The Case for Feminism in Early Education
The games had been played. The piñatas beaten open, the cake eaten. The only thing left was the dance contest. A three year-old ran out into the middle, eager to get her groove on. She was soon joined by a few other kids. A young boy of about 4 or 5 years old went to dance with the girl, but she shook her head no and kept on dancing. The boy began crying and ran to his parents. Moments later, the boy’s father was kneeling low, speaking to the girl and putting her hands in those of his son. The girl allowed the boy to take her hands and stood there while the boy moved from side to side. While it was clear the girl didn’t want to be dancing with the boy, she acquiesced. After a song ended, the girl took her hands away. The boy grabbed to keep them, and the girl’s father rushed over to release his daughter from the boy’s grasp. The boy then ran screaming back to his parents. Meanwhile, the girl flailed her arms around and kicked the air in a Dance of Liberation.
It is the subtle moments such as this one that reveal how sexism is taught to both boys and girls. His needs were greater than hers. He should decide what happens to her body. She should just go along with it. The manifestations of sexism in preschoolers come directly from what is taught by the people in their lives, but the lessons are not only in words and deeds, they are in shoes and tricycles, and in their preschools.
When a child goes to buy their first pair of shoes in Mexico, the girls section is full of lacey, pretty shoes and sandals. In contrast, the boy’s section is full of sandals and sneakers with far more support to help the child learn to walk, run and climb. School is compulsory for children beginning at age 3. The girls are required to wear a certain color shoe (again, arch support is ignored entirely). All children must wear a uniform and all of the uniforms for girls are a skirt or a dress, knee-high socks and the designated shoes. Some schools even dictate how the girl’s hair must be done for school. This is the case for public and private school. The only days the girls can arrive in pants are the days they have physical education.
Soft shoes, a skirt and knee-high socks are not conducive to running, climbing, feeling free to move your body as you please. Why should a girl have to skin her knee when she falls and a boy doesn’t? Is the inherent lesson for the girl then not to run at all? What happens at the preschool when a girl doesn’t want to ride the slower pink tricycle and opts instead for the fast red one? The teacher isn’t going to tell a boy to use a pink one, so the girl must learn to accept that the red ones are not for her. Important life lessons get taught in the most subtle ways. Girls learn their place through the pink toys that are for them, and by watching the boys receive a smile from the teacher while they are reprimanded for the same behavior.
The list of examples goes on and on, but perhaps one of the more egregious is the celebration of Mexico’s Independence Day. A few boys are chosen to play the part of the different leading figures in the Revolution while the girls generally dance in the celebration with the boys who are not chosen to speak. Not only are these young girls not given a voice in the retelling of such important history, the role of women in the revolution is not even acknowledged. Women fought as soldiers during the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and one regimen was called Las Adelitas, named for their fearless Colonel Adele. In most preschools, the girls learn that the revolution was done by men for men and that the women were decoration, dancing on the sideline.
These young girls who are just beginning their intervention in the world are learning what they shouldn’t do and that they are not part of the great achievements of their country’s history. Preschool should not simply be a reflection of society, but should also be a challenge to that society where girls are given the space to be themselves as humans, before being pigeon-holed into their role as women. They will have to deal with that for the rest of their lives and in every facet of their life as the birthday party demonstrates. And the lack of consciousness and discourse in the mainstream regarding gender roles doesn’t help much either.
That’s why at the end of the birthday party, the young girl’s grandfather, a retired teacher, asked, “Why did she make that boy cry?”