It happens like clockwork every year. September, October and November roll around and I turn into a nostalgic, walking memorial of my long-gone grade school days.
Now some 20 years have passed, and those seem like easy times. I remember best friends and school cafeterias and baking-soda science experiments and those pungent mesh jerseys we dove into during gym. I remember developing crushes as quick as pink eye, and I remember throwing myself full-tilt into every available game of four-square. Most warmly, I remember that excited, confident, fearless little girl, not too concerned with gender roles.
This fall wasn't any different in terms of my nostalgic transformation, and as I was strolling along amongst the leafy memories, I did some deeper reflecting on those early school days.
Looking back, now through the lens of an independent, educated, almost 30-year-old woman aware of gender roles and with my own experiences in coaching and teaching youth, I continue to circle around, like a plane held in a flight-pattern, to thoughts of other memories, maybe some that I "missed" -- specifically, during those golden years with best friends and favorite teachers, did I encounter any gender bias?
Gender bias typically happens when a person makes assumptions about another's behavior, preferences and abilities based only on their gender. Students who don't match up with the strong masculine and feminine stereotypes that are holding today, may run into misunderstandings with their friends, classmates or teachers.
As I reflect back, a number of questions pop into my mind and make we wonder: Was I passed over when I hesitated in answering questions? Was I called on less because of my calm classroom demeanor? Were my girlfriends and I encouraged to cooperate rather than compete, as it's pointed out that boys are encouraged to do? Was my behavior, when assertive, seen as disruptive and viewed negatively by my teacher?
According to many serious and highly educated people, I probably did encounter gender bias, whether or not it was meant deliberately. Even though gender bias looks as if it favors boys, it really does everyone a disservice, reinforcing rigid, archaic stereotypes. Girls should always be passive and boys should always be assertive and eventually join society with these, subconscious or not, ideas about gender roles.
At the end of the day how much do these questions that rise from my reflections matter in terms of my own self-development? Did the gender bias I encountered hold me back in life? I like to think not. I'm a world-traveler, a risk-taker, a sports-fanatic, a confident leader with a great ability to speak up. I also have supportive family and friends around me and can't count the number of mentors along the way. I like to think that my capacity to embrace the idea that it takes a village to raise a child isn't a feminine trait, but a human one.
I'm now a fully-functioning adult with a bag full of professional experiences ranging from nanny, to tennis coach, to nonprofit employee. In many of my positions I've interacted with kids regularly. Although it may be true that I too have called more often on the boisterous boys, after this fall's reflection, I consciously move ahead into the future. I'll look for the quiet girls who are shyly off to the side. I'll gladly praise the boys when the hyper ones take it down a notch. I'll give the girls hard feedback without fearing for their fragile female selves. Together, we'll kick this gender-bias thing out to the curb.