Sequins or Soccer?

The other day I saw a pregnancy announcement on Facebook from a couple of schoolmates I have known since I was very little. In the picture were the smiling parents-to-be with a homemade sign saying “Sequins or Soccer?” At first I thought of how happy they must be and how nice their picture was. Clearly a lot of time was put into making that sign and getting the right pose and coordinating outfits. Later on, though, it hit me just how many people have gender expectations well before their child is even born. Why should a girl be represented with sequins and a boy with soccer? Why can’t they be swapped? Why can’t they be both?

As a new mom to a boy, I’m extra conscious of toys and clothes created with a gender in mind. I’d eventually like to have a second child and I try to be frugal, so I’ve been purchasing mostly gender-neutral things. One of those things was a pack of extra warm baby socks that came in an assortment of pastel colors. One pair was pink. When my son met his extended family wearing those fuzzy pink socks, many of his relatives commented on them. None of them said anything negative, but had it been a girl wearing the same socks I wonder if anyone would have even noticed them. It’s such a minor thing. Socks don’t matter. But how boys and girls might be treated differently, especially when it comes to education, does.

Seeing that pregnancy announcement and reflecting back on the sock incident was when I started to look at it all as a teacher. How have I treated my students differently because of their gender? Have I called on girls more often, expecting them to be more focused and attentive? Did I joke more with boys because they were supposed to be more easygoing and less uptight? Was I sterner with girls who were squirrely because they were expected to be demure? What about my seating arrangements? Have I placed girls next to talkative students more often, hoping their studious ways would rub off? Was I more likely to put boys in areas of the room with extra space so any excessive movement wouldn’t distract their classmates? Was I considering each student as an individual, or was I making gender generalizations?

I know some of the answers to those questions were yes. At times I did treat my male and female students differently. I also know that when I get back in the classroom I’ll be more cognizant of how I treat my students. My treatment and decisions about my students will be based on their individual needs, personalities, and strengths rather than what sock color they’re expected to wear.