Teachers and students should disregard gender roles

MAGGIE MONSON | Copy Chief

Two young girls have received criticism from their elementary schools in the past few weeks for failing to conform to the schools’ ideas of femininity.

Kamryn Renfro, 9, shaved her head in solidarity with a friend undergoing chemotherapy and was not allowed to return to school until the board of directors voted to let her back into her classroom.

The reason for her original suspension was that her baldness violated the charter school’s dress code, according to an article from CBS News.

Sunnie Kahle, 8, attended a private, Christian elementary school until her principal sent a letter home saying her short haircut and boyish behavior did not “follow suit with her God-ordained identity,” according to a different article from CBS News.

Her great-grandparents removed her from the school because they were “offended by the letter’s…references to biblical passages about sexual immorality.”

Kahle had no behavioral problems at school and had a 4.0 grade average. Her hair was the reason for her reprimand.

Neither girl deserved to be lecutred or punished in the slightest.

Society constructs the idea of properly gendered behavior. These two girls are an example of how gender roles can hurt children.

The lesson these schools taught the girls is that their physical appearance is directly linked with other facets of their lives.

In reality, their short haircuts had nothing to do with their ability to learn or be successful in a classroom.

Renfro’s school’s chairwoman said the “school’s dress code is designed to promote…a non-distracting environment,” according to the CBS News article.

The children at this school should be taught a message of acceptance in order to prevent distraction in the classroom.If they believe it is okay for everyone to not look the same, a bald head will not distract from the learning environment.

If Kahle’s classmates learn it is acceptable for a girl to have short hair or a boy to want to paint his nails, they will be able to focus on their education instead of worrying about whether their classmates are behaving appropriately.

Schools cannot pretend all children fit perfectly into the role of girl or boy. By enforcing rigid gender roles, teachers and administrators create an environment where children have to constantly worry about their appearance or behavior being deemed wrong.

It may seem easier to force conformity, but in the long run, this only hurts children’s self-esteem and personal expression.

When children learn, at school and at home, that there is no right or wrong way to be a girl or boy, they can focus on educational and personal growth.

So what do these two young girls have to do with students at Butler University?

Even though we are past the age where our teachers get to enforce our gender identities, we have to examine what we learned about being girls or being boys when we were young.

These messages stay with us our whole lives. We see ourselves and others in the parameters of what we were taught men and women should look and act like.

Whether we mean to or not, we make assumptions about gender and enforce roles every day.

Awareness is the first step in stopping ourselves from enforcing gender stereotypes and expectations that hurt both men and women. As we go through our days, we have to be able to identify situations where we think all men do this or all women have to act like this.

We need to open ourselves up to the idea of letting girls shave their heads or boys play with baby dolls.

Once we allow those around us to express themselves as they want without criticism, the world will be a much more accepting and enjoyable place in which to exist.

 

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