I told myself in college that the sour smelling, faded t-shirts didn’t matter because I was going to sweat anyway. It was the same argument I used about fancy underwear. If no one else was going to see it, why should I care? It seemed I had forgotten a lesson from ten years earlier. When I first returned from Peace Corps, I had bought a new pair of tennis shoes, surprising myself that I would buy something blatantly feminine with pink on it. Fifteen years later I was throwing bags on my dad’s fire pile that were to be replaced by splashy sports bras with coloring like fireworks, ripples in the rain, and of course one was bright pink, trimmed in deep purple. I was also definitely leaning towards the tanks with motivational phrases like “Good things come to those who sweat.” Seeing myself reflected in the various gym mirrors every day mattered as a different kind of learning community all together where I could confront assumptions. Someone had to be an expert on who I was.
A year later, in between jobs, I work a few spare hours as a substitute at my local library. Last Friday I settled into the spinning chair behind the Children’s Desk. Waiting for the storytime with the four year olds and their accompanying adults, my coworker and I flipped through the book selected by the librarian. It was a simplified graphic novel, one of a series based around traditional fairy tales retold in a modern way.
“Who’s the main character?” I asked.
“She’s really athletic, but her name is Pink and she hates it. It’s interesting though, how the fairy tale perspective is shifted.”
“Seems extreme to me though,” I suggested flashing back to my own aversion of pink and what wearing it might say about me. Surely I should buy colors with less gender baggage. “There’s nothing in the middle you know,” I continued, my eyes flashing to my own niece, almost three. Her dad wants to put her in martial arts. Her mother doesn’t want her to be butch. She would probably end up in gymnastics as a compromise.
Words from my gym trainer rang in my head. “There isn’t right or wrong, just different objectives,” Chris had clarified during a Piloxing workout where some of us, probably me, were jumping instead of balancing on the weight supporting length. “One is strength. The other plyo.”
Back when I thought education was classroom specific, my Master’s thesis on the cultural mismatch problematic in education was the beginning of a personal investigation on the gap between absolutes that I so often read when terms like “culture” or “diversity” were applied. In my professional life, primarily in nonprofits that found me teaching in a variety of contexts, I tired of terms used to name and understand groups in a homogeneous way. But it took three separate teaching and learning lives in Guatemala plus the gym to understand that “diversity” wasn’t just about middle class or white for me, but woman all together.
“Belonging” is never obvious nor attributed through assumed characteristics in common. My journey to Guatemala and interaction with women there was a means to discover and “see” known and unknown womanhood, embracing a horizon that taught me going far only allows us to see that which is near, up close. Why did I feel guilty in high school for not pursuing math and science and “helping” forward my gender as a smart, motivated woman? Why did I avoid pink? My search professionally has been for a means in which both my students and coworkers can belong to the same community that we create together. Diverse books may raise awareness of how people live and interpret their world, but the nuance of gray area between named groups is what I strive to illustrate today. I think diversity, unassuming and living in the everyday, is the underrepresented viewpoint I strive to bring forward, wearing pink or gray, or both, if I want.
For more wonderful videos related to teacher training or literacy program development in rural Guatemala, please visit www.child-aid.org. I have no v...