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Thursday, May 11, 2017

An Accidental Experiment in Gender Identity and Expression

So something so interesting happened in the classroom a few weeks ago, I almost wish I was back in grad school - I think this has the makings of a great research project. I chose a book to read to the students that I thought they would love, with a main character I was sure they would relate to. Clementine, a book about a 3rd grader who is a sometimes distracted, but always interesting, gifted, funny, caring, energetic person who gets herself in and out of scrapes in an entertaining way would be a winner, I was confident. I was right! The children all demanded that we immediately read the second in the series, The Talented Clementine.

Before we began book two, however, I had the children complete a book review. One of the review questions asked the children to draw their favorite character and write some of the things they had in common. I figured this would be an easy question - there really was only ONE really lovable character in the story - the other characters were adults, or minor characters. And I picked the book because Clementine reminded ME so much of our gaggle of sometimes distracted, interesting, gifted, funny, caring, energetic little people.

But guess what? Not one boy named Clementine. It's like they just couldn't, because they didn't share her gender. Gender trumped all. They named pigeons. The family cat. The baby brother. Even the breakfast cereal, and I am not kidding. They could not name the main character, who was a girl. I was shocked.

So today, a little social experiment. After I finished book two (which again, everyone LOVED), I asked for a brainstorm of all the adjectives that would describe Clementine. Here is the board, with their actual words:


This is a great list, and I have to say, they nailed it. I then went through the list, item by item and asked for a hand raise if they shared the same trait. Nearly every hand went up for nearly every trait, except for "girl" (only three for that one), and "third grader". Of course, some children differed on a few, but overall, most of these traits were shared by lots of these children.

Then I asked a pointed question. If that is true - then why did all the boys feel that they liked/had more in common with a cat/toddler/bird than a smart, funny, creative, active child - just because they didn't share a gender? I left them to think on that...and we will come back to this important topic again.

When Rachel (our librarian, and 7/8 teacher) and I were talking about this today, we wondered what would have happened if the main character was a boy. Would girls name a boy character someone they related to? Or was this just a one way thing? And what does this mean? Should we be concerned? Is it a call for more diverse books? Stronger female characters?

So much to think about.

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