feminism

Fit Friday: Tank Tops and Taking Up Space

It’s May, and Idaho has made that quick and awkward transition from cool-and-almost-springy to my-kids-come-in-from-recess-hot-and-smelly. I have third-graders who needed to start wearing deodorant this spring, which is a new one for me. My second year of teaching, I had that fun conversation with my fifth-grade boys about DEODOROANT>AXE**. Their big takeaway was, Ms. Danielle taught us how to get chicks in middle school! But, it got them to start showering daily and give up the Axe in favor of pit stick, so I marked it a success. I’ve had fourth grade girls start their periods before. But third grade… I was just not expecting it this year.

That first group of students I taught? They’re sophomores now, for three more weeks. Most of them are taller than I am. You can insert any number of cliches here about how they’ve grown, and how old I feel. It’s been fun, though, to watch them. That’s one of the perks of working in a small school–I can see them every day, if I make a point to be in the hallways between classes or after lunch. We have high school students who have transferred to our school, too, over the past seven years who have added to the mix of personalities. And to the dating pool. I bring up this last point  because that’s a Big Deal in the middle school and high school. When I taught these students, boys and girls played together and were friends. Now, it seems everything is viewed through the lens of dating and pairing up and sex. This is not just the perspective of the students, but also the staff. When you are teaching students who are preoccupied with who is dating whom and the tangled webs thereof, it’s important to pay attention and to be proactive and involved.

Here is my disclaimer: I am not in these classrooms. I don’t interact with these students much. And there is a lot I’m missing.

What I see is this (in the hallways, staff meetings, and handbook revisions every spring): Girls have been chastised for wearing tank tops; boys are not. Girls’ clothing is sexualized; boys’ is not. Girls try to take up less space; boys try to take up more.

Toxic body image affects girls and boys. Girls see one version of the ideal body, and learn to lose pounds and inches and to take up less space. Boys see one image of the ideal body, and learn to build certain muscle in certain places. Self-perception and self-worth often hinges on these limited definitions of acceptable physical femininity and masculinity. (I’ll expand these more in the future, and provide more nuance).

In my anti-diet support and resource group, we talk a lot about giving ourselves permission to Take Up Space. To wear tank tops, even if our arms are not toned. To wear the clothes we want before we reach our goal weight. To wear the clothes we want without allowing our body parts to be scrutinized or sexualized. Do you know why we have to consciously give ourselves permission to do this, at the age of 20, 30, or even 60?

Because this kind of body shaming and sexualization starts in high school. When we talk about the dress code, we talk about girls wearing tank tops, and the boys getting distracted. We talk about the girls not having enough “self-respect,” about the girls using their clothes to get attention, about it detracting from the learning environment. When we talk about the boys wearing tank tops… we don’t. We have not, in my recollection, talked about boys wearing tank tops. A former student wears tank tops and sleeveless muscle shirts almost daily. I have never seen nor heard him told to cover up or change shirts during the day. I have seen multiple girls forced to wear t-shirts or hoodies or zip-ups over tank tops that were deemed inappropriate.

It starts before high school, when I am expected to tell a second grade girl that she cannot wear a tank top on a 90ºF day because of the dress code. Second grade girls (generally) do not have bra straps or breasts, and they definitely do not have sexy shoulders. Second grade children do not think about their own bodies in that manner, unless the adults in their lives create environments where those aspects are amplified.

Are there adult men and women who find shoulders, breasts, cleavage, or clavicles attractive? Yes. Are there adult men and women who find well-defined biceps, triceps, and pectorals attractive? Yes. Do we objectify every adult human that walks past us in a tank top? I sure hope not. Why can’t we teach our high school students to do the same?

Why can’t we teach our high school students to do the same? I might raise a stink if the dress code comes up again. I might bring it up myself. Our girls should be allowed to take up space; they should not have to “hide” their bodies. The boys should not have free reign to take up as much space as they want by wearing shirts that reveal their entire torsos from a profile view, especially if we’re using the idea of “professionalism” as the rationale behind other pieces of the dress code. Melissa Atkins Wardy at Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies had a pointed piece about reframing dresscodes as “Don’t Wear Saturday on a Wednesday.” It strikes a sensible balance between allowing girls to retain agency of their bodies and clothing, respecting boys’ ability to control themselves and treat girls as humans, and teaching students to dress for the situation and venue.

Happy Spring! I’ma go garden in a T-Shirt while it’s still cool enough to do so. Once it’s mid-June…sports bra. Lots of sunblock. Not because it’s sexy, but because it’s just too hot. Also I have six-foot fences, soooo..

**I have to credit my sister Katrina with the approach to this one. This was said in a very kind manner. I am not the Takes No Prisoners teacher with my kids.

When you rub an onion and an orange together, it doesn’t make the onion smell better, it just makes everything smell kinda gross. Trust me, you don’t smell good. I used to be a middle school girl, and the people around you would much prefer you to shower daily and wash your hair than to smell like a can from a commercial. This is your homework for the next two weeks: Shower every day, wash your hair, wear deodorant. There will be a test, and it will be the asthma of the para across the hall who cannot breathe after you spray that stuff in the boys’ bathroom.

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My Yearly Crisis

Sometimes when I email my graduate advisors, the email is carefully crafted, with careful attention paid to professional word choices.

The email I sent yesterday was not one of those times.

~~~~~~~~~~~

About once per year, usually in the spring, I have a crisis of conscience. It used to be a general existential crisis, but over the years I have honed it to a finer point. And since you three are now members of Team Danielle, you get to partake of this latest incarnation of “What the hell is going on in this profession?!?!” And if you bear with the initial ranting phase, I promise the part that actually involves you comes at the end and ties it all together. I also promise minimal swears. Also this has nothing to do with my 30th birthday that happens to be in less than a week.

Anyway.

Part 1: This spring, one of my students is up for his three-year special education eligibility review. My school contracts with a school psychologist who used to do the UNIT (non-verbal IQ test) and an academic achievement test on my students to determine their eligibility for special education services (in addition to their audiological and speech/language testing). Because our budget is tighter this year, I have to do the academic achievement testing, which is a “normed” and “validated’ test that will give him a grade equivalent and percentile rank. It’s eating up my instructional time, since I have to do the evaluation 1:1 and I have no paraprofessional to work with my other students. Also, the vocabulary and reading comprehension questions are exactly the opposite of how I teach contextual reading and reading-for-meaning to my students, and the look on his face is “You have got to be kidding me, right??” But this is the stuff we use to rank and sort our students, it’s research-backed, and it pisses me off; what the hell does it mean that my student can’t identify the “odd” word in a group of five isolated vocabulary words? Put those words in context and you bet your boots he could figure out the meaning. It’s so freaking reductive it makes my eyes rattle. And I still have at least three more days of this ridiculousness to finish the damn test.

Part 2: I am writing a paper  on reading interventions for Deaf ELLs and ELL parent involvement. Speaking of “research based”… According to my literature review, citing other recent (2012, 2014) literature reviews, there are ZERO studies that fit the No Child Left Behind requirements for “evidence-based research” reading interventions for deaf students. Zero. Because a huge part of NCLB is replication. And it’s almost impossible to replicate intervention studies with deaf kids. Variances in hearing-loss etiology, age of identification, communication access at home, amplification, other diagnoses, school placement, and learning style all contribute to reading achievement. And teaching a second language (English) in light of an delayed first language (sign language) presents a unique challenge to developing “best practice.” You know how many hard-of-hearing ELL kids I can do my final project with? One. The other ELLs are deaf and don’t access spoken Spanish auditorily. So in deaf education, we have prominent researchers (Mark Marschark, for one) who scold deaf educators for using opinions and gut feelings and not evidence-based research in our reading instruction… but we having really nothing else upon which to base our curriculum (including his own research). Even he has changed his presentations in the last 5 years to “What we don’t know about teaching deaf kids to read.” I’m not even joking. That was the last keynote I saw him give.

Part 3: My degree plan has me slated to take Fundamentals of Educational Research. With the aforementioned Parts 1 and 2 as my background, I think I may throat punch someone if I am in a course for a whole semester built on this paradigm that insists we can measure anything objectively. The test I’m using for my kiddo (in Part 1) was not normed on deaf kids and only shows what he can’t do, not what he can. And it doesn’t even measure what he “can’t” do very well, at that. And the best sources I’ve been using for my papers have all been the sources that say “the old framework is shit! We need a new lens!” The old framework *is* shit… that’s the whole point of my program. Insisting educational outcomes can be measured objectively is how we end up ignoring the intersections and the marginalization. I can’t work in that model.

The Big Question: I’ve been doing a lot of reading (you know, in my spare time). I still absolutely want to do a thesis. I am quite taken with educational ethnography, Moll’s Funds of Knowledge, Border pedagogy based on Anzaldúa, and Freire’s critical pedagogy.  Is there a way I can do a pedagogical thesis rather than a methodological thesis? If so, I will need approval to alter my degree plan; drop ED-CIFS 503 and take something else. Something that will challenge me and result in fewer of the aforementioned throat punches.

Thanks for sticking with me through this long email, and through one more interesting facet of being on Team Danielle. It got a little hairy there in the middle. I wasn’t sure we’d make it. I will now accept interjections and the like.

(More) Hair

My hair looks awesome today. So do my pants. So do the revisions on my paper I sent to my advisor this morning. The patriarchal hegemony is not holding me back from wearing kelly green capris and quasi-pixie-bob buzz-swoop ‘do!

In more easy-to-understand-terms, I have more pictures to show more drastically the before and after of this hair journey (for the longer word-based journey, check out Monday’s blog post)…

Before:

Danielle, 2003. Senior year of high school. I never wore my hair like this but still felt the need to spend three hours getting my massive amounts of hair curled and styled for my senior pictures. I also never wore makeup, except for my senior photos. So basically this is a photo of someone I never met. I think my internalized patriarchy might be showing a bit.

Danielle, 2003. Senior year of high school. I never wore my hair like this but still felt the need to spend three hours getting my massive amounts of hair curled and styled for my senior pictures. I also never wore makeup, except for my senior photos. So basically this is a photo of someone I never met. I think my internalized patriarchy might be showing a bit. 

Danielle, 2009. The long hair, past the shoulders, not quite to the elbows. About 10 minutes later, I chopped off a 10-inch braid and never looked back.

Danielle, 2009. The long hair, past the shoulders, not quite to the elbows. About 10 minutes later, I chopped off a 10-inch braid and never looked back.

Later (not really “After,” since my hair is an ongoing project):

Danielle, 2014. The Swoop, as it is sometimes known, is exactly what my hair wants to do, and I let it.
Danielle, 2014. The Swoop, as it is sometimes known, is exactly what my hair wants to do, and I let it.
Danielle, 2015. The hair is short, sassy, and in your face. I get shit done.

Danielle, 2015. The hair is short, sassy, and in your face. I get shit done.

Danielle, 2015. It took me longer to put on my three shirts than it did to do my hair. Short hair = ME! While sporting this ensemble while in line for the restroom, I got into a conversation about genderless restrooms and Idaho politics. I don't think that was a coincidence.

Danielle, 2015. It took me longer to put on my three shirts than it did to do my hair. Short hair = ME! That night, sporting this ensemble while in line for the restroom, I got into a conversation about non-gender-labeled restrooms and Idaho politics. I don’t think that was a coincidence.

Danielle, St. Patrick's Day 2015. You know you're an elementary teacher when the highlight of the week is getting to wear the kelly green capri pants you bought in 2004, with a pair of knee-high St. Patrick's Day socks, and you look totally awesome. A fellow teacher tried to "fix" my hair as we were walking in the building. I said, "No need. It's exactly how it needs to be!"

Danielle, St. Patrick’s Day 2015. You know you’re an elementary teacher when the highlight of the week is getting to wear the kelly green capri pants you bought in 2004, with a pair of knee-high St. Patrick’s Day socks, and you look totally awesome. A fellow teacher tried to “fix” my hair as we were walking in the building. I said, “No need. It’s exactly how it needs to be!”