Dear Schools, Please Stop Gender Policing Your Students
I’m almost 30, so I think I qualify as an adult. I need to ask you, from one adult to another, can we please stop laying our baggage on kids? Can we please agree to not do that anymore?
I know that for decades, centuries even, we’ve been telling ourselves that boys act one way and girls act another and that boys and girls are the only two options. However, I really wish we could get over this misconception. At the very least, I wish we’d stop enforcing these misconceptions in schools.
The most recent instance of gender policing comes from Kansas, where a 13-year-old boy was suspended for carrying a purse. The student, Skylar Davis, had apparently been carrying this purse for months until a school official demanded that he put it away. According to Raw Story:
After telling Assistant Principal Don Hillard that he wasn’t going to take the purse off, Davis’ mother, Leslie Willis, was called to pick him up.
“I was a little furious, and I called the school [and spoke to Hillard] to reverify the story, and yeah, he refused to take off his Vera Bradley bag, nothing more to do it,” Willis recalled to KCTV. “Skylar has been going to school since August with that same Vera Bradley bag on, hasn’t taken it off. What is the problem?”
Willis added that there was no rule about purses in the school handbook.
Davis pointed out that girls at the school never faced punishment for wearing their purses.
For their part, the superintendent said that middle school students are forbidden from bringing bags to class and that this rule is enforced for both boys and girls.
Color me skeptical that a girl would be suspended for carrying a purse. Maybe I’d believe it if this was the only time schools have been in the business of enforcing antiquated gender norms on unsuspecting kids. But it isn’t. Far from it.
There is no indication of Davis’ sexuality or gender identity, and it doesn’t matter. However, the root of this potential discrimination is very similar if not identical to the discrimination LGBT students face from their schools every day.
Even though it’s 2013, gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans students are still systematically discriminated against at schools throughout the country. Private Christian schools in Georgia expel LGBT students and their allies as a matter of course, all while receiving millions of state dollars. A teen in North Carolina was only allowed to take his boyfriend to prom because an awesome mom intervened. A six-year-old girl was told by her Colorado school that she wouldn’t be allowed to use the appropriate bathroom.
But wait. There’s more. Remember how hard it was to get the Anoka-Hennepin school district to adopt an inclusive anti-bullying policy? And of course, we can’t forget that it’s OK in Texas to “out” gay students to their parents.
I can’t go on. It’s bumming me out. But I think you get my drift. This is all about how people “should” present themselves and behave. These are arbitrary standards that are changing all the time and, more importantly, they are absolutely meaningless. So a boy wants to carry a purse. So maybe a girl wants to date another girl. So maybe a kid’s gender doesn’t match his physical appearance. So what? Punishing kids for failing to fit into strict gender norms is only harmful. It tells kids that there is a narrow range of attributes that are acceptable. Not only does it sell children short, but it sells society short, as well. Who knows what kind of potential we’d discover these kids have if we could stop laying our gender baggage on their shoulders. We’re never going to find out if we keep forcing every individual into cookie cutter forms.
Help send the message to all schools that gender policing is not OK by demanding that Anderson County Senior-Junior High School let Skylar wear his purse to school.
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