The topic of this week's discussion is of great interest to me as an
educator, developmental psychologist, and mother of a 13 year old who is
teased for gender-related reasons. As pointed out by Nan Stein and other
researchers, children are often teased/bullied for not fitting in and not
conforming. Often the reasons behind this "sticking out like a sore thumb"
have to do with gender-related behaviors.
Here's a big issue: There are many boys (estimates range from 5-8%)
who have more feminine interests such as cooking, sewing, singing, dancing,
playing with dolls, and fashion design. Some of these boys will end up
being gay, though most will be straight. Some of these boys will be
cross-dressers or transvestites: British research shows that about 5% of
adult men wear articles of women's clothing at least once a week (though it
is difficult to know, due to the sensitive nature of the research). What
matters is that there is often extreme bullying and teasing of "effeminate"
boys based on the fact that they do not dress and act the same as other
boys. How do we as educators deal with this issue, and with the related
issue of girls being harrassed for adopting masculine behaviors/interests?
I've noticed that most adults as well as children do not believe it's
appropriate to tease/bully based on race, gender, class, linguistic
background, etc. Children may *do* the teasing, but they know it's wrong.
However, they believe it's okay to bully/tease someone who "acts
different." And most of them also believe it's okay to exclude someone
from the social scene because he/she has different interests. Maybe the
reasoning goes like this: You can't help it if your skin is a certain
color or you were born a boy/girl, or if your family is poor, or if your
native language is not English (or even if you're gay, if you believe it's
genetic.) But you *can* control what you like to do, your interests,
preferences, ways of dressing, etc. So it's okay to tease someone based on
their interests. Obviously, I don't know if this is what people are
thinking, but it seems like a good working hypothesis.
I am writing in hopes that others will have suggestions for how to
deal with these issues in school. I know that it makes a huge difference
when teachers confront this problem, rather than push it under the rug. I
also know a number of adults in the transgender community (folks who are
cross-dressers, transsexuals, etc.), who feel that their lives would have
been enormously easier if teachers had helped them deal with gender-related
teasing and bullying. Over one-third of them have been physically
harrassed as children and virtually all of them have been verbally abused.
This does not make for an easy childhood!
Suggestions? I know that almost every teacher of elementary/middle
school has had kids like these in her classroom, and have tried different
approaches. It would be a great benefit to us all if these could be
"Jan Mokros" <email@example.com>
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