Breaking Down Gender Stereotypes

A review of Made by Raffi

… The school has the power to modify the social order.

— John Dewey ((John Dewey, Moral Principles in Education (NY: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1909): location 37.))

There are people, usually of a Leftist persuasion, who otherwise come under the umbrella term of progressivism. Many might well point to the ineffectiveness or futility of progressivism as a movement given the regressivist trends in society: fascism as adduced by corporatization of the power structure, the mere existence of a power structure and its hierarchy, greater inequality, government secrecy and intrusion into the privacy of citizens, espionage, militaristic policing, racism, militaristic hegemony, wars, etc.

The aggressiveness of the state to other states reverberates throughout society, worming its way into the consciousness of the youth of a nation. Consequently, in schools the problem of authoritarianism and bullying exists. This could be construed as a microcosm of wider society or, worse, an incubator for the military-industrial complex.

In childhood, there is often a fracturing of kids into cool and uncool and strong and weak (which usually is based on size). The bullies of childhood may well become the soldiers of the future.

Inclusivism and acceptance are important for children. It is not surprising then that attachment is well understood to be a core value in schools.

In his children’s book Made by Raffi (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2014), Craig Pomranz has beautifully captured the essentiality of love, acceptance, and inclusion. The book is vividly illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain.


Made by Raffi is about a non-conformist boy named Raffi who pursues a hobby, knitting, that is not typically viewed as masculine. Aside from the gender issues evoked by this stereotyping, the consequence for Raffi was an affirmation of his being a kind of outsider. However, Raffi’s selflessness winds up with him being embraced by his classmates.

At a deeper level, Raffi’s non-conformity could be construed as a kind act of rebellion that liberates his fellow classmates from intolerance. ((Radical pedagogue Paulo Freire held that solidarity is achieved through love — an affirmation of one’s humanity. (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: continuum, 1970, 2000): 50) Freire identifies the act of rebellion by the oppressed as a gesture of love. (p. 56).))

Made by Raffi imparts a powerful message that our differences can make us special to the group and that, therefore, wholesome differences should be embraced and cherished. It is a message well worth imparting to children and would make a good addition to a child’s bookshelf as well as the bookshelves of elementary schools.

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at Read other articles by Kim.