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foundations

In the summer, i’m going to teach another Education course. This time, it’ll be a three week course on the social foundations of education.  Five days a week, 2.5 hours a day. It’s the same number of hours as the other courses I’ve taught (all two of them), but in a configuration that’s MUCH more challenging, I think.  i dunno. I’m more than a bit jittery about teaching. But this is much better than  cold-sweats-heart-palpitations-terrified. So, you know, things are improving.

social foundations of education. three weeks–I think it’ll be one of the final courses for them before they go and get teaching jobs (or try to). My students will be high school art teachers. I don’t know jack about art. i expect we’ll get along.

I also got the evaluations from my fall class. 42% of ’em filled one out.  That’s 13 out of 32 people better than the course before. One person mentioned that sometimes the discussions became a bit defeatist.  Yea. That’s one of the problems, eh. I have great respect and admiration for teachers–it’s one of the most important jobs ever. Right up there with parenting, health care and radical feminist activism.

But the education system? not so much. it’s constraining, conservative, rigid and dehumanizing. Like ALL the institutions of power–Medicine, Law, Religion–designed to keep the power in the hands of the powerful, and maintain the dominated at the bottom–a raw resource for the human services industry.  Big “E” Education is designed to reproduce systems of inequality–to reinforce racism, sexism and classism. To reward mediocrity and stifle creativity. And all the good intentions of those beautiful people in my classes, they’re not gonna amount to a hill of beans when faced with that big ol’ machine.

Or will they?

Why am i doing this, then, if I don’t think things will change?

Hah! Busted!

Of  COURSE things are changing. Though the changes are glacial, they are indeed changing. Lookit, I’m an obvious lesbian from a working-class (not poor) background. I’m not supposed to be teaching university classes. I’m not supposed to be talking to future teachers about sexist harassment in schools. But I am, and I do, and I have started to talk to future teachers about sexist harassment in schools..

Speaking of which, you know what, NO ONE talks about sexual harassment by boys, of girls. There’s lots of stuff about generic bullying, and quite a lot about homophobia, and there is research too about racist bullying–(but it’s not called racism–it’s called “ethnoculturally-based bullying”). In fact, you’d be hard pressed, as you dig through the research, to find anyone who calls attention to the systems of domination (you know, patriarchy, for example) that are socially approved and reinforced in myriad ways. These systems, within which we all operate, provide the permissions and methods by which children (and adults) bully, harass and intimidate.

There’s this campaign to combat bullying, right–all the ‘good’ kids wear pink, to signal their commitment to end homophobia.Pink is  the colour for the campaign because only girls and gay boys wear pink. Boys are not supposed to wear that colour because that means they’re faggots. Girls ARE supposed to wear that colour because, well–that’s all there is for girls to wear, isn’t it? No one is bullied fro wearing olive green, or navy blue.  Girls who  decide to wear khaki and blue and black, like boys, they’re not gonna be bullied because girls who dress like that can kick yer ass. But boys who wear pink, now, fair game.

Because they are like girls.

And girls are weak. and disposable. or at least interchangeable–when we’re all in pink, we all look alike.

When i was young, i remember saying, and hearing, that ‘older men are set in their ways, they don’t understand that women are liberated now’. We let our dads and our grandpas off the hook because they grew up during a time when there were different expectations, sexism was stronger.

Well, now, you know what, i hear women say that exact same thing about men MY age! “oh, my dad, he’s just that way because that’s all he knows”.

No, no it is NOT all he knows! He was rewarded with all this power and room to move because he was male. All the women in his life, all those women who tried to tell him that WE are human, too, and he has to make room for us — we are just so many gnats buzzing in his ear. The call of the patriarchy is much louder and more compelling than the quiet determined resistance of the women. So he learns how to keep that power.

The ‘bad guys’ will physically intimidate and attack women who dare to question them. There are relatively few of them. But the ‘nice guys’ who would never dream of hurting women, they don’t stand up to the bad guys. they don’t sanction them. They might keep their distance from the bad guys, but they’re not likely to confront them, and tell them to stop. They’re not likely to step in between a man who is a bully and the woman who is his target.

I was at a dinner party once, a long time ago now. It was a gathering of artsy type folk, we had done some theatre together. One of the women who was starring in a play the next week, she was there with her husband. I was there with my lover. I wore a t-shirt from a take back the night march a few years earlier. The husband guy, he said to me, with a smile, “so, you want to kill all men, do you?”

I was taken aback. and i took the bait. I said, “of course not, what are you talking about?” and then realized he was referring to my t-shirt. It’s a great shirt. All these women, and female gods and historical figures are rushing together over a hill that is glowing yellow like the moon and stars in the sky. There are no male figures in the picture.

I guess that bugged him. He kept on me and on me, telling me that feminists hated men, and wanted to kill them or enslave them. I don’t remember now if i replied, “oh, like men do to women now?” I doubt it. I should have. I remember his wife beside him, looking down, looking uncomfortable. I remember our friend, Francine, trying to argue with him, too, trying to pull him off me (metaphorically). I remember feeling as if he was terrible knight in black armour, thrusting at me with his sword, swinging at me with his mace, and i had no defense. i was inarticulate in the face of his frightened rage.

And the men all moved to another side of the room. The nice men all stayed silent and pretended to talk about something else.

Later, Doug told me, “he had no right to attack you like that. He was totally unreasonable”.

“Why didn’t you help me?” I asked him, “He might have listened to you. Or at least backed off.”

I don’t remember Doug’s answer.

But that’s how the individual bully props up systemic sexism.  The bully is left alone. No one confronts him in the moment, and later his actions are decontextualized as just some mean things he does. Or maybe his behaviour is pathologized–and we hear that all the time, too. “he’s a sick man”. No he’s not. He knows exactly what he’s doing. Were he truly ill, or disordered in some way, his choice of target would not be nearly so predictable. He went after the women. He targeted me. His wife. our friend Francine. And the men let him. The system stayed in place, his position of dominance, the one wearing the boots, the boots placed on our necks, everything in its place.

This took place a long time ago, and we were all of us in our late twenties and early thirties at the time. “Things are much better for women now”, we said, “men understand better now than they did”, we said. All evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

Things have changed. At least now it’s NOT okay to say out loud (if you are a man) that you expect your wife to have dinner ready for you every night when you come home. At least it is not okay to growl at your wife, “One-a dese days, Alice, one-a dese days….Pow! Right in da kisser!” as Ralph Kramden said to his wife Alice 1950s sit-com “The Honeymooners”.  In some places, it’s not okay to post pornographic pictures on the lunchroom walls, either.Things have changed.

ah, but it is glacial. Women are still routinely harassed and dismissed in non-traditional jobs (i rode my bike past a construction site last week, and the one woman working on the site wore a bright pink hardhat. I was so angry…); everywhere you look, women and girls are stuffed into pink (more and more, i’m pretty sure) and boys are draped in khaki. Women are invisible in public. Movies, radio, tv shows, art galleries, music, business, science–even when there are more women than men in the science programs and the PhD programs and business schools, it is overwhelmingly men in the good-paying jobs, the seats of power, the heads of state. And of course, pornography STILL proliferates–in lunch rooms (maybe not as many, now–but too many, all the same), on TV, in store window displays, billboards, the internet, everywhereeverywhereeverywhere….

We have our place. We’ve learned where we belong. We learned it in school. We learned it from each other, from our teachers, from our families, from the world around us. But we can un-learn it, too. and we can make something else instead. When i teach “Social Foundations of Education”, I want us to figure out together how that foundation was laid, and what we might do to use it as a base for liberation rather than complacent acquiescence.

So. Sexism and sexual harassment is one thing we’ll focus on. The other thing will be the teachers strike. here in BC, public school teachers have been on strike for the whole school year.  They all go to work every day, they just don’t do anything extra. No  report cards, no recess supervision, no after-school sports. It’s frustrating for everyone. the Education Ministry has been chipping away at the BC teacher’s federation since 2001, when the Liberals were first elected. They declared teaching an essential service, effectively limiting teachers ability to legally strike or engage in job actions that would have an impact; they passed bills that removed class sizes, class composition, specialist support (‘educational assistants’, or other support staff), and hours of work from the teachers collective agreement. In April of 2011, the BC Supreme court found these limits (Bill 27 and Bill 28) violate teachers charter rights to bargain collectively. And now they’re trying to impose a contract that would see teachers salaries essentially frozen (The state calls it “net-zero”– it means i think, increases of 1% each year for three years or something like that).

We could have some interesting times dissecting labour relations, educational and union politics, sexism in the hallowed halls…three weeks. I’m a bit nervous about it. But it’s exciting, too. we can do a lot together, meeting every day like that. just have to have a plan…

anyway, I started this post about three weeks ago, and it’s time to move on.

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About easilyriled

My mom was Edith, my dad was John. I have a brother, who is Shawn. I have many friends and allies and mentors in my life. I'm white, over-educated, under-employed, messy, funny, smart, lesbian, feminist "Not the fun kind", as Andrea Dworkin said. But I, like the feminists I hang with, ARE fun. I play accordion better than I did, and i'm learning the concertina. Slowly.

9 responses »

  1. “Things have changed. At least now it’s NOT okay to say out loud (if you are a man) that you expect your wife to have dinner ready for you every night when you come home. At least it is not okay to growl at your wife, “One-a dese days, Alice, one-a dese days….Pow! Right in da kisser!” as Ralph Kramden said to his wife Alice 1950s sit-com “The Honeymooners”. In some places, it’s not okay to post pornographic pictures on the lunchroom walls, either.Things have changed.”

    Things have definitely changed, while as ignorant and willing to consume the backlash as my peers are, at least most of them realise that these are hostile acts, even if they can’t quite articulate why. Or if they still make hubby/de-facto/live-in boyfriend dinner every night anyway *eyeroll*

    Reply
    • Aileen! welcome back…i’ve missed you.
      and the other thing is, even though men no longer say these things (as much, in public anyway…)–i know women who do. They say shit like, “i’m just one of those women who likes to be a good woman for her man”. When you get women to believe that these subjugated positions are their choice, and a form of empowerment, the dominators no longer have to use threats or displays of force to keep women in line. Clever, that.

      Stepford 21st century.

      Reply
      • Yes very much so, the patriarchy and it’s agents have gotten very adept at making those submissive to it so unaware of their submission.
        I believe that it’s tied in with capitalism (seeing as capitalism benefits patriarchy and vice versa,) and so called “purchasing power”. Most women and young women my age believe that by buying or not buying a product, and instead electing to buy an alternative will have effects XYZ on the market place, and therefore on the world. Well, quite obviously they don’t! I’m not entirely sure how to articulate it but I believe that this whole trend towards “Going Green” fits in with this, but I have just come from a funeral so my mind is not quite functioning at this point 😛

        Stepford 21st Century sums it up pretty well.

      • Yes. I’ve been pissed about the whole “green” thing for a looooong time. let’s keep talking about it, Aileen, there is not enough critique of all this green- sustainable-environmental-buy-organic-yadayadayada.

  2. The “going green” thing annoys me too – if people actually paid attention to what they were buying to begin with, or even made their own material resources then it wouldn’t have developed into such an issue.

    (Vegetarian rant ahead:) especially with the whole free-range organic meat thing, I find it hard to believe that just changing the way we eat meat will make a difference, our attitude towards meat-production and the fact that it does involve disposing of the lives of sentient creatures needs to be strongly examined.

    “Going green” to me is a bit like “feminist porn” – it seems oxymoronic because it IS. It’s a bandaid solution to a bullet-hole problem. Thoughts?

    Reply
  3. I am SOOO glad to find radical feminists proliferating through the interwebs 😀
    Thank you and keep going!!

    Reply
  4. Great blog, and interesting post! I’ve often wondered if the so-called “advances” made by the feminist movement (e.g., it no longer being acceptable for a man to say that he expects his wife to have dinner on the table for him every night) are really just changes in what is considered politically correct, while underneath the same old problems remain virtually untouched. The porn example you give perfectly illustrates this idea: although it’s no longer legal to stick porn up on the walls of lunch rooms in many places, porn as an industry has grown enormously, and the amount of violence and degradation of women it depicts continues to increase.

    The only really concrete advantage I can see arising from these changes in political correctness is that women no longer have to be faced (quite so often) with such blatant displays of sexism, which are exhausting to have to deal with and really do affect women’s self esteem. Even though the porn industry continues to grow, the absence of porn on lunch-room walls really does make a difference to the lives of the women who have to eat there. However, I’m not sure that this benefit isn’t completely nullified by the fact that the reality of patriarchy is so much more difficult to detect nowadays, making its existence so much easier to deny.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Catherine — it’s kinda crazy-making, isn’t it? I know that men are still using pornography–using women in pornography and prostitution. I know that some of these men are in my classes, (and everywhere else)–but they know enough to at least say the right things. I hope that it is just one of the phases that we have to go through. first public behavour changes. Then slowly a shift of attitude and then they cease to let each other get away with it in private, too…but it’s glacial.. ah well. Can’t let that stop us. Thanks again for dropping by, and commenting.

      Reply

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