I was particularly interested this week by Karin A. Martin’s piece, Becoming a Gendered Body: Practices of Preschools, because I have had thoughts for a long time about at which point the gender hierarchy of our society begins to emerge and manifest between the sexes.
My brother is now 18, but growing up with severe ADHD and (possible) mild bipolar II disorder, he had, to understate the situation, a horrible time growing up in the public school system. He wanted to be successful, but found little to no opportunity in the strict rules and narrow thinking of modern educational practices. He would complete his homework night after night, then due to his attention problems, would leave it at home. Teachers would give him no credit for it. He would study for an exam, become distracted by something out the window, and waste half the class period lost in thought, until he only had less than a half hour to complete the whole thing. His happy and overly social personality upset the teachers, and he faced years of persecution from people who were supposed to be understanding educators, getting everything from no accomodation on homeworks and extra test time despite mandates from his IEP, to an actual threat when a high school teacher asked him quite seriously if he wanted to “take this outside” in an argument. This obviously created years of anguish for him particularly, but also my parents, who knew what a good person he was and wanted him to succeed beyond the barriers that the educational system set up for him.
I have heard my mother say for years that the US educational model (what she affectionately refers to as the “Sit down, shut up” classroom) is tailored to girls, and in a way discriminates against boys. This was never meant in any kind of offensive way – my mother is quite the feminist and is in fact the person who talked me out of my reluctance and into my first WGS class- but is just to say that school works better for those who don’t mind as much to sit still for a while and quietly pay attention to a lot of things they really couldn’t care less about. I have sent Martin’s work to my mom, because I think she would really be intrigued and agree with a work that says – School isn’t made for girls, school creates “girls”.
“Children are physically active, and institutions like schools impose disciplinary controls that regulate children’s bodies and prepare children for the larger social world. While this disciplinary control produces docile bodies, it also produces gendered bodies…some bodies become more docile than others”(497).
While Martin focuses largely on preschools, I believe that the gendering process of creating female bodies to be more docile than male bodies somehow begins prior to the years of preschool. It is my belief that the gendering process in our society is so deeply and subconsciously ingrained in each (or most) of us, that we subtly begin to gender our children before they reach any years of schooling. One of the main foci of Martin’s work is that when male children in preschools are reprimanded, they more often than not either oppose the teacher, saying “No!” or intensifying whatever action the teacher has asked to be stopped, or purposely ignoring her entirely. By contrast, when female children are reprimanded, they cease whatever they may have being doing and obey immediately. Now these may be behaviors that have been partially taught by the gendering processes of preschool, but I have seen this exact effect while watching children not yet old enough to have attended any school at all, or to have even spent much time with any children or adults outside of their own home. Boys I watch of 2 and 3 years old must be told over and over and over or forcibly removed from an activity before they listen to the slightest instruction. 2 and 3 year old girls I babysit by contrast, are the “best” children to watch, listening quickly and exactly, displaying perfect behavior every time. Martin notes that the gendering process of early schooling is dangerous because it occurs at such an early stage in life as to make the differences between the genders seem natural. If they begin before this stage, which I firmly believe they do, that seems even more damaging to the feminist assertion that gender is learned, especially when parents try their best to not gender their children and inevitably fail in some ways or many. I think a good theory to tack on to Martin’s work is that now more than ever, and increasingly as time goes on, children are growing up in the midst of television shows, billboard images, magazines, and more, that carry subtle but effective images, of which our children of even the youngest ages pick up on and emulate more than we know. How then, can we ever escape the social system? Is it possible to avoid raising gendered children?