Gender Grouping in Children: An Open Letter To Kids Club

September 9th, 2013 | Categories: Uncategorized

Dear Kids Club,

Thank you for taking excellent care of my children while they were playing there at a birthday party yesterday. Your enthusiastic staff seemed sincerely eager and there were more than enough staff to help the children with their needs. They handled even the most difficult children well and made sure everyone was included in the fun. You had a variety of fantastic activities that even the adults wished they could join in on. Of course the trampoline is on at the top of that list! At every Kids Club event my children have attended, I have only had positive things to say. This is a great track record of consistency in an organization I’ve used in various ways for four year.

In addition to congratulating you on your excellent performance over the last few years, I am writing because I was hoping you could help me to answer one question. What’s with the gendered groups during the activities? I don’t get it.

I was observing the play space yesterday and noticed the children separated into boys and girls at some point. This was odd for me to see not just because I am a stereotype scholar, but also because I brought two children- one boy and one girl- to the event and they weren’t able to play in the same group together for a portion of the play. I don’t think the children opted into gendered groups. So why force that grouping onto them?

Okay, I understand children can form cliques (e.g., based on personalities, friendships, schools, etc) and other kids can feel left out. So putting children into new groups based on characteristics they can’t control (e.g., gender) can diffuse the clique-ness of children’s play. Theories of group categorization even support that idea.

However, I don’t understand why you choose gendered groups to be the category. First, it’s not a grouping that’s relevant to the experience these kids have at your play space. There is nothing inherently gendered about the space or the activities. Moreover, as an organization you clearly have worked hard to come up with, for example, gender neutral themes for your pajama parties (e.g., NYC or camping). So it is clear gender isn’t a valuable distinction for your organization and its philosophy. Second, it’s not a fun distinction. Rather, it can cause friends and siblings to be unnecessarily separated in an environment that can be intimidating or even scary for more timid children. That works against the fun spirit of your events and staff.

Third, the category doesn’t work as a simple and clear cut distinction.  I see it first hand. My son is the perfect case in point, as he often is in these discussions. The company provided pink crowns for the girls at the party (nothing for the boys). I was surprised when I didn’t hear my son crying to get one. Then I looked and noticed he had one! Hooray for Kids Club. But now the situation is a strange one. Earlier, Kids Club had reinforced that gender is a valid distinction by grouping the children by gender. Here my son boldly and confidently becomes the only boy to wear a pink crown. This could easily have not gone well. Luckily he is bold and confident in doing so and luckily the kids he was with either knew him or were not bothered by his doing this. But it is commonplace for my son to be asked in a fairly aggressive (if only curious) way why he is wearing or playing with ‘girls’ items. This could have easily been a troubling situation both for me and my son if even a single child decided to be aggressive about his wearing a crown. In a party where not all the kids know each other (though they all know the birthday girl or boy) this type of controversy amongst the kids- or even the parents- can happen. Given the potential for this to go wrong, it seems an odd decision for kids Club to voluntarily prime children to treat gender as a relevant and valuable distinction by placing children randomly into gendered groups.

Sure parents often divide goody bag party favors into gendered bags, but there is no reason for the power of the company to support that mistake.You may think that since parents do it with regular frequency that it isn’t a big deal. But, think of it this way. At this particular party, the family hosting knew my son liked ‘girl’ things and made sure- without any request from me- to provide a ‘girl’ favor for my son and not a ‘boy’ favor. My point here is that while parents do often gender at these kinds of parties for their children, they can voluntarily choose not to at any time. This decision occurs regardless of what kids Club as an organization does. However, if Kids Club institutionalizes this type of gendering, then even parents who make the decision not to gender their party favors are forced into taking part in doing so through Kids clubs choices as an organization.

Please accept my suggestion as one coming from a dedicated fan of your organization. Choose another group to divide children by. Other groupings that are more arbitrary than gender will serve the same purpose and be less potentially problematic. Divide children by short and long sleeve shirts, pants or shorts, favorite colors, hair color, eye color, birthday month, # of letters in their last name, first letter of their first name, favorite ice cream flavor (chocolate, strawberry, vanilla), or any relevant category for the theme of the party. There are an infinite number of ways to divide children into groups. These ways would not only be less problematic but also a lot more fun for the children themselves. Now that’s in keeping with the spirit of Kids Club!

I know gender is a more convenient grouping than these other groups. Your staff can identify and implement it easily as a way to group children. But my experience with kids club has been that decisions are not made on what is most convenient for the staff. Rather Kids Club is fantastic at what it does because you seem to base decisions on what is best for the children who use the space. It is, after all, their ‘club.’

I appreciate your time in reading this letter. I hope you’ll take my suggestion into consideration.  I am happy to discuss this topic further and can be reached at anastacia@thecommunicatedstereotype.com

Many thanks for all your efforts to make sure my children’s experience at the Kids Club is exceptional.

Anastacia Kurylo, Ph.D.

Fortified Communication Consulting

Author, The Communicated Stereotype: Celebrity Vilification to Everyday Talk

Editor, Inter/Cultural Communication: Representation and Construction of Culture

 

 

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  1. September 9th, 2013 at 21:58

    This is great! I couldn’t agree more. I just posted on my art therapy blog the first in a series of posts about gender. I have been fascinated since my obsession with Ziggy Stardust and even earlier, when forced to go to an all girls international school in Japan. There was some interesting stuff involving being Jewish at a Catholic school with people from other countries, but it was my first experience of being purposefully kept away from “boys”. I do not like what they refer to as same sex schools which should now just be called “gendered schools” or single gender schools; it is a cop out that girls do better without the so called distraction of “boys”. Not all girls are interested in boys in high school. I’m interested in what you think about this phenomenon of actually separating gender in an entire school and what do transgendered kids do in a situation like that???
    I also posed in my post the idea that there are perhaps more than just three or four genders if you separate hermaphrodites from people in transition as it should be. but maybe there are five six or seven other mutations of gender…

  2. Anastacia Kurylo
    September 10th, 2013 at 21:33

    I think the idea of separating the kids in school is less about romantic relationship type distraction and more about something called stereotype threat. The theory centers on the idea that if yo put a person in a certain very specific situation that prompts a person to think of a very specific stereotype related to that situation then that person will potentially internalize the stereotype in a way that causes them to fulfill the stereotype.

    As an example, put two Asian males in a room with one white male to take a math test together, the white males test scores will be lower than they would if the stereotype that Asians are good in math wasn’t primed. So stick girls in an educational environment where there are males around them they may internalize the stereotype that boys are smarter than girls OR the stereotype that girls are supposed to be cute not smart. This may prompt them to perform poorly in comparison to how they would perform in an environment when the stereotype is not primed.

    I’ve never been a fan of stereotype threat. Although the studies support the theory well, to my knowledge they have not yet conducted studies in a large scale where there are more than two groups involved. So, what happens in a more realistic environment when there are lots of different groups intermingled? I don’t think stereotype threat applies anymore in the same predictable way.

    As for same sex schools, my husband went to Xavier in Manhattan. I think it is a personal choice based on preference and level of comfort. He went likely because his cousin went and not for any desire to be distanced from the distraction of girls. To me there is little difference from deciding to buy one sweater instead of another except that the decision has a four year commitment.

    As for transgendered folks, I think all schools should consider having all-gender bathrooms with stalls only. I think men have an advantage in going to the bathroom in front of each other. They get to learn that they can be uncomfortable and then move on with their lives. Women don’t really get a chance to learn that. All-gender stalls only bathrooms (with urinals inside the stall optional) will help level the playing field and will be more inclusive of transgendered folks too!

  3. Anastacia Kurylo
    September 19th, 2013 at 08:18

    As a follow up to the previous comment, check out the newly installed bathroom stalls at the recently opened Reade Street Prep. http://tribecacitizen.com/2013/09/18/new-kid-on-the-block-reade-street-prep/

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