The Gendering of Everything: Time-Out Chairs

I love Pinterest as much as the next person, but every once in a while, I see something that horrifies me. These time out chairs are one example.

One chair is blue and says:

Boys will be boys or so they say

But I’m raising my boys to be men one day

Shouting is not nice and kicking hurts

Nobody likes their face in the dirt

So boys that fight, kick, and shout

Will be boys that sit in time out

The other chair is pink and reads:

Girls are made of sugar and spice or so they say

But I’m raising my girls to be ladies one day

Whining and being sassy is not nice

Maybe next time you’ll think twice

Because little girls who throw a fit

Will be little girls who have to sit

Don’t get me wrong. I love the time out chair. I think time out (or think time) is an excellent strategy at home or at school that allows children to calm down, reflect, and return when they’ve collected themselves. My problem is the incredibly stereotypical messages these gendered chairs send to the kids that sit in them. Kids exhibit a wide variety of behaviors. Boys can be whiny, and girls can hit and kick. It is inappropriate to set behavioral expectations associated with gender. Girls should behave a certain way and boys in another? I don’t think so. Virtues are virtues across the board.

What does this have to do with teaching? It’s important for teachers to recognize that many children come from home environments in which they receive these kinds of gendered messages. We need to make sure our discipline is fair and unbiased. Analyze your own teaching. Are you more likely to brush off physical aggression of a male student because “boys will be boys”? Or pass off bullying by a female student as a “friendship problem”? Do you apply the same consequence regardless of gender? We also need to look critically at our adopted bullying prevention programs. Some programs focus on “girl bullying” and “catty” behavior. While it’s essential to educate school staff about the many different kinds of bullying, it can certainly be done without assigning a gender.

When my daughter is a little older, she will certainly misbehave from time to time and find herself sitting in time out. But it’s a pretty safe bet she’ll be in a plain old chair.