Authored by First Grade Teacher Alaina McCourt
“What are some gender stereotypes that you know about?” I ask my First Graders
“Stereotypes?” they ask.
“You know, what are some of the ways that you think people of different genders “should” be or act?”
Pretty quickly, we filled up a long list of things boys do and things girls do. And it’s not all that surprising.
Gender norms and stereotypes are ingrained in many aspects of society. Children learn from a very early age how they “should” act depending on their gender. What colors to like, what toys to play with, what clothes to wear. Toy and clothing stores, television commercials, stories in books and movies, and adult language such as “you’re such a pretty little girl!” or “what a strong boy!” are constantly reinforcing these ideas.
When children feel pressured to conform to these stereotypes, however, it can harm their self-image. Children who are non-conforming can feel worried that there is something wrong or different about them. Children may feel pressured to only pursue certain likes and participate in certain activities. These stereotypes can also impact the way children develop relationships and how they interact with their peers.
It is important to disrupt the narrative that children should act a certain way by encouraging even very young children to examine gender stereotypes, think about the problems that they cause, and learn to stay true to their authentic selves.
After brainstorming stereotypes, the students discussed how they felt they were unfair.
They felt very strongly that they should be able to like and to do things represented on
both of the gendered lists. So, we erased the lines separating the genders and created
one title reading Things Anybody Can Do. Then we had the students write lists of
things they can do. We encouraged them to include anything that makes them feel
good, happy, powerful, and proud.
In honor of Women’s History Month, we also had each student take a picture as “Rosie the Riveter.” We talked about the history of the image and how Rosie and the bold message behind her saying “We Can Do It!” have become a symbol of women breaking down traditional gender barriers. We used our Rosie images and our lists of things that we can do to create posters that we can display throughout Women’s History Month.
As we looked back at our lists and our Rosie images, we realized that we are all a
mixture of many different and uniquely wonderful likes and talents representative of both genders. And we reflected on how grateful we all are to be part of our Hathaway Brown School community, which encourages us all to explore our individual identities,
celebrate our strengths, pursue our dreams, and stay true to our authentic selves.
Alaina McCourt is a First Grade teacher at HB, as well as the Diversity Liaison for the Primary School. She is passionate about supporting the individual identity development of young children by weaving diversity education into the general classroom curriculum.