Boys, you gather the ammunition; girls, you set the table

A friend of mine has given me permission to blog about a recent email rant she sent me. Her kindergartener brought home a note from the teacher about the upcoming Thanksgiving celebration at school. The note informed parents that boys would engage in activities such as bow hunting, farming, and fishing. Girls, meanwhile, would cook, set the table, and make jewelry.

To my friend, who well remembers from her own school days being made to stay inside with the girls to do “feminine” activities she hated while the boys went out to play, this amounts to institutional bullying. What is the most disturbing to me is that the teacher is not only passing on verbal messages to these five year-olds about what boys can/should do and what girls can/should do, but requiring the children to physically embody those messages. Putting that “knowledge” in their bodies through practice and action make these gendered messages more visceral and powerful than stories they hear about what they can do.

I asked my four year-old son if he had a choice between practicing hunting and working in the garden or cooking and making jewelry, what he would pick. His choice: hunting and making jewelry, of course! (He did note, “I really, really like making jewelry!”) It seems to me that it would be easy enough to describe typical activities and then allow children to choose the two or three they want to do.

So if you received this note, how would you respond, especially if you don’t know the other families in the class well?  How can we help each other to notice the places where we are unconsciously upholding or perpetuating prejudice without triggering the defensive reaction that makes all conversation moot? Any ideas?

(I realize there are other huge issues with celebrating/recreating the Plimouth Plantation’s 1621 harvest celebration. I don’t know what else this particular teacher is planning to talk about or do, so I don’t want to editorialize too much about them. For those of you interested in presenting historical information to your kids, you might find this site interesting: http://plimoth.org/education/olc/index_js2.html.)

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