Jewfem Blog

PINK BLOCKS BLUE BLOCKS? ON GENDER IN PRESCHOOL, BODY-SHAMING, AND TEACHING TO TRANSGRESS




  A kindergarten teacher noticed that the block corner in her classroom was completely boy-dominated, and decided to do something to bring girls to the space. She took a bunch of blocks and painted them pink and purple. The results were both good and bad. The good news: girls came to the block corner to play with pink and purple blocks. The bad news: girls came to the block corner to play with pink and purple blocks. This story, recounted by my colleague and friend Dr. Chaya Gorsetman in the first session of our telecourse, “Ready for school? Gender Issues in Jewish Education”, brings up some of the huge challenges and dilemmas that educators face in trying to create equal gender opportunity in schools. Mountains of research Dr Chaya Gorsetman demonstrate the negative impact of sex-role socialization on girls from the earliest ages.  Girls – and boys – receive the message in direct and indirect ways that boys are supposed to be aggressive, assertive, physical, competitive leaders while girls are supposed to be sweet, dainty, helpful, obedient, small, and nice. These ubiquitous messages come through books, school décor, classroom structures, teachers’ commentary, and of course Hollywood and Toys R Us. Peggy Orenstein’s crucial book, “Cinderella Ate my Daughter” describes in painful detail the pink-and-sparkly takeover of girls’ lives from the time they are born. Girls, especially, are bombarded with these messages from every angle. But sometimes, if you can’t beat them, join them. If turning the block corner pink – or turning the science lab, or the computer lab metaphorically “girls” – brings more girls into the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math), then some teachers are working to use that to girls’ advantage. Such an approach may make some of us cringe (or anyone who has read Peggy Orenstein’s book). But, as the panelists in this telecourses debated, perhaps the end-goal of advancing women and girls in high-status studies and careers is more important than fighting the pink-sparkly wars. Maybe. We all have to choose our battles, right? Amy Newman Maybe there is another way. Amy Newman, a fabulous feminist teacher at the Gann Academy in Boston, who also spoke on this first telecourses panel, shared some interesting insights about the ways in which gender socialization happens in schools, and what her school is doing to change it. She reflected on the crossover between expectations of “extrovertness” and gender hierarchies. Teacher expectations about student assertiveness in the classroom invariably reward boys, she said, by cheering on boys who jump in, take over, or initiate – sometimes inadvertently punishing the girls who show a preference for being an introvert.  She also shared insights about how body commentary shames girls. In both of these areas, Amy said that her school has been engaged in school-wide discussions and consciousness-raising, and has made some remarkable changes in these areas. For example, teachers are now more conscious about favoritism towards extroverts, and today are not allowed to write on report cards comments such as,...

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