Thursday, March 11, 2010

4 year old hate speech

(trigger warning - language)

So.... one of my 4 year olds called another a faggot today.

In case you don't know, I work in a preschool, one that has a mission statement of specifically empowering women and girls.

We had just come in from playing outside and were taking off snowpants and boots, about to head to lunch. I don't even know what happened in the build up, but it came pretty much out of no where.

I didn't catch the first part of what he said, but he was talking to another girl. He ended the comment with, "faggot!"

I said, "What did you say?"

He said, "faggot?"

"No. That is not ok. You can not use that word. It hurts people," I said.

"I can say it at my house!"

"Well, this isn't your house and I don't want to hear it."

"[brother] says it!"

"And if he were here, I'd tell him the exact same thing."

"Aw, come on, can't I just say (mouths faggot) one more time?"

"No! I don't want to hear it again."

I usually don't respond to kids swearing. Most of the time they're just trying to get a reaction from someone and it's easiest to let it rest. Often, another kid will tell me another kid swore and I just tell them to tell the offender that they don't want to hear it.

I think I was just so surprised that I instantly responded. But even so, I wouldn't have let that one pass. I responded with emotion, I think more emotion than the kids are used to me wielding. It's just ... these are 4 year olds. Faggot should not be in their vocabulary.

There are several open lesbians who work at my site, several of whom bring their partners to school functions. His mother works at the site and he has spent the night over at one women's house many times.

I don't know if he knew what it meant. I doubt it. Would he have used it if he knew what it meant? I don't know.

He did know that it wasn't something nice to say.

He did know that you're supposed to say it in a mean tone, spitting it out of your mouth like venom.

He did know that it was a name you use when you want to make someone feel inferior, like shit, to show that you're better.

He knows it's supposed to hurt. Which means that it doesn't matter if he knows what it means, because he'll use it again as a weapon. Except next time, I won't be there.


INTPanentheist said...

This isn't anywhere approaching the kind of hatefulness you addressed here, but my three, almost four-year-old daughter has been dealing with problems like this at her preschool lately. She tends to wear whatever she wants, and if that's "boy" clothes that's fine, and if it's "girl" clothes then that's fine as well. Her body, her clothes to pick. Well, she has Spiderman shoes and her favorite stuff is superhero clothes. Almost every day another child will come up to me and ask me, "Why is Morgan wearing boy shoes/clothes?" Since they're three and they're just asking a question, I'll tell them very nicely that clothes and shoes are for everyone, and that there's no such thing as girl/boy shoes/clothes/whatever. (Her teacher backs me up, and I'm very grateful, because that's rare.) Morgan also comes home and tells me that pink is for girls and that she wears boy clothes, and we have to tell her, literally every day, that this is just not true.

Well, today I brought her in, and she was wearing her Batman shirt. A little girl who is older than her, maybe four or five, says, "Morgan, you aren't a boy so you shouldn't wear that." It wasn't in the usual inquisitive way the littler ones do it; it was a mean-spirited gender police jab. My hackles went straight up and I turned to this little girl and said, in a nice but Mommy voice, that this was not true, that all clothes are for everyone, and that she may not talk to my daughter that way because it is hateful and mean. She quieted right down, and my daughter's teacher backed me up on that as well.

I don't blame the little girl, though. These kids are hearing this shit at home and bringing it to school, where other parents either hear their kids saying it and don't correct them or have to spend their time un-brainwashing their kids. It's depressing. I mean, my daughter's three; I kind of hoped that the Gender Police would at least wait until she starts big school.

Little kids only know what they're told. It's our job to make sure that they're not fed hatred, but it's a hard job because they hear it literally everywhere else. Sometimes I just want to collapse with the exhaustion of it. I can't protect my child from a hateful world.

Stephanie said...

Wow, an incredibly powerful post. I am going to model my response to both children and adults on this. Thanks.

Saranga said...

@ Lindsay: You've posted before about whether you think you'ree doing enough to combat gender rules and hate speech. I think you're doing a great job.

@INTPanthenist: Wait, what? Batman is only for boys now? This makes me so sad on a number of levels. 1) is the obvious gender police bollocks. 2) is that as a female comics fan the idea that girls may grow up thinking euperheroes arebn't for them makes me so frustrated. Superheroes are for everybody - why can't little girls have fantastic character to inspire them too?

QuakerDave said...

Never been here before, found this over at Shakesville.

As a middle school teacher, as a dad, as a human being, I thank you.

Keep up the good work, every day.

TheDeviantE said...

It chills me that he is allowed to use that word at home, especially given that his mother is someone who is around the school. I mean, it may be that he was lying about that, though I wonder where exactly other than home or school a 4 year old would learn to use that type of word.

Sue said...

I have a three year old boy who loves to wear dresses. We get the "those are girl clothes" comment a lot from other kids. I don't know bout your kids, but mine are pretty up front about talking about basic anatomy. So my standard response has become: "there's no such thing as boy clothes or girl clothes." If they persist, then I go with "None of *our* clothes have penises *or* vaginas. Do YOURS?" (amazed tone)

It works pretty well with kids. Grown-ups, too, though I tend to get dirty looks when I respond to adults that way. Feh. They should know better than to start that conversation in the first place.

lindsay said...

I'm guessing his mother doesn't know about it being used at his house (or perhaps it's allowed at his dad's house). He has older brothers and he mentioned something about how you use it during football, a sport his brothers play.