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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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4. “I Love Barbies … I am a Boy”: Gender Happiness for Social Justice Education


· 4 · “i love barbies … i am a boy” Gender Happiness for Social Justice Education (Grade 4) When I look at this child’s artwork, I can’t help but smile back at the figure. I feel happy that a young boy can proudly proclaim a “Love” for Barbies in a North American culture that often punishes such affections. It tickles me that he refuses to settle on either a dress or pants for his image, opting instead for 56 tomboys and other gender heroes both (though in fairness, the pants could be leggings, which themselves carry their own set of cultural rules). I am happy that the figure appears confident, feet firm, standing tall, “I am a boy” written in large letters, and a broad smile across their face (I am using a plural pronoun to denote the possibility of either, or both, or some combination of genders—because it may be an image of the boy or the doll or both). My smile mirrors their smile. While I cannot tell whether the figure is the Barbie or the boy, I do believe that the person (artist and figure) is truly enjoying their gender. The “boy who loves Barbies” is one example among hundreds of render- ings of how students have reported their strong connections to gender. I have created broad themes to organize the types of issues, actions, and objects they describe: activities, appearance, freedoms and restrictions, home life, identity, jobs, media, social justice issues, spaces, treatment from others, toys, and...

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