“She noticed girls were given one type and boys were given another. She said, ‘I think it’s really stupid that this happened. They’re just masks,’” Lebel told HuffPost Canada.
Lebel took a photo of the pair her daughter received, along with the blue masks her two sons were given for comparison — those colours are more to her daughter’s liking, so she’s co-opted one of her brother’s masks instead.
Reaction was swift, with many pointing out that the colours and patterns played into gender stereotypes.
Others shared how their own kids are dismantling gender roles with their mask choices.
At home, Lebel’s daughter is used to gender-free parenting; this allows her to play with whatever toys and clothes she likes, regardless of gendered marketing.
“We’ve really tried hard to not have things that are for girls and things that are for boys, but rather just things,” Lebel said.
As studies have shown, internalizing gender stereotypes can take root in kids as young as 10 and can lead to harmful misconceptions, mental health problems, and becoming victims of violence.
The Mirror reported that a representative from provincial Municipal Affairs weighed in on the backlash.
“The masks came in a wide variety of colours and patterns from Old Navy and IFR Workwear, and our government had absolutely zero input in deciding which colours were sent,” the statement read, going on to suggest that “if parents do not like the specific provided masks, they are free to take their concerns to their local schools or purchase other masks.”
Government, not teachers to blame: Lebel
For Lebel,who wouldn’t go on-record about which school her children attend, the spokesperson’s statement underscored exactly what she saw was the real issue with the gendered face masks: A poorly executed return-to-school provincial plan.
In this case, Lebel said, the face masks themselves aren’t as important as other classroom issues, but illustrate a lack of overall care parents are concerned about: “I’m guessing that nobody took the time to think about what it might mean and whether it’s appropriate to give masks with kisses to little kids ... were guidelines given to how these masks are given out?”
“They really didn’t take the time, effort and money necessary to get it right, or at least closer to right, than it currently is,” she added, in criticism of the government’s lack of input or standardized guidelines on how masks were distributed in Alberta schools.
“This [backlash] is sort of something that would have been avoided had the government taken enough time to say, ‘We’re going to order masks. Let’s think about how this is going to be perceived.’”
While some laid blame at the teachers, Lebel said she didn’t want her tweet to vilify schools or administrators. As a post-secondary professor herself ― she’s currently leading a study on how pregnant women fare during the COVID-19 pandemic ― she knows just how overwhelmed teachers are feeling. The mom of three said she hopes people who see her tweet take into account how gendered expectations can begin to influence and bother kids early on.
“This is not a huge deal in her life, which is good because I don’t think it should be,” Lebel said. “She noticed the masks, she was irritated by it, and commented on it, which I’m I’m proud of her for.”
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