So, this happened.
I got a letter from my son's middle-school principal about a "wonderful opportunity" all the students will be having next week. The girls will be viewing the indie movie, Finding Kind, with a filmmaker Q&A afterwards. According to the letter, "The Kind campaign is an internationally recognized movement based on the powerful belief in KINDness that brings awareness and healing to often difficult girl dynamics."
The boys, meanwhile, will be "hearing a message of goal-setting, overcoming obstacles, and resiliency from former NHL star, Ethan Moreau. Following this inspirational presentation there will be a brief showing of the film, Miracle, based on the challenges and triumphs of the US Olympic Hockey team. Both messages are meant to be empowering and thought provoking to our male students."
Let me be clear about a couple of things. I think both of these opportunities are wonderful. I have not seen Finding Kind, but have searched the website and found nothing that says it's inappropriate for boys. I've seen Miracle - it's fantastic - and last time I checked, I'm very definitely female.
You can see where I'm going with this.
I believe men and women are different. Equal, but different. However, those differences are not about kindness vs. resiliency. They're not as easy as healing girl dynamics vs. goal-setting and overcoming obstacles. Girls are not the only ones who can be unkind, and hearing a message of resiliency is just as relevant, if not more so, given the power mean girls seem to have.
I am a mom of boys, one of whom makes up elaborate stories for his stuffed animals, and often gets his feelings hurt by callous friends. I would love for my sons to see a movie about how girls feel when people are unkind. It might give them access to a range of emotions that girls and women have more social latitude to feel than boys and men do - at least out loud.
Gender stereotypes exist. There's no question about this. Boys play with trucks, girls play with dolls. Except my three-year-old niece loved her brother's truck, which she put her doll into and pushed around like a stroller.
Given access to the same options, boys and girls may make different choices. But chances are, it'll be some completely unexpected hybrid of things that are "traditionally" male and female. If we take away the equal opportunity to the options - to knowledge and understanding and access - we're putting our boys and girls in boxes, and perpetuating the gender stereotypes in a way that limits, rather than expands their choices.
So, my letter to the principal is basically this - these are wonderful opportunities - if all students have access to both assemblies. The gender lines will sort themselves out according to the education and opportunities our kids receive. If we divide them now, we're telling the kids this is okay for you to feel, or be, or do if you're a girl. And if you're a boy, these are the things that matter.
"Like a Girl" has taken on a new significance in the media with the always.com campaign, and its push that "like a girl" is NOT an insult. Now, imagine you're a boy in the middle school "boys" assembly. You look around at the target audience and you don't see any girls. What do you begin to assume? Maybe that your school doesn't think goal-setting, resiliency and overcoming obstacles are appropriate messages for girls? And if you hear about the Kind campaign the girls got to see, you might think your school doesn't value kindness in boys.
Yes, boys and girls might make different choices, but it's our job as parents, educators and adults to give them the same access to information, so their choices are informed and truly theirs.