Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Eleanor does Gender Studies

I should probably write some kind of apology for the hiatus here, with assurances that I won't do it again.
But that's boring*, so let's just move along.

There are days when everything goes neatly into the box I expected it would, and days when I'm completely foiled in my attempts to educate.
There are also days when a simple idea becomes something so monumental that I want to run about screaming with excitement** but I can't because we're too busy doing whatever it is.

Then there are days where, without any prompting from me, one of the girls will pick up an idea, or ask a question, and suddenly we're studying a completely different topic to the one I'd intended.

And then there's Eleanor's Week of Gender Studies.

It started innocuously enough: I'd set Ellie the task of imagining a person from a world completely unlike ours, and then considering what that person would think of some simple items from our home***.

So she wrote out a description of her person:

"They are from Neptune.
 They are half fairy and half alien.
 They are both male and female.
They are very small and their hair is green tentacles".



I had a few questions about this.

First I asked her what she meant by both male and female: did she mean the people on Neptune could be male or female, or something else?
No: she meant that her person was both male and female, like all the other people on Neptune.
Then did she mean that they were emotionally or mentally genderfluid****, or was this a biological trait.
Biological: people from Neptune have both boy parts and girl parts.

There followed a long conversation during which I mentioned that there were people just like that on Earth, offered the term intersex as being more appropriate than "both male and female", discussed the varying degrees by which a person could be male or female or otherwise, touched upon the differences between sex and gender, mentioned the us of ze as an alternative to he or she*****, confirmed that yes "they" would be fine for her Neptunian if the Neptunians preferred that, asked how said Neptunians would know the difference between one person or several and somewhere along the lines realised that I was having this entire conversation with a six year old.

Then she went back to her desk****** and wrote about the ways in which a tentacle headed, six inch high, intersex person from Neptune would view some simple household objects.
It turned out neither sex nor gender really had much impact.

And then we got on with our day.

That was on the Tuesday.
Wednesday passed with nothing unusual bar a few questions as to why people thought some things were for girls and others for boys..
On the Thursday we set off to ballet class.*******

All proceeded as usual until it was time to get changed for Phoebe's class, when, seemingly out of nowhere Eleanor suddenly asked: "Mummy, why do we have different changing rooms for men and women?"
 This being a question which has occasionally bothered me, I found it a little different to answer.
Eventually I settled for explaining that some people weren't happy about dressing or undressing in front of people who might be attracted to them, or to whom they might be attracted, and that sometimes they might have to worry about people looking at them in a way that made them uncomfortable.
I declined, at this time, to discuss rape, in a public changing room, with a six-year-old, however pretty much everything that she said next applied pretty well in that case too.

In a voice clearly designed to carry into every corner of the building, Eleanor declared that this, was silly.
She further added that it "wouldn't even work, because boys can be in love with boys and girls can be in love with girls, and anyone can be attracted********* to anyone and if they're that worried why don't we just have cubicles?"
And some more that I can't quite recall at present.
I think she may have punched the air a few times.

So I agreed that, yes, it was quite silly when she put it like that, and she was preaching to the choir here anyway, and preaching to the choir was just an expression that meant I already agreed with her, and yes, people did have stupid ideas but could she perhaps lower her voice just a bit because now she seemed to be making that lady over there a little uncomfortable with all the shouting?

And then she muttered something about people needing to be uncomfortable if the world was stupid and we went off and waited for their teacher to arrive.

I rather thought that would be it for that day.

During Phoebe's class the parents tend to congregate outside, letting the children learn on their own, but staying within reach in case we're needed.
Naturally this leads to conversation.
One of the mothers (and it is all mothers and grandmothers out there, except for Eleanor) noticed that Ellie was reading Doll Bones by Holly Black and asked if she enjoyed horror stories.
 From here we began discussing our own literary preferences and it transpired that everyone there enjoyed horror, James Herbert being the most popular author, while no-one had any interest in the sex-and-shopping or romance novels generally marketed towards women.
So we talked about the foolishness of stereotyping for a bit, before it was time to go back in and collect our various offspring.

As we walked through the door I heard one mother observe to another that, yes, her daughter loved ballet too, "I think it's something girls just naturally gravitate to".
At this point I became both incredibly glad and rather sorry that I'd asked Eleanor to lower her voice earlier, as she grabbed my sleeve and whispered "Do you think she listened to anything she was just saying?"

And then we went and did a maths activity involving buried treasure.

On Friday we went to the library, where Eleanor got out a number of books about a girl's adventures in fairyland.

Because that's fine too.

*And, honestly, I will do it again.

**Or blog about it.

***For our archaeology project: when you think about it, this is often what an archaeologist is like when they first approach a site.

****Yes. I explained the concept of genderfluidity to a six-year-old.

***** "But some people don't like that either darling, so it's better to ask, if you don't think it would be impolite to do so".

******It's an antique school desk with an inkwell and a place for a pen and I love it.

*******Our Thursday: I get up and drag anyone who isn't up out of bed.
After two bus journeys, (during which we read, to various values of the word read) we grab lunch somewhere and either shop or visit a soft play centre where I will spend seventy five percent of my time looking for one daughter on behalf of the other.
Following this we have Phoebe's ballet class, then a gap where they get changed then sit with a friend and do some activity I've cobbled together (usually sneaky maths).
Then Eleanor has her class while Phoebe and I sit in a coffee shop with friends and re-enact Sex in the City******** with two adults and two three year olds, then we take Eleanor to Rainbows, then there's dinner, then games night and then I fall over.

********I have never seen Sex in the City.
But I have seen adverts.

********* Although she actually said attractled, instead of attracted.
She also mispronounced cubicle.