Today I experienced something for the first time that I wasn't quite prepared for that has left me with a few reactions. It was a rainy, messy day out today so I packed the kids and some snacks up and headed off to the closest Chapters Indigo bookstore. I have had a handful of gift cards from students sitting in the every trusty top drawer of my bedside table that I thought today was a good day to put them to good investment. I have been taking note of the newest and trendiest books that have come out and making notes from what other teachers are doing as they post on their Twitter feeds or blogs.
With my list in hand, and two kids in tow we set off for a book adventure. We were greeted by a few cheerful Chapters employees, who engaged #TeamAmelie in a one way conversation and found our way to the kids section. #TeamAmelie wasn't short of excitement pointing out her favourite characters on the banners that welcomed us to the kids section, knowing pretty much all of them and turning the few heads of customers in ear shot. We walked aisle by aisle picking up books, talking about the covers and what we thought and shortly were joined by a young employee who was helping what appeared to be a grandmother and her grandson find the Robert Munch section. She eagerly pointed out the customer favourites, the newest stories and asked if there was one in particular they were looking for. The grandmother responded that they had a few already and prompted her grandson to choose a book that he'd like. This is where things went off the rails.
I am not sure exactly what book the little boy pulled off the shelf after a minute or so of looking, but the grandmother certainly didn't approve when she said, "that book is for girls, not for you." I was shocked...stunned...and just as heartbroken as the little boy was who now didn't have the book he carefully picked out. The young employee fell silent and slowly slipped away from the grandmother and little boy. I couldn't believe my ears. My first reaction was to post on Twitter what I had just heard to see what kind of reaction others would have had. How could someone say this to a young child? She prompted him to choose a book from that section? How can there be a "boy book" and a "girl book" and why can't the opposite gender read them?
As a parent, I am of the firm belief that my children can play with and read anything they want, regardless of what gender it is marketed towards. #TeamAmelie LOVES playing with her Hotwheel cards and trucks and tractors as much as she loves her Minnie Mouse and baby dolls. We read any book that she grabs for off the bookshelf whether it is about princesses or hockey players. Don't get me wrong, #TeamAmelie also loves the colours pink and purple, but she will not grow up with the understanding that she can't do or read something because she is a girl and it may be for a boy.
As a teacher, I am reflecting on how I present materials that I use to teach with. Do I show a gender specificity or target? I chatted with a few colleagues tonight over my experience (they were appalled as well!), and asked how I/we could do a better job at changing the thinking or stereotype of gender specific toys/books. I am also hurt that this young boy was engaged in a bookstore, excited to get to choose a book (that he may or may not know how to read on his own), and engage in literature to better himself going forward for it to be snatched away from him because of what may be tagged as "the old way of thinking". As a teacher, I see the struggle we all face as educators to get boys to read and to enjoy engaging with the material. Could this be the reason why? It certainly doesn't help.
So my questions to you are: does there still exist a gender division in toys/books on behalf of the consumer? How can we as educators help erase this figment of our imagination so that everyone can enjoy toys/books without thinking if they are for them or not? How do we present materials in order for our students and their parents to understand that there is no gender division?
I leave you with those thoughts and reflections & would love to hear your responses. Until then, I'm off to tidy up Hotwheel cars and Minnie Mouse's clothes that #TeamAmelie blasted around the living room tonight.
Sunshine & happiness today & forever.