Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Big Sister's Pretty Dress השמלה היפה של האחות הגדולה

In the past few years, I’ve become less timid about challenging gender stereotyping, perhaps as my kids have aged beyond the stages when parents are heard to say, “He’s all boy!” or “She’s a girly-girl!” (I can hardly stand even to write those statements. If I could I’d wave my wand and banish them forever).

Recently I challenged a case of gender stereotyping, and a father of two preschoolers accused my point of being “trivial” (hadn’t heard that one before, even from the detractors). Many claim that they are not guilty of feeding their kids any “sexist messages”. OK, all you skeptics about the existence of gender stereotyping and sexist messages, consider this recent, real-life, unplugged example:

In our community, when a baby is born, someone makes a clever, handmade congratulatory sign and posts it on the bulletin board. The sign is usually a gentle spoof on the parents and siblings. The sign for the newest baby, born this week, featured:
1. The dad wearing his political party’s t-shirt
2. The mom wearing a t-shirt “emblazoned” with the name of her job
3. Sister wearing a dress labeled ― are you ready? ― “Pretty Dress”

I challenge anyone to tell me that if Sister were Brother, his clothing would’ve been labeled “Great Outfit”. If anything, it surely would’ve been labeled “Big Brother”, which one would think would’ve been the obvious choice for either gender. Indeed, why not “Big Sister”? Is her appearance the only thing we can think of to say about this child?

Everyone in the community will see this sign. Kids who can’t read will ask their parents what’s written on it. I have no quarrel with it per se: It's tasteful, effort was clearly invested in it, and it will without a doubt be a family memento. But if anyone thinks that our kids aren’t getting messages that reinforce gender stereotyping, I offer this example, for which I didn’t have to go searching: It positively jumped out at me. Would anyone dare argue that my point is trivial?


  1. Dear Yam
    I think you are overdoing it. Come on lighten up- just a little. Not everything means something beyond what it just is.
    sometimes there are other, simple and innocent motives .

    In this case, as the sign maker, I can say that what was in my mind was the following: How can I show a visual characteristic of each one of these people without actually drawing their portraits? Ok, let's see. Sarit is known for her great work with the bike rides and has recently designed many T-shirts for it and for the Machon. It seem right to put a t-shirt on her. Danny is recognized by his תנועה ירוקה shirt, which he proudly wears, and the red algae from Algetek. Now, as for little Avigail- In my many conversations with Sarit, on our way to work in the morning, she told me how every morning Avigail demands to wear a pretty dress, and that it's always an issue. Yes, many 3 year old girls go through this phase, I'm sure you remember.

    I know Sarit and Danny will get it, and hopefully smile, and that's what I care about.

    One can't always be 150% politically correct, it's simply not possible.While we should do our bes not to offend,others should try not to be offended too easily. There has to be a healthy balance in this world, or else no one will dare speak or do anything public.

    Not even make a little welcome sign.


  2. Ah, Rutie, so it was you! I'm glad you revealed yourself. OK, I can see we're seeing this from two differing angles: From yours, it was a nod to an Insider's View of Avigayil. From mine, it was...well, I won't repeat my whole post. OK, I get it. While I accept your reasoning, I still hear a message going out, regardless of intent: Girls are to be judged by their appearance.

  3. Hey Yam,
    Try to have a conversation with Avigayil sometime. Even if you talk to her about her doll or her new shoes her response will be "Simla Yafah Yesh li!" She is totally obsessed. I knew who you were talking about before I saw the sign and before I read Rutie's response. The little girl is incredibly smart, but apparently what is important to her these days is her pretty dress.


  4. Marla, OK, so those in the know know that Avigayil is, shall we say, dress-conscious. But someone (me, for instance) seeing the sign might legitimately ask, "But why *davka* choose to emphasize / reinforce that? Isn't what's relevant here her new identity as Big Sister?" And of course the deeper question: Why is she dress-obsessed? I refuse to accept that she was just born that way, that her DNA is pink, it's wired in, her brain is shaped differently than a boy's, leading her to be inordinately interested in fashion...AND that that's what should get our attention.

  5. Posting for Dena Shunra:
    "The comment section on this post reminded me of Ghandi's adage, you know it? "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win"? That's what he experienced because he was a man. Any woman would have known that between the "ignore" and the "laugh" they tell you to "lighten up".

  6. Yam,
    This isn't dress related, but it does show how gender differences are relentlessly reinforced. I used to take my neighbour's little girl to school every day. I took her to the first day of second grade. When we arrived at the school door we read the class rosters to see which room was hers.

    I was astonished to see that all the boys' names were in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. The girls's names were in Initial Caps. A not so subtle (to me) message that "girls and boys are very different." And, in the US, bigger is always better.

    We arrived at her room and she was greeted by all her little girls friends, eager to share news of summer. The boys were playing in a separate corner.

    The first words out of the girls' mouths were "If you're a girl your coat goes over here. If you're a boy your coat goes over there." I was stunned.

    As a teacher myself, I couldn't help but marvel at the lost learning opportunity. Why not "If your last name begins with A through L, put your coat here." No wonder the dismal gap between mens' and womens' wages continues almost unabated.

  7. Yeah [sigh]. Dismal is right. Just today I was sorting our just-harvested dates in my income-sharing community. After lunch, the 5th-7th graders came down, including my daughter. They were all eager to help, but being a fill-in myself, I didn't know where best to "plug them in", so I asked the fellow in charge where they could help. He immediately pulled three boys from off the conveyor belt and set them to building pallets. I commented to the kids' counselor, who arrived after this sexist "work assignment" occurred, but for whatever reason, nothing changed and shortly thereafter we were all dismissed. It's a constant battle and you start to feel like a one-issue noodnik...I welcome suggestions and am so glad you enjoy reading my blog.

  8. Yam, what a great blogsite you have. I have enjoyed your comments on Lenore's Free Range kids site and likewise I enjoyed reading your blogs on this site. I especially like the name. A few days before I got married, we were out to dinner, and talking about about our upcoming wedding. I said, "You aren't expecting me to change my name after we are married, are you?" He said, "Wellllll", and before he could add to that, I said, "You wouldn't want to suddenly become Mike Brooke within a few days would you?" He looked a bit shocked, shuddered, and said, "I get it. I understand why you wish to keep your name. It is you."

    That was 15 years ago.

  9. Good for you, Helynna. Good angle to go for. Glad you enjoy my blog. Stop by often!