This is my son’s last year in elementary school. Next year he’ll start the big bad preteen world of middle school. Next year he’ll see his girl classmates pulled out of class and told their outfits are distracting him. Next year he’ll be told that his education matters, and that the education of girls doesn’t. Next year school professionals will behave most unprofessionally when it comes to the bodies and clothes of young girls.
But I look at him and I don’t see a teenage boy bubbling over with hormones and toxic masculinity. I see my baby, a child. And I think the girls his age must be babies and children too. Their bodies are children’s bodies. Their clothes are children’s clothes. But that’s not how they’ll be treated. School officials will teach all the students that how a girl looks matters more than how she learns, that she must earn an education through dress, while my son only has to show up to deserve his.
Girls who are still very much children will be told to cover their shoulders so as not to entice boys who are also still very much children. And boys will be told nothing about attracting or distracting girls. Dress code rules tend to either address everyone (no drug messages or imagery on t-shirts) or address girls and popular girls fashion styles only. I don’t want children to be taught that their bodies are sexual and consumed by an outside gaze. I want them to be taught science and writing and history. But all too often when a school staff member decides a girl student’s clothes distract them, that student is removed from class for a time. The teacher and the rest of the class move on with the lesson while the girl student is sent to call her parents or go change into her gym clothes or sit through in-school suspension. The boys who were theoretically distracted are not admonished to pay more attention or keep their eyes on their books. The girls are sent away. This tells every student that a girl’s education is worth less than a boy’s, and that his should take priority.
I don’t want this for the girls my son’s age and I don’t want it for him either. I don’t want him to believe these terrible messages. I don’t want him to think a girl or young woman who is showing skin is disrespecting herself or asking others to do it for her. I don’t want him to learn that his education matters while the education of a girl in a tank top doesn’t. I don’t want him sexualizing the knees and shoulders of his female classmates and objectifying the people those knees and shoulders belong to. I want my son to respect girls and women, but I am fighting against the wolrd for that goal. So many people and institutions want him to know how valued he is, by making sure he knows how valued girls aren’t.
I think some schools’ education of girls is, in the minds of the teachers, “for show”. There is of course still the idea that most girls will end up being housewives and won’t use much of their education. There are of course boys’ schools and girls’ schools. A woman once told me that wanted to send her son to a boys’ school where he would be free of “distraction”. When I was a boy I wanted to be at an all boys’ school, but I put that down to youthful heterophobia. Considering how much time you spend in school per week, it’s an ideal place to be educated about the opposite sex. By first hand experience, not by a teacher telling you about them. I think you may be right Angie that a lot of teachers assume that any girl needs her education less than any boy. It must be really hard for some girls when they start to see that their education is perhaps just so that society can appear to be treating boys and girls equally. Some teachers are just going by the rules, but underneath it they don’t care about educating girls. And that’s both male and female teachers. Some girls have of course said “Fuck it” and sought out books or anyone who was willing to teach them what they wanted to know.
I’m really impressed by your intelligence Angie and your self confidence. That’s what attracted me to you so, when I first discovered you, in the form of a youtube vlog. It’s obvious that you’ve put in a lot of time studying and thinking. Regarding men’s dress vs. women’s dress….I touched on that in my response to your blogpost on “sexism sells”. We all have a desire to be beautiful sometimes. Girls/women are both encouraged and discouraged in that. Men are too, but I think more limitation has been put on men for how they are allowed to dress and look. Women can wear dresses and wear pants. If a man wears a skirt, let’s face it, he stands out like a sore thumb (even if it’s a kilt). I don’t think it’s fair to expect women to “dress down”. Would rather that it became more normal for a man to “dress up”. I mentioned rock music in my previous post, which I feel is, or was a kind of haven for male sexuality and beauty.
Thank you! Yesterday my daughter and about 50 other girls were slapped for dress codes violations (by the way it was a gendered dress code for a thing they were having at school.. big no no) They told her she wasn’t being sent to ISI because she was “bad” but so they could protect her from the boys. I am also a mom to 2 boys, so just like you I have a problem with the whole idea that boys are uncontrollable hormone driven machines who just can’t help them self.
Of course I raised hell when I went to the school. My daughter even told them that boys should be taught to respect girls. And the asst. principal told me they were trying to teach boys to respect girls. I said No you aren’t, you’re showing them how to shame girls for their bodies.
I’m still reeling. But I wanted to stop by and leave a comment to let you know your post can at a really great time for me and I appreciate it, as a mom of a girl and a mom of 2 boys.