Valentine’s Day Misogyny

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.

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  1. #1 by thatwritinglady on February 14, 2012 - 1:05 pm

    I know how you feel! I’ve had similar problems with boys in my classes, particularly with regards to homophobic comments. One thing that has worked well for me is taking a sense of humor to the discussion–it helps make the point without demonizing students. (For example, “Ladies, would any of you want to kiss a boy with this ridiculous sign on his chest? I didn’t think so. If you really want to have a shot with these lovely young women, Ramon, I think a little respect would get you further. Am I right, girls?”)

    • #2 by yoni on February 14, 2012 - 4:06 pm

      Thanks for reading and for commenting! Good point and good tips. I struggle with my humor around freshmen because my sarcasm (which I cannot avoid) confuses them sometimes. And in this case, I’m not sure how lighthearted I wanted the discussion to be, given how serious I think it is. But I definitely could have done something like this for Ramon’s sake. Regardless, I’ll try to work “Am I right girls?” into my next discussion no matter what.

  2. #3 by Sarah S. on February 14, 2012 - 1:56 pm

    Yoni, I can’t say for certain how I would have reacted to this. Not having been in the classroom for almost 3 (!) years, it’s tough to say. But I’m really glad that you didn’t just let it slide, and I commend you for being so honest in your blog about your reaction. It reminds me a lot of Andrew’s struggles at BH and the examples he used for his thesis.

    • #4 by yoni on February 14, 2012 - 4:07 pm

      Thanks Sarah. I’m not sure how I would react tomorrow. But I will take any and all commendations.

  3. #5 by Shawna Martin on February 14, 2012 - 3:30 pm

    I know it can feel defeating if the student in question just tunes out because he thinks you are picking on him, but you have to remember that the message is also for the other students in the class. It is knowing/thinking that this sort of behavior will go unchallenged or that any girls who challenge it will be dismissed as just not having a sense of humor or as “non-babes” that allows this sort of behavior to be perpetuated. The other boys have to see that such behavior is not tolerated and the girls (and any gay students) have to see that speaking out is going to be safe.

    Thanks for being an ally.

    • #6 by yoni on February 14, 2012 - 4:08 pm

      Thank you Shawna. And that’s the main reason I wanted to explain this to the whole class (which I now realize I didn’t write about). Everyone needs to hear it.

  4. #7 by Anonymous on February 14, 2012 - 5:25 pm

    I’m sending positive thoughts of solidarity. I see/hear incredibly frustrating things every day in middle school. I try to address them on the spot, but sometimes I’m not as eloquent as I would like. I think the kid checking out is ok. He will remember that you were mad and hopefully someday, as an enlightened male feminist in a sociology class, look back on the moment and laugh.

  5. #8 by Dina Moskowitz on February 14, 2012 - 5:26 pm

    I’m sending positive thoughts of solidarity. I see/hear incredibly frustrating things every day in middle school. I try to address them on the spot, but sometimes I’m not as eloquent as I would like. I think the kid checking out is ok. He will remember that you were mad and hopefully someday, as an enlightened male feminist in a sociology class, look back on the moment and laugh.

    • #9 by yoni on February 15, 2012 - 11:11 am

      Thanks Dina. That would be great.

  6. #10 by Liz P on February 14, 2012 - 5:35 pm

    Can you move to San Diego and promise that in 15 years you will be my kid’s 9th grade teacher? Thanks,
    Liz

    • #11 by yoni on February 15, 2012 - 11:20 am

      Sounds good. Can your kid be my only student, and can I get double my salary?

  7. #12 by Anonymous on February 14, 2012 - 9:19 pm

    Well done, Mr. Fine. It is ok for a kid to feel uncomfortable about a bad choice he had made. You also helped him see how society influences what he sees as ‘okay’. I agree with Shawna about the message for the other kids. It is like breaking up a fight so the kids fighting don’t have to be the ones that chicken out (in the saving face sort of way). I am sure many kids felt bad about his sign, but may not have even been able to articulate it or felt safe doing so.

    • #13 by yoni on February 15, 2012 - 11:22 am

      Thanks, anonymous!

  8. #14 by Patrick Bendahan on February 27, 2012 - 7:20 am

    What did the repair work entail? I’m curious because I know what my 9th grade self was like, and I’m not sure how responsive I would have been afterwards. I would have, at the time, felt incredibly demonized, and felt there was a personal attack on what I felt was a pretty good joke. I may have checked out of the class entirely.

    Note, that’s my 9th grade self talking. I think you did the right thing here.

    • #15 by yoni on February 27, 2012 - 11:04 am

      Thanks, Patrick. I just checked in with him after class and apologized for making him feel bad. He denied feeling anything, of course, but I think apologies from teachers still go a long way, since they’re pretty rare.

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