My first memory of overt gender awareness is of browsing through my elementary school’s library (I was immensely lucky to have such a thing, complete with an incredible librarian, Mrs. Biesel) to find a suitable subject for an upcoming book report. My hand caught on the spine of a Betty Friedan biography. In 1990, a children’s biography about the second wave feminist activist and writer, most notably of The Feminine Mystique was a rare find indeed. (I have since tried to find this book, to no avail.) It was my first conscious exposure to the idea of gender inequality, oppression, sexism, and feminism. It changed everything.
I did the book report, even dressing up like Betty, donning my mom’s gold NOW pin with her initials engraved on the back, clasping a homemade protest sign. The trouble is that the class was meant to guess the famous figure you had selected for your assignment. I became pretty frustrated when none of my fellow 4th graders had an inkling of my Bettyness, and grew enraged when I revealed who I was and they still stared confused, as baby powder fell from my long, not yet gray, hair.
Although I was a precocious kid, I hadn’t yet read Kimberlé Crenshaw’s writings on intersectionality and critical race theory, and was unaware of the problems with the mainstream second wave feminist movement and its lack of representation of anyone except white, heteronormative, cisgender, middle class women. I didn’t yet know about the concept of gender identity, expression, and presentation existing along a spectrum rather than on two sides of a rigid binary. But, it was the jolt that propelled me into a lifelong interest in gender, sexuality, culture, and civil rights.
There is still a long way to go when it comes to intersectional representation of various gender identities and expressions in children’s literature, but when I look at what existed in 1990 and what we are seeing now, I am encouraged. It’s never too early to give kids the opportunity to explore the concept of identity or to learn about the many forms of gender expression. That is why I am super proud that this Saturday 10/14, the Youth Wing at Brooklyn Public Library’s Central branch is co-hosting Genderful! Exploring Gender Through Art for kids who are 6- to 12-years-old and their caregivers. It’s from 12pm - 2pm, but we are going to make it a jam-packed 2 hours!
Co-hosted by If You Want It! (a New York based 501(c)(3) organization that supports the fight for gender self-determination and body sovereignty through community building, retail sales, events and charitable giveaways), Genderful! is a space intentionally created to let youth and adults alike celebrate gender diversity and empowerment through crafting, storytelling, musical performances, conversation, and more - a brief, but powerful microcosm of community, love, rebellion, and autonomy. In particular, we hope that this event provides an opportunity to affirm and support trans, genderqueer, non-binary, and gender expansive youth and caregivers.
We also welcome PBS' FIRST PERSON as a media partner for this event. Woohoo!
The inimitable Laura Jane Grace will be performing a kid-friendly set, preceded by art and storytelling workshops with ray ferreira of The Octavia Project and storyteller Harvey Katz. We will also have collaborative zine making, a curated reading corner, a photobooth, and resource tables with Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Anti-Violence Project, Hetrick-Martin Institute, and Brooklyn Community Pride Center.
Take a gander at the Genderful! Calendar event, or the Genderful Facebook event page for further details. Can’t make it to the event, but want some book recommendations? I’ve made this list in our online catalog, so all you have to do is log in and place the books on hold or download them!