How To Teach A Social Norm

A few stories.

Story #1:

I remember getting on an airplane, headed to Disneyland with my family, full of all the can’t-contain-the-excitement feels that you expect from a kid headed to Disneyland. I was probably about seven years old, and my brothers were younger. (Still are, actually.)

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Cheesin’ with Dopey!

The flight attendant cheerily brought us crayons and coloring books. (That seems strange now. Do flight attendants really give coloring books to kids? Did they back in the day? I don’t even know.) There were three coloring books–one  Barbie, and two dinosaurs. As she held them out for us, I didn’t realize that I’d already been assigned the Barbie coloring book; I innocently thought we were being given options. I had lots of dolls, but Barbies were never my favorite. I loved The Land Before Time though! I watched that movie so many times, I still remember the Pizza Hut commercial that came before it started on the VHS. (See? YouTube remembers it too!) So with the coloring books fanned out in front of us, I quickly claimed a dinosaur book, excited to start filling in the “long necks” and “three horns.”

Then I saw the adults giving each other, and me, The Look.

Let’s describe The Look a bit. It isn’t an angry look. It’s a mix of awkwardness, embarrassment, disappointment. It seems to beg, “Please don’t make us explain why that thing you just did is wrong. It just is, and you should know better.”

It wasn’t until I saw The Look that I realized there had been two boy books, and one girl book. I don’t remember for sure what happened next, but I think I held tight to my chosen dinosaur pages. I’m not sure if one of my brothers ended up with Barbie, or if they complained about it, or if a third dinosaur book was rustled up, or if I folded and took the Barbie book after all…. But I do know that I learned a few things that day– 1) I should play with girl things. 2) Dinosaurs are not girl things. 3) Boys shouldn’t have to play with girl things.

Story #2:

I was in a toy store, looking at dolls. Despite the Barbies vs. dinosaurs mix up, I really did love dolls, and the 90s had so many great dolls. There were Magic Nursery Babies, Kid Sister, Baby Alive, Quints, the doll whose makeup magically appeared when you painted on water, the doll whose hair grew and changed color, the dolls that smelled like cupcakes…. It was a great time for dolls.

The 90s were also all about token racial diversity, so some of the dolls that were white in all the ads, also had a black counterpart on the store shelves. This particular day, it was the black version of a doll that caught my fancy, so I pointed it out and said, “I want that one!” I wasn’t trying to make a statement for social justice or anything; I just thought she was pretty.

The adults gave The Look again. I saw it.

“Are you sure?” I was asked.

“No,” I mumbled.

I don’t think I got a doll that day. I think I escaped the doll aisle and went to look at stuffed unicorns or something. I don’t remember. But I do remember learning that white girls play with white girl toys.

So many rules to remember!

Story #3:

I grew up, and became a teacher. Now I listen to my students define a nurse as, “a girl doctor.” I hear girls say they want to be a doctor when they grow up, and the boys shoot them down with, “Don’t you mean a nurse?” I hear the girl who loves soccer say she’s not allowed to play like her brother can. I hear the boy who doesn’t like sports say he can’t just have a conversation with his dad like his sports-loving brothers can.

Every time, I try to give my version of The Look. I try to express my disapproval of restrictive and nonsensical gender rules. My look does nothing. I can tell nobody even sees it.

So, during the career unit, I invited one nurse to speak with my classes–my RN brother skyped in. Talked all about the work he does in the ER, and the work it’s taken to get there. He didn’t say a word about gender, but the message was clear. Nursing is a great career option for men and women. Both. (Incidentally, his two-year-old daughter kept interrupting, waving her toy dinosaurs in front of the screen, and roaring for us…. Right on, lil’ sister suffragette!)

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My brilliant niece, in the middle, loves princesses, dinosaurs, cooking, doctoring, baby dolls, big trucks, reading, counting, and her family…. She’s not such a fan of the patriarchy. 🙂

A female doctor spoke to some of my classes about her work with natural medicine, and the people she’s been able to help around the world. A female PA talked about her career, and completely won over the kids when she gave them surgical caps and masks to dress up in.

We heard from women who practice law and accounting.

We heard from men who write.

We heard from different kinds of therapists who work with the disabled…. We also heard from disabled people about their careers as a graphic designer, news producer, social media outreach specialist, and software engineer.

The year before, we wrapped up a unit of study about the brain with another guest speaker–a neurosurgeon, and a woman.

Conclusions:

It’s easy to teach traditional social norms. You don’t even have to try; a slight and momentary facial expression will do the job. But unteaching those norms? Teaching kids to think beyond social norms? Takes a lot more work. A simple Look isn’t going to cut it. Occasionally repeating a throwaway line, “Everybody’s equal,” isn’t enough. You have to be really intentional about what they’re seeing, hearing, and doing. They have to see behavior that falls within the traditional norm, and outside of the norm, and somewhere in the middle, and feel that it’s all worthy of approval.

And you have to mean it!

I’m Very, Very, Very Intelligent

When terrorist attacks and mass shootings start blending together in your memory because there are just so many, something is wrong. (Biggest understatement to ever be understated.) So we start to ask questions, and look for patterns. Where is all this violence coming from? I see one consistent factor: men. And by men, I don’t mean humankind in general. I mean the humans with the Y chromosome.

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Before I go any further, I have an announcement to make. I’m officially declaring my candidacy for President of the United States of America.

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Our country is in danger. Our world is in danger. We’ve allowed men to roam freely around our planet, taking things over, blowing things up, for far too long. As a world power, it’s the job of the US to set the example, and stand up to this threat on our humanity.

It’s time to make America great again. And I plan to do this by putting a stop to the men.

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First, they must be contained and controlled. We have to have a wall. I’ll put all the men in those northern, middle states that nobody’s using–Minnesota, the Dakotas, most of Montana, etc. And then I’ll build a great wall. Nobody builds a better wall than me. And I’ll make the men pay for it. Mark my words.

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There will be a door in the wall, where we can access the men and harvest them for sperm. We recognize the role men play in making more women. But not just any men can contribute to the Continuation Of Species Project. They’ll have to fill out the paperwork and wait in line. They’ll have to be great. So they, too, can help me make American great again. We’ll continue to raise the young boys until they hit puberty, and then behind the wall they go. So America can be great.

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Kristine M. Napper is calling for a total and complete shutdown of men entering the United States until the women can figure out what is going on. We need time to clean up the mess the men have made. I can’t risk more men getting in the way, and communicating with the men in other countries, opening the door to more violence and chaos.

I don’t hate all men. The thing is, the men aren’t giving us their best. They’re giving us lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

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I have a great relationship with the men. I’ve always had a great relationship with the men. My brother’s a man, and he’s a good person. Family man. If he weren’t a happily married guy, and, you know, my brother, perhaps I’d be dating him.

But you know who else is a man? Hitler. Stalin. Bin Laden. Saddam. Franco. Pinochet. Trujillo. I rest my case.

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43 male US commanders in chief, not to mention the mostly male leaders of the rest of the world, haven’t exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying the planet.

It’s time to take our country back. A vote for Napper is a vote for a great America. I do not wear a wig.

You’re all invited to start shamelessly sucking up to me, in hopes for the VP bid or other spot in my cabinet. Once we lock up the men, there will be a lot of seats to fill.

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