Crossing normative gender lines isn’t merely the territory of little boys: little girls enjoy screwing with society too! Seven-year-old Katie Goldman, a first-grader in Evanston, Illinois, wears her love for Star Wars on her sleeve. And the water bottle and backpack she took to school every day, selected at Target during back-to-school shopping. All of which meant the boys in her class would tease and torment her for liking a film franchise that, apparently, is the exclusive property of male twerps. So when it all became too much for Katie, she told her mom Carrie she wanted to bring a pink water bottle to school from now on. Oh hell no: Carrie wasn’t having it.
In a blog post that’s been blowing up, Carrie writes about the incident:
Katie loves Star Wars, and she was very excited about her new items. For the first few months of school, she proudly filled her water bottle herself and helped me pack her lunch each morning. But a week ago, as we were packing her lunch, Katie said, “My Star Wars water bottle is too small. It doesn’t hold enough water. Can I take a different one?” She searched through the cupboard until she found a pink water bottle and said, “I’ll bring this.” I was perplexed. “Katie, that water bottle is no bigger than your Star Wars one. I think it is actually smaller.” “It’s fine, I’ll just take it,” she insisted.
I kept pushing the issue, because it didn’t make sense to me. Suddenly, Katie burst into tears.
She wailed, “The first grade boys are teasing me at lunch because I have a Star Wars water bottle. They say it’s only for boys. Every day they make fun of me for drinking out of it. I want them to stop, so I’ll just bring a pink water bottle.” I hugged her hard and felt my heart sink. Such a tender young age, and already she is embarrassed about the water bottle that brought her so much excitement and joy a few months ago.
For Katie’s mom, the issue was about more than Star Wars. It was about other students ostracizing her daughter — and who knows who else — for daring not to stick to Barbies.
Is this how it starts? Do kids find someone who does something differently and start to beat it out of her, first with words and sneers? Must my daughter conform to be accepted? The confusing part for me is that I know these first grade boys. I can’t simply see them as random mean boys bullying my baby. They are good kids individually, and Katie often plays happily with them. But when you put the boys together in a pack, maybe they start to feel vulnerable and insecure, which causes them to do unkind things, such as tease my daughter for carrying a Star Wars water bottle. Maybe they do it to get laughs out of each other. Maybe they do it because if they are busy teasing Katie, nobody will tease one of them. Maybe they do it because they want her attention and have limited social skills at this age.
So what’d she do?
I talked to Katie about all my musings. Talking about it is the best defense. I have urged her to bring the Star Wars water bottle if that is what she really wants to do, even if it makes her different. Today, she felt brave enough to bring it. I hope that she is able to eat her lunch without feeling nervous.
And then there’s this terrific post-script, after an outpouring of support. Writes mom Carrie:
Wow! Katie is overjoyed by the comments coming in!!! My sweet first grade daughter has been sitting with me at the computer, reading aloud all the wonderful, supportive notes from readers, and her face is shining. Each night after dinner, we are going to sit together, and she is going to read several comments to me and her daddy. We are going to print the comments out and make a book for her to read whenever she feels the need. Today she wore a Star Wars shirt to school and said to me, “Tell the people about it!!!!” This is really restoring her self confidence. She did a jaunty little pirouette in her Star Wars shirt before school. Thank you, Carrie
And so came the #maytheforcebewithkatie hashtag and even a “wear Star Wars gear for Katie” event on Dec. 10, where supporters were encouraged to dress in their best Skywalker gear to show their support for one awesome 7-year-old.