Sunnie’s Christian School Forgot Jesus Had Long Hair: A Lesson in the Gender Binary

“I should just be able to be me.” -Sunnie Kahle, eight years old

The background: a private Christian school sent a letter to Sunnie’s home stating “We believe that unless Sunnie and her family clearly understand that God has made her female and her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God-ordained identity, that TCS is not the best place for her future education.”

Sunnie Jesus

The school stated the other children were confused by Sunnie’s appearance and hobbies not matching her gender, so the school asked Sunnie to conform or stay away. Sunnie’s family was offended by the letter and Sunnie was pulled from Christian school and enrolled in public school.

I have reached out to Sunnie’s family on behalf of the PPBB Community. (Thanks Erin an Kate for helping me yesterday with contact info.) I spoke with Sunnie’s grandma for a while this morning and that lady is FULL of Awesome. Sunnie is going to come out of this just fine.

Here is what I’d like the conversation to address:

– Is there only one correct way to be a girl? Are there many ways to be a girl?

– Is the term ‘tomboy’, even when used in a positive way, actually harmful to kids? What does it really imply?

– Is gender binary? Or is gender, especially when we are discussing young kids who are extremely curious about the world, more fluid and not such a cause for concern?

– If other students are confused about something, is it best for a school to hide that thing away, or use that thing as a teaching tool? What if that “thing” is actually a person? What does this teach our children about acceptance, empathy, leadership and kindness?

– What do schools teach their children when they oppress gender nonconforming kids? What could Sunnie’s teacher and school have done that would have had a more positive outcome for all students involved?   (Here are some ideas.)

 

There should be no concern or alarm when we see a child acting like a curious child. 

A girl playing in the mud, collecting baseballs, catching frogs, playing rough and tumble, climbing trees, wearing short hair, etc is being girly. She may also love sparkles and princesses and dressing up and unicorns or mermaids or tigers or beluga whales.

A boy skipping, dancing in fairy wings, caring for a doll, getting lost in his art, playing quietly, wearing long curly hair, etc is being a boy. He may also love sports and guitars and skate boards and being loud and messy.

Let’s not lose sight of the idea that our job is to show the world to our children and then give them the space to show us who they want to be in it.

 

(Let’s establish a few guidelines for the comments here because this community is a safe and respectful place for people:

~ Be respectful of religion here, no matter how much you do or do not agree with the information presented.

~ Use this thread to take a macro look at the issue of gender stereotypes and a binary gender code in childhood. I’ll ask you to remember tat just last week we were talking about a boy from a public school who was shamed and punished for acting outside of assumed gender roles with his My Little Pony bag. This mindset is not individual to this one Christian school.

~ This story is awash in gender stereotypes. “Tomboy” “Boy things”, etc. Let’s focus on energy on fighting those and not other distractions that may come up during this conversation about Sunnie.)

Comments

  1. I feel so sad for her, or for anyone who is discriminated against for liking something that is not something they are “supposed” to like. I have always seen myself as somewhere between the “feminine” gender box and the “masculine” gender box. I personally don’t believe that gender should be boxes or a binary but more of a spectrum and we should let people fall where they do. It has always seemed that most people fall on one end or the other and there aren’t many in the middle. After following your blog and reading, I can’t help but think that if people were left alone to be themselves that more people would be in the middle.

    It seems to me that schools (or individuals, for that matter) that oppress kids that don’t conform to the “appropriate” gender role teach those kids to hate and try to hide who they are in order to be accepted. I speak from experience when I say that this can never be completely successful, and you always end up feeling like you messed up when the real you comes out. For kids who see such oppression happening, it teaches them that those who are different can and must change and conform, and therefore acceptance is not necessary.

    And finally, I want to mention a startling coincidence. I just got onto Facebook and found that a full of awesome pastor from my own denomination just wrote a wonderful open letter to Sunnie, and I wanted to share it:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-emily-c-heath/an-open-letter-to-sunnie-kahle_b_5031291.html?fb_action_ids=10100526019354838&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=other_multiline&action_object_map=%5B271

  2. You’re absolutely right that this is a bigger issue than this one school, or even Christian schools. Unfortunately, it seems that the school is using religion as a way to perpetuate the stereotypes. The letter actually states that “her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God-ordained identity.” So if you would ask the person who wrote that letter, “Is there more than one way to be a girl?” their answer would be, “No. There’s only one right way to be a girl.” So sad.

    What do schools teach their kids when the suppress gender non-conformity? They teach kids that they belong in small boxes built by their society–and eventually, the kids will either shrivel up inside the boxes or burst out and never look back.

    Sunnie, I hope you make lots of new friends at your new school–and try to stay in touch with your old friends, too!

  3. So sad that educators would be so judgemental and condemning. I hope Sunnie is encouraged and loved to be true to you! I work with clients who are depressed and this kind of thing can really send a kid into feeling bad about themselves. Where is the love?

  4. Cassie Thompson says:

    Girls must always indicate that they are girls….ggggrrrrhhh.

    Characters from the show Octonauts, created by Meomi.
    http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/58/7d/10/587d105778baebb5135df748f2f31a2d.jpg

    and the same characters are they had subtle redesigns when they were turned into cartoons:
    http://www.brownbagfilms.com/images/cache/fa70d85d03009971/The%20Octonauts_Characters_800_400_c1.jpg

    Now I really do like this show, and one of the reasons was because it doesn’t overuse pink (many shows would have female characters dressed head to toe in pink, or have pink skin/fur). It still bothers me though that the redesign had to ensure that both female characters had pink on them, I guess so we would recognise their gender.

  5. Dear Melissa,

    Hi, I have a question. This girl who was in my sixth grade class always said: ‘if your hair is longer than your shoulders, you’re a girl. If your hair is shorter than that, you’re a boy’ That is why I hate gender stereotypes. Why can’t a girl have short hair, climb trees, play in the mud, or do anything else a boy can…?

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