Princess Daze in Elementary School

Love this post by Emily Rosenbaum about how "School Spirit Week" is celebrated in her children's elementary school. Each day has a theme including (wait for it)....Princess Day on which girls  are supposed to dress in glitter and tiaras. As are the boys, if they want to, are too--but not because it's okay for a boy to dress like a princess, exactly the opposite: it's clear the boys are supposed to be doing it as a goof, with a wink and a homophobic nudge.

"It’s making the point (rather strongly) that there are things for girls and things for boys and the only times we break through those barriers is to laugh about it.  In other words, rather than making a safe space in which the boys can express themselves, it’s laying down the gender norms even more clearly.  Sure, kid, dress as a princess; it’ll be a hoot.

It’s not a hoot.  Not for the boys who are uncomfortable with their sexuality or gender.  Not for the boys who lack self-confidence and can’t pull off a joke like that.  Not for the boys who, a few years from now, will find themselves in tears when their peers taunt them with “faggot.”  Not for the boys who don’t participate that day because they don’t feel comfortable with the joke or for the boys who participate only to fit in.  Not for the girls who are shoved into the role of flighty consumers."

And not for this boy, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, a 6th grader who hung himself in 2009 after being repeatedly taunted at his new school for being "gay." What would he have done on Princess Day?

As Emily pointed out, her children's school could have had  Royal Day, or a fantasy day, or a dress-like-a-character-from-a-book day. There are so many possibilities for fun, for creativity, for costume in an elementary school. But Princess day? Really?

What do you think? And any advice for Emily?


It's A Mixed Up, Muddled Up, Shook Up World....

Great piece in Friday's NY Times on elementary school kids who want to wear clothing considered to be for the other sex and how parents handle it. As it happened, the Spanish Dance performance for the 2nd & 3rd years at Daisy's school was that morning. Here are the costumes the kids wore:

Seems pretty obvious that the one on the left is the boys' while the one on the right is the girls'. But it wasn't presented that way. The kids were told there were two costume choices and they could wear whichever they liked. A few of the girls picked the khakis. One of the boys chose the skirt and top. Of course, no one said much about the girls choosing khakis. But here is what the one of the teachers wrote me about a boy choosing to wear "girls" clothing:

We work hard to bust up stereotypes - these things don't just go away on their own.  We talked to the Spanish teacher and let her know that we would be presenting the costumes as two options.  I had a conversation with the class about [the boy's] choice and that it was right for him and that our job was to be supportive and to have his back.  I also let the other 2-3 teachers know so that they could do the same.  Our class totally rose to the occasion and when someone was laughing and pointing, a classmate put his arm around [the boy in the skirt] and pulled him close and said, "Don't listen to them."  a gem of a moment for sure!   We also talked with the boy himself and said that when you make a decision that people are not used to, it can draw attention.  We let him know if anything came up that he felt uncomfortable with or couldn't handle, that we were there to help.  Big, important and sometimes tricky stuff!

One could argue that by having one standard unisex costume the whole issue might have been avoided, but this turned out to be a great lesson for our school community--students, teachers and parents alike.

It also occurred to me that dancing by default with opposite sex partners for Square dancing or other folk dancing might be something to reconsider. It reinforces that contact with the other sex should be in this realm of "opposite" which encourages the stigma around "liking" one another and decreases the possibility of real friendship at that age. It assumes heterosexuality. It denies the spectrum of choices these kids will some day express gender identity (or are expressing now). Another way to go would be to have children either choose partners of either sex or simply assign them randomly.

Or, you can kick up a huge, ahistorical fuss when a little boy wants to paint his toenails pink......

Why Won't Boys Won't Watch Movies About Girls?

Getting over-excited about all the fab comments on my last post re: why bringing up  Jessie in Toy Story is not an adequate comeback for "why hasn't  Pixar made any movies about women?" Thank you guys for such a wonderful conversation. One commenter (in fact the one who inspired the post--so double thank you!) asked about the idea that boys won't watch movies about girls. And added it's not like 5 year old boys are taking themselves to the movies (though they do have OPINIONS, believe me). But yes, conventional Hollywood wisdom is that boys won't watch girl protagonists. And every time a movie about a woman or girl fails or under-performs at the box office that is reinforcement. While if a movie about a woman succeeds it tends to be regarded as a fluke. Going  to movies with female leads becomes a sort of political statement--hence the hubbub around the first Sex & the City movie as well as about the current film, Bridesmaids.


In CAMD I talk about how that boys-won't-watch girls was disproved on TV by Nickelodeon, first with "Clarissa Explains it All" and later with "The Amanda Show" and iCarly. I'm not endorsing those shows, I'm just saying. They have had a fairly equal number of male and female viewers. So when left to their own devices at home on TV, boys apparently WILL watch girls.

And yet. Hollywood retains this belief, this core tenet. And for good reason, I guess.Take Bridesmaids which its first weekend in release made $26.2 million in 2,918 theaters--an average of $8,995 per screen.


Meanwhile, Hangover 2 made $85.9 million its first weekend on 3,615 screens--an average of $23,775 per screen.

Sigh. (Though congratulations to fellow Oberlin alum Ed Helms!)

Not that it's entirely Hollywood's fault. We condition boys from the earliest ages AGAINST seeing female experience as equally universal or relevant to them as males'. Even when we're well-intentioned. Years ago, I was asked to write a  jacket quote for a book for parents that listed children's books with strong, adventurous complex female protagonists for girls. It was a fine compendium, but I hesitated to endorse it. Why should  great books about female characters be only for GIRLS? Shouldn't we be encouraging boys from an early age to read books with female protagonists too? Didn't this just add to the idea that male experience is universal but female experience is specific?

We teach our boys from the earliest ages that anything associated with the feminine is not for them and even "bad." Hello homophobia, misogyny etc etc. I mean, remember the insanity around that J. Crew catalog with the photo of the boy in pink nail polish? Puh-leeze!

In CAMD I cite the work of Isabelle Cherney who found that nearly half of boys ages 5-13 when ushered into a room and told they could play with anything chose "girl" toys as often as "boys" toys--provided they believed no one would find out. Particularly their fathers. The youngest boys said said their daddies would think it was "bad" if they played with "girls'" toys, even something as innocuous as miniature dishes. Boys were also more likelty to sort playthings based on how they perceived gender roles (such as "Dad uses tools, so hammers are for boys"), whereas girls figured that if they themselves enjoyed a toy--any toy--it was, ipso facto, for girls.

I take heart in thinking about a birthday party Daisy attended a few months back. The host was a boy, as were all the other guests aside from her. For an hour or so, they ran around the birthday boy's yard, shooting one another with nerf guns. Then they all jumped in the family van and headed off to see....Tangled. Maybe there is hope after all.