On Gender – Are We Letting Kids Run Their Race?

How many times have I thought or mentally bookmarked that I will write about xyz topic after a particular incident or day? Waaaaaay tooo many times. So without explaining or setting up too much here goes:

The other day I attended sports day at my baby’s school and obviously being the [literally] active parent I am I came ready to smoke some other mom’s in whatever required a mother’s participation – short, tshirt and sneakers. I was a bit late because of some technicians who had showed up at home a bit later than they’d promised, but I made sure to politely, but assuredly, excuse my way to a seat in the front. I asked to see a program of the scheduled races and events and at some point during the downtime and in my wonderings realized how early and almost explicitly our children are programmed into gender roles. The children themselves and attending adults, through some of these seemingly mundane activities, are realigned into them regardless of how we actually live, teach and perform gender roles at home.

As is typical, the sports houses were organized by color (red, yellow and blue) and then races and events themselves were either girls’ races or boys’ races. Cool. Then came the more fun ones that incorporated a task or fun activity like wash day, shopping, work day, waiter etc. I could see in the program that my baby was in the waiter race and not knowing anything about what it would be I was excited to see what my bundle of cuteness would be doing. Comes the race and the teachers set up a hat, then a cup a few meters ahead and a plate a few more meters ahead in each lane. The items were colored according to what sports house the kid in that lane is in. I then noticed all the children in this race were girls. They would have to run and pick up the hat and put it on, then pick up the cup, then pick up the plate and finally run to the finish line. I am not going to tell you my daughter chose to walk instead of run and then proceeded to walk across the lanes to her friend instead of straight in her…so that you don’t ask me why. Ok so that was one event.

Other races that made me side eye no one in particular, all girl’s only races, were the wash day and shopping day ones. The former involved a clothing item on the ground, then a bucket of water a few meters ahead, some pegs a bit ahead, then a clothing line. You can imagine what the race/task was here. The latter had a dress, then a wig, then a pair of shoes, then a handbag and the finish line all spaced out with a few meters between them. Each little girl had to put on those items (all borrowed from their mom) and race to the finish line oversized dress, high heels and all. A teeny part of my brain was already like hhmmmm….

The next race was a boy’s race – work day! *insert side eye* It involved a shirt, pants, shoes and a work bag in a lane all spaced out with some meters between – basically the same as the shopping day race. The last event that had me thinking come on people seriously?! was the family race where the teacher heading the events asked for “mommy and daddy to please come and pick up your child and pick a lane” to [relay race]. This had me scrunching my forehead some not even because I’m a single mother, but because there were 1. Definitely and visibly way more mom’s present (about 75%) than dads so 2. This was going to leave out so many children from participating. What would have been more inclusive was to ask for 2 adults to come forward for the child they came to support whether they were a heterosexual parental unit or otherwise (I know – I should hold my progressive britches). Even for children who do have a mommy and a daddy, the chances of both being present on a Friday morning, assuming one or both of them work, were slim.

Guys am I overthinking this? I did think and have enough metacognition to wonder if maybe I felt some typa way because I am a single mother and that maybe if I wasn’t I would have been completely oblivious to some of this, but I think I know myself well enough by now to know that no I would stiiiilll have thought about it. I think it’s important in educational settings as well as in our homes to foster expansive, progressive and inclusive paradigms and enabling environments instead of limited and therefore limiting ones. We all can’t control what goes in each other’s homes, but surely school should be a place where the future of our children and the societies we therefore want to create and live in are shaped. Who am I to know what people’s homes are like and/or what they should be – absolutely no one thank you very much save yourself your nywe nywe nywe. Mina I’ve said my two cents, now let’s do better and be more mindful and deliberate about how we DO gender with our children and become more inclusive of who they actually are now and might become in the future.

Side note, all the teachers are women…so that might be the perfect lead into the blog post I promised on twitter where I said I would one day write about how Zimbabwean women are both feminists and misogynists.

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*@afropolitaine*

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