Made By Raffi – Written by Craig Pomranz

This post was prepared and written by Craig Pomranz. Made by Raffi is an amazing book that is part of the CCGSD library and the regular collections that we work to bring to Elementary Schools across Canada.

I wrote Made by Raffi, believing it to be a universal story — everyone has felt “different” at some point — I was not prepared for the outpouring from families and educators who embraced the story of a boy who feels “different” yet stays happy and calm amidst a world that wants him to conform.

At one point in the book, Raffi asks, “Is there such a thing as a tomgirl?” This struck a lot of readers. In our society, a tomboy gets an indulgent smile and support, but a boy who pursues traditionally girls’ hobbies receives quick condemnation and worse. This attitude is so ingrained in our culture that we don’t stop to think about it, but I have come to realize that the misogyny built into that way of thinking is insidious. We seem to understand that a girl would want to be more like a boy, but think something is wrong with a boy who wants to be more like a girl.

What are little girls supposed to think when their activities or interests are publicly delegitimized? Gloria Steinem has said “We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons… but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.”

In some ways, we are an increasingly tolerant society, but has anyone else noticed that we are also seeing more pressure to conform to gender norms? Children are told to be themselves, but it is worrisome that we have returned to an age where every girl wants to be a pink princess and little boys are given violent video games and pushed into sports. No wonder our kids seem self-conscious and anxious! We give our kids very little encouragement to “try on” new identities. How much misery and wasted talent is caused by these artificial ideas about what are appropriate activities for boys and girls? I hope kids will discover that being a boy or girl is not a sharply defined role, but can encompass many activities.
I have spoken with hundreds of parent groups, schools, blogs, and other organizations. The discussions have been fascinating, and, while some of us disagree on approaches and philosophies, most welcome a conversation on the subject. If we continue to reach out and talk about these issues I believe change can and will happen. Can we help a child be comfortable enough in their own skin to be able to face the world and embrace their individuality, thereby reducing their stress? How can we bridge these differences and rid ourselves of society’s stereotypes?

The “Like a Girl” campaign (linked here) proves that children have to be taught gender behaviour – it is not inherent. The “Be a Man” link here also makes it clear the subliminal pressure we put on our children to act out in certain ways. Exploring many interests is the best way to find oneself and become a whole person. I hope kids will discover that being a boy or girl is not a sharply defined role, but can encompass many activities.

I wrote the book on one hand to show kids that they can investigate what they are curious about and enjoy their interests freely. But parents need support too. Some parents allow freedom at home but even the most evolved, out of many fears, force them to conform in public. This isn’t just a mixed message but a negative one.

We cannot protect children from everything, nor should we. I hope the book shows another path. Made by Raffi seeks to both entertain and help children and adults become more comfortable with who they are in their own skin. This may help in avoiding peer pressure and victimization.

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