Thursday, November 6, 2014

So, I guess pirate socks are for boys.

a.k.a. Why I am an unapologetic feminist.

Last spring, I soap boxed about language opening dialogues that work towards change. Guess what, reader type humans? There was incredible discussion, support, dissent, and debate throughout the comments section on my facebook post and messages. This is exactly what I wanted. It was great!

Yesterday, I sported my blue, striped, pirate socks, much to the confusion of some students. One little girl looked at me and said, “Kathryn Teacher, you’re wearing boy socks.”
I looked down and asked, “Why are these boy socks? Am I a boy?”
“No?” she replied, a little shy. “But, they have pirate with knife, and that’s boy socks.”

Thus cracking open a giant can of gender stereotypes and behavior worms. As a pretty left-leaning social liberal with a fairly conservative moral compass, I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about this conversation. In this much belated installment of gender discussion, I would like to articulate how boxing our children into gender binaries so young is harmful and why we need feminism to break these social constructs.

It bothers me that children cut themselves out of opportunities because they don’t want to cross the lines that separate genders. And, it bothers me that adults not only allow this mentality, but feed into it. This hurts all of the boys and girls and girls who are boys and boys who are girls and everyone in between.

When discussing gender stereotypes, it is important to address the children’s behavior, because most young children make gendered choices subconsciously. Yet, those who break away from the binary are often readily accepted by their peers but shunned by the adults. We, as adults, must take a step back from what we were taught. As a child of the 90s, I was in this malleable period where progressive folks used green and yellow (or…maybe just Green Bay Packer fans?) to outfit their children’s bedrooms as opposed to the iconic pink and blue. However, I was also raised in a time where activities and even classes were pretty rigidly divided along gender lines. As adults, we must recognize our upbringing and decide if we want to perpetuate it or if we want to change it. There are many organizations that call all the genders to work alongside one another to create equality.

Gendered activities surround us. In the book I use in my after hours tutoring, we learned about hobbies, which featured model airplane building, collecting cards, beading, and painting. The photos used to help teach showed pictures boys building and collecting and girls beading and painting. When I asked about what my students like to do, my girl student said, “Well, I like to build, but that’s boy. So, maybe I like beading?” I collected my jaw from the floor and talked to both of my students about how they can choose any hobby regardless of if they are a boy or a girl. I explained that there is no such thing as a boy activities and girl activities. There are only activities that you like and activities that you don’t.

Right now, Korean schools often funnel boys into sports and science club classes and girls into dance, drawing, or English classes. However, I see hope in the eyes of one of my students H—A—. She refused to run in the girl’s relay race for Sports Day. She knew she was faster than the boys, and she wanted to race them to help quicken her time. The school, surprisingly, allowed it. On the day of the race, she was stretching with her friends (girls), but when it came time to run, she lined up with the boys. In the end, she didn’t win, but she also didn’t lose. She challenged herself, and she was so much prouder of a 5th place (out of 20) finish than she would have been with an unchallenged 1st place finish.

It is imperative that we praise and encourage our students to diverge from the gender norm. By raising our children to question, research, and disregard gender stereotypes, we raise a generation to look for discrepancy and work to fix it. It is also important for us to support our children’s activity choices even if/when they fall on the traditionally girl or boy spectrum. I hope that H—A—and other young girls continue to push boundaries as they grow up. It would be such an amazing uprising if all of the young women in this country and all countries found, explored, and utilized their voices to dismantle the patriarchal society in which they’d been raised.

Progress forward is a long and arduous process. However, more women and men are stepping forward and proudly claiming feminism, dismantling the idea that we’re all a bunch of bra-burning, men hating, bull-dyke lady lovers. There are, of course, those types of feminists, but they are by far not a majority. But, really, the focus of feminism is the raising up of women, not the bringing down of men. Ms. Emma Watson, the United Nation’s Women's Goodwill Ambassador, made a fantastic speech calling men to work with women in a program called #HeForShe.

For feminism to work as a movement and an ideology, we, as men and women, must change our behavior, our thoughts, our ingrained ideas of masculinity and femininity and impart that change onto our children. We must end slut-shaming and victim blaming. We must teach all of our children that beauty lies in both strength and sensitivity. We must teach them that “like a girl” does not equate to “less than a boy.”

When my niece Q’Jawsie Kathryn Marie Botsford Phelps is born, I’m going to send her all of the truck, dinosaur, monkey, ballet slipper crazy onesies that Korea has to offer. I want to teach her how to use her voice—how to giggle and cry, shout and laugh, burp the ABCs and sing like a gosh darn angel. I want her to grow up in a society that shows her that she has value as a girl but more importantly as a human.

This is Katie, signing out.       

PS My niece’s name will not actually be Q’Jawsie. Although, I might call her QJ regardless of what her name will actually be.

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