“Thanks, sweetie”

‘Could you pick up those pens, Sara? . . . Thanks, sweetie’

Ok sir, I don’t mind getting them

I might’ve dropped them,

but can I be your mate, your pal?

Like Khaleb, Ben and David?

How come they your friends,

when I’m some little darling?

Guess that’s how it is

and it’s not so much bother.

Least you answer my questions

not like some others.

Dad calls me ‘sweetie’ too –

he listens to my brother, but tells me

I ‘won’t get it, go and pester your mother’,

and I go upstairs, find mum’s bag

read ’20 ways to impress your man’.

Sounds complicated, not just the golden rules.

You don’t just tell the truth,

it doesn’t do to be too kind,

and you must never, ever, speak your mind.

So I smile and toss my hair, as I reach beneath the table.

I’m helping my teacher, I’m a good girl, he likes me.

I wrote this after a day in a year 5 class, with a young male teacher. He was unusually not-strict and flexible for the school, and did a few really good things to manage the classroom fairly, and the class clearly liked him pretty well. But he used some gendered term or other on me early in the day, which made my ears prick up, and through the day I observed him consistently addressing girls as ‘sweetie’, ‘dear’ and ‘darling’, only using their names when needed for clarity. With boys, he used their names slightly more, but called them, especially those who were more street – cool, ‘mate’ and ‘pal’. Think he just about stopped short of ‘bro’, thankfully for the race and class dynamics there. It bothered me that all the terms for girls imply a paternalistic relationship, while the terms he used for boys all denoted equality.

 

I seriously intended to bring it up – with him, or with other teachers/ management. I didn’t get further than casually bringing it up with other teaching assistants in the staffroom. They all disliked how he was informal, commenting that he also called parents by their first names, and also commented the current yr 6 class (causing reverberations in the school with their naughty/teenagerish behaviour) were fine before he had them for a year. They valued formal respect, appropriate to people in distinct positions. Manners appropriate to cross – hierarchy.

 

Wanting to draw out more of the gender dimension I pointed out ‘these girls are going to expect to accept sexist treatment from their bosses – it’s really not ok. I mean, if [headteacher] were to call all the female teachers and T As ‘sweetie’ and the male ones ‘mate’ that wouldn’t be ok!’. They agreed, but the idea of doing something about this issue was clearly positioned well beyond their power. When a female deputy head started, I felt I would have been able to bring it up with her. But then, in an entirely different story, it came to light that the school had judged me ‘insubordinate’ and ‘not really fitting in to the team’ in my class, and so I concentrated on trying to work out just how this had come about, and never followed up the sexism. Oh, and the male teacher in question got some sort of national outstanding teacher award. Making it even less possible to criticise him as a temporary teaching assistant who ‘really has to be the most flexible person on the team’ as was explained to me by the head.

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Take our Feminist Movement survey

Warning: pissing on other feminists’ organising cornflakes a bit. Dear UK Feminista: I think it’s great you did a survey. But it . . . just doesn’t really . . . somehow I had an unexpectedly strong reaction while responding to this survey by UK Feminista. I stumbled across it from the excellent Feminist Webs which I had been reccomended as a resource for networking feminists and girls/ young women’s groups (of which there is an exciting resurgence at the moment), and thought I’d supportively fill it in. But I wrote so much that I wanted to write it up.

feminista survey

The survey started, after the offer of a free T-shirt & tote bag or somthing:

“Tell us about your passions, priorities and needs in our online survey” 

Sure. Ok. I scrolled on down. First question: 

  • Are you part of a feminist, women’s or other campaigning group?* YesNo
  • If yes, what is the name of your group?

Ah, well . . . what group? There are different groups I sometimes attend, and do different things with. I’m not sure if I’m part of any of them. Is there a maybe? I don’t have any group that I primarily identify myself with.

Hackles up, I continued.

  • Please describe your involvement in feminist activismFor example, have you run or participated in any campaigns? Have you attended any demonstrations or protests?

OK, can we just address that formalised feminist activism, in the form of demonstrations or protests, is NOT THE ONLY SORT. I have attended plenty demos, reclaim the night, pro-choice stuff, uh, and erm, loads of non demo/protests . . .one the most worthwhile things I have ‘done’  was a women’s split off from our anarcho network, a group of women in activism joining together to have conversations we hadn’t had before, unfortunately is didn’t get through the puke phase into the productive FUCK YEAH WE WANT TO ORGANISE ON THIS stage, but it felt connected and real and valuable . . .

and wait a minute. actually, this is just not where I’m at.
my feminist activism is my hairy legs and armpits when I work in a school. it’s subverting the make-up out at ‘girls’ club’ at a secondary special needs school with girls who can barely assent yet alone comprehend or express fully why & how they might want to use make up by joking about it, by suggesting to boys that they put on some eyeshadow to bring out the colour of their eyes, and how pretty they’d look if they did, and then in the staffroom discussing how we push genderroles onto kids, in a way that connects with the other staff who will not self identify as feminists.

It’s supporting my women friends in any and everyway, being actively non-judgemental. It’s telling a woman who’s beating herself up about getting interviews but no jobs that it’s capitalism, not her, and capitalism and the patriarchy want her to blame herself and try harder (in more user-friendly language).

It’s dealing with intimacy and power and expectation and consent and our histories in our interactions and relationships. Recognising that there is a rape culture, and acting on the assumption that we are all affected by this, and knowing that anyone could be a survivor of something that they may not ever want to talk about.

It’s reacting to sexist comments with confrontational or jokey or provocative responses. It’s letting a fellow applicant who’s got two kids know that I thought the introduction to our PGCE course where they said ‘by the way, don’t get pregnant this year’ was bang out of order. It’s letting a girl choose to get muddy or not get muddy in the garden.

It’s not ever greeting a girl with ‘oooh you’re pretty aren’t you’ as the first comment, and calling out my colleague when she does it, but finding a way to talk to her which doesn’t make me seem like a wanky PC academic feminist but actually connects with her.

It’s having a conversation on equal terms with that 10ryold girl about playing, growing up, maturity, conflict, bullying, teachers, safety vs sticking up for your friends, football, when she says tentatively ‘it’s like they’re sexist or something’ affirming ‘they are sexist’, and making plans with her for setting up a girls’ group, letting her know that she is able to get things and stick up for herslef in a way that adult women struggle with, but sometimes adult women come together to help each other stick up for themselves better, and seeing her mother, and discussing the issues around the conflict kids have to deal with, and the responsibility as a single mother . . .

It’s pointing out to my partner that he’s been socialised to under-estimate the amount of cleaning that gets done in a house because his mum did the lion’s share, and so actually he’s over estimating the proportion of washing up he’s doing.

And most of these things are things that women do every day without calling them feminist activism. It’s life. And many women who operate in the everyday sphere of feminism normally haven’t had the hours of explicit feminist spaces and campaigns and protest that I have had to to articulate this rant in terms of feminism, and certainly not in response to your question and it’s answer box. Most people have learnt at school and in their workplaces that you should give the answer to a question that is wanted on a form. Say yes, no, specify, elaborate, Don’t question the question, that gets you in trouble.

Well, your box hasn’t run out. I’ve got physical space to write this, but you didn’t invite it. And you wonder why UK feminista isn’t being led by a greater diversity of women. No-one who is at the bottom of the capitalist patriarchal heap has got the energy to come and seek out a movement that’s not going to help them with immediate practical stuff. Go and try meet some people where they’re at and find out how you can support them. This survey isn’t the way to do it.

this next question . . . I like what it’s asking for, but not how it asks it.

  • Describe a feminist action or campaign you have found particularly inspiring or empowering

practical feminist self defence. Getting women who are not necessarily active in Feminism together, to learn and share practical, useful reactions to the violence and oppression and harrasment perpetrated against them, and discovering a commonality of experience, including having learned to be ‘polite’ and also discovering a variety of ways in which we experience harassment etc and choose to deal with it in different circumstances.

  • What are the top three issues you are most passionate about taking action on? women sticking up for themselves women looking after each other

    learning ways to work together for collective action

And the survey went on a little bit more. I think there are some wider reflections to draw out of this, that are dynamics between organising around a campaign, or organising around people as a starting point. I’ve had a lot of recent contact with youth work engaged for social change, in the sense of emancipatory, youth-led, holistic youth work rather than youth services, and discussions around the failures and successes of activism and youth work, and one thing I’m processing from that is picking out those two distinct organising dynamics. I think that Feminista’s survey is a campaign centred approach, which I am just coming to view as inherently and problematically limited in its potential for inclusivity. This, after having entered a-lot of stuff through quite formal, if anarchofeminist in consensus decision making process, groups. I’ve just had a transformation in my levels of connection and motivation, for the better, and I’m trying to formulate and express how my vision of ‘how to organise’ has changed/ what it has become. Thanks, Feminista, for provoking this thought-space. I might try and draft a more people-centred variant on this survey. Or look for an existing one.

Being out in schools -a tribute to Lucy Meadows

“I’d like to be able to say I’ve given something back. I suppose the best way for me to do this would be to educate the people around me and children at school – I am a teacher after all!” -Lucy Meadows

I am sad to only have heard of Lucy Meadows, born Nathan Upton, after her tragic death. Tonight I will be attending a vigil outside the Daily Mail offices to pay tribute and to condemn the hatemongeing perpetrated against her by Stuart Pike, Littlejohn and others within the media, and transphobic and other forms of abuse both in media and more widely. Jane Fae has said a lot of the things which need to be said about the case –to start with Lucy Meadows’ transition was not a newsworthy story  but part of her private life, considers responses and summarises the broader press issue astutely. There’s a big summary of everything on the internet about it here  and a post against media monstering by inforrm. I don’t need to repeat what others have said.

I want to honour Lucy Meadow’s bravery in transitioning openly. Being ‘out’ while working in schools and other institutions working with children and young people is something I have wanted to write about for a while. Being out, in the sense I am using it, means to be open about something which may provoke negative reactions, and which it might be easier to hide. This can potentially mean many things, and I am thinking in particular of sexual orientation , political or religious beliefs or practice, health conditions, personal background, gender identity and activities considered devious by society or law. To me it is aspirational to be as wholly out as is possible while maintaining privacy and appropriate boundaries. This is a question of providing a human example of different possibilities in life.

Children are exposed to many role-models as they grow up, but there are some arenas where these role-models present a narrow and conformist vision of life. Gender-normative, heterosexual, non-disabled, white and affluent bodies and lifestyles are magnified by the mainstream media and culture industries far beyond the portion of our society they make up. Children who do not fit into these roles have it harder to find their way into an adult identity. When Section 28 was in place, teachers were at risk of losing their jobs if they were out as non-heterosexual. Imagine being a gay teacher, dealing with a case of homophobia, and being unable to use oneself as an example of a person the children know who is gay. Even with Section 28 repealed, that takes bravery. People do it though, because making a group of people human is the most powerful weapon against prejudice directed against that group. More and more teachers are providing role-models of openly being different from the norm and young gay people are increasingly coming out as teenagers, rather than in their 20’s.

Trans* people are in a very specific situation. People do not choose to be born in the wrong body, to experience gender dysphoria. But when they seek to transition to present a gender which matches their identity, they are rewarded with transphobia in many forms, which can deny their post-transition gender-identity and treat them as freaks in ways which cisgender people just do not come up against. The numbers of non-cisgender people are hard to estimate, because many people avoid submitting to the gruelling process of pursuing transition through the state in favour of a more discreet and private process. A rate of 1 in 1000 would means there is likely to be one child in 35 classes who might transition in later life, quite different from the average of 3 children in a class of 30 who will be homosexual. However, these children are no less deserving of proper treatment. The chances of a child with gender dysphoria coming across a trans* role-model in person are low. But a school community who experience a teacher’s transition as a low-key event are better prepared to accept a friend or acquaintance who goes through gender transition as a person.  Every ‘out’ transition that is accepted makes it just a bit easier for others to go the same process – or for trans* people in schools and elsewhere to be out regarding their birth gender.

Lucy Meadows showed not only commitment to her school community by staying in the same school through her transition, giving continuity to her class and colleagues, but commitment to the ideal that people should not have to uproot and reinvent themselves if they transition to a different gender. People should be able to share the possibility of changing their gender without fear of rejection. Families should not disown their sons if they become their daughters. And maybe if there are more visible queer  gender expressions , everyone will be able to find a gender expression that fits them, and none of these will be harder to defend than any other. It seems appropriate to end on Lucy’s words, as an inspirational role-model to those of us concerned as teachers about being out at school and educating by example, (source):

“I was lucky to have a supportive head,” she wrote, “but I think I’d have done it here regardless as I couldn’t put it off any longer and I have family and financial commitments as well. The guidance I’ve had from the trans community has been generally sound and very much appreciated, and I’d like to be able to say I’ve given something back. I suppose the best way for me to do this would be to educate the people around me and children at school – I am a teacher after all!”