Five and Fighting: The Gender Politics of Kindergarten

tumblr_m68dxddxw51qjyc47o1_5001My daughter is five years old. My bright, amazing, wonderful, smart, talented, loving, and challenging girl is five. I thought that I had years, three at the least, five at best, before I had to really worry about gender politics and autonomy. Funny, because now I am realizing that I have been worrying since the moment that the ultrasound tech typed our chosen girl’s name on the screen. I guess I was just ready for allowing my daughter to pick her own toys and interests. I was willing to accept her pink walls and love of princesses right along with her fascination with maps, bugs, and living things. I was all about my husband having tea parties one minute, and introducing her to Mario Galaxy the next. I was ready for us, for me, for her…I was not prepared for the rest of the world.

Three weeks ago she started kindergarten. Two weeks ago she came home and complained that a boy in her class was, “being sneaky and kissing her.” He was kissing her on the cheek, but he was being shady about it, and he continued even after she asked him to stop. So, we discussed ownership and control of our bodies, respect (and lack thereof), and how important it is to report to a grownup whenever anyone makes her feel uncomfortable in that way. I armed her with language and confidence to the best of my ability, and planned to speak to her teacher when I picked her up from school. When I pulled her teacher aside, she told me that my girl had already spoken to the boy in question and told him, “I like you and I am your friend, but I don’t like it when you kiss me. Maybe we can shake hands instead?” She then went to her teacher and let her know what was happening because she, “thought she should know.” I was proud to bursting, and felt like that was a pretty huge win in the mommy/daughter columns. I sincerely thought that, “that was that,” for a good long while anyway.

One week. That was that for one week. Tonight she came to me with more concerns, and it genuinely rattled me. I was going to write a hugely long entry about feminism, indoctrination, and all the things you’ve heard before. I was going to rage about the Stacey Rambold sentence, I was going to vent and purge, and freak out, but honestly, I am just too spun at the moment to get my thoughts any semblance of together. So, I am just going to copy and paste the email that I sent to my daughter’s teacher. (Who is amazing, btw.) I am posting it because, honestly, I wish I had known what to say before I said it. I have a lot of friends with girls around the same age, and I just want them to know that…well…this crap that we deal with every day…it starts earlier than you think, and you have to choose to acknowledge it for what it is. You have to, because that is the only way that things will change. I am so proud of my girl for everything she has done thus far in standing her ground, and I am so grateful that she is in a room with a teacher who will be vigilant, and who will never take the stance of, “he only does it to show her that he likes her.”

The email:

(Name of Teacher)- Let me preface this entire email by saying that I am so grateful that you are its recipient. I have no doubt that you will see where I am coming from, and not an over-reacting or overprotective mother.

Tonight at bedtime talk turned to school. Kids will be kids, and there are a lot of things going on that, while they don’t thrill me, I am also not surprised by or overly worried about. There was talk of how funny everyone thinks “booties,” are. That is typical of the age, and is really for each parent to handle…it is not a concern, it just shows you how we got just to the point.

As a result of the “booty,” talk we began discussing respect of ones’ body, and the bodies of others. This lead to (my daughter) telling me that (name of boy) has been, “punching her in the bottom.” I asked her to show me what she meant, and she meant exactly what it sounds like. She said that she has asked him to stop, but he keeps doing it. I asked her when was the last time he had done it, and she said, “today at lunch, then again in line, and again right before together time.” This, in and of itself is concerning, but combine it with the fact that he has already been kissing her, which we discussed last week, and it definitely got my hackles up.

I told her what you and other teachers have told her; that maybe she should stay away from (name of boy), not because she is doing something wrong, but because he can’t seem to respect her person. She replied that, “when he comes and sits next to me, and I scoot away, he just scoots behind me. When I ask him to stop, he goes [pokes out lower lip and makes sad sounds], and then I say, ‘okay,’ because I don’t want him to be sad. But then he does something and we get in trouble and get separated.” I asked her how it makes her feel when he does this, and she said, “It makes me feel like I feel when someone walks too close behind me or chases me. Like, anxious.”

I am sure that you can understand my concern. I have no doubt that (name of boy) is not a “bad kid,” and that he is not doing this intentionally. I see that he really likes (my daughter), and for whatever reason has become fixated on her, but frankly, I am not terribly concerned with whether or not his feelings get hurt in this circumstance. He is punching my child in a private area, and he is, intentionally or not, emotionally manipulating her into allowing him to continue this sort of behavior despite the fact that he makes her feel anxious and upset, and that she has asked him to stop numerous times. That is, as a feminist, not a precedent that I want set.

(My daughter) is a very sensitive girl. She does care overly much about whether or not she hurts someone’s feelings, and had a marked fear of conflict of any sort. We are doing our part at home to empower her to take control and ownership of her person, and to teach her that true friends respect each other and care for one another, and not just about their own happiness. But this teaching backfires, and does her no good when, at five, she is faced with a peer who won’t take “no,” for an answer. (My husband) and I are both extremely concerned by this situation. We can both see how others may want to write it off as “boys being boys,” but for us it goes beyond that, which I hope that you can see.

I am not sure what the next step here needs to be, and we are both willing to follow your lead. I wanted to send this in an email for two reasons. 1) To make sure it is documented, and 2) because this is a heck of a conversation to blindside you with first thing on Friday morning. We really respect you and the work you do with our/your kidos. This is the first time ever that we have had an issue of this sort, which makes me all the more ready to sit up and take notice. (My daughter) is not one to cry wolf, and on the heels of the kissing incidents of week before last with the same child…we’re not particularly thrilled by the idea of more interactions. Please let us know what you think, and how to proceed. Thank you for all that you do- Melle

I am not ready. But I have to be ready, because if I am not, then she will look elsewhere for her information, and I cannot think of anything scarier than my baby learning about strength from a pop culture that depends on her fear and insecurity for fuel. I have to be ready because I know what it is like to go into that battle (and it can be a battle) unarmed. I want so much more for her. I know that I cannot protect her from every meany that comes along. I know that in love there will be boys, or girls who break her heart and do her wrong, but right now, today, she is five, she is my baby, and I am ready, because what else can I be?

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