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  • Jessica VanDerheyden

Schools, Androgyny, and Gender Norms

As I was picking up my eight-year-old son from school, I noticed that the high school across the street had a flashing sign, wishing students a “Happy Pride Month.”

I instantly rolled my eyes.

Thankfully, my son's elementary school did not have any flashing signs, no “progress” flags hanging out front, and no “Happy Pride” newsletter. Part of me was hopeful…until I pulled into the parking lot and saw his teachers wearing LGBTQIA+ shirts, with painfully stereotypical slogans printed across them. I was later made aware that they wore clothes like this every day throughout June. As a preschool teacher, I need to be very careful about my clothing choices. I often wear t-shirts that provoke conversations with my students about their favorite movies and characters. At the same time, there are things I actively avoid, like wearing something scary, political, or provocative. I am a bisexual mother of three and it would NEVER cross my mind to wear pride merchandise to school. As a teacher, it is important to keep in mind that you should not put something in your classroom that you are not willing to have discussions about. My son's school might not have LGBTQIA themes listed in their formal lesson plans, but the fact that teachers were wearing these outfits daily confirms that it is being discussed, at least to some extent.

It all seems to strange to me. When I was growing up, I never had a teacher explain to me what the terms gay, lesbian, or bisexual were. I never had a teacher imply that one should label themselves, according to who we were attracted to. The reason for this is because we never needed them to. Kids do not feel different or excluded unless people make them feel that way. I knew that I liked girls from a very young age. And trust me, I did not need a teacher to explain that to me. Learning about sex and gender can be confusing for a child. They especially do not need to be hyper-focused on correctly fitting into their "gender identity” labels that they adopt in the classroom without parental consent.

We do not need to teach LGBTQIA themes for the purpose of tolerance. Teaching kindness and acceptance does not include singling out groups of people and putting them on display. Instead of focusing on how they are different, maybe it would be more effective to highlight what they have in common. We do not need teachers to wear shirts “in support” of a group of people and make them feel oppressed and victimized. And regardless, people eventually figure out their orientation without anyone's help. Schools are not a place for virtue signaling.

Another worrisome trend that is being normalized in the classroom is the conflation of biological sex and socially constructed gender norms. From David Bowie and Joan Jett, we have long worshiped cultural icons who are willing to step out of traditional gender norms and embrace who they are. This is not new. However, we are witnessing a cultural phenomenon where fashion and clothing are the determinants of one's "identity." Androgyny, by definition, is the quality or state of being neither specifically feminine nor masculine. It also includes those who express both feminine and masculine characteristics. Androgynous people have always existed, but they were never under told that maleness and femaleness is dependent on how you look. In numerous states, including mine, the school curriculum begs to differ.

When Gerard Way wears a feather boa on stage and performs like the sassy king he is, he has never denied that he is male. More importantly, he is loved and appreciated for being a man with feminine qualities. He also appeals to thousands of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals because he challenges the boundaries of how men and woman should look and act. The same can be said of Joan Jett, who paved the way for women in rock music. With her leather jackets, swagger, and confidence, she showed America that women do not need to align with Hollywood beauty standards to be successful. She showed women that having a more androgynous aesthetic and being tough does not make you any less of a woman. Women like her are not a different gender, nor do they require different pronouns just for not adhering to unattainable beauty standards placed upon women in the music industry. It was empowering to see people wearing what makes them happy without caring about who disagrees with it. Her greatest hit speaks for itself: "A girl can do what she wants to do and that's what I'm gonna do. I've never been afraid of any deviation. And I don't really care if you think I'm strange. I ain't gonna change."

Somehow, we have created a world where one cannot break such boundaries without being labeled and told that they are not male or female. This so-called progressive idea that females who like sports, have short hair, or date other women makes them less of a female. These confusing and nonsensical identities are regressive, to say the least. Androgyny has now been redefined to reinforce the outdated concept that males need to be masculine and females need to be traditionally feminine. Children are taught that gender is a spectrum and those who do not feel masculine enough to be a boy or feminine enough to be a girl are stuck somewhere in the middle. In some cases, they are encouraged to undergo irreversible surgical procedures. They are being encouraged to hide behind a label instead of embracing who they are.

Androgyny has always been more common among gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Because of this, they were demonized, referred to with derogatory terms, ostracized, and looked down upon. It was a long and treacherous battle to finally have society be open-minded enough to expand their view of acceptable fashion choices, regardless of whether they were considered masculine or feminine. Despite their appearance, androgynous men were not stripped of their manhood or considered to be anything other than males whose appearance was different than others.

The hard truth is that men and boys have always been male. Women and girls have always been female. Stating otherwise is blatantly regressive. Girls who like baseball caps and baggy jeans are being told by their teachers that they can change sex and need to adopt an imaginary gender label to validate themselves. We are raising a generation of children who are under the impression that this regressive worldview is a good thing. It reinforces the very same regressive stereotypes that the LGB community fought against. It backhands the numerous icons who have paved the way for future generations. And frankly, most can agree that they look ridiculous while doing it.


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