Rafaelle and I tape three large sheets of blank paper onto the wall as the youth trickle in for Wednesday’s theater workshop. At the top of each sheet of paper, we write “boys/men”, “girls/women”, and “neutral/both.” We then pass around a small tin of markers and begin the exercise. We ask the group to write out words that come to mind on the corresponding sheets of paper. The first question – what do people in these categories “like” or enjoy doing? The second – what are some traits associated with these categories?” The third- what are some professions associated with these categories?” The group immediately separates itself into two groups. The boys flock to the “boys/men” category and the girls to the paper marked “girls/women”.
Rafaelle and I encourage the group to remember the “neutral” category and to take a moment to think before quickly assigning words to only one gender. The results are mixed- some affirming of gender stereotypes and some rejecting traditional roles based on gender. Some words that shared space in all categories were “humility”, “happiness”, “kind”, and “caretaker”.
We then sit down to take a look, discussing the similarities and differences and once again attempting to zone in on this less-utilized and all-inclusive category of “neutral”. “Here someone wrote that girls/women can be hairstylists. Can a boy want to be a hairstylist? Can a man be a hairstylist?,” we ask aloud. One by one, we ask the group why certain words only existed in one category. Opening up this question proved fruitful. Many of the youth asked to revise their contributions, prompting a radical shift in the middle category of “neutral/both”. This process of rethinking…of reimagining the seemingly rigid borders that exist between genders was the goal of our exercise. Rafaelle then asks each participant to write out a phrase, something about them or something that they like to do that isn’t traditionally associated with their gender.
The following week, we take to the streets with cameras in hand. We have asked the participants to think of examples of gender within their community. Many already have an idea of what they’ll be photographing. “My uncle works at a nail salon,” says Emily Cristina. “I know a woman who works as a motorcycle taxi driver,” says Kauam. As we walk through Mangueirinha, the kids spot a girl playing soccer with her brother on the patio of their home and kindly ask to take a photo. Later on, they choose to photograph a young boy pushing his sister in a stroller, and a father taking care of his newborn baby while at work in a tool shop.
The photographs will be displayed this Saturday at an event entitled A New Look on Gender Issues organized by Programa Raízes Locais. The event will invite community members to participate in various workshops that the space already offers- but with a focus on disrupting gender stereotypes.