Thursday, November 16, 2017

End Misogyny for Safer Schools and Better Learning




Apparently I'm using the last few weeks of grad school for feminist bird-dogging on the discussion boards. I thought this one was worth sharing more widely.

-------

When I was a third grade teacher here in Philadelphia, I was assaulted by a student about once per month. I had heavy lab tables pushed into me. I had a student try to break my thumb. I was shoved into a door, kicked into a desk, subject to fat-phobic, misogynist, and homophobic slurs. I had a student who walked from desk to desk, telling girls that he was going to rape them, and then the principal said he did it because I stressed him out. I had a student throw a large metal locker at me and was admonished to stop “putting myself in harm’s way.”

Marzano says that “If teachers and students do not feel safe, they will not have the necessary psychological energy for teaching and learning (53) but I would take that one step further—I experienced days in the classroom so traumatic that I felt like did not have access to my brain at all. Years later, a therapist explained that that feeling was accurate: panic shuts down the language center of the brain.

In their post “A Silent National Crisis: Violence Against Teachers”, the American Psychological Association said that EIGHTY PERCENT of teachers surveyed nationally in 2014 had been victimized within the last school year. (http://www.apa.org/education/k12/teacher-victimization.aspx) Even more disturbingly, the article didn’t make suggestions for how to change the system that led to this problem, but instead gave teachers tips to avoid being victimized. This essentially sets up an abusive relationship between the class and the teacher, with her on the lookout for signs that someone might get upset and hurt her. Because when she gets hurt, it will be her fault.

I say “she” because teaching is a traditionally female profession, and thus we are subject to the same structural problems that underlie the rest of American culture. As even a cursory glance at the internet (or the 2017 election results) will show, we are currently in the process of dismantling the system of misogyny, and I think that can have a great benefit in the classroom.

“Teacher training” chimes through every source that we read. A great deal of strategizing is done on that subject on the Common Core video that we watched. Marzano asserts that a “guaranteed and stable curriculum” is the number-one priority for school improvement (15) and the Common Core can go a long way toward attaining and standardizing that goal.

I want to make it clear here that I’m not blaming the children AT ALL. They are subject to the same power dynamics, the same toxic masculinity, the same gender enforcement, the same sludge of patriarchal contempt that we are, and then they are trapped in an environment that doesn’t respect their humanity.

But we can’t use the training we are given if all of our physical and emotional energy is devoted to a codependent relationship in which we must guard against attacks rather than enjoying a respectful and healthy rapport with students.

Add to this the now-almost-expected news of in-school mass shootings, and it is a wonder anyone ever learns anything at all.

If we as a society could find a way to treat women with respect instead of contempt, to honor teachers as professionals rather than blaming us for any imagined shortfall, and to hear us when we ask for what we really need, then the goal of a safe and orderly learning environment would be much more attainable.

Common Core: What's next for school systems? (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2017, from http://www.aei.org/events/common-core-whats-next-for-school-systems/
Marzano, R. J. (2003). What works in schools: translating research into action. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
(n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2017, from http://www.apa.org/education/k12/teacher-victimization.aspx



Tuesday, October 24, 2017

We Did an Incredibly Badass Thing, and We’re Still Doing It!


“Of all the men and women running for president, I found her to be the most qualified, comprehensive in her understanding of domestic and foreign policy, progressive and charismatic. I wanted to write about her and engage rigorously with her ideas far more than I did. But I didn’t. In part, I did not have the energy to deal with the inevitable backlash, from corners right and left. In part, I was trying to understand the popularity of Bernie Sanders because so many people I respect supported him and his ideas. And of course, there was that overconfidence, which, in hindsight, I am ashamed of. Nothing should be taken for granted in a democracy.”

--Roxane Gay, Hate That Doesn’t Hide, August 18,2017

Roxane Gay is not in the top billion people I would blame for Trump’s election. She is one of the most powerful voices of the Resistance, and I tend to think of her as President of the Survivors. Though I’ve never met her, (she did write me a kind and thoughtful rejection letter back when she was editing Pank) she has been with me in my survivor’s fight. If Hillary Clinton is my psyche’s political mom, then Roxane Gay is a big sister, fighting off bullies with her grace, honesty, and self-reflection.

But the fact that this incredible hero of mine felt afraid to voice her Hillary support helps me understand what all of us, including/especially Roxane Gay, have accomplished in these last three years.

A few nights ago, I was driving home at the end of a yucky, crampy, stressful-for-really-no-reason kind of day. I had the window open to stave off some stress-nausea.  A big white SUV pulled up next to me at a stoplight, and the young white man in the passenger seat started screaming at me:

“Did you really vote for Hillary?! Fuck you!”

He threw a just-lit cigarette at me (Thank goodness it didn’t come in the window.) and kept screaming as they drove away. I got home and called my best friend, jangled and afraid, sitting on the bathroom floor in case I threw up. At first I asked Amy to come over and sit with me, but an eerie calm came over me all at once. A voice in my head (or heart?), the voice that has taken me bravely though all these years as a trauma and abuse survivor:

He's mad because he has already lost. He knows he can’t make us go away.

I thought of my bumper stickers and all of the wonderful momentary connections they’ve allowed me to make—the happy and sad waves, the curious expressions, the kids who eagerly turned to see who was driving. I forget which anti-tyranny expert said it, but the signs of Resistance aren’t there to convince the other side, they’re to let the oppressed know they’re not alone.

By supporting Hillary Clinton, no matter how, we changed the cultural and political landscape forever, and we did it in a constant minefield of triggers, under threats,  condescension, and shaming from both Trump’s party and our own. We may not have won the election, but we’re still here, and we are coming together in ways I would never have dared to dream of.

I’m not just writing this to shore up optimism, but to honor the constant daily achievement of survivors. Like many other women, I struggled to feel safe and sane during and after the election. Like so many other women, I flashed back to my own rape and abuse every time I passed a TV with the news on (WHY ARE THERE SO MANY TVS ON EVERYWHERE?!) or scrolled through my feeds.

Making it worse were the feelings of abandonment and betrayal, the sense that I could never stop being at war with men. Almost every male person I considered a friend supported Hillary begrudgingly or passively, if at all. Whether by apathy or antipathy, almost every male person I know chose his own supremacy over the health and safety of women. To me, it really felt like almost everyone I knew was ready to embrace rape as long as it didn’t mean giving up the social capital that vocally supporting Hillary Clinton costs.

AND YET, to paraphrase the words of Mitch McConnell which I am bizzarely about to have tattooed on my arm, nevertheless, we persisted. SOMEHOW there was an opening at Women Organized AgainstRape and I entered weekly trauma therapy at the beginning of March. My therapist is an absolute champion of letting me weave my personal story in and out of politics, never asking me to tone down my anger or not take things personally—she knows, maybe we all know, that politics is always personal.

Yesterday I made the decision to phase out weekly therapy and dedicate my  Monday afternoons to things that are not trauma, and that 100% feels like Reclaiming My Time.

SO I want to step back and marvel. The night of the election, in addition to the terror and heartbreak, a deep warm, powerful sensation pulsed through my body. I guess it could have been panic, but it felt more like resolve, like my soul rising to the occasion and reaching out to join all of the other souls that were doing the same.

Women who support Hillary, I can never thank you enough. Thank you for every Bro you’ve faced down or blocked, every time you’ve had to head the word shill (or shrill, for that matter), for every danger and trigger you’ve faced and still managed to wake up the next day. Whether you fight an inward battle, an outward battle, or a combination of both, thank you so, so much. I’m with you forever and I will never, ever back down.

Keep going, I love you, keep going.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

In a World That Didn't Hate Me or My Students


I just had to draw the ideal classroom for my Educational Research class, and I found myself wanting to share what I wrote:

The last classroom I had, in North Philadelphia in 2014, had all the technological advancements that grants could buy—we had a most-of-the-time working Smartboard, a cart of 30 up-to-date laptops shared between two classes, good, Common Core Aligned textbooks, a schedule built around formative assessment and teacher training, even an enrichment program. My grade partner and fellow teachers were incredibly big-hearted, knowledgeable, extremely hardworking and tough. Yet I was the third teacher that year to go out on FMLA leave (and later resign) due to Acute Stress Disorder. No matter how dedicated I or my students were (and those kids TRIED THEIR HEARTS OUT) we couldn’t keep violence, poverty, prejudice, shame, homophobia, or stress from derailing our beautifully planned and decorated classroom culture. Though we learned to line up perfectly and sang class songs about how “everybody has a seed to sow,” I couldn’t keep the children safe. I thought constantly about the School-to-Prison Pipeline, (https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/538/is-this-working)  and the last week I was there, I dreamed that we were loading the children onto Holocaust trains, and that doesn’t seem like much of an exaggeration.

I’m still not sure how to run a classroom without becoming part of the problem, but it was very healing to imagine what a classroom in a hospitable world would look like.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

What the G.O.P. Gains from Campus Rape

Every once in a while, I look at the Trump administration’s policies and ask the somewhat futile question of “Why?” Mostly the only answer I can come up with is “pure contempt for life itself,” but a trip down the Betsy DeVos rabbit hole gave me a little more specific (though no less alarming) answer.

DeVos has decided to frame campus rape as a crime that victimizes both the survivor and the rapist. Her stated goal is to minimize the damage to “the accused,” apparently having missed the movie with that title.

I feel like for the most part society at least has acknowledged that rape cases generally put the victim on trial, asking her to demonstrate enough “innocence” in herself to prove that she is somehow virtuous enough for rape to be possible, rather than her very female existence being, in itself, a kind of consent.

But to DeVos and the Men’s Rights Advocates, rapists are the real victims when it comes to campus rape. (It hurts to even type that sentence.) Along with the rest of our rape culture-steeped society, Trump’s deplorables set out not to preserve women’s right to learn safely, but to preserve the “bright futures” of campus predators. It would seem like the only possible aim here is to shore up the structures of rape culture itself—but why? Why advocate for members of society who feel entitled to the bodies of others without consent? What possible function could that serve?

My assertion is that the aim of making campus rape easier is to drain resources from women and make it harder for us to live independently and advocate for ourselves politically. Though my rape stories didn’t happen on a college campus, I can offer some insight as to what being a rape survivor costs. Like many women, I decided to get my PTSD treated after Trump was elected. I go to exposure therapy every Monday afternoon, drawing out and reliving rape and abuse stories in order to help my brain heal. It takes a long time to bounce back from the sessions, so time off work costs me about $100 per week. I am generally too exhausted to participate in political or artistic activities on Mondays or Tuesdays. A little less than 2/7 of each week is given over to treatment for rape and abuse. That adds up to about $5200 per year, and would be much more if I weren’t lucky enough to be treated at a free clinic. (Women Organized Against Rape! Call them!)

With all that said, I am probably among the luckiest rape survivors in human history. I have the money, time, and support necessary to devote myself to healing, and I have the spiteful and sassy temperament that it takes to stay positive and productive for the other five days of the week, to stay self-actualized and part of the Resistance.

But it’s still time theft. Because of my status as a survivor, I have less time and money to devote both to my own freedom and to the causes that I care about. Multiply that by every well-cared-for survivor, and it’s a lot of days, a lot of money, a lot of women’s physical, emotional, and political resources being siphoned off to recover from rape, and that’s just those of us who are lucky enough to be treated.

The damage done by rape can’t be quantified, and women emerging from college should have the right to devote their full selves to the life they want to lead. My littlest cousin just entered college this week, and my nieces aren’t far behind. I want them to have sovereignty over their own bodies so that they can build whatever life they choose.

So back to my original question of “Why?” Though I fully believe that the Rapist-in-Chief would love nothing more than to create an apocalyptic Handmaiden-scape, I think that everyday Republicans are after something that to them, seems more benign. I think that they want to save us by keeping us in what they think should be our place, and that means protecting male dominance no matter what the cost. I think the landscape the average Republican is trying to create is a whites-only 1950s suburb, where women are happily enslaved in the home and ever more willing to produce white, conformist children, all the while feeding the economy by purchasing ever more expensive kitchen supplies.


The good news, I think, is that that landscape never existed, and that the young women of today don’t want it. No matter what happens to Title IX, the young women of today will not support the G.O.P’s white supremacist misogynist heteronormative ideal. They deserve to own their bodies and their futures, and I hope they won’t have to fight as hard as I did to heal.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Tina Fey Sounded a Little Bit Trumpish with that Cake



“You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent.”

-- The White Supremacist-in-Chief in response to Charlottesville.

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

--Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am (a few weeks late, admittedly) obsessed with Tina Fey’s cake sketch. It’s one of the few things in recent memory that I’ve been able to be even a little equivocal about. She got some amazing points across, and “Yell it into the cake” will be part of my lexicon from now on. The way she ate the thing was mesmerizing, a work of art in and of itself. But to me, her overall takeaway message was one of obedience.

By characterizing protests as “screaming matches” and advising “good, sane Americans” to stay home, she is not only dishonoring Heather Hayer’s death, but encouraging a sense of superiority in those who do nothing. (Having lived through the 2016 election, I can assure you that the apathetic do not need help feeling superior.) I appreciate the empathy for my/our post-Trump feelings of fear and helplessness, but by denigrating anti-Nazi counter-protestors just as much as the torch-bearing monsters they were standing up to, Tina was (maybe satirically? I hope?) echoing the president’s claim that there was blame on both sides.

Lumping in all protests as unproductive and undignified seems especially out of step, considering this sketch shares a year with THE LARGEST PROTEST IN HUMAN HISTORY, and the assertion of helplessness is ridiculous, given the number of Confederate monuments that did come down after Charlottesville. Tina rants into the cake on the Water Protectors behalf while at the same time insinuating that they and their allies are less-civilized than those who stay home. Would she tell John Lewis that he’d participated in “screaming matches,” and that he should have stayed home? Listing off meaningful protests seems like just as annoying an undertaking as listing off women who are funny. When you’re starting from a crazy false premise, no amount of evidence will help.

I think every person with a platform, large or small, has the moral obligation to loudly and unambiguously stand with anti-hate action of all kinds. So, from my so-tiny-as-to-be-almost-nonexistent platform, I’ll say this:


Self care IS resistance, but resistance is also self-care. If we continue to prioritize our own safety and ignore threats to our fellow humans, our actions are no longer self-nurturing but nihilistic. White supremacy isn’t an event that we can choose to attend or not attend, it is woven so deeply into the fabric of our society that every single one of us can fight it, in large and small ways, every day. Helplessness is what Trump wants us to feel, and stress-eating is an outdated misogynist concept. Dear fellow white ladies, dear everyone: eat for pleasure and fight like hell for your fellow humans, in whatever way you can.

Friday, September 8, 2017

What I Hear When They Say “Bernie would’ve won.”



This is a hard post to write—the voices of depression, self-erasure, and totalitarian-times pre-obedience all tell me to knock it off, that I’m just being annoying and trying to sabotage my remaining friendships out of grief. Outside influences including the bullying team of socialist mostly-white-dudes formed post-election call for “unity, but I’m pretty sure what they’re asking for is obedience.
There’s a little volcano in my gut made out of the b-word, and every once in a while, it explodes, and there’s yelling. I’m embarrassed by my yelling, but I take comfort in knowing that if I were Bernie, my occasional blustering incoherence would be seen as “authentic” and “revolutionary” rather than unhinged and shrill. Stupid gender.
So here’s an attempt to be coherent, to put into words what I hear when someone says “Bernie would’ve won.”

1.     Trump is your/Hillary’s/women’s fault. As a rape survivor, I’m used to carrying blame in my body that isn’t mine. Health and healing demand that I rebel against it, but trauma has placed an “If I wouldn’t have…” deep in my psyche. So when people blame Hillary supporters for the election of Trump, the nausea and pain of false blame bubbles to the surface and I hiss and flail and panic to get it off me.

Through all of human history, women have absorbed blame that isn’t ours and have been rewarded with social capital when we are willing to take the side of the oppressor. As the Rapist-in-Chief’s decisions prove to be just as hateful and apocalyptic as we thought they would be, the blame feels ever more damaging. I don’t want to hear it any more than I wanted to hear “You shouldn’t have been wearing that dress.” at 16 when I told a policemen that a guy jerked off at me in the park. The connection feels like an anxiety-leap, but that doesn’t make it not true.

2.      You/she/women should have stayed in your place. I hear, when people call for unity around Bernie, that same rock-stupid sentiment that bigots use when they blamed President Obama for racism. Instead of acknowledging the tide of misogynist mob-mentality (on both/all sides) that lifted Trump into office, (mostly, but not exclusively, straight white male) Bernie supporters try to make it the fault of those of us who saw Hillary as a way to fight oppression.
“There wouldn’t be all of this tension if people would just stay in their place” is among the most evil and ignorant American ideas, and it is one of the central themes of all hate movements, but ordinary “nice” people revert to it all the time, especially in the context of Hillary-hate.

3.     You don’t deserve representation.

4.    Your/Hillary’s/women’s/people of color’s work doesn’t count. I’ve already written extensively about how irked I am that people tend to discount Hillary’s lifetime of trying to do as much good as she can, largely on behalf of the poor. This national blindspot has given me a clear view of how often women’s work goes unseen. The women (at the headquarters I worked in, it was mostly women, mostly queer women and women of color, in fact) who donated our/their time deserve better than to be dismissed or concern-trolled by those who threw dollar bills at our first major party female candidate from president or sat on the sidelines basking in their white male entitlement, patting themselves on the back for their “progressiveness” even as they harassed and belittled women and people of color for our/their choice of candidate.

5.   . The votes of women and people of color don’t count. This claws its angry way through the system every time someone talks about how the primary was “rigged” or the DNC simply anointed Hillary. There was voting! The gaslighting insistence of their version is so strong that I sometimes have to look up the statistics just to remember it-she just won! The fact that the male candidate with a weaker social justice platform lost doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the system. There are plenty of things wrong with the system, of course, this just isn’t one of them.

6.       White people should get to decide. But we fucking DON’T!
From the Wall Street Journal. I think that anyone who cares about social justice needs to make the opinions of people of color into account, and I hear white people dismiss these numbers all the time.

And take a look at the Trump regime if you want to see what white people’s vision of the county can be!

To me, the continued wistfulness about Bernie Sanders is a socially acceptable analog of Trump-sympathizing. In my opinion, it’s still driven by white male entitlement and white female betrayal/Stockholm syndrome, a desperate clinging to the past, tangled with the denial that race and gender bias exist at all.

It sucks, and it better be fucking taken care of by the time Kamala Harris runs for president.