28 January, 2010

Name and Shame

One of my forms of activism takes place in the childcare centre I work at. I challenge biases, encourage diversity, and try my best to treat the children equally. I've been teaching my toddlers some basic sign language (please, thank you, numbers, alphabet), and I like to say things like "Some people have two mummies or two daddies" to the Kindy children (as an aside: Kindy children are at an age where bias has seeped in, so it's a great time to challenge).

An important part of this is using the correct names for anatomy. Of course head is head, foot is foot, ear is ear. But I also use words like: vulva, vagina, breasts, testical, penis. (I say bottom, not anus or rectum, because they all understand bottom. But, I digress).
I also try my damndest to never shame any of the children about their bodies, about nudity, or really about anything.

So you can imagine my horror when I hear one of the carers say to a PF1 toddler: "Put your pants on! No one wants to see you rudey-dudeys!"
Wow. What a way to shame! Not only are her vulva and vagina "rude", but no one wants to see them! How dare she show her shameful body like that?
What bothers me more is that this took place in the children's toilet, while said carer was changing said child's nappy. Of course she wasn't wearing pants, you've just taken her nappy off! How 'bout you simply put it back on instead of shaming her?

Another incident happened with a parent. We have just had two PF's start in the centre, and one of the ways we transition children is to have them come in for a few hours with their primary caregiver/s. This was such an occasion. The father was in my room with the younger child, the mother was in the kindy room with the older child.

Father noticed that one of the PMs2 was wearing pink polish on his toenails. The conversation went like this.
Father: He's wearing nail polish.
Me: Yes. Some of the boys here do that.
Father: What, the boys wear nail polish?
Me: Yes. There's a boy in the kindy room who loves nail polish. We don't discourage it.
Father: What?
Me: We don't discourage it. If they want to wear nail polish, we're not going to tell them they shouldn't.
Father: But he's a boy!
Other Carer: He has older sisters, I think they did this to him.

At which point I stopped trying.

1PF = Presumed Female, as in children born with a vagina and vulva.
2PM = Presumed Male, as in children born with a penis and testicles.


Treacy said...

How sad. It starts at such a young age. And for that carer to imply that he was only wearing nail polish because of his older sisters. Grr. I just hope that new PM hasn't already learnt his father's attitude and picks on the said child.

My son is 15 only months and has already had gender expectations forced onto him. All his grandparents asked what to get my son for Christmas. I requested a toy stroller on more than one occassion, did he get one? No.

Another example is that my son recently kissed my father for the first time, his Pop told him that boys shake hands instead.

It just devestates me. I wish my son could be at your centre.

Arwyn said...

If you ever have a hankering to move to the USA, I would adore to have you as a part time caregiver. Like, srsly. I mean, I'd mostly pay in massages and hand knit scarves, but the Boychick would adore you.

Anonymous said...

Love this. Like Arwyn, I wish there were more carers like you!
Gender policing starts so young - a friend of mine told me how boys in her prep class (five year olds)will sometimes choose pink paper if given the option, but this stops after a couple of weeks. Not because she discourages them, but because the girls in her class won't allow it because 'pink is for girls'. Those girls have been well-policed in pre-school, obviously.

Pharaoh Katt said...

Thank you so much everyone for your comments. So often I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle, but this really lifts my spirits. So thank you :)

and if I ever go to the Eastern States/US, I'll be sure to let you know so we can chat and have coffee or whatever.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, and I support what you are trying to do... gender identification should be up to people without society trying to impose conformity to a stereotype based on the sex of the child.

Not sure if I agreed with PF/PM terminology though, perhaps because I think of sex and gender as two different (and happily independent) things. I use the words male & female to mean chromosome-decided or trans sex, and masculine/feminine to describe gender choice.

How about BM/BF/BI to mean "birth male/female/intersex"?