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April 27, 2011

Prevent bullying by... missing the point?

Well here's a 'new' approach to preventing bullying...

Apparently, a male high school student who wore high heels to school was asked to remove them by the principal.

Pleaser Women's Seduce-420 Pump,Red Patent,9 MPleaser Women's Seduce-420 Pump,Red Patent,9 MPleaser Women's Seduce-420 Pump,Red Patent,9 M

We've seen this happen plenty of times... whenever a student dares to push boundaries or refuses to conform to gender stereotypes.
  • Back in 1999, a male high school student in Virginia was forced to go home and change after wearing a skirt to school. The administration claimed that it was a distraction.
  • In October 2009, a 16-year-old student in Georgia was kicked out of school for dressing too much like a girl (because it was consdiered "disruptive" clothing), despite claims that he had cleared his style of dress with the school authorities when he first moved to Georgia from Miami.
  • In November 2009, a 17-year-old student in Houston was sent home from school for wearing high heels and a wig. He said that he had gradually become a cross-dresser at school over two years, but that was the first time he had worn a wig. School officials claimed his look was "over the top" and "too disruptive", however other students claim he looked "like any other female there" so it wasn't a distraction.  
  • In 2009, a 17-year-old lesbian student in Mississippi was told she could not wear a tuxedo in her yearbook photo because she was female. The ACLU fought on her behalf, but the school chose not only to not include the photo in the book but the yearbook excluded her completely and didn't even mention her name.
  • In February 2010, a male high school student in Mississippi was sent home from school for dressing like a girl. He said that he didn't have any 'boys clothes'; a group of girls later dressed as boys to protest.
  • Earlier this month, an 18-year-old female student in Illinois won the right to wear a tuxedo to her prom, with the help of the ACLU, after school officials had previously told her that girls must wear dresses.
But there's something a little bit different about this incident. Riverview High School Principal Bob Heilmann said that he requested that the male student remove his high heels out of concern for the student's safety.

"Part of bullying is to try to prevent it, whether people make fun of what you are wearing, or your hair. If I can prevent that, I will prevent that," said Heilmann.
So... if someone is being bullied for being different... the best way to stop it is to force the student to stop being so damn different? Talk about victim-blaming at its finest.

We're glad that Heilmann is concerned about his students' safety, but forcing them to conform will not prevent bullying. All it does is reinforce the sentiments that are responsible for this type of bullying in the first place: that it's wrong to be different. And more specifically, that it's wrong to be gender non-conforming. (Which, in turn, supports the message that it's wrong to be gay.)

Rather than policing the behavior of the victims, a better approach to bullying prevention would be to address the behavior of... the bullies themselves. It doesn't matter how much the school district tries to control the students' wardrobe choices; bullies will find something different about them to torment them for... unless they are taught the lesson that it's okay to be different.
The article also quotes psychologist Susan Swearer, who was recently asked by the Obama administration to share her expertise on bullying at a conference at the White House:

"We know that kids are bullied because they're different; but what's different in one community may not be different in another community..."   [...]
"If an administrator feels that a student is drawing unnecessary attention to himself or herself, the thing to do would be to talk to the parents and say that 'I'm concerned that because of their dress, they could draw attention to themselves.'" [...]
She says the question we should be focusing on is, "How do we raise kids who don't fall prey to bullying?" [emphasis ours]
Did anyone else catch the blatant victim blaming here - done by a psychologist, a highly respected psychologist? How does one raise kids who don't fall prey to bullying? Oh that's easy - you just force your kids to conform, to repress their creativity and self-expression, to hide their sexuality or gender identity, to disguise their true selves. Why can't children and teens draw attention to themselves? Must we mold our kids to be invisible faces in the herd in order to be safe? 

I think the real question we should be focusing on is not how to raise kids who don't fall prey to bullying, but rather how to raise kids who will respect the differences of others. It wouldn't matter what is or isn't 'different' in one community... if we could raise our kids to tolerate - no, appreciate - each other's differences. We need to teach children (and adults) not to hate. And the school districts need to send the message that bullying will not be tolerated. And then everyone can wear whatever the hell they want.


Anonymous said...

there was a guy at my high school who cross-dressed. one day these guys were calling him fag and stuff and you know what he did? he ran over there and kicked all their asses in a dress and heels.

Kza said...

Any kid who goes to school in girls clothes probably knows he is going to get made fun of. Obviously this isn't going to bother the kid so what's the problem? Apathy toward getting bullied is a pretty good way to get rid of bullying in my opinion.

Yandie, Goddess of Pickles. said...

Sometimes I'm so glad I never had boys, because other parents would probably think I was nuts.. "You wanna wear heels to school? You go right ahead honey, but make sure you don't overwork those ankles.."

It's a lot easier to let girls be gender non-conforming than boys (probably because the prevailing attitude is masculine=awesome and feminine=ewwww)

Anonymous said...

I would just like to say bravo to ANYONE who can wear heels. I'm to big of a wuss.

I think that you really should be able to dress how you choose as long as there is no form of hate speech on your clothing.

The way we dress is one of our biggest forms of communicating who we are.

Condo Blues said...

So according to this learned psychologist I wouldn't have been bullied in school if I wasn't too lazy to grow and be as tall as the rest of the students in my school instead of the shortest?