role-play area - "there is too much pink - what are the boys going to wear?" - I looked at her and said "why can't boys wear pink?" - again back to this thought that making a preschool gender equal is making it gender neutral - I DO NOT WANT a gender neutral preschool - I want to work at a place that celebrates all the differences that we as individuals bring to the group - to embrace these differences, to allow each individual to reach their own potential by having access to a rich diversity of materials - to find their voice, their multitude of languages, and to hone the one that they themselves feel is true to them as well as test out new unexplored areas of themselves... a gender neutral preschool does not allow diversity it is yet another way of cutting a child's unique shape into the conformed square of social acceptance - it is not the child that needs to change it is society that needs to change.

      I think CHOOSING to use the words gender neutral is so loaded - I feel its means taking away/restricting - think neutral colours - they are those colours that are not bright, vibrant - they are just PART of the colour scheme that makes up life - why only offer part of life? If boys are not getting to play with dolls at preschool and not at home then where are they going to play with them - when will they get the opportunity to test this language out? If we are going to take trucks and diggers away - what are we saying about that? WHAT exactly are you doing to create a gender neutral preschool? Is it taking things away? Gender codes are only codes if WE allow them to be - let us BREAK the codes instead of letting them to allow to continue. By making it neutral we are still allowing the codes to exist - by breaking them down and allowing these gender coded toys/materials to be used by all and in new ways - THEN we are winning... (challenging thoughts here)
    • Its funny because I am going round doing housework and this dialogue is churning around in my thoughts. Its made me think more about WHY are some people against gender equality - and I am beginning to understand that it is more and more this fear of "taking away" that NEUTRAL means that everyone has to be the same - I mean neutral is a little like that - its like taking away your opinion. OK, this is a radical thought - but Sweden was a neutral country during WW2 - what did this mean? - it meant that no side was taken - it meant that there was no agreeing with the Nazi point of view or with the Allies point of view (and Reggio started from the rubble of WW2 - if it hadn't been for the war maybe the need for the approach might not have arisen...) BUT back to what I think neutral is - in a sense it means not making a decision - and really we need to be making a decision about what gender equality is - we need to think do we agree with gender coded toys or not? Do we want to do something about it? Do we accept how we view females and males? Do we want to do something about it? If we are neutral we are allowing everything to continue - but within the preschool (within Sweden during the war) there will be those who believe in one of the approaches and who will maybe follow that, maybe in secret - as there is no openness to discuss the codes, and what they mean and how they should be challenged.  ... just as in Sweden there were those who helped hide the persecuted from the Nazis and there were those who helped the Nazis persecute those deemed "unsuitable". We hide behind neutrality and maybe think we are doing something about gender equality, but I feel like its more of an ostrich sticking its head in the sand - if you can't see what's going on...
       I feel like shaking up everything and that we need to look at this different - I saw the effects that other's fear of neutrality had - Egalia had real threats because they have been open about their gender equality - that OTHERS are viewing as gender neutrality - and this fear of making neutral children I think should be REAL - we should not be creating a society that produces neutral people, but a society that is allowing all people to be EXACTLY who they are, and that we can accept all the colours of the rainbow, that we can accept that the girlie end of the spectrum is of equal value to the boyish end of the spectrum so that regardless of sex, a person is valued for who they are rather than where they find themselves on the gender spectrum. I feel passionate about equality in ALL its forms - not just gender - gender is only a part of it...
      Reflection December 2013When I read this I read it with passion every time. I really do feel frustrated when I discuss with others about the word "hen" and they roll their eyes... OK, I will never replace the words han/hon (he/she) with hen - but at times I find it really useful - especially when I am writing about or talking about a child and I don't want others to make assumptions based on the child's sex but on the child's actions - it DOES make a difference. It is why when I write I TRY not to revela if I am writing about a girl or a boy - so that you as a reader can make your own assumptions on the work based on their skills... sometimes though it IS important to reveal more about the identity of the child than just the age...I do think though I wrote plenty here - and that to develop this further and deeper I need to be a part of a dialogue - which is where these thughts started... in a facebook group chat with preschool teachers from all over Sweden, and a consultant in Reggio Emilia...


    1. This is exactly what I discovered when adding toys IN to the huge collection used by my two boys and their visiting friends. I confess that I bought pushchair, travel cot, baby seat and baby doll in a 'Winnie the Pooh' print with a navy background rather than a pink set but by doing that I hoped to make it easier for the boys to access without unhelpful comments from other adults. It worked, that pushchair was an essential part of day trips for many many years although with a bear rather than the baby doll. All the play kitchen equipment seems to be marketed as a female interest and yet it really isn't - every body needs to eat and has an opinion about food! In recent years, and especially in Scandinavia, I have noticed 'gender equal' colour schemes of grey and red dominating these toys rather than constantly having a pinky purple option or a turquoise and yellow or similar which I have actually found that the girls often like because it is a fresher, more contrasting, combination of colours! I supplied barbie type dolls as well as action man type dolls and tried to tone down the extremes of cliche in both cases. Our barbie type dolls happily use the canoe and the archery set and the action men walk the dog as well!
      I really like the concept of adding toys and experiences into the setting for all to use if they wish ..... and I have a boy at home who LOVES fairies and other small magical peoples like the Swedish tomtar and the Borrowers.

    2. I agree that finding toys can be hard sometimes as so many toys have become colour coded - that what used to be red and blue prams have now become pink

      I also dislike how angry "boy dolls" look and bought "girl boy dolls" for my son with a more positive face. I also think the lego figures these days have more angry faces too