Last week I clicked on our required reading to find out that it was about gender and how it is now seen to be nothing more than a social construct. I was ecstatic! These are topics I have always found extremely interesting and relevant. I read through it with joy and couldn’t wait for the seminar. However, and I regret to inform you, it was not up to par with some of the other lectures for this module.
Allow me to explain; there was absolutely nothing wrong with the seminar itself. It was interesting and raised many very important points about how we, as humans, have an unnecessary need to categorise people; a topic I am all too familiar with. My issue was exactly that. I felt like I was too familiar with it, I felt it was almost a step back for me. The majority of the room was engrossed in the points being made; it opened their eyes to how the way we treat children in relation to gender roles influences how they grow up and what they consider to be ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. There were passionate discussions about sexuality and ‘the norm’ and for a second I felt angry. Angry that people were only now really realising now how big these issues are and yet, for some, they are the only ones that matter.
Don’t get me wrong I stand by the seminar. If it can change even one person’s views to make them a more open minded individual then I support it wholeheartedly; especially for those going into a childcare profession. My worry is that for some, this is the first time they have questioned these constructs and as a future teacher this has always been something I want to change.
I don’t want things like gender and sexuality to be something you have revelations about. It should be common knowledge. We should all already know that people are people and love is love. We should have already accepted that none of us fit perfectly into the boxes of gender; most of us pick and choose some ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ traits. As for sexuality, the point that “everyone is, at the very least, unintentionally homophobic” struck a very hurtful chord for me as someone who actively tries to promote every form of equality in everything I do. Someone mentioned that we all use homophobic language as insults even though I have never called someone or something “gay” in a negative way. When the issue of gender non-conforming people being thought of as “abnormal” was brought up and the replies, although positive and open minded, were basic and repetitive it annoyed me. The constant spiel of “we are all the same on the inside” and “it doesn’t impact who you are as a person” really makes me think how far we have yet to go. I hate to break it to you but this isn’t equality.
The reason I want to be a teacher is to teach children from a young age that these things are normal. I don’t want them to have big revelations at 18 where they realise that they didn’t need to bully that child for being gay or black or mentally disabled. I don’t want people in 10 years time to be studying at university level and to be realising that people deserve rights and protection and a place to go to the toilet. I want it to be common knowledge. I want it to be taught for so long that it would never even occur to them to give a second glance, even unconsciously, to the gay couple walking down the street holding hands. I want a society where I didn’t have to mention that the couple was gay.
The solution is education.
The gender stereotypes and heteronormativity of society are, in my opinion, the worst part of 21st century living. Extreme? Perhaps not as much as you think. A lot of issues we deal with now are a result of these. Now clearly I cannot relate things like poverty and world hunger to the fragile concept masculinity but I could make list upon list of issues that do.
Take America for a rather upsetting example. If we abolished the concept of gender everything would be different. For starters there might be a person of proper qualifications in power. If not, there may at least be a society where people are not excluded and dehumanised to protect the straight white cisgendered man from a threat only he can see. This, although incredibly important and something everyone should consider, is not the point of this post.
Like I’ve mentioned, I want to be a teacher so this issue hits home for me because it tears me apart to think that society is forcing children into roles they don’t want to play. For many the concept of gender means absolutely nothing but to some it means everything. If a child in my class wants to identify as something different than their biological sex then it would be absolutely detrimental for them to have one of the first people they meet, that represents a position of power, to tell them that their choice is not valid.
If I were to persuade children to play with toys that corresponds with their genitalia then that is creating boundaries. Even if I am the only person in that child’s life to enforce gender roles; that is going to change them. Why can’t we change them for the good? Why do we have to obsess over what boys can and cannot do? Why do we teach girls to be submissive? Why do we have to categorise and oppress? Why can’t we just teach them to be good people? I don’t mean we teach them that some people are gay and that’s okay. I mean teach them that each person is different from the next and to just have a little compassion.
Teaching equality from an early age would eradicate so many forms of prejudice. Hatred is taught so let’s teach love instead. These issues are too important to ignore but don’t just listen; do something. Actively endorse change. Correct people, use gender neutral terms, start thinking of people as nothing less than people. However they choose to break down their personal identity is up to them; don’t try to sway them to do it your way. Learn from the past, focus on what is actually important. Why does it matter to you if John Lewis abolished the gender labels on their kids clothes? You do you and let them do them. Get over it; it’s not a big deal.