I have been substitute teaching quite a lot recently – turns out it is rather dangerous of late to be a member of the English department at my old high school (Read: Everyone is getting sick. And I ain’t talking colds). It is a stressful job, and it has taken a toll on some dear friends. But hey! We should introduce more competition via charter schools, ’cause that will fix everything!
Anyway. One such visit occurred this past Friday, where I had the misfortune to witness the Winter Sports Assembly. The ASB, made up of seven boys and one girl, chose a pink vs. blue theme and forced boys and girls to sit on different sides of the gym to create a ‘battle of the sexes.’ Girls fully embraced the theme, wrapping their bodies in tight pink spandex and pink crop tops while boys, already predisposed towards owning blue clothing, simply got dressed. What ensued was, from this feminist’s perspective, a horrific spectacle in which girls earnestly attempted to ‘win’ games such as sandwich-making and laundry-folding, while boys had a laugh, failed, and were still deemed winners by a male set of judges.
The best was yet to come, however. The Drill team – otherwise known as Barbie robots on crack – gave new meaning to the phrase ‘male gaze.’ As the music blared, twenty frantically smiling girls in uniform bent over and gyrated for a full minute, exposing bottoms clad only in navy spankies to 700 teenage boys. The boys’ side went wild, while the girls just looked down – wanting to support their female peers but too embarrassed to bear witness to the scene. After that, the Cheer team lined up and made a tunnel to run through for the boys’ football team. Yay! The boys won state! The girls who won state, meanwhile, merely moseyed over to the center of the gym to collect a plastic bag full of candy, and sat back down.
I attempted to discuss the assembly afterwards in the senior classes I was covering – totally on topic because they were discussing how gender impacts identity formation for an upcoming essay. For them, the assembly was a routine experience, and they were simply unable to think critically about the experience. One girl memorably responded, without irony, “What’s wrong with pink?” A boy, meanwhile, shouted, “Yeah, that assembly kicked ASS!” (Cue riotous laughing and high-fiving with other boys – this being Senior English and therefore not an AP class, the population was mainly male).
Perhaps female students are unaware that there is an actual battle to be fought – and that it could be their propensity to acquiesce that allows employers to continue paying women 77 cents to every male dollar. (It’s also possible that I was labeled a sad, old, feminist hag to whom they could not be bothered to speak. I hope not.)
It is moments like these that renew my zeal to become involved in the larger organization of our society. Watching the girls in the audience passively endure what was, inarguably, a whole-school endorsement of sexist behavior, made me angry. It should have made them angry. But being a squeaky wheel in high school takes courage, and girls are exceptionally good at just putting their heads down and getting to work no matter what the conditions. (New charter school idea…a high school that does not condone the objectification of half its members in a captive audience!)
So the PLP spent this week following the suggestions of my lovely readers and registering to be a member of the League of Women Voters and the National Partnership for Women and Families. I am amazed and humbled that a simple email to these organizations resulted in a personal email from the women running them, combined with links to all sorts of ways to get involved. Some of the women have even called me to see how they can help and have sent me pamphlets full of information in the mail. None of this involves wearing pink, making sandwiches or folding clothes.
Girls in high school reading this: Know that high school is a unique culture that ends when you graduate, but it is also a place where you can safely begin a career fighting for fair treatment. Write into the school paper to protest the assembly, and think of ways to raise the status of girls in school. Campaign to end school-sponsored events that further marginalize your gender, and if you want to join the Drill or Cheer team, maybe make up dances where you don’t show the student population your nether regions for funsies.
All the rest of you: If you have not yet signed up to support these organizations, do it now!