Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Fairies and boys

 What is it about fairies that makes them so girly? 
They are magical creatures, just like Santa Claus, unicorns, trolls and dragons... but for some reason fairies seem to have been, at some point in time, categorised as a girl thing.
Its such a shame because there is so much wonder and imagination around fairies... and when you start looking at images of fairies of the years and centuries and read stories about them, you discover there are many MALE fairies... (and in a discussion with my husband at dinner he needed to point out just how nasty the fairies in Hellboy were!!)
I asked my group of children today what a fairy was - some of them knew precisely - it was a creature that glowed at night but not during the day... there were no boy fairies, no mummy and daddy fairies - there were just fairies...

... being a philosophical preschool I didn't just leave it there - I challenged this idea of no boy fairies saying that I had seen pictures of boy fairies and king fairies... it was done in a way that acknowledged the childrens opinions of a fairy but at the same time presented a new idea... this is one of our aims - for children to develop their own theories but at the same time being able to listen and accept, with respect, that others can think differently (and also the ability to learn and adjust their own opinion if they think it makes more sense to them)

 Funnily enough in my mail today was the latest edition of Förskolan (a magazine called Preschool) and one of the articles is called "Look beyond the Structures" and discusses gender... it could not have been more perfect as I was formulating in my head all the way home from preschool how my post about the children playing with fairies in the forest today would be pitched... we had seen how the boys in the group (2-4 yr old goup) had played with the fairies as naturally as the girls had... creating their own adventures in the grass and rocks of the forest floor (and a bench that is for some reason standing there too).

It got me thinking about how many preschools take away the pink and the fairies in an effort to make a better environment for gender equality... and I have to wonder why? Why are we taking things AWAY to create gender equality, shouldn't we be including instead? As Klara Dolk writes in the magazine "Förskolan" (Nr6 2013)
              "What is it that is wrong with ruffles, pink and frills? Why is it so loaded? 
                Why do we perceive the masculine as better?"

She goes on to write about how society has a tendency to devalue the feminine - and that this can cause problems for boys as much as girls - especially the boys who like to dress in pink and as princesses. I remember with great sorrow in my heart how the parents of one boy (at another preschool I worked at) forbade us to allow their son to wear princess clothes while at preschool ... he would sit next to the dress up box and stroke the pink dresses and the high heels with great affection... we would have loved nothing more than to allow him to wear the clothes, but he would look at us with his big sad eyes and tell us how he would not wear them because his parents had said he must not... and as teachers it is NOT our job to teach the children to defy their parents and to lie to them, no matter how wrong we think they are... but to give them the strength to talk with their parents and explain what they want and what feels right...

"and they go to the shops to by sausage and fruit"
I also remember how at another preschool that showed films every Friday I would take film from my home (as I was the only staff member with children of my own the same age as the preschool children). I found myself thinking hard about what films to take, to fit in with projects, to be accessible to everyone... I also found how I NEVER took the really girly films that my twin daughters loved; until one day I thought I was being ridiculous and that I should not be making decisions based on avoiding girly things... SO, I took the film Fairytopia into preschool. Before half the film was over ALL the girls had left the film and had started playing... ALL the boys were glued to the screen. Two thirds of the way through the film the boys who had older brothers turned round and said "Don't tell my brother that I am watching this".
It made me feel so sad that these boys were, at the age of 4-5, afraid of admitting they liked something that was "girly". I mean, sure, it's based on Barbie a doll marketed for girls - but it is about bravery and friendship and loyalty - and there were girl and boy fairies (and a merboy) in on the action... why SHOULD this film just be for girls?
It has made me think more about - when do children start thinking about what is for girls and what is for boys... and does having an older sibling affect this?

So I am begining to feel that we at Filosofiska have the potential for something quite unique for a preschool... our oldest children are all girls (4yrs) - and only two of them have older siblings (also girls).. the oldest boys turn three this year - and today they showed us that they play with fairies just like the rest of the group - the fairies flew, they went shopping, they had adventures almost falling off rocks and there seemed to be some kissing and hugs going on there too...
Are we able to allow these boys to develop an interest in ALL things and NOT feel that they have to avoid certain things because they belong in the realm of girls? These ARE boys with a strong interest in cars... so there is nothing "special" with these boys except for being the wonderful unique people that they are...
my hope is that we can ensure that we value ALL things that we make EVERYTHING available to the children and that the children can make their own choices... not choices formed by adult opinions of boys and girls...

Klara Dolk writes (Förskolan Nr6 2013)  
     "In the effort to allow all children to make their own active choices there is a risk that girls     
      who choose gender stereotypical are not viewed as free and that their choices are not as 
      worth as much".

This is sad in deed that efforts to create gender equality means avoiding all things stereotypically girlish. And this tallies with how I have experienced it over the years... both my own journey into gender equality awareness and how some gender consultants have come to my preschool group and accused me of being too girly with so much pink in the dress up box - I answered "aren't boys allowed to like pink" - the consultant looked at me, realised her mistake and hopefully learned something about how we adults project our own ideas onto children...
We really need to to trust the children - and the best way to do that is to give them access to everything and to give VALUE to all things whether stereotypical girl or boy - and our job is to encourage children to test out everything to see where their interests and strengths lie...

Returning to "Förskolan" and Klara Dolk -
     "To have the possibility to change we must see the structures and patterns at the same 
       time see beyond them. In order to succeed we need to frequently make many interpretations 
      of an image, situation or event"

In other words we need the structure of the stereotypical images of what is a girl and what is a boy so that we can question it, challenge it and allow children to try all elements... if we are making our preschools neutral then we are not allowing ourselves the opportunity to challenge or question them...

So being a part of arranging an International Fairy Tea Party can actually have much deeper influences... yes it started out as a chance to celebrate the play and imagination of children... but it has also got me thinking about gender issues ...

For more thougths about gender issues - check out my post... Gender Dialogue

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