What happens when you let a child explore their curiosities, predispositions and inner creativity beyond their gender? The answer is clear: they’re allowed to be the best versions of themselves. You Be You is a charity seeking to break down gender stereotypes from primary school level.
They say, “We want every classroom to be a safe, supportive, open environment where children can explore their interests and express their feelings.” That is, they want children to develop as whole human beings, not shamed or restricted for who they are. Because the stereotypes which oppress us are seen as normal or natural, in school and out, teachers need trained to see them and combat them. Now, there is a pilot of their training at two primary schools in London.
Much of this is around empowering girls to be active and assertive. On their news page, there are two articles from May 2017 about girls playing football and girls and the Outdoors. The first article on their useful links is “Girls lose faith in their own talents”, and among the research papers is “Parent gender roles at home and child aspirations”. I am glad I was taught to aspire to university, less glad that my feelings were not valued so I chose the wrong course to do there.
They write, Interventions mostly focus on women and girls, but we need to focus on men and boys just as much. Why don’t more men take a lead role in parenting and go part-time at work? Why don’t more men become teachers and nurses? Why are men more likely resort to substance abuse and violence as a response to stress, anxiety and depression than women? Why are roughly 3/4 of suicide victims men? Both men and women suffer from gender inequality.
Women and girls should not be blocked from achieving, should be able to value their talents and have those talents seen and developed, should be able to be active in any role they choose. Yes! Hurrah! What anyone in this valuable work wants for boys is less clear. We want them happier, more at ease with themselves. But, do you imagine boys cannot be happy following masculine stereotypes? What, none of them? Who do you want to benefit? Aha: If we don’t start teaching boys that it’s ok to express themselves, nurture others, and show vulnerability, we’re never going to chip away at the walls women keep running into in adulthood.
In Resources for parents, there is a list of books, including “Stories for Boys who Dare to be Different”, which includes a picture of Grayson Perry in a frock. The alternative type of hero is a man who checks his privilege and who is kind, selfless, courageous and not afraid to stand up for what’s right.
There is a blog. This has lots of useful stuff, such as a study showing that children whose friendship groups emphasised traditional gender stereotypes were shown to have lower well being than others. Those who chose ‘being tough’ as the most important trait for boys, or ‘having good clothes’ as the most important trait for girls, had the lowest well being of all.
It seems the pilots are about to start. Even in a school full of enthusiastic, creative teachers, and is really committed to supporting the mental health and personal development of its pupils, teaching about “feelings and kindness”, stereotypes remained, including the idea that housework was for females.
Even their own children follow the stereotypes. They don’t fit gay and trans children, but just possibly there may be some “normal” kids they fit. I wonder how much anyone can bring forth the natural child, shorn of stereotype, and how much the training challenges the stereotype whether it is “natural” to the child or not.
I don’t know how much masculinity and femininity are social constructs. Nature and nurture interact like flour and eggs, and girls might be trained to be more assertive- if the nurture is different, and the child remains “feminine”, is that from her, or from other influences the trainer could not control? I have no idea. I know these matters are fiercely disputed. There remain restrictions on women, as on BAME people and LGBT.
I wish them well. I hope a trans child would flourish in the environment they wish to create. I hope none would be told they did not need to transition in this gender-free world, if they asserted they did. In any case, as a child, as a soft apparent boy, I would have benefited from it.