Elevate Difference

Learning to Behave Naturally

Directed by Tamarah Cohen

Learning to Behave Naturally is a seventy-six-minute documentary based on a series of interviews in a language class at the University of Western Japan. A cross-section of students and faculty of diverse ages, gender, race, and social classes talk freely about childhood experiences regarding their gendered roles, interests, and behaviors. The film re-affirms our stereotypical divisions between boys and girls, and confirms our “accepted truth” that young children in any country and of any social class, race, or gender play happily together without being aware of any differences between them until conscious parents, teachers, or other adults teach them to be view and participate in society though gendered roles.

All participants state that boys in any country wear blue colors while girls wear pink, that this has been the norm for centuries. Japanese elementary school children will be placed in a “boys only class” or a “girls only class,” with boys being the “chosen people.” They have to be strong, are allowed to be “wild”, and can go out at night. They can play football or basketball, and appear controlled and powerful. Boys are not allowed to cry from an early age as it is not a “manly” emotion. Girls, on the other hand, have to be sensitive, graceful, and play with their Barbie dolls. They play while learning to be homemakers.

This gendered identity is decided by parents and society at the children’s early age. The rules and traditions of adults make children aware of their differences and, in fact, curb their freedom to behave naturally. Therefore, the title of the video is very appropriate to the message conveyed in it. We learn to behave in certain ways because of our conscious society, not because we are made up this way. Cohen’s film can serve as a valuable visual source in a sociology or women’s studies class at any university in the world.

Written by: Anna Hamling, June 3rd 2009