Years ago, I lived and taught in the South Pacific. One day, a male friend and I were once stripping the stems off of banana leaves in preparation for wrapping up food so it would steam while being cooked in an earthen oven. He kept making disgruntled remarks while we did this, once pressed, he finally admitted that he was frustrated to be doing what was traditionally “women’s work.” There was nothing particularly feminine about it — it was just work, and kind of fun at that — and I told him how it seemed utterly neutral to me, as an outsider. The experience opened both of our eyes about how activities which are thought of as male or female are just activities — no sexual orientation is included within the activity itself.
Nowadays, I want to impart this same lesson to my children, so I was happy to get Made By Raffi. It deals with gender identity issues by telling a story about a boy who wants to knit and design clothing instead of playing sports. He does so well at this — plans to make a cape are included — that he wins over his schoolmates and others. The illustrations are quite charming, and the upbeat story is fun to read. The boy, Raffi, specifically asks his mother about why he feels like a “tomgirl” and his mother reassures him that his parents love him for just being “Raffi.” I should probably note that this book wasn’t written by the singer, Raffi, but it was written by a singer, Craig Pomranz. It’s a sensitive way to breach a difficult topic that some children may struggle with.