A 9th grader walked into class with this taped to his chest today.
In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have directed so much of my anger at him. I happen to snap at this boy pretty much every day, which didn’t help my feeble efforts at restraint. But the sign made me angry, and he had no idea why. I told him I’d explain to everyone once the bell rang. He didn’t want that, and maybe he’s right, maybe I embarrassed him too much. But I feel like he needed to hear from the girls in the class (who I knew would speak up) for the message to have a chance at sinking in.
So I explained a little bit about how objectification works. One girl called it degrading and we talked about that word. We talked about the problems with equating value with “babe” status, and what message that sends to “non babes.” One girl said, “That’s what causes girls to become bulimic.” Or worse. We didn’t even touch on the economics of the thing.
Then there’s the homophobic bit thrown in at the end. He got very defensive about that one, understandably. But I still felt like I had to voice the message that a gay student would internalize after seeing that.
As we were talking, I realized I was inadvertently making this boy feel responsible for every teen suicide. So once I calmed down, I did my best to make the point that it’s not really his fault, that we are subject to a nonstop onslaught of these types of messages so of course we think they’re okay.
The boy pretty much checked out for the rest of class, so I had some repair work to do afterward. And while I feel bad about demonizing him, I do think – and I do hope – that this lesson made a bigger impact on my students than the pronoun one that followed.
Happy Valentine’s Day.