This inspiring article has been Tumblred and Facebooked and [whatever else you damn kids do when you’re not on my lawn] all over the place, and with good cause. It’s by a kindergarten teacher who’s taking simple, common-sense, nonthreatening steps to educate the kids in her class about gender roles, what they are, and that they are not absolute.
The key, as I see it, is the scene where she has the kids make two big lists, things that are for boys and things that are for girls. Then she starts going down those lists, examining, with the kids, whether they’re actually restricted to one gender or not. Pretty soon everything on the lists is checked off as not necessarily gendered, and the kids, excited at having spotted a pattern, are rapidly volunteering their own real-life examples of gender nonconformance, from the uncle who wears nail polish to the lady who rides a motorbike.
Ms. Tempel has found a way to teach the abstract concept of gender performativity to five-year-olds. Once they grasp that it is a performance, they immediately understand that any given aspect of it is optional. Best of all, she’s doing it in a completely gender-egalitarian way, liberating both boys and girls from the arbitrary and ridiculous straitjackets they’ve been fitted for.
I wish I’d had a teacher like that. I still recall with shame how much I participated in gender enforcement as a child. As a small boy, I went along with the girls-are-gross stuff because everyone else was doing it and it seemed to be expected. Little kids have to go along with what seems to be expected; it’s how we learn to exist in the world. I should have known better by fourth and fifth grade, though, when I was part of the ostracization of the two boys in our school who preferred to play with the girls instead. Sasha, David, if you’re out there, I’m sorry. I should have invited you to my birthday party, and generally been less of a little shit.
It would be wonderful if Ms. Tempel’s techniques and attitude spread and found a wider audience, being taught to more children. I can’t even begin to estimate how much pain might be spared.