shame

Schools skirting around issue of uniform

I’ve been waiting for the media to respond to the recent school uniform hysteria with Henderson High School’s unfortunate justification for the enforcement of knee length skirts. I was interested to read a response today and while it touched on some of the issues I was going to raise I became more interested in the comments from the public. It fell into a predictable pattern of ideas about sexual differences between males and females based on their physiological materiality, notions of responsibility and choice as a result of the inevitable outcomes of ‘natural’ male desire and the role of schools to police young bodies in order to mute or eliminate this contamination of learning environments. I have four challenges or provocation to put forward:

First a reality check – all teenager are sexual beings. Schools need to accept that cladding bodies in a uniform will not prevent young people seeing each other in these ways, they will be attracted to each other, and it won’t just be opposites attracting. Sexuality is always present, not at a particular year level, not when certain body parts develop, its part of being a human – even in accounting.

Second – schools emphasise sexual difference through clothing deemed appropriate for males and females. If schools are serious about de-sexualising young people as best they can they would all be in long pants or long skirts – or skirt like attire. There is also the issue of female bodies and breasts – will a school dare to say over a certain size they must be bound or that an over garment will be shapeless and baggy like a sheet. But we might not be able to stop there because people find lips, necks and hair sexual – so we might need to cover them as well (hang on – I have a familiar image entering my head).

Third (and perhaps my most provocative point) – of course teens are experimenting and taking risks sexually and experiencing desire with their bodies. Figuring out sexuality however doesn’t begin and end at high school. High school are places where lot of sexual beings exist, including adults – and some teachers are barely out of high school themselves. Schools and teacher training institute need to be more proactive in talking about the very real phenomenon of teacher-student attraction without fear of it dissolving into a moral panic. Our shame about sex and sexuality in general as well as the real power imbalances between adults and young people should be more open to discussion. However I fear we’d rather maintain the institutional paranoia around sex that maintains silence and gendered assumptions which make the teaching environment a vulnerable space particularly for male teachers who’s interactions and behaviour will always be under scrutiny for ‘inappropriate’ interactions.

Finally. Rape is a violation – a violation of respect and is often an act of extreme violence with traumatic outcomes for survivors. But we need to stop linking uncontrollable sexual desire in men and the sexual provocation of women to some predetermined natural outcome of sexual difference that rape is part of. It enables and maintains justification of date rape, sexual conquest a a right of passage and a ‘scoring’ of masculinity points. While sexual difference has largely focussed on male desire, female desire and sexuality has largely been ignored or misrepresented. Finding out more about how male and female bodies are similar in spite of the more obvious differences will not stop rape but might begin to open space for challenging the assumptions that support rape as a natural outcome of sexual difference.

It is time to stop skirting around the bigger questions and for educators to boldly step into a genuine critique of the purpose of uniforms and what ides schools hang onto in order to justify their continual gender normative policing.

 

 

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The Porn Identity

It’s a delicate subject considering many adults can barely talk to their children about any form of sexual activity. It’s hard enough recognising children as sexual beings for most people, then we think teenagers will somehow ignore these strange wonderful feelings. While some hope that a simple biology lesson should cover it with frequent coughing and rushed syllables it’s clear we can still feel awkward about all forms of sexuality and pleasure in particular. There – I said it – desire and pleasure and warm fuzzy feelings. Human beings are drawn to these experiences like moths to flames and sometimes we get a bit singed and burnt, but we keep coming back for more (hmmm awkward pun). We’ve tended to keep pleasure conversations secret and couched in dodgy metaphors or colloquialisms and education has generally steered clear preferring the reproductive-heterosexual-preventing disease and/or pregnancy focus. Respectful relationships, negotiation and consent might show up however these still fit into a bit of a mechanistic process of sexual activity.

Porn is part of that complex mix of desire which has traditionally been built around male sexuality. It might just be luck but I have never accidentally found porn online or been sent any and I intend to keep it that way. However it is time for a reality check when it comes to young people and the rapid expansion of visual media and online communication. Working as a counsellor in a secondary school I see the first hand effects of the porn on young people. I know older people are impacted as well, but if children and young people are exposed to graphic sexual content from an early age it will inevitably impact on their understanding of sex and sexuality as well as how bodies should look and be during sex. There are also questionable messages communicated about dominance power and submission and ‘men’ and ‘women’ like. Porn can also be used as a form of grooming for abuse. So it is really important we think carefully about where things are at. Time for a deep breath.

The digital age has made both the making and distributing of sexual content easier and accessing it as simple as a google/oggle search, even if unintended. Back in the day it was pretty hard to accidentally purchase magazine or rent a video from the back room and convince someone you were 21. Thankfully there are people like Maree Crabbe who has been researching and working with young people since 1993. I’m pleased someone has done this work and put together some really great resources that have been thoroughly tested and youth approved. Perhaps what might surprise people is the openness about desire and enjoyment of sexual experiences as well as thinking critically about the gendered stereotypes and assumptions it can create. Which inevitably confuse and blur understandings of consent without creating a one sized fits all model. Sexuality is in there to so they have covered all bases…so to speak.

Parents might not want to know but they need to know this stuff. Again there is a generation gap, so let’s not just fill it with fear and avoidance or blame and shame. Fill it with knowledge and understanding – it really is time we talked.

Dodgy Digits

My line of work puts me at the scroll face of online abuse, bullying and harassment of young people. Whilst I like to think of myself as youthful I cannot claim any knowledge of what it might be like to be growing into a young adult with so many ways to connect, share thoughts, ideas and more. Taking more clothing off and sharing these pictures with others is a growing phenomenon. I’ve been consulting with police and other agencies recently. It might be a bit hard for many parents to hear but if you have a child who knows how to use a phone and is socially networked you might need to be aware of the new harmful digital communications act.

The uncomfortable truth is young people in their teens are growing an awareness of sexuality, desire and taking risks, pushing boundaries. Some of these edges are new as technology creates alternative mediums and relationships. Parents are playing ‘catch up’ and while the act defines the law it will not necessarily prevent harm, distress, upset and deep regret. One consistent message I’d like to give is for parents to try and not ‘freak out’ and send their teen back into the dark ages of the 1990’s – which to them is last century…metaphorically. If they get it wrong, support them, listen and try and suspend judgement. I’ll come back to support later.

So what should people know? This is just my summary (the act is much more detailed and I do encourage people to read it)

First the act defines harmful as that which if any reasonable person was put in the same position then they would be highly offended. There are 10 criteria that define offensive, a digital communication should not…

1: disclose sensitive personal facts

2: be threatening, intimidating, or menacing

3: be grossly offensive to a reasonable person in the same position

4: be indecent or obscene

5: be used to harass

6: make a false allegation

7: contain things published in breach of confidence

8: incite or encourage anyone to send a message to someone to purposely cause harm

9: incite or encourage someone to commit suicide

10: put someone down (denigrate) for their colour, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability

One of the issues we face is that cameras are out all the time. It is not a crime to take pictures of people in public unless they could expect a privacy. This covers changing rooms, bathrooms, showers. But if they are posted online without someones consent the above criteria kick in.

A tricky bit for young people is the sharing of images with friends or somewhere like facebook. When talking with police recently they were very clear that once an image was ‘shared’ it was a form of consent. I’m not sure I agree and others would naturally challenge this. The issue is the ability to control that image and where it goes. Facebook profile pictures are some of the most common images uplifted and used in other places. So check you profile pics folks. Shutting down and removing images takes time and in my experience it is the worry, fear, anxiety and shame and humiliation that lasts much longer. The rumours start fairly instantaneously and once spinning are very difficult to stop.

If there are sexually suggestive images being shared of any young person under the age of 16 this is also legally classified as child pornography. So yup it’s serious. Your teens need to know this stuff! They also need to know where to get support. Hopefully they can talk to someone in their family. If not someone at school, or netsafe (nz) or the police. If you know someone who is being pressured to send pictures they can use the ‘send this instead’ app.

But we need more open conversations not just ‘thou shalt not take selfies’ lectures. Young people need to lead these conversations in schools. Peer Sexuality Support Teams, Body Image Leaders, Mediators, Prefects…others with capital letters of importance!

Many of us will shake our greying heads and recall the only harmful digital communications we knew about growing up was giving the fingers or making rude words on our calculators. Times change and we need to zero in and be one.

Leaky Bits

Maybe don’t read this if you are eating something:

The human body has some interesting features. But it is our reactions to parts that leak fluids that create some curious social and cultural rules based on the level of perceived appropriateness and acceptability of expulsion. We’re funny about tears and sweat, both completely natural and harmless. There are other bits with some peculiar contradictions and I think it has something to do with the velocity of the fluids leaving the body. Things that drip or ooze take on a passive act but if it shoots out it is active and purposeful. For example a runny nose is a slow drip and generally frowned upon, but a vigorous nasal clear on a football pitch or bike is completely fine. Saliva is a bit the same, a slow drool is not so cool but spitting can be an art form. Some leaks depend a bit on specific plumbing of a particular set of organs. The menstrual cycle for one gives those with that set of plumbing a complicated set of leaks. Bleeding monthly is quite frankly a very poor design. Bladder leakage definitely not as acceptable as a long strong stream and obligatory ‘ahhhhhhh’ if busting. But I am sure I am missing some other form of leak or complementary explosion….ohhh…this is so hard…it’ll come to me.

Butt out of it

I have grown up with pets but I really am a cat lover. My cat Jack is easy to communicate with, he lifts his tail high in the air to greet me and if a cat does this to you it is quite a compliment. He kindly warns me as well if he is not in the mood, swishy-flicky tail. I have my own strange games that I play, silly voices and tricks. It’s a way of bonding and being with each other and yet I still respect his need to be cat like. If he brings in birds he gets congratulated and I quietly dispose of the corpse. I’m just glad he isn’t like other cats I know who bring in weta and stick insects I would not be so congratulatory.

Like all felines he has his favourite spots and routines, including waking at 5:30am on the dot even in the holidays. Cleaning is one of them and of course cats are very thorough when it comes to the nether regions. It might come as a surprise that animals are unashamedly naked all the time but should we really take offense? Well some apparently are and want to do a ‘hole cover up’ in order to maintain a sense of decorum. So we have butt bling for cats…what else can you say really. For a while I wondered about the practicality, like how to ‘attach’ the adorning jewels. Youtube answered that and I was relieved to find out no insertion was required. Sure it’s a bit of a fun gimmick and no-one will really take it seriously and I have no doubt the cats who don’t want to wear one will not have one on for very long.

But seriously leave animals in their natural state. If people have hang ups on body parts so be it but let’s not transfer our insecurities. And besides if you don’t want people to look, sticking something glittery and sparkly isn’t likely to help.

Playing along for a moment I think a dangling a big eye would be the best – brown of course.

Flagging change

If I was an entrepreneur I would be thinking seriously about getting into the flag industry. From the passionate to the privileged, patriotic to political there is a growing movement toward marking territory along lines of separation in the present that flow into the past and future of which all happen now with real effects that can be felt in persecution, disavowal, and fear. There is a new flag on the block and it’s got nothing to do with NZ trying to decide how to resignify our place such that the rest of the world finally knows we are not the east island of Australia.

The Russians are all in a flap about family values and have decided they need to help people pick a side. This flag is meant to be a counter to the increasing profile of the rainbow one used as a visible representation of the invisibility of those falling outside heteronormativity. The idea of ‘straight pride’ being captured by a flag with a family on it reveals other invisibility. Clearly unless you have three ‘able bodied’ children of clear gender expression (based on clothing and marginal hair length differences) and two parents you are not a good model of heterosexuality. They might have gone with a simpler version that both mirrors and contrasts the rainbow. A simple black and white with no shades of grey, although they might want to refrain from using any symbols – been a bit of confusion with regard to black and white flags recently. Alternatively Russians themselves could fly all sorts of family flags without deviating from a man and woman being the parents. Mixed race couples, people with varying body shapes and functional uniqueness, and the obligatory alternative numbers of children that could make for a family unit – including 0.

South Carolina could consider adopting its state flag for public display, how many people know what it looks like? It’s one that might help cast off the shackles of mixed meaning because regardless of now the past lives and replays certain acts and scenes if given the chance under particular signs that have been etched in the fabric of time itself. We need to remember that rallying under a banner has been an effective propaganda technique for centuries and symbols can be turned from one meaning to another just ask any Hindu about the Svastika.

So to Russia with love – being heterosexual is not a crime in any country, you cannot be sent to jail, killed or denied basic human rights simply for being straight. Pride is only possible against a background of shame, the blood of those lost to hate crimes might make a good backdrop for your new flag – red…somehow I think that has other connotations.

Back to the drawing board.

Talk that needs to change frequency

It’s a bit of a conundrum turning the radio on in the morning with a young pair of ears in the car. There is the option of popping in a CD but sometimes it’s nice to let someone else do the music selection with a bit of banter, but some like to talk, ….and talk, and rant, and make sexual references. While this is happening I am desperately reaching for the off button and juggling hot coffee. Bracing for the questions and planning a response at that hour of the morning is mental gymnastics and my brain is barely warmed up and feels like it’s about to do the splits.

Some might say ‘well just don’t listen’ and I could agree to some extent that choosing to switch or change channel might be a good option. But it was also evident at the Weetbix Tryathlon where radio DJ’s host the pre and post event hyping there was a general disregard for the age of the audience that was largely children. What I’m not so sure about is why DJ’s feel so compelled these days to entertain via the use of humiliation and degradation? It’s a bit like what’s happened to MTV – yes Music Television… I don’t see a lot of music on there anymore, time for a rebrand I think. The strange thing about radio is you often don’t see it coming like with TV and the content can swing so suddenly as to catch you off guard – a psychic side swipe. But I also don’t want sanitised radio with no humour (gosh I’m sounding hard to please).

But here is the thing, if I like a particular style of music then there is an assumption made about my character or personality and perhaps DJ’s make generalisations and think up clever ways to embarrass people or shame them in the name of attracting more listeners and maybe that is the point. Radio has become a vehicle for adults to legitimately bully others with music thrown in for good measure from time to time. Commuters scrunched up in rush hour traffic want to vent, so DJ’s are encouraged in some ways go to lowest levels to distract listeners from the mundane and target the frustration elsewhere. Some stations and DJ combinations are worse than others and I have never had any issue with the concert programme funnily enough – just not a lot of nine inch nails or foo fighters, not even as covers (although you never know).

Just spin records guys and stop spinning s*&^
Ahhh just realised radio is all digital…
Only real DJ’s spin vinyl