Gender stereotyping in the eyes of a 9 year old

Javier climbed in the car and did not wait for me to ask how his day was “Mommy, wait” he pleaded and demanded in the same breathe. He made sure his brother made it in the van and across to his seat before he continued. I turned to look at him and knew he had a story to tell, something was bubbling inside him ready to burst like that volcano he had just built for science class last year. “Yes, Javier,” I started leaving my statement inconclusive, inviting him to continue. “I had a terrible day at school.”

“I am so tired of teachers saying girls are more mature…” Javier has had a knee jerk reaction over the years to gender stereotyping. He has struggled with it, argued with girls in his class and consistently rejected it.  I can go as far back as Prekinder and him defending a boy in his class who liked the color pink. Javier told the other boys off, “pink is JUST a color, get over it!” Javier would add defiantly, “I like ALL colors”. Javier added later in the van- where most of our long conversations happen, that he had observed this boy and he thought he genuinely liked pink, but that maybe he liked pink also because the girl he liked, liked pink, and he obviously had a crush.

Javier was hearing “mature” and understanding girls were “more advanced”, somehow better students. The insinuation that was clear and present to this young boy was that girls “got it”, “they behaved better”, because that is their biology.

“It was unjust and uncalled for,” he explained, “I felt like correcting the teacher: ‘it is not in their biology to be better behaved! It is the result of other factors like what happens at home. Boys can be just as well behaved, just as good, just as smart! But I did not want to be rude to the teacher, and these were different teachers in different moments.” He may have misunderstood the subtleties of girls’ maturity but he was right on the communicative intent. He recognized the intent was to compare the genders and was intended at shaming the boys.

Later that same day the Spanish teacher insisted as she organized students to go out to the library, “boys wait and let girls go in first.” She was calling boys to be gentlemanly, which on its surface would not anger many parents, but Javier who had heard this call before from the demanding end of girls his age, had enough of it. He saw it as another unjustified gender manipulation based on notions of preference to girls.

Javier was ready to go to the principal, talk to his teachers, something had to change.  I took this moment to first agree with him and say that teachers should not be making gender based generalizations nor trying to shame a segment of the students by traits they cannot change. Then I went on to explain that girls did in general mature earlier, but that socialization outside of school and inside of school was in fact a very important part of behaviors present in the classroom. i also discussed with him the historic antecedents of statements like “girls first” and “gentlemen-like” behavior being a possitive social attribute. In the end, explaining the historical gender baggage the teachers carried did not minimize Javier’s observation. Gender roles and expectations are changing and generalizations are usually shortcuts with a cost, and he was not happy to pay it.