Monday, December 7, 2009

Teaching Against Misogyny

Misogyny is a theme that appears again and again in my classroom. (I raise it sometimes; sometimes it rears its own ugly head.) We recently finished the Freedom Writer’s Diary, in which some students shared their painful experiences of rape and sexual abuse. The reactions of my young students to this is fascinating. Many of the young men in particular state that they’d become violently angry if someone abused a mother or sister of theirs. I can see them shaking their heads and almost growling as we read. The young women sometimes do the same. And of course, some of my own students have written about their experiences of rape, abuse or even prostitution.

The journal of one of my young women, who is happily not here any more, wrote about having sex with strange men who “offered” her food and shelter. At this point in her life, she was sleeping on park benches. Was she raped? Or was this consensual? I certainly can’t see a thing consensual about it given her life circumstances and age. Just like being a racist doesn’t have to mean you’ve got a pointy white hood for lynching, sexism doesn’t have to mean you beat up women. They both can be much more subtle than that.

How then do we teach against misogyny? How do we make it visible in the Hobbesian world of random, family or gang violence? How do I tell my students misogyny is wrong when I’ve seen other adults here snicker along with the kids at the music video portrayals of women? One recent conversation with my students really drove this home. In a couple of poems we were reading, the young women who wrote them expressed the desire to be taken seriously for their ideas and mind. Some students expressed the view that that’s great except in the ‘hood. There, men are and should be in charge, the argument went. That’s just how it is. Life is too dangerous otherwise. Even more depressingly, it was two of my girls expressing this view! I was reminded once again that part of “reforming” schools is developing communities. All too often efforts at reforming methodology, holding teachers accountable or reducing school violence happen in isolation from or in the absence of community development initiatives. Unless they harmonize, school reform will fail.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Cheryl Duckworth said...

Thanks so much for the encouragement and for stopping by!

corey_paul_couvoisier said...

I think it is great that you devote your life to teaching for peace. Is that the same as the propagation of peace? You have a gift of writing about your student's viewpoints, being succinct at pointing out their neighborhoods shape their beliefs and attitudes. This shows your understanding of how environment shapes people, in this case, their beliefs and attitudes. Do you have any favorite studies on changing attitudes/beliefs where there is a lack of peace? I saw this article by Wolfe DA et al., 2009) (in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. 163(8):692-9).
This article reviews a study of a school-based curriculum to see if it changes high school students' attitudes toward dating violence. Let me know what you think. Take care, and keep up the good work!

Cheryl Duckworth said...

Thank you so much, Corey, for the kind words and the reference. Ian Harris has written some of my favorite contemporary work. Let me look through my references to see if there is a particular article. The new book Building Cultures of Peace: Transdisciplinary Voices of Hope and Action also has some great studies of schooling in conflict/war zones and building peace through schools in such contexts.

Thanks for stopping by!