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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

#MeToo- Voices of Women in Education

We preach that we should be teaching kids to be ready for "the real world", and yet in what many call professional development conversations we shy away from anything that gets too real. Better to talk again about homework than to talk about why athletes are taking a knee, why women are marching, what happened in Vegas (and Sandy Hook, and, and, and). It's safer that way. We claim to have these conversations, or some semblance of them, with our classes, yet not amongst peers. I can't stand by that and never have. I believe everything that happens in the world impacts my classroom, everything has to do with education. Not just trends. Not just Pokemon Go and fidget spinners.

Over the weekend, in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein truth coming out and out and out and out, a hashtag was born. #MeToo. Women took to social media in solidarity, using the hashtag to tell their stories, or note that they too have a story to tell about sexual abuse, harassment, and mistreatment. And it grew and grew and grew. The silence, for the moment and hopefully for the future, was broken.

Men, hopefully, shut up and listened. We internalized the stories we were reading and reflected on our own actions, past and present. The hard truth is that if that many women have #MeToo stories, many of us have stories hashtagged #ByMe. See the impact. Believe it. Take steps to see that it never is done to anyone else. By listening, and then by standing up and standing beside, or behind. 

This is not just a space for me to tell my stories. This is a space where I try to let others tell theres. So I reached out with a tweet.

The following are some of the stories that were given to me. It's important to see that education isn't impervious to this behavior. These things happen in schools by co-workers, to co-workers. Just as America should be working to flush this poison from our country, so should we be working to flush it from our profession. See the issues. Hold them up to the light. Confront them.

I thank the women who wrote to me with their stories for their bravery. If their name is on the piece, they gave me permission to post it. If you would like to add to please do so in the comments. 

-D

soundtrack for afterwards to get angry in a forward motion

***

A middle school teacher asked me if I was wearing anything under my pajamas. It was a spirit day so every student was wearing pajamas. This teacher also made inappropriate comments to other students who reported it and nothing happened. So I did not report it and the other comments he made to me that school year. I had already learned too quickly nothing would come of it.

As an adult who is an elementary teacher, I witnessed and sometimes endured the same harassment by someone in an authority position. The latest just a few years ago. This person was reported. This person still holds the same authority position.

How does this affect our kids, our schools? It is embedded into our culture. One is made to feel you have to tolerate it, keep your head down, and get out when you have the opportunity.

My own girls (ages 10 and 7) saw the impact my situation had on myself and my colleague. My own girls knew it was reported. My own girls know this person is still working at the school. What is this teaching my girls? What is this teaching our kids when they witness this? They are learning, just as I did when I was in middle school, the victim is powerless to stop it.

If we cannot stop this from happening in our society, then it will keep happening in our schools, with our kids, with your kids. Something must change.

- Jennifer Druffel
Teaching since 2001
Fifth-grade teacher, avid reader, and tech geek


***

When student teaching, a student groped my chest. My cooperating teacher didn't think it was worth reporting ("You said he faked grabbing your lanyard. Maybe you misread it.") The secretary wouldn't give me the proper form to fill out because, "I'm not sure that's really wise. Can't you just leave it be?" The principal relented and allowed a sitdown with the student's parent. There was no discipline. No report filed. Nothing. I was encouraged not to apply for a job there at the end of student teaching because, "while you're a good teacher, that incident could have created a PR nightmare."

I think the worst part is that story doesn't even register. Like, if someone asks if I've ever been harassed or assaulted, I usually forget about that one. It's sad that something objectively awful is common place enough in my life to be a blip on my radar.

-Sara Philly

***

A Weighing of Worth

Human beings seek meaning through sharing stories and participating in collective reflection and action. This sharing, reflecting, and acting happen across multiple venues, including – notably -- classrooms and social media sites. Some recent examples that come to mind: the ice bucket challenge for ALS, the women’s march on Washington, solidarity with France after bombings, taking a knee in protest. Some – probably most -- collective movements on social media have political implications that can quickly escalate into controversy and toxic dissent, a digging in of the heels where we gain power from numbers in our “corner,” against an onslaught of vitriol, of trolling, of unfriending. To take a stand – or take a knee – on Facebook or Twitter inescapably means to position oneself publicly in one or another corner. And invariably, these movements seep into classrooms as students tumble in, smartphones in hand, to stake out their positions. These movements also often spring from the voices of the marginalized speaking out for justice.

Good classrooms provide opportunities for students to process their beliefs and values, to share stories both formally in class discussions and assignments, as well as informally through lived moments and interactions. In classrooms, teachers mold, guide, and inform lives – including (perhaps especially) those of marginalized groups -- in the process of making meaning. It is impossible and irresponsible to ignore the social media movements that sweep our students along in their wake, and we need to find ways to negotiate individual positioning against the need for community protocols of civility and respect.

Consider the most recent #MeToo movement – a tsumani of collective empowering of women’s voices across the country and the world. At first glance, we might reasonably ask, where’s the controversy in women standing up in solidarity to say – sometimes for the first time publicly – me too? (And wow. I just wrote -- and edited out -- the words “allowing women to stand up,” as if we need permission to post two words.) Yes, me too, we say together in one very loud voice echoing across continents, I have survived sexual assault, harassment, unwanted touches and words.

No controversy there, no corners to brace against. We are saying, together, “It happened, it happens, it will continue to happen if we don’t do something more than the status quo, if we don’t teach our children – our boys and girls and non-binary students -- to do and be better.” And yet… and yet… I thought long and hard before posting my #MeToo. Long and hard. Because it’s painful to say it, to read it from so many others, to expose the self so publicly. Because it’s hard to know why we are posting it and how it might help (or hurt) to so do. Because I’m reluctant to jump on a bandwagon of another social media fad that dies out by next Tuesday. Because I am not entirely sure how this corner – my corner – will take shape. And how and whether my MeToo will help shape that corner. And whether it matters at all.

And because I find myself fending off a frustrating annoyance niggling at the back of my head: My experience was based on circumstances of deep trauma, but surely (some) others are posting about something “less” than mine, an inconvenient brush-up for example, or an unwanted grope. I fleetingly wonder, are we trivializing sexual assault by making MeToo too broad, too easy to say?

And wow. Again. It dawns on me that that very question minimizes the reality that virtually ALL women – by nature of identifying as female -- live with a fear, a doubt, a shame, a guilt, a reality, a diminishing of the self, an apology, a need to be “allowed” to post two words – that propels us as women to start to “rank” our gropings, our abuses, our brushing-up-against on a bus, our rapes, our “oops, I got drunk and maybe didn’t want that after all,” our catcalls, our being-rated, our FEMALENESS.

A weighing of worth.

A couple of days ago, I read a comment on Facebook from a white male who, while expressing respectful sympathy for women, simultaneously expressed frustration that too many women were using the hashtag as (his words) “attention seekers.”

Bam.

Attention seekers. Let me translate that for you: Your moment of being catcalled isn’t worthy of attention. Your incident of an unasked-for groping doesn’t deserve the focus of my sympathy. Your self-victimizing is whiningly annoying.

But, you know, this guy is a good man who cares about women. And maybe too many people are willy-nilly slapping up a “MeToo” who don’t deserve the attention. And maybe we can’t see the forest for the trees – too many voices keeping us from seeing individuals in deep pain. And maybe I shouldn’t have posted my own “MeToo,” because who am I to say how my experience compares, whether mine is big enough, whether I am worthy enough? And maybe my lifelong gut-wrenching self-doubt makes me wish I hadn’t posted anything at all. A weighing of worth.

Maybe. We. Should. All. Stay. Silent.

And yes, that’s the point: If the individual cry-out of “My experience matters” is getting swallowed up in the overwhelming collective voice of “We matter,” then it’s long past time to sit up, stand up, and pay attention. This isn’t about a corner; it’s about the air we breathe. It’s a voice crying out in the wilderness, individually, collectively.

And what does all of this have to do with teaching? How do teachers choose to incorporate into classrooms, or not, collective movements like #metoo (or #takeaknee or the women’s march on Washington)? How do teachers negotiate allowing marginalized voices and issues of social justice to thrive, while simultaneously honoring the voices – and silences -- of those who feel threatened or triggered or otherwise angry or hurt? How do educators avoid the shut-downs and shut-outs by those who cry “attention seeker!” thereby suddenly placing “metoo”ers on the defensive, backing them into corners they were trying to claw their way out of?

How do we work on confronting our own biases and assumptions around gender that trickle into our classrooms? How do we hear the stories of our students, and how do we help them create a better tomorrow?

I don’t know. But I do know this: the answer to these questions is not to remain silent, to dismiss the issue as a passing social-media fad, to get on with the so-called real lesson of the day, to tell students to talk about it later somewhere else.

- Anita Charles, Director of Teacher Education, Bates College

acharles@bates.edu


***

To live as a woman has meant, for me, to learn that I am never fully in control of my own body. There has always been someone, usually a male someone, who thinks has has rights to my body: to stroke my hair, to massage my shoulders, to turn a handshake into a hug and sneak in a kiss, to force himself into my presence unasked for. 

I am one of the 3 out of 4 women who hasn't yet been raped. I try not to wonder which of these encounters might end my "yet", which might transfer me into the category of the 1 in 4. 

Because when so many men think they have rights to you, there's no way of knowing where they think their rights end. Some men might just want to pet my hair, the way William Carlos Williams just couldn't resist those plums in the icebox. I knew you were saving them, forgive me, they were delicious; I knew you didn't want me to touch you, forgive me, you were so attractive... 

Rape is about power, not sexual desire. And all its preludes are of its kind. The little touches, the unwanted and soul-destroying comments, they are messages: I can if I want to, and there is nothing you can do about it. And of course they are right. Fewer than 10 in 1000 rapists do any jail time. Is there anyone who will take a woman's cry for justice seriously when the violence is less than immediately life-threatening? 

Not all men, not all men. But I can't know which are and which aren't, which will and which would never. I am always ready to fight for my life. But I have to keep that panic leashed. She lunges, but I haul her back. She growls, and I shush her, but I wonder if I will regret it afterward. I wonder if this biting bitch will be my savior or my downfall. 

I am standing in the line for the cafeteria, and there is a hand in my hair. 

The hand is attached to a middle school boy, a gentle barely pubescent creature, and how do I know what chemical stirrings found him reaching into the icebox when the plums were, suddenly, so sweet and so cold? How can I trust the stunned map of baby fat and wide eyes, eyes his mother must have stared into endlessly during the long watches when she fed him from her own body? 

I am the adult, the teacher, the professional. 

I am the fearful, the raging, the robbed. 

It is my professionalism, the endless posture of the teacher, the pelican who tears open her own breast to nourish the young, that silences the voice of the woman who needs to seize and conquer by the sword the sovereign territory of her own body. 

What do I do? What will I do? What lesson will I teach this young thief? He is confused and afraid; he did not know it was wrong, or anyway not really wrong, just a little wrong, just a few plums in the icebox. He is afraid of detention, of losing his cell phone for a week. I am afraid of crushing him, afraid of crushing me, afraid of my responsibility to his female classmates, his girlfriend, his colleagues, his wife. I am afraid of being fired. I am afraid of being silent.

- Rebecca Miller
***
It is hard broaching #MeToo as a subject in my classroom, as it can be difficult to negotiate talk about the human body. I've been chastised for bringing my "opinions" into the classroom before, not regarding this topic but others, so I try to work carefully around the subject.

We are often put in the uncomfortable context of dealing with harassment when it is enacted by young men (and women). Sometimes, teachers are subjected to it. We would not put up with employees who work under us talking about how "hot" we were, but I hear students talking about "hot" teachers all the time. The concept and commodification of the "hot teacher", most notable in pop culture in the Van Halen song, is really a sort of sexual harassment. And it has been so normalized in our culture. As has happened with teachers for decades and happens with women all over, we become not just people but objects for public consumption.

I have had students in the past, as recently as this week, comment on the size of my butt. In front of me. The hardest part about this is both that we as teachers are the recipient of some form of harassment and at the same time, we're the ones responsible for re-teaching expectations to those same students. Commenting on my butt has not even been the worst that I've heard from kids, and I have had it easy compared to other teachers.

And in Band & Chorus, as well as in orchestra, P.E., theatre, or dance, we have to talk about the body: position, posture, how we sit down, and the likes. For middle school teachers, this comes at the worst time possible, as students' bodies are in a complete state of flux and their senses of body image are at near crisis level. In the past, I have always tended toward self-deprecation, setting free the elephant in the room and bringing up a nickname I received in pre-K -- "Bertha Big Butt" -- when demonstrating how students should sit in our specially-bought posture chairs.


I really need to change how I do this. Without even thinking, I'm reinforcing decades of gendered commodification that has been shoved down my throat, without me realizing that it was even a problem. It has become such a part of the fabric of our society that a woman's body is to be commented on, freely & openly, that we often aren't even aware that we're doing it or that it's wrong. Or that wrong has been done to us.

As much as we have to endure as teachers, we also have a unique opportunity to change things. We have to hold our students responsible, particularly the young men who have never been told differently. We have to challenge the idea that we allow our young men (and women) to openly and without consequence comment on whomever they come across. They have to understand that the bodies of women, men, and non-gender conforming folks are not objects for consumption or discussion, especially in an educational environment. We have to change the way we think in our classrooms, and maybe even the way we think about ourselves.

- Emily

2 comments:

  1. thanks for the great and informative post!

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