Ever since my daughter started school three years ago, I’ve noticed that the kind of messages she receives there often make me uncomfortable.
I will not go into the year-long sexual harassment with constant threats of sexual assault she went through in the first grade which ended only when I used the legal terms above in an email to the principal instead of calling it ‘chasing’ and ‘trying to kiss’ and ‘won’t leave her alone’. You read that right, first grade. That was met with a ‘boys will be boys’ attitude and the declaration of ‘well, I see her go over to talk to him on the playground’ which verged on “she’s asking for it”.
I aggressively sought to end the issues but, ultimately, it was my daughter who put the final nail in the coffin when the boy in question was being taunted by other children for the earrings he wears and she alone stood up for him.
“Adam’s a girl, Adam’s a girl!” the kids chanted.
Bird stood up and said, “Adam is NOT a girl, unless he SAYS he is a girl, and he SAYS he is a boy, so he is a BOY. Stop making him feel bad. That’s mean!”
Yes, she stood up for the boy who’d tormented her all year, because that’s the kind of child she is! Afterward, he came up to her, thanked her for standing up for him, and promised, since she didn’t want him to, he’d never chase her, try to hold her down, or attempt to touch or kiss her again, and he’s held true to his word.
I’m still not sure he fully understood why what he did was wrong and hope that he hasn’t transferred his behavior to another girl, but, for now, he is my daughter’s ally instead of enemy and that’s good news.
But, I’m not going into that, and believe me there’s a lot of that to go into! What I want to talk about are the insidious things. The small messages that girls receive from their teacher. Of course, I’m only getting my child’s side of the story and I’m not in the room to see what actually happens, but I’m going to assume that the gist of what she’s telling me is true.
Not Listening to the First Request vs Mouth Noises
Every day when Bird and I talk about her school day, I ask about who “turned a card”–their way of keeping track of who got into trouble. Every day she tells me what the kids in her class did to turn cards. Sometimes she’s one of them. I’ve noticed a distinct pattern, though. Boys turn cards for things like mouth noises (making noises with their mouth, beat boxing, or car sounds) and girls turn cards for things like not listening to the first request.
One boy in her class, Clarence, turns multiple cards a day for things like getting out of his seat and wandering the room, rolling on the floor, mouth noises, and shoving other kids. Bird, however, has to turn cards for not responding to the first request or being bossy. The teacherly term Mrs. Elder uses for being bossy is “doesn’t show respect to fellow students or the teacher”. Really? This is the same kid who stood up for her sexually harassing bully last year because kids weren’t treating him with respect.
When I ask her for details of her lack of respect for other students, she tells me stories like this one:
“Well, we usually split off into pairs and I usually am paired with Jessa, but today Mary Anne was absent, so Abby came with me and Jessa. We were supposed to decide who would be the leader, but all of us wanted to be the leader and then our time was up and Mrs. Elder asked the leaders of the groups to all raise their hands.”
Bird raised her hand–and so did Jessa and Abby. Mrs. Elder told them they had to choose and Abby put her hand down and told Bird to put her hand down, too. Bird said, “But I didn’t put my hand down because I would do a better job at it than Jessa and so I kept my hand up. Mrs. Elder had me turn a card because she said I was being too bossy.”
Too bossy. Because she was sure she’d do a better job than someone else. Because she was confident and assured.
Now, perhaps there is more to this story than my daughter told me. Perhaps she rolled her eyes at her teacher after being told to put her hand down and that is why she was written up for a lack of respect. I can see her doing that, frankly, because she’s expressive and holding her face still under strong emotion is hard for her. (She still shouldn’t roll her eyes at her teacher, though. Don’t get me wrong.) But for the teacher to have told her she was too bossy? That rubs me the wrong way.
I remembered the quote above when she was telling me this story and I said to her, “Well, I think you are going to be a good leader of people when you are older because you know what you want and you are sure of yourself, so I don’t really agree with your teacher that what you did by holding your hand up and refusing to put it down was wrong. So, let’s just move on.”
I admit I feel conflicted for undermining her teacher–and not for the first time this year, frankly. There was another issue where her teacher wrote her up for having not paid attention to the first request and, frankly, if you leave a well-behaved and very smart child without work to do for more than a few minutes, expect them to go off into a daydream world and have to say their name more than once to get them back, lady. And, seriously, you’re making her turn a card for daydreaming and for having to say her name more than once and repeat yourself, but boys are turning cards for rolling on the floor when they get their work done early? One of these things is not like another.
But also, what’s up with the gender divide? Boys turning cards for aggressive behaviors and active classroom disturbances do not seem on par with girls having to turn cards for daydreaming or refusing to put their hand down because they know they’d do a good job at a task. The message here is clear–boys get in trouble if they make a big, loud scene and girls get in trouble if they aren’t perfect, aren’t completely attentive, and if they have opinions and refuse to cave to peer pressure.
I’m not liking this, y’all. I’m not liking it at all.