Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Back to School and the Unintended messages.

The kids have been back at school for two weeks now, and the sexism  has been ratcheted up a notch yet again. During the summer they largely interact with their father and I, and so we take opportunities to teach them to be cognizant of various isms.  In the summer, we actively teach them about their privileges and work hard to make sure they understand how destructive isms are, but invariably, the first two weeks of school happens, and it feels like all the work that we have done disappears.

Because Destruction is older, this year he held onto a lot more of what he has been taught, Mayhem however, went into total regression mode.  He is back to telling me how certain toys are for girls and others are for boys.  He even asserted that he cannot do certain things because he is a boy.  As a family, we have corrected each one of his erroneous claims. I love that when I miss a comment, Destruction can be heard instructing his little brother on how equal boys and girls are, and that he is being silly.

We don't homeschool our children, and this means they are exposed to various ideas from both their teachers and fellow students.  Playing with other kids their age is important for their emotional growth, even as it exposes them to ideas that directly confront and declare our family morals to be wrong.  A lot of times when we talk about homeschooling in the media, it is about families that choose to homeschool for religious reasons. I don't agree that religion should be the impetus to homeschool, but I do understand the difficulty of trying to impart specific morals, only to have them actively challenged by others.  Children are impressionable, and they desire to fit in amongst their peer groups.  At the heart of it, Mayhem wants to be like all the other boys in his class, and to do so means conformity.

Some would say that this is an expression of his innate masculinity, while I see it as his him learning that conforming means acceptance, and being different means being subject to attack.  This is a boy that loves to paint his nails, play restaurant, dance and color.  He is vibrant in every since of the word. It is simply not possible that sexism is an innate part of his being.  It would be one thing if he were naturally attracted to specific toys from the start, but this is not what his statements are about.  He is actively asserting that there is a natural way to be a boy, and a natural way to be a girl. This is not an idea that stems from the home, and in fact it is continually contradicted in the home by both of his parents and his older brother.

Back to school means more than learning math and ABC's, back to school also means further indoctrination of social norms that are harmful to many.  It is absolutely an uphill battle to raise socially aware children, because each day they are inundated with messages that relay the exact opposite message.  With the message comes the pressure to conform, and that coupled with the fact that the majority of their day is spent outside of the home, makes it extremely difficult to combat.

Last night we had the debate of action figures vs dolls. It seems that boys aren't allowed to play with dolls, but actions figures are different. I spent a good fifteen minutes trying to convince him that action figures are dolls as well, and in the end, I had to give up in the face of his repeated denials.  Because he is a very different child than my oldest son, what worked for Destruction does not seem to be working with Mayhem. I would be dishonest if I didn't admit that I am absolutely frustrated with this.  To me, social justice parenting should be natural, and yet after 10 years I can tell you that it is an uphill battle. I feel like we take one step forward, to only turn around and take three steps back.  The messages we impart are consistent, but when kids are inundated with the exact opposite, it sometimes feels like we're getting nowhere.

I would love to hear suggestions on how to talk to my boys about sexism.  How do I ensure that they understand that male privilege means the active oppression of women?  How do I make sure that they understand that gender should never be a limitation on an activity?  Whatever ideas you have please share and please be aware that this question is open to parents and non parents alike.