What Happened When I Spoke With a Class of 4-Year-Olds About Feminism

By Michelle Noehren, Age 34

When your child is 4 and her class has career week in which parents are encouraged to come in and talk to the kids about what they do for a living, it’s a peculiar situation when your job isn’t very clear cut. As the Events & Special Projects Director at the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, I like to think I’m fighting against patriarchy and making the world a little better for women. I knew I wanted to talk with my daughter’s class, but how in the world was I going to talk to them about women’s rights and feminism in a way they could understand?

After talking about some ideas with two pals (thanks Sarah H. and Sarah B.!), I decided to focus my presentation during circle time on gender stereotypes. This is something I talk with my own daughter about all the time so she’s grown up knowing that all toys are for everyone, there’s no such thing as girls toys and boys toys. But she’s told me that other people in her class are always telling her she’s wrong so I figured this would be a nice way to have my daughter’s back and also give this group an introduction into feminism.

I brought in a bag of my daughter’s toys that I pre-selected to make sure there were plenty that fit in either the stereotypical boy or girl categories.  I asked the kids to tell me if they thought each toy was for girls or for boys and WOW, was it eye opening. I figured that most kids would already have some ideas of what’s for boys and what’s for girls but they pretty much answered in unison each time. Examples of how this went:

  • Nail polish – for girls
  • Toy hammer – for boys
  • Red and yellow blocks – for boys
  • Pink blocks – for girls
  • Musical instrument – for girls
  • Ball for playing outside – for boys
  • Running medal – for boys
  • Tiara – for girls

Even the teacher remarked that she wanted to cry watching this little social experiment happen. These are FOUR-YEAR-OLDs and they clearly have developed ideas about what it means to be a boy or a girl. And this makes me so sad.

Who decided that boys can’t like pink or play dress up? Who says that girls can’t play sports or get dirty in the mud? Why do we continue to promote these ridiculous stereotypes that only serve to limit who our children believe they can be?

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My daughter’s Ruby Rails doll agrees – gender is a social construct! I think I’m making this photo my new Facebook cover photo.

After we were done with the toy exercise, I spoke with the kids for a few minutes about how all the toys I brought are for ALL kids, and in fact everything I showed them was my daughter’s, and she’s a girl! I’d say about 80% of the class was with me, there were two boys who felt strongly about boy stuff and girl stuff being real.

I brought in two books to try and help drive my message home. I read them Not All Princesses Dress in Pink and Rosie Revere, Engineer. They seemed to love the books and it felt so good to read them stories about being true to who you really are. Girls can get muddy, play sports AND love tiaras and boys can like the color purple and love making music.

If you’re a parent or have a niece, nephew or another little one in your life, I encourage you to think about how you may be unconsciously promoting gender stereotypes in their lives. Watching the language we use around kids and intentionally showing them that boys and girls can like whatever they like and be whoever they are is a great way to support their unique interests while creating a less sexist society.

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This is what your mom brings to school when it’s career week and she’s a feminist.

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