Archives for posts with tag: parenting

As I was helping my six year old brother with his homework this weekend, I realized with startling clarity that his basic math worksheets really weren’t basic at all. I’d bet that you probably don’t remember your 1st grade homework, but if your assignments looked anything like his do, you probably spent a good deal of time trying to figure out which one “didn’t belong.”

 As we’re going through one particular sheet, he comes to a set of pictures and instead of quickly determining which one was “different,” he looked  at me with a questioning expression and said: “Mika, these are all the same…?”

 He was starting fixedly at a picture of an apple, orange, peach, and banana. This was the last and most difficult question on the page because they are all the same in that they’re fruit. But, the correct answer was clearly the banana since its shape is significantly different from that of the other three. I probably wouldn’t have thought anything of his dilema with the fruit picture if I hadn’t just finished reading Michele Foucault’s lecture on (ab)normality. While Foucault discusses the concept of abnormality in the context of the human body and “hermaphrodites,” the link between his lecture and this simple homework problem was obvious to me.

We’re still teaching our children to quickly, almost reflexively, decide which member of a group “doesn’t belong.” This wouldn’t be such an issue if a negative connotation weren’t almost inevitably attached to being different. Practically everyone is guilty here… even Sesame Street!

 I realize that categorization and differentiation are critical skills, but it just makes me wonder what deeper lessons I’m teaching my brother if I make him single out the banana just because it looks a little different. This is a little overdramatic, but is he going to go to school and shy away from a child of a different ethnicity because he’s worried that this child is the metaphorical banana? Or, what if my brother feels like the banana for whatever reason? Is he going to be afraid to play with the apples and oranges?

I found this whole situation interesting because as I was reading Foucault (prior to the homework episode), I found myself wondering how so long ago they came to the conclusion  that someone had broken the “cosmic law” or was a “monster” just because their genitals looked different, and how even today we still sometimes think in a similar way. Even after finishing the piece I’m still not sure where they got the idea that it is somehow OK to pass judgments on the entirety of a person just by looking at one physical characteristic. I mean, think about it… What if people with green eyes were “abnormal”, problematic monsters who violated the proper working of the universe? Where would we be then?

In the end, I simply explained to my brother the reason that circling the banana would be the correct option. Of course, this was only one small homework assignment and I have far more confidence in my ability to share the right messages with him than apprehension about what stereotypes and detrimental lessons he might learn in first grade. I suppose the point here is that we can do anything and everything to try to teach children that we shouldn’t be mean to Johnny just because his skin is different or make fun of Katie because she has two daddies, but there are still so many forces counteracting this effort; most of which we likely don’t even notice.

-Mika Baugh

As we read sections from Natalie Angier’s Woman: An Intimate Geography and discussed our own experiences with being gendered as children (stemming from Angier’s discussion of female aggression), I was reminded of an article I read earlier this summer. The article details Canadian couple, Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, who have chosen not to share the gender of their 4-month-old baby, Storm. And the couple’s older children, Jazz and Kio, are given all the elbow room they want to experiment with their own gender presentation and performance- as evidenced by 5-year-old Jazz, who chooses to wear his hair long and, in the article, shares his excitement over the recent acquisition of a pink dress from Value Village. Both he and Kio “are encouraged to challenge how they’re expected to look and act based on their sex.”

Witterick and Stocker have been the brunt of countless criticisms since sending out Storm’s birth announcement, in which they explain: “We’ve decided not to share Storm’s sex for now — a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime (a more progressive place?)..” Most of this criticism was focused on an imagined future of bullying and ridicule from Storm, whereas some centered on how Kathy and David are “imposing their ideological and political values on a newborn.” Witterick and Stocker defend their choice, however, saying that they “believe they are giving their children the freedom to choose who they want to be, unconstrained by social norms about males and females.

Witterick and Stocker certainly have reasoning behind their unusual decision. As they have witnessed with their two older children, “The moment a child’s sex is announced, so begins the parade of pink and barrage of blue.” In fact, when the family took a trip to Cuba and decided that, for the sake of language barriers, it would be easier to assign Storm a random gender (male, decided via coin flip), the language others used around the infant was radically altered- people commented on ‘his’ size and strength, but certainly would’ve gravitated to something along the lines of “pretty little princess” (barf) had they been led to believe the opposite. This parallels Angier’s experience with her daughter in playgroup- while male and female children behaved similarly, their actions were interpreted (naturalized, normalized, or not) in a strictly gendered way by the adults (parents) in the room.

The genderless baby idea isn’t new- Stocker first got the idea from the 1978 book X: A Fabulous Child’s Story, which depicted a child raised not as male or female but simply as X. And though I felt initially skeptical about the whole shebang- after all, it seems dangerously close to social experimentation with one’s own progeny- I definitely respect what this family is attempting to do. After all, if individuals aren’t constantly queering the common-held (and intensely limiting) beliefs about gender, then those beliefs aren’t going to change. And not that I ever plan on having children of my own (ever, ever, ever), but IF I DID, I would raise my children as children instead of little boys and girls.

-Blair Dietrick