Click! Everything I Needed To Know I Learned in Kindergarten

I was 5 years old when I first had that sensation that comes from your gut when you know something isn’t right. Not a feeling of danger, but of righteous anger at injustice. It comes from deep inside, where instinct resides.

There I was, in my mud-stained jeans and forever-disheveled hair, playing in the kindergarten kitchen, when a boy (who shall remain nameless despite being forever etched into my memory) sat down at the small dining table and asked, “Where’s my dinner?” The feeling boiled up and, despite  shaking, I took a deep breath, turned to face him and said with what I now know is feminist fortitude: “The food’s in the fridge, make it yourself!” Click!

My teacher had to excuse herself to burst out in laughter, but for me it was not a laughing matter. Why did boys expect girls to wait on them? Why were girls supposed to just “know” how to cook and clean? My parents shared household duties and instilled those behaviors in my brother and me. I knew that I could do anything a boy could do, and oftentimes better (I was quite the neighborhood jock). Already, in my young mind, I was confounded by gendered expectations and inequalities that my gut was telling me were simply wrong. How could I know something most of the adults and other children around me did not?

Turns out, it took 20 more years of those moments–and a graduate program in Madrid–before I would find “my people” and the identity I was looking for: feminist. I learned about feminism, Julia Kristeva, Simone de Beauvoir and suffragists–in Spanish! A whole new world opened up for me.

Now, 37 years after the first one, Click! moments just keep coming, in both my career as a women’s studies professor and my life as a parent to a girl and a boy. It’s especially joyful to see clicks occurring for both my metaphorical and biological children. As an educator, I am inspired by the passion of newly “clicked” students, and I am one proud feminist momma when I hear both of my children, not just my girl, tell their less-enlightened peers, “There’s no such thing as girl toys or boy toys; just kid toys.”

Thank you kindergarten!  Memories of that time inspire my critical feminist eye on the world. Maybe all of us could use a healthy regression back to being five, when the “Why?” of everything was at the forefront of our consciousness.

Photo from Flickr user woodleywonderworks licensed under Creative Commons.

This post is a part of a week-long blog carnival in honor of Feminist Coming Out Day.


  1. I noticed at McDonald's the other day that they sell separate "girl's toys" and "boy's toys" with their Happy Meals. It struck me as odd in this day and age, when girls are constantly demonstrating that they regularly ignore gender cues when it comes to activities, that they are often just as likely to enjoy things that were once considered only "boy stuff". I don't like this genderized socialization at most kids' favorite restaurant.

  2. This has to be my favorite one yet! in response to jennifers comment. I was buying stickers for my 2 year old daughter the other day and I gave her the option between flower/ butterflies or the one with sports balls. guess which one she picked. She looooves her basketball. Also today my inlaws where talking about getting my daughter a cheerleading outfit to the upcoming game. My husband instantly said "shes already got a UK basket outfit". I was so proud not only as a parent but proud of my husband.

  3. The gendering of toys is so annoying!! LOTS of research out there on that issue. Thanks for bringing that up, Jennifer. W'e've definitely curtailed our McDonald's consumption – more for the fat content of the food than the toys – but not having that forced gendering element in the house is nice…

    Thanks Karina! Your feminist family sounds like an example to follow.

  4. Andrea M says:

    Redela, your wmst 101 gave me my moment. I always knew that I hated being treated differently because I was a woman, and I hated the gender roles I was placed into, but WMST 101 finally gave me the word I needed to understand my feelings. thank you!!!!!!

    • Pam Redela says:

      Thank YOU Andrea, for continuing to take Women's Studies classes and being an example of "what a feminist looks like" for your classmates. Rock on!

  5. natalie wilson says:

    What a great click moment post! Here is hoping girls and boys the world over are having similar click moments as young as you did. "The food's in the fridge, make it yourself!" LOVE IT.

  6. There's an even greater stigma against boys playing with girls toys than vice versa. Just this afternoon I was in the toy section where a mother told her preschool aged son that he could pick a ball–but not the pink one that he wanted. Sometimes you just want to scream.

    • Pam Redela says:

      Most definitely! Just when we saw the world open up for our daughters, the gender noose tightened around our sons. I'm all for screaming! Here's to hoping, and knowing, our screams aren't falling on deaf ears.

    • This just makes me think why does society work this way? It’s one of our bigger problems that needs to be addressed.

  7. My memory of kindergarten was our teacher asking us to say what we wanted to be when we grew up. I remember thinking that I had three options: teacher, secretary or nurse. None of those appealed to me, so I just said "nurse." (Ironic since I have no stomach for medical work.) That was 1972. My niece and other five year old girls I know rattle off long lists of things they might do, from "be a mommy" to "be a doctor." Love it!

  8. Instances like this happen every day. I think that the gap between male and female “norms” is in need of some redoing after the turn of the century. In modern times we should learn how to be accepting to the different or unfamiliar, especially the rise of the female. In the last 100 years we have come so far. We are not receiving the respect we so dearly deserve. I have countless male friends who think it’s funny to demand that I “make them a sandwich.” They are kidding but the little joke knocks back the evolution of women every time it is told.

    It shows that our society is completely ignorant to gender equality from such an early age. When a young boy picks up a Barbie doll his parents will have a heart attack and try to make the boy with a truck. When it comes to a girl playing with “boy” toys the parents seem to accept it a little bit more but she will get made fun of by all of her friends. If you don’t support gender equality your children will pick up on it almost instantly and continue the vicious cycle. We need to accept things outside of the ordinary so that one day we can have a more accepting world.

  9. I think that times have changed so much in the last thirty years. Women no longer have to stay in the kitchen or work in “female dominated” positions. Now they can go off and do whatever they please, gender equality is a growing part of society and won’t be ignored. The gap between male and female is closing in on each other everyday more and more.

    It’s funny to think about the fact that a girl can play with a truck and it’s no big deal while at the same time a boy picks up a barbie doll and his parents scold him almost instantly. It seems that when it comes to young children girls are made to think that they can do anything and boys are only allowed to do “boy things.” Which poses the question; Why is it that girls are allowed more flexibility with gender oriented toys than boys?

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