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Tomboys and Other Gender Heroes

Confessions from the Classroom


Karleen Pendleton Jiménez

Have you ever been told that you’re too girlish or too boyish? We are all potential targets of the gender police, some more so than others. And how did you respond? Did you hide or change or rebel or hurt or gleefully celebrate your style? Tomboys and Other Gender Heroes is a study that brings together gender stories from approximately 600 children and youth. Set in both urban and rural contexts, these young people show how their schools and communities respond to their bodies, passions, and imaginations. As one 13-year-old student expresses, «My flowered jeans make me feel happy because they represent the sort of feminine side to me and at the same time show my masculine side. They also make me feel like I’m a part of a large force that stands up to bullying and criticism, to express themselves and to show the world that our lives have meaning.» In this book, student writings are framed by teaching strategies and gender theory, featuring themes of sports, film, media, landscape, joyfulness, and gender creativity. The research will be of great interest to university students in the fields of education, gender, sexuality and women’s studies, sociology, social work, psychology, counseling, and child development. This book is ideal for teachers, professors, parents, and community members who hope to create accepting environments for gender diversity.


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1. “Because of the Stuff I Love”: An Introduction to Gender, Place, and Teaching


· 1 · “because of the stuff i love” An Introduction to Gender, Place, and Teaching “A boy that went to horse-riding was made fun of and stop riding because of it and still hasn’t come back” (Grade 5). It is scribbled on a 3” × 3” sticky note that was part of a teaching exercise I was presenting.1 The anonymous author of the note was among a group of grade 5 students from a small town in Southern Ontario. I asked the students to document anything they’ve heard or seen in their communities regarding gender. I asked them if rules about gender exist and what happens when people are perceived to break them. 2 tomboys and other gender heroes I read the sticky note aloud, and the students nodded and asserted that yes, only girls get to ride horses. I was astonished by the horse exclusivity. I don’t know much about country life. I’ve only been on a horse once on a beach in Ensenada; he ignored me and ran with the pack. Even so, and despite my ter- ror as I clutched the saddle, I was feeling tough. I grew up on Bonanza. I imag- ined myself as Little Joe Cartwright, the boyish cowboy, still learning how to become a man. I have been a lifelong tomboy, embracing masculine role mod- els (both male and female) to help me enjoy and make decisions about my life. I thought riding a horse was one of the butchest things anyone could do. But...

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