My three-year-old daughter is obsessed with gender identity in a super gender conforming way. She only wears dresses, never pants, and insists that boys can’t wear dresses and girls can’t wear pants. When I try to contradict her, she starts screaming and throwing things around, the way three year olds tend to do.
In an attempt to try to complicate some of her ideas about gender, I checked out some library books that challenge gender stereotypes.
First we read Pink!, about a penguin named Patrick who gets teased by his friends for being pink, because “boys can’t be pink!” Then we read Dogs Don’t Do Ballet, which is about a dog who wants to be a ballet dancer but keeps being told that dogs don’t do ballet. And finally we read 10,000 Dresses, about a transgender girl whose family won’t allow her to wear dresses because “boys don’t wear dresses.”
About half way through our reading session, my daughter started sucking her thumb and playing with her hair, which is what she does when she’s worried about something. When we’d finished she said in a quiet voice, “Are all the library books about a naughty thing?”
So I told her that the penguin and the dog and the girl weren’t being naughty—it was the people who told them they couldn’t be pink/do ballet/wear dresses who were wrong.
All three of these books end on a positive note, with penguin, dog, and girl finding people who accept them for who they are. But I had to wonder, is this really the best place to start with teaching kids to challenge gender stereotypes—by teaching them about intolerance and oppression? Of course, kids are learning intolerance and oppression every day, and it’s important to openly acknowledge and challenge that. But it would also be nice to find some books about gender non-conforming kids that aren’t primarily about dealing with oppression. Right? I’m sure they’re out there. I just need to keep looking.