It wasn’t the playschool teacher’s fault , really. She probably thought only banner waving firebrands would take exception to something so commonplace and so innocuous–and I may not have looked like the stereotypical activist to her.
I was attending my younger daughter’s first PTA meeting, and the teacher had entirely complimentary things to say about her–she had apparently taken to school like fish to water, was friendly and cooperative, didn’t trouble her at all etc. But there was just one problem.
What problem, Ma’am?
“Oh, she doesn’t sit like a girl.”
I raised an eye-brow but decided to hear her out.
She carried on, “She sits with her legs apart, like boys. I keep telling her, you’re a girl, don’t sit like this, sit properly. So please tell her to sit properly at home too, then only she’ll learn”… She trailed off at this point after taking in my horrified expression.
I gulped. This woman is trying to teach some three-year-olds that they should sit a certain way because they were girls? Wow! Is she crazy or just plain stupid?
Somewhere inside my head a tiny voice told me to not fly off the handle–after all she was my kid’s class-teacher. Getting her back up will serve no earthly purpose. I decided to try to reason with her.
“Tell me something, Ma’am–do you also teach the boys how they should sit?”
“Err..no! They don’t need to be told how to sit like boys. They just know!”
“Or maybe that is just the way kids sit? Maybe?”
“Well, maybe… ”
“The point I am trying to make, Ma’am, is that they are way too young–yet–to be made to conform to gender-specific behaviour. It will come to them naturally if it is meant to, when the time is right. And even if it doesn’t, so be it–certainly there’s nothing to be gained by forcing it. Why don’t we just let them be kids for a while, instead of slotting them as boys or girls? They are only three years old, for God’s sake!”
The teacher was staring at me in frank surprise.
“It is definitely part of your job to impress upon her the general rules of good behaviour, good manners and etiquette, but I’ll thank you to not take it upon yourself to teach her to ‘carry herself like a girl’. That would amount to overstepping your brief. As her mother, I would greatly appreciate if you refrained from doing that.”
The teacher peered at me blankly, her thoughts on me probably echoing mine on her–Is she stupid or just plain crazy?!!!For the moment, though, she appeared to have decided to buy peace by not disagreeing.
‘ Oh, OK, I’ll keep that in mind.”
I thought it best to leave it at that, but I intend to make sure she keeps her word.
This is what happens when schools consider it their duty to produce ‘well-adjusted’ individuals who fit well in gendered moulds–some or the other teacher can easily go overboard in their zeal and decide that it’s never too early to begin such training.
Speaking of gendered training, apart from lady-like mannerisms, older girls are also encouraged to learn womanly skills like needle-work, which is another pet peeve. I happened to go to a girls’ convent and I remember they had started to make us do needle-work from Class three onwards.
I think we were in Class four when we were taught to knit. We were supposed to knit a meter-long muffler during the year. Well, mine never progressed beyond a few inches for various reasons, not the least being that I hated knitting, and at the end of the year I was among the ten-odd girls from our class who were made to march to the Principal’s office for not finishing the work. We stared at our shoes while the principal lectured us on the usefulness of these arts, wagging her finger sternly all the while. In subsequent years I took care to finish off the darned things well in time.
Of course it goes without saying that none of the boys’ schools thought it fit to teach the boys to even hold a needle or to sew on a button. Just like in the homes.
At least ours was a girl’s school, so we were never faced with the terrible scenario of half the class–the boys– going out to play football while the girls sewed/knitted/ crocheted, as was the norm in the co-ed schools. What’s good for the gander ought to be good for the goose too!
Cooking and swimming–and driving later on–are far more important skills to pick up–for everyone— than needle-work, which can be pursued as a hobby by those who are really interested. I am happy to say that needle-work is losing favour with schools these days–my elder daughter has not had to do it in school so far. They have a roller-skating period once a week instead. It must certainly be more fun than embroidering table-mats!!