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.

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5 thoughts on “Things That Schools Teach Girls #feminism #sexism

  1. Just to play “devil’s advocate”: it is possible boys get in trouble for those more physical transgressions, and girls are punished for their subtle ones simply because that is the nature of their offenses. I am sure if girls were making mouth sounds and rolling on the floor, they’d get their cards turned as well. The question is, if a boy didn’t listen the first time, or was “bossy”, would he have his card turned? Without being in the classroom, that’s impossible to know. (I’d hope he would, though) It may be that the teacher is simply card-turning as a reaction to all disturbances, and boys tend to misbehave in a more noisy way.

    Then again, with the harassment backstory you gave, I can see why you’d question the school’s motivations and the environment there. Also, as an ex-teacher, it seems to me there is a lot of card-turning going on in general in that room. What reasonable teacher would expect three young kids of any gender to pick their own group leader without a squabble?

    With my kids (especially my daughter, who dwells on things horribly) I always point out that every teacher has unique requirements and preferences, and in life we have to learn to work with people of all different temperaments. Some will be more demanding than others, some won’t always be fair. That’s life, unfortunately. But we talk about things at home, and if I don’t agree with what a teacher has said, I tell her so and not to worry about it.

    It’s just sad, because sometimes teachers forget how influential they are. Kids soak up everything, and are so impressionable. Even a careless comment or harsh look can devastate them. Hopefully, Bird’s year evens out, and with your encouragement she will retain her “bossy” (confident) demeanor 🙂

    1. Just to play “devil’s advocate”: it is possible boys get in trouble for those more physical transgressions, and girls are punished for their subtle ones simply because that is the nature of their offenses.

      There is likely some truth in that. At the same time, I can’t see the offenses as anywhere near equal. Rolling on the floor is a decidedly larger disturbance than a child who daydreams. Now, both of these behavioral issues may happen for the same reason–boredom–but the reality is that one is an actual disturbance to other kids, and the other just means the teacher has to say a child’s name more than once (or twice) to get the kid’s attention again.

      My frustration here is compounded by the fact that the child is daydreaming because she finished her work ten minutes before, the teacher ignored her raised hand requesting more work or something else to do (and/or said, “Now is not the time for questions, Bird.”), and she is bored out of her super-intelligent mind.

      I do think that by putting the same valuation on the less loud/rambunctious behavioral problems of some girls as is put on the very loud and rambunctious behavioral problems of some boys puts the onus on girls for their behavior to be beyond stellar. Like not only should they not be loud and rambunctious, but they must also meet these other rules, too. Do you see what I mean? Is it fair to punish girls for being quiet and daydreaming at the same level as a boy who sits and makes mouth noises? One actually bothers other kids and the other just makes the teacher have to say their name once or twice. I don’t feel like they are worthy of the same level of scrutiny and demands, and I feel like it gives girls the idea that not only are they not allowed to roll on the floor, but their behavior must go above and beyond that of boys in order to be okay.

      Also, as an ex-teacher, it seems to me there is a lot of card-turning going on in general in that room. What reasonable teacher would expect three young kids of any gender to pick their own group leader without a squabble?

      IKR? I mean, seriously! My MIL is an ex-teacher, 2nd grade even, and after the first week of school with this woman, she said to me, “This teacher has never had children. She has completely unreasonable expectations of kids of this age.” Bird’s teacher has taught for 7 years, though, so I’d think she’d have some experience. Still, MIL says that until a person has kids of their own, they don’t understand and really get what you can expect from kids.

      But we talk about things at home, and if I don’t agree with what a teacher has said, I tell her so and not to worry about it.

      Yes, I told my daughter that so long as she isn’t being mean to other children, so long as she is showing her teacher respect, so long as she isn’t causing a disturbance in the class, stealing things, breaking things, being loud, or defiant, then I really couldn’t find it in myself to be upset that she had been daydreaming because she was bored. I mean, really! Or that she was confident and certain she’d do a good job at something! I told her that I thought she was doing a great job in 2nd grade and to know that in her heart.

      It’s just sad, because sometimes teachers forget how influential they are. Kids soak up everything, and are so impressionable. Even a careless comment or harsh look can devastate them.

      It really can. I really wish her teacher put more deposits in these kids’ emotional bank accounts because she mainly just seems to take withdrawals. I asked Bird if the teacher ever said she was happy to be there with them, or ever said, “We’re going to have a good day!” or ever said, to anyone individually, “I’m happy you’re in my class” or “Your smiles make my day!” or anything similar. She said, “No, she is snappish and seems unhappy with us a lot.

      Hopefully, Bird’s year evens out, and with your encouragement she will retain her “bossy” (confident) demeanor

      I hope so! And she is kinda bossy! LOL! And so she will be told that a lot. I have been telling her that being bossy isn’t always a bad thing. It means that you know what you want and you know how to get what you want and that many people never know that. But I also encourage her to share making choices with others because everyone deserves a chance to be the leader and to shine.

      Hopefully, this teacher will improve or will just be a blip in her memory one day soon.

  2. “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.”

    The girls have already gotten the message about how girls are to behave. They don’t roll around on the ground or make mouth noises. Their disruptive activities are already gender-based. I wonder what the teacher would do if she had girls rolling on the floor, randomly making mouth noises, and generally being physically disruptive. Would her reaction be more drastic than it is whne boys exhibit thhhhose behaviors? I’ll bet there’d be a parent-teacher conference, at the least.

    Ugh. njs

    1. I bet there would be more than a parent-teacher conference, too. I’m betting mental health issues would be looked into, frankly.

      Agree. They are already boxed. I hate seeing them boxed even more. 😦

  3. There are so many things that, we as a society, are learning and trying to do better – and failing. We began this kinder gentler aspect with children in sports where, in stead of the “Did you try your hardest?” or “Did you have fun?” and “You’re doing better all the time”, everyone got a trophy so no one felt left out. Over time, this showed that there was no need to achieve because they were going to get a trophy no matter how well/bad they did – so the good kids had nothing different to show for their hard work than the kids who really didnt give a damn. There was even a rise in bullying.
    We’re trying to go forward as a country and we’re taking two steps back – blindly.
    My brother (who has no children) told me he would have raised my kids differently o.O ummmmmm …. wow…okaaay. My daughter (21), is the one that told me the above information, is finishing up 2 yrs of college (Deans List the entire time),a nd joining the military to pursue a greater education (besides the fact bother her parents served;) so she can get into Forensics. Our boys (15 yr old twins) are …. well, active. At 4 yrs old they knew they were smarter than me. At 15, we go to parent teacher conferences and, although their lack of attention in class annoys the dickens outa me (for some odd reason they dont get that a perfect score on their tests doesnt equate to passing when no H/W was tuned in), I am thrilled that they will hug me or hold my hand in front of their friends – raise them differently? Pffft.
    You’re doing your best – it’s all we can do. I stand up for my kids when they are not being treated fairly by adults (it was the bus driver last week that said she wasnt getting respect – and yet nether the bus driver of the superintendent could return my calls – ummmm … respect?), I also support the teachers when my children are in the wrong.
    We’ll never know how good or how bad we are doing something, Leta, until our children respond to any given situation – Bird standing up for a kid that hadnt been nice – well, that shows you something was done right 😉 …. her not putting her hand down – even rolling her eyes – sounds like she has a solid sense of self confidence – male or female – every kid should have that … and she’s only 8, you and Bird have a few more years to go to nurture that strength into something awesome!
    You’re her best role model and I think yer doing a terrific job 🙂

    Wow – I wrote a novel – sorry :”>

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