Monday, August 23, 2010

Gender discrimination starts early

Last week, I took one of my sons to the doctor. Fortunately, this office has a lot of nice, fun things to play with while you are waiting. Princess ignored the doll house, the books, and the coloring books. When she spied the blocks, she picked up a couple of them and began to run around the room.

I was absently watching her play when a little boy came up to me. He was about four years old. Pointing at Princess, he said, "She needs to give me those."

I looked at my toddler daughter, happily running around with two blocks in one hand and one in the other. For once, she wasn't tearing off down the hall hoping that I would chase her. She wasn't taking toys away from this child or anyone else. She was behaving as well as should be expected for her age.

So I looked down at him with a slightly bemused expression and said, "No, she doesn't."

His mom piped up. "[Child], you need to share the toys with the little girl. Why don't you bring her something else to play with?"

I found my mouth saying, "Oh, yeah, that would be great," while my mind was thinking, "This isn't right."

The little boy ran over with a doll. A small plastic doll in a pink dress. He thrust it at Princess.

"Here!" he said.

She ignored him. Is it wrong to admit that I smiled inside when she ran the other way, banging the blocks together with a happy grin?

I found myself explaining Princess' behavior to the little boy, who seemed puzzled and angry. "She doesn't like dolls yet. She likes blocks and cars." I should have added, "just like you." Instead, I found myself saying, "She has brothers ..."

How sad is that? Why did I feel the need to explain away her behavior? She's a girl. She likes trucks and blocks. So what?

At the age of four, this little boy has already learned that it is okay to take blocks and cars -- what he sees as "boy toys" -- away from the girls. He has learned that girls play with dolls and, apparently, only dolls. And I, without stopping to think about it, contributed to his biases.

Fortunately, my daughter did not.

Photo credit: Holger Zscheyge, via flickr // CC BY 2.0

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Summer Smiles

beneath the gnarled oak
a boy is sprawled, exhausted
successful tree climb

Image credit: Little Brother (watercolor on looseleaf)
Poem: Mama Joules
Subject of poem: Kerm, who met his summer goal of climbing a tree!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Artful Animals

This summer, my family was lucky enough to visit the Artful Animals exhibit, an accessible and friendly display of animal-themed African art at the National Museum of African Art. The engaging nature of the exhibition made me feel like creating art of my own. (Disclaimer: I actually did sit down with the kids and decorate a woven basket coloring sheet.)

The exhibit has since closed to the public, but you can still visit the animals online. We enjoyed looking for the animals in 125 pieces of art, from pottery and instruments to clothing and furniture. I loved the hands-on nature of the pieces, which included masks like the one Kerm is trying on in the photograph above.

You can listen to podcasts about some of the artwork here. Download the visually stunning Artful Animals Activity Guide (this is a .pdf file), which asks:

"What can we learn about ourselves by looking at our relationship to animals?"

"What is our place in nature and the world?"
and perhaps most importantly,
What animal would you choose to represent you?
The Artful Animals exhibit, a collaborative venture between the National Museum of African Art, the National Postal Museum, the National Zoo, and the Natural Museum of Natural History, has now closed in Washington, D.C. But the exhibit may be coming to a museum near you! Artful Animals is listed on the Smithsonian Institution's Traveling Exhibition Service, and is due to hit the road in 2012. Don't miss it!

Photo credit: Mama Joules