Thursday, April 15, 2010

Who invited the gender & fashion police?

March was Women’s History Month, and one New Jersey elementary school found a special way to celebrate: canceling an activity about women in history.

A teacher planned to have her 3rd grade students wear outfits representing women’s fashion during historical time periods of their choosing. No one had to wear anything in particular – pants and dresses were fair game for boys and girls alike.

Some parents took the planned activity to mean that their sons were being forced to dress as girls. A blogger claimed that the school was “pushing the gay agenda while feminizing our young boys through a cross-dressing day.” In response to the ensuing hoopla, the teacher canceled the activity.

Hysterical mobs everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief. Traditional gender norms are safe! Willful overreaction saves the day again!

Even if the uproar is silly, it sends a serious message to the kids in that class: women’s history isn’t important. “Acting normal” is. What does it convey to kids when parents insist “YOU CAN’T FORCE MY SON TO WEAR A DRESS!" ?
  1. Boys who wear dresses are unacceptably weird.

  2. That the lesson, as planned, is invalid, pointless and not at all educational. That it’s a stunt intended to screw up kids.
The teacher was attempting something progressive here, but it wasn’t anything wrongheaded or crazy, like making boys and girls switch clothes against their will. The point was to show that women’s contribution to history is important enough to be the center of a major lesson, and not a “Betsey Ross sewed a beautiful flag!”-style afterthought.

I'm not knocking flag-sewing – I just want to point out that Great Men Of History accomplished the things they did because they had ultra-skilled domestic support. Did the fellows that wrote the Constitution churn their own butter? Doubtful. It seems to me that if various founding fathers had had to focus on feeding and clothing themselves and educating and disciplining their kids - tasks their wives no doubt deftly handled - it might've taken a bit longer to finish writing those very important historical documents I had to commit to memory in elementary school.

I support celebrating women’s contributions as being important in their own right, not as an auxiliary, just-for-fun aspect of history. I hope that for every cancelled-due-to-uproar women's historical fashion show I hear about, there are ten others quietly taking place, teaching kids that women's history is cool.


  1. I agree that the parents reaction to this concept is scary. I still have to comment that the event itself sounds rather lacking in its message.

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