This is how you do it
I was discussing harassment on Facespace today, and my friend Danna left the following comment. I thought it was so brilliant that I wanted to repost it here. This is the way it should be viewed - it starts at home, in your immediate environment, and you let everyone around you know that you will not tolerate debasing behaviour, attitudes or the kind of hate language that eradicates our sense of what people do and do not deserve to have done to them.
After reading your post, and the UnWinona post you linked to, my first response was “I can NOT believe that kind of thing happens, that it really happens in our society.”
But then I thought “Actually, I CAN believe that it happens because I see the social conditioning that leads to it every day.”
As a teacher I am acutely aware of the impact of words, and I try very hard to monitor how I speak to my students, and how they speak to each other. Although I usually catch myself before I utter the words I often think to compliment a young girl on how pretty her dress is, or how beautiful her hair is. Compliments I would never pay to a young boy, no, I would compliment a young boy on how strong he looks, or how good he is at sports.
I have been conditioned for 34 years to compliment females for their looks and boys for their actions. Last year I read an article about this subject and since then I have made a conscious effort to not use stereotypical gender-biased compliments.
When I think about the bad language my high school students use the top five most uttered words would be: gay, fuck, cunt, bitch, and slut.
Students don’t even consider ‘gay’ a swear word, but don’t worry even though “This is fucking gay!” might sound like a homophobic statement my students “don’t mean it that way.”
I hear girls calling each other cunt, bitch and slut. Even girls I know are not sexually active. My daughter was called a “fat slut”… when she was in year 4!
Using language that demeans and objectifies women leads to actions that demean and objectify women.
A fortnight ago I walked out of the (only) local bar because the manager was drawing a raffle and he needed a “Bucket Girl” to draw the tickets. All of my colleagues thought I was over-reacting, after all I live in a remote outback town, that is just how people speak.
But then, if I tolerate sexist, demeaning and objectifying language here, should I accept it in a larger town? A state capital? The national capital? Where exactly should I draw the line? For now, the line is firmly drawn at my classroom door. My students think I am over-reacting and they roll their eyes when I reprimand them and ask them to think of an alternative non-sexist/xenophobic/homophobic insult instead, but they do it. Some times it takes them a lot of effort to think of an alternative insult but they will eventually find one. In many ways I consider this element of my teaching more valuable than the History lessons I teach.
One day I hope every person in the world can go about their daily life without the constant fear of the harassment, but until that day I will strive to ensure that every student in my classroom can go about their school day without harassment.