I wrote this letter in response to a fellow educator who e-mailed me privately in distress around a policy her principal was enforcing around what girls could and could not wear. Here is my response:
Bear with me. This WILL go somewhere 🙂
Just over a year ago, I was part of a group of 24 women who went to Hawaii on a Women’s Medicine Journey. We worked closely with the goddess Pele at her home, the Kilauea Volcano, doing ceremony. We’ve been tasked to work on advocating for an end to violence towards the feminine. A special concern of ours was sexual violence and genital mutilation of women and girls. In the last year, we’ve seen the One Billion Rising movement (www.onebillionrising.org). We’ve seen India changing its laws and attitudes about how they treat the feminine. People all over the world (women and men) are starting to rise up against the suppression of the feminine. This is no longer simply a “women’s issue”. It is a human one.
What you are seeing in your school is an old struggle that is now coming to a head in society. People are enforcing archaic rules and beliefs around female sexuality because women ARE rising up and speaking out. They are now willing to stand in their power and say NO MORE.
This stance your school is taking concerns me too, Julie. The flavour of the energy that your principal is supporting is that people have the right to control what a girl wears and how she chooses to express herself. I notice that this is not an issue for the boys at the school. Are they being harassed and controlled into wearing button up tops and jeans without holes in them? I read a story the other day about a male student on a college campus in the US that regularly holds up a sign saying “YOU DESERVE RAPE” and he yells out to women wearing short shorts or spaghetti straps that they deserve what is coming to them and they should be raped for tempting men in such a way. The college admin is doing nothing about it because it is his first amendment right to free speech. This is the crazy world we live in that tells women how they should dress, how they should act, whom they should have sex with and how they should express their feminine essence. This same world blames women for inciting the actions of others. This is saying to people that men and women who do violence against the feminine are not in control or responsible for their own actions. This is bull&*&%, in my opinion. It assumes that it is OK to blame others for our actions.
The whole discussion about what women “should” wear just irks me personally. It is none of anyone’s business what someone else chooses to wear. That being said, I also think it is good to have conversations with girls about this subject of sexuality and sexualization so they can be aware and make good decisions for themselves. For instance, I would likely not choose to wear some of the clothing I wear in Canada if I am traveling to more conservative places in the world. Why? For my safety. That is just good risk assessment in dealing with what IS in the world today. What I hear YOU saying is that this is the conversation you’d like to have take place. I personally would bring up these underlying beliefs and expose them in your school and challenge them. This has everything to do with controlling sexual expression. The same thing is happening all over the world with validating same sex marriages. Why should governments be telling people who they should have sex with and who they should love? In my way of seeing the world, this crosses the line of someone’s self-governance and ability to direct his/her own life.
What I hear is that you are simply not comfortable with indoctrinating young girls to repress their sexual and life force energy. This has something to do with advocating for the personal expression of young people- not just girls. When girls are free to express their life force energy in natural ways, boys will feel more free to express the feminine aspect of themselves too. I personally don’t feel that sexual repression is healthy. As long as we aren’t hurting ourselves or others (i.e. imposing ourselves on others and getting into their personal space), it’s a go as far as I am concerned. By the way, I am well aware that this is not a comfy topic. It is actually a HUGE conversation many folks are unwilling to have. Gender and sexuality is an aspect of being human that most humans don’t spend a lot of time exploring for various reasons:
* It’s taboo.
* What will people think if I am candid?
* It is confronting for some people to look at their sexuality in a sober, non-judgmental way.
* There’s been a lot of physical and sexual abuse in our society and there is much pain associated with sexuality for a lot of folks.
In short, lots of healing is needed in this area for most of us. This healing is possible for folks willing to look inside and do the work. There is support out there for this sort of thing.
When I was a public school teacher, I did a gender studies project with my Gr. 7s. It was a very multicultural classroom in Burnaby. It was very sobering and eye-opening for me as an educator. One assignment had the kids imagining that they woke up one morning in the body of the opposite sex. They were to write about what the experience would be like. What the pros and cons of this would be.
Many of the boys said that being a girl would be a relief in some ways. They could tell their dads how they really felt inside. They could express their emotions. It would be OK to care for those they loved openly. The cons would be that WAY too much emphasis would be placed on the way they looked and the boys felt that would repress their freedoms.
Many of the girls said that being a boy would be a relief. Many of the girls felt they would be more accepted by their fathers and have a better relationship with them if they were in a male body. The girls lamented the diminishing athleticism of their bodies as they got older- feeling it was expected of them in society to be less physically active and more “attractive”. Many felt muscles on a boy are more accepted. Many felt they could be more assertive in a male body.
As I read these writings, I could feel the immense grief and sadness in these children. They were all of different cultural backgrounds and yet the “flavours” of what they were saying were very similar. This told me a lot about the kinds of pressures kids were feeling about conformity to these mainstream belief systems. I was heartened when one kid volunteered to read what he wrote in front of the class. And then another. And then another. The result was more openness and acceptance among the kids. I saw kids climb out of boxes they did not want to live in that year. And because this had been discussed in such a heartfelt way, the kids were supportive and understanding of each other.
As you can see, I am passionate about this subject. I look forward to hearing what other folks have to say.