Learning from Miss Meadows

Come Christmas Day, my three-year-old will be getting the pink doll’s house he’s been asking for for weeks. Or rather, he’s been asking me for it for weeks. I’ve only recently discovered that his whims seem to change depending on who’s around.

During my son’s nursery Christmas Party last week Father Christmas asked each of the childen what he or she would like to receive. Much to my surprise I discovered that “a pink doll’s house” becomes “a lorry” when other children are around. Well, to be honest, it wasn’t all that surprising. He’s at the age at which one starts to learn what it means to be a girl or a boy within a highly gendered culture. He’s starting to realise he’s not really “allowed” to like pink things, at least not in public. From now on his beloved Suzy Sheep socks are for bedtime only.

All of this saddens me. My youngest is an incredibly imaginative little boy – the kind of boy who has chess pieces talking to one another (Knight: “I’m moving here”, Rook: “I’m not comfortable with that”) – and a doll’s house seems the perfect present for him. And yes, I know he can be imaginative with other things. Only yesterday he was running around after his Star Wars-obsessed older brother, clutching a carrot and yelling “look at my light sabre!” But he’s now started editing out half of the things with which he can play – half of the colours with which he can paint – and to me that’s so incredibly pointless.

Judging from the effect it’s had on my eldest, this only gets worse once school begins. What a ridiculous waste. It ought to be possible to teach children to read and write without them also having to absorb distorted messages about their own potential, but my partner, a male primary teacher, reminds me of how difficult this is. It’s not just the children. It’s hard to mention my partner’s job to people without them getting over-excited at what a great “male role model” he must be. He’s meant to represent something specific to his male pupils, a message about what “maleness” is. I’m sure he’s a good role model – for all his pupils – but the presumed “maleness” of it rankles.

This morning I read about Lucy Meadows, formerly Nathan Upton, a primary teacher in Accrington. When her pupils return after the Christmas holidays they will be referring to her as “Miss” and not “Sir”. The school has told them that Meadows was “born with a girl’s brain in a boy’s body”, and while the existence of Simon Baron-Cohen and the like means I can’t hear the phrase “girl’s brain” without inwardly cringing, the response of the school seems to me perfectly straightforward and tolerant. Then again, I’m not Richard Littlejohn. As you can imagine, this kind of thing REALLY pisses him off.

Littlejohn is worried about the children, y’see. Apparently they’ll find this all way too confusing:

Children as young as seven aren’t equipped to compute this kind of information. Pre-pubescent boys and girls haven’t even had the chance to come to terms with the changes in their own bodies.

Why should they be forced to deal with the news that a male teacher they have always known as Mr Upton will henceforth be a woman called Miss Meadows? Anyway, why not Miss Upton?

While I can’t comment on the last part – to be honest, Meadows is a bit twee for my liking – as far as the rest goes I’d like to assure Littlejohn that the kids will be just fine, or at least as fine as the ever were. Yes, gender is a confusing topic. Let’s all recognise that. But it’s made a million times more confusing by the fact that from the moment children are born we’re filling their heads with total crap about who and what they are based solely on the outward form of their genitals. Children face a deluge of imagination-zapping pink and blue indoctrination every single day. Damn right they’re confused. But within all this, if a few of them can have a teacher who’s willing to dress the way she wants to dress and identify herself how she chooses to – despite the obvious prejudice of others – I can only think that is a good thing. I hope these children are inspired. I hope it keeps that spark alive, the one that encourages them to be the people they want to be, regardless of what’s between their legs.

And yes, some parents are worried:

My middle boy thinks that he might wake up with a girl’s brain because he was told that Mr Upton, as he got older, got a girl’s brains.

You do wonder what the understanding of “a girl’s brain” is. I, for one, wake up with one every day. It’s fine. The problem is not its “girliness” – it’s all the crappy worries I fill it with, most of which are entirely individual to me. And yes, one of these worries is that now my three-year-old won’t appreciate his pink doll’s house. It might have come from Ebay, but it wasn’t cheap, you know. He’d better get the most out of the sodding thing. I’m worried that we don’t have long before total self-censorship takes over.

8 thoughts on “Learning from Miss Meadows

  1. They don’t need to be equipped to deal with this kind of information as I am betting they just won’t care, they will process it for exactly a nanosecond before getting back to important stuff like moshi monsters. Children don’t judge as we do.

  2. Littlejohn is so full of crap. I was reading about Thomas Beatie one day and complaining about the disgusting coverage of it in the Daily Mail (where else) and my son who was 5ish at the time asked me about it. I explained what the situation was, and I explained why I was so annoyed with the article and he completely understood. He even still mentions it now (2 years later) when issues of gender come up. I also had a chat with my 4 year old about it when I was in the shower the other day and he asked me why ‘women don’t have willies’ and I explained that actually, some women do. Children are not freaked out by this stuff, especially if they grow up with these issues being treated with tolerance and sensitivity.

  3. What a wonderful response to this story and Richard Littlejohn’s bigoted article. My mother treated us exactly as you are treating your son. If we wanted to put on make up, play with dolls or dress up in heels we could. I think this is healthy for a child, to wholly engage their imagination and not be pressured by Daily Mail readers to conform to a gender stereotype from an early age. As children grow up they will chose what is right for them. I genuinely hope your son loves his dolls house and gets plenty of use out of it. Merry Christmas

  4. Great post. Richard Littlejohn is a bigot, I expected netter from him.
    This school is in my town. The media have caused an unnecessary furore over this after pandering to the objections of a certain Mr Wayne Cowie.

    Cowie was always the main suspect for a protest such as this, not seeming to have enough brain cells to compute even a simple Janet and John book, (showing my age there) and the intellect of a gnat. Apparently only three parents in the whole school have an issue with this, Cowie being one of them. His comments after the local newspaper article online (Accrington Observer) and on Facebook need to be seen to be believed.

    My 5 boys all had dolls at a young age. Likewise toy kitchens and such. I would have thought by now that society would be more enlightened about gender issues. Seemingly it still has a long way to go.

  5. In his original article (which has conveniently been pulled from the Fail site) Littlejohn suggests that Lucy should ‘quietly disappear’. Wayne Cowie, who’s gone suspiciously quiet on Facebook recently, was the one who made it his mission to drive Lucy either out or under.

    And now, both of them have their wish. She’s quietly disappeared forever.

    Tragically sad, but given the lack of any public outcry, perfectly acceptable.

  6. RIP Lucy, she died yesterday, just 3 months on..the original Littlejohn article has been “amended ” today ..what a surprise

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