Many of you might know that my thesis was about Moana, but what’s that got to do with gender? You see, Moana is a “boy story” with a female protagonist that celebrates both her “masculine” and “feminine” qualities – that is what we need to teach children.
Literature, films and cartoons affect how children perceive themselves the same way that social interactions and expectations do. Not only do they shape children’s understanding and acceptance of dominant ideologies, but also reinforce gender stereotype through reproduction.
Children, in spite of their sex, should be raised and encouraged in the same way. Personal qualities should not be categorised as two sets of opposing ideals, and boys and girls should be taught to embrace both their masculinity and femininity. Only then can they fully develop and maximise their potentials.
In Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, she writes that, “In each of us two powers preside, one male, one female […] The androgynous mind is resonant and porous […] naturally creative, incandescent and undivided”. I see gender as a continuum and that our gender identity can be measured by the levels of masculinity and femininity in us.
So, those who have a higher level of male sex hormones, reflect less of the traditionally considered feminine traits and perform a rather masculine role – physically, visually and psychologically – the person would be in the blue zone. A child who is biologically female, has a short hairstyle, prefers to wear trousers to dresses and likes insects could be in the light blue and/or light pink territory. The yellowish-lime area represents those who do not consider themselves as masculine or feminine; it is what we usually regard as the grey area – something that is not clearly distinguished. People who are androgynous or ambiguous about their gender would belong to that region. The white corner – which symbolises nil or emptiness – that says agender refers to people who do not identify with any gender.
There is no judgment of right or wrong, good or bad in this diagram; it has more space for diversity. Our gender identity is fluid and keeps evolving as we grow up. Gender is performative; I would dress, walk, sit and talk differently in different contexts. Gender is something one does, not something one is.
Gender equality is not a women’s issue, it’s a men’s issue too. Men and boys are also imprisoned by gender stereotypes. Policies and laws have to be changed, but there is nothing more important than changing people’s attitudes and mindsets, what we believe and what we value about gender.
As a teacher myself, I have to admit that I have had gender biases which affected my interaction with my students, assessment of their work and classroom management. It is unfair to the pupils and could affect their personal and social development. In creating more gender-neutral, nonrestrictive environments for children, we could help to nurture more heroes and heroines who are not afraid to show their true colours.