Crossing the Gender Line

How often do we hear the proclamations by our children: “That’s a boy’s color?” “Those are for girls!”

Beyond culture and environment, art and play can provide an opportunity for everyone to try on different materials and roles.

As a specialist in puppetry and the expressive arts, I have been exploring with my colleagues how to stretch the black-and-white thinking of young children.
Puppet improvisations are one means of exploration. The children are presented with a problem or inquiry through enactment by puppets. They then solve or explore the problem collectively.

Recently we discussed whether there are fixed boy and girl colors. Typically blue is for boys, and pink is for girls. We asked the children to begin questioning whether these are facts or personal preferences.

One child, previously adamant about the ‘rules’ of gender regarding colors, surprised us with his flexibility. When awareness was brought to a puppetry circle about how children may feel about being limited or mocked for their choices, he was the one to provide a solution.

“Let’s call them everyone’s colors. Then everyone can choose what they like.” The group agreed. And for the moment, within the safety of our group circle, there was agreement.

As teachers and parents, we can model, facilitate and help diminish the mocking peer voices and the conflict that is created internally and between our children regarding gender roles and rules.

Recently, a simple idea surfaced while observing a group of 5-year-old boys making airplanes with colored craft sticks. I brought gems and sparkly pipe cleaners over to their table.

“Anybody interested in decorating their planes?” I asked. Then I walked away to observe from a distance.

Usually they would take two colored sticks, connect them with a piece of colored masking tape and feel complete. The rest of the time was then spent flying the planes.

Being offered but not encouraged to add to their planes, I watched with interest as one boy considered the materials that were very tempting to the girls. Slowly he began peeling the gems off their backing and adding them to his plane. This was followed by carefully curling the pipe cleaners around the body and wings with great focus.

The other boys did not follow his lead. However, I noticed that the next time the group made their planes, this same leader gathered the jewels from where the girls had moved them. He, again, used them to decorate his plane.

Soon after, other boys, and soon girls, began building a fleet of very shiny and sparkly airplanes.

Classroom Guidelines for School and Home:

Set up a table with colored craft sticks, colored masking tape, scissors, markers or oil pastels. (Be sure to include pink, blue and purple as choices.)

Observe what it is that the children are constructing. Listen for what is being expressed if a child’s preference crosses the ‘gender line.’ Be available for facilitating inquiry. Asking such questions as:
· Are there any girls here who love blue? Does anyone know a girl who likes blue? Is that true all the time?
· What about boys who love pink and purple? Does anyone know a boy who likes pink?

Name what was discovered by restating it for the children. “Oh, so there are some girls who do like blue and boys who like pink. Do you think we can choose the colors we like whether or not they are called boy colors or girl colors?”

 · Once the construction is under way, bring over additional materials such as stick-on gems, shiny pipe cleaners, ribbons and trim.

Again, be available for what surfaces, gently expanding their capacities to be critical thinkers.

Creating an environment of curiosity and exploration is a way of offering children alternatives while allowing them to make their own wise choices.

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:
Jumbo Colored Wood Craft Sticks – 500 pieces (CJUMBO)
Peel and Stick Gems – 442 pieces (GEMS)
1/2″ Colored Masking Tape – set of 10 rolls (CLRMSET)
Colorations® Blunt Tip Scissors (CBS)
Sparkle Stems (PSPAR)
Colorations® Super Washable Chubby Markers – set of 200 (CHBST)
Colorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels – set of 336 (COPACK)
Assorted Ribbon Remnants (RIBBONS)


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anonymous
    Oct 19, 2012 @ 23:09:49

    What a wonderful topic, Elyse. My husband and I were reading your blog with sheer interest. We were reflecting on the gender roles and colours from our own perspectives of parents to 2 boys and a girl, exactly in these ages. What we noticed is that there is a distinction between the gender's colour preference to the way children deal with that. The first distinction, from our personal experience, is that our boys do not necessarily choose blue, but they are not attracted to pink at all. Girls however (our girl) is strongly drawn to pink (and purple) but as easily feels comfortable with blue (though lighter shades of it. Interesting, isn't?).The other distinction we related very much to, which we believe you were so brilliantly bridging by your innovative work, is how children react to another child choosing "cross-gender" colour.There might be more tolerance and acceptance towards girls choosing "boys" colours, but there is definitely room to facilitate and teach children more acceptance and openness about boys making more varied choices with no stigma attached. Therefore, your innovative work – and we LOVE the way you give the children options by exposure, yet stand back to observe – teaches children from very age to become open and accepting PEOPLE, treating each other with respect as well as appreciating different creative expressions.Thank you for your inspiration and modelling.With respect and appreciation,Galit & Eli


  2. PeaceElyse
    Oct 20, 2012 @ 00:18:47

    Thank you, Galit and Eli for your comments and feedback on your own children. You clarified something I omitted: that children don't necessary choose these gender-biased colors. And there is a tendency, from what I've observed for acceptance of girls with blue although the do often choose pink and purple. I appreciate how you phrased "there is definitely room to facilitate and teach acceptance and openness about boys making more varied choices with no stigma attached."As parents and teachers, giving our children roots and wings, we can also offer them choices based on their personal preference not the pressure of others.If we can instill this right to choose in appropriate areas with our children, imagine the leadership they can model!


  3. gry hazardowe darmowe
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 12:59:56

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