Bluestockingsrs passed along this article from the San Francisco Chronicle about school dress codes, or the lack thereof, and students’ summer attire. Well, that’s what it pretends to be about, anyway, but “Scanty attire: Teaching the girls of summer” is really about how tough it is to be a male teacher avoiding trouble when female students are such sluts.
Those short skirts and low-cut tops that accompany the warming late spring weather can be fantastic if you’re a hormonal teenage boy. For thousands of male high school teachers in the Bay Area, however, higher temperatures and rising hemlines are anything but a welcome development.
That’s the opening paragraph. Notice anything missing? The girls who don “those short skirts and low-cut tops” aren’t even mentioned—just the clothing items themselves, which is nothing more than a polite way of saying “those thighs and titties,” because it isn’t the clothes that are getting the blood pumping in “hormonal teenage boys.” And check out the framing: Girls titillating boys who can fuck them is “fantastic.” Girls titillating men who can’t fuck them is “anything but a welcome development.”
The last few days before summer vacation can present an uncomfortable no-win situation — where teachers must either ignore distracting clothing choices and dress code violations by their female students, or find creative ways to confront the problem.
A male teacher ignoring female students’ “distracting clothing choices” presents a no-win situation only if one is under the assumption that men have an undeniable right to respond however they want to women’s bodies and denying them that right puts an undue burden on men. It is that precise assumption that then makes requiring women to cover up their bodies, thereby ostensibly preventing men from having an “uncontrollable” reaction, the only solution to this otherwise “uncomfortable, no-win situation.”
And what does it mean, exactly, for a male teacher to be so distracted by female students wearing “those short skirts and low-cut tops” that they find the situation impossible to ignore? Is the suggestion that it would just make it easier on male teachers if we forced girls to dress a particular way? If so, that hardly seems a fair threshold. Girls, you’re going to have to keep your bodies hidden—and sustain whatever shaming about your bodies and message about inequity that decision may entail—to accommodate the unwillingness of your male teachers to deal with a reality of their workplace. Wholly ridiculous, but if it’s something more than that, if the suggestion is that male teachers are likely to snap if forced to be subjected to girls wearing “those short skirts and low-cut tops,” that they are likely to hurt those girls, then it’s worse than ridiculous—it’s frightening.
But, far from bringing up the very real problem of male teachers having inappropriate sexual relationships and/or raping their female students, the article instead repeatedly alludes to the possibility that male teachers will somehow find themselves in trouble for no reason.
Yosha Bourgea, who taught high school in Windsor and currently teaches middle school students in Sonoma County, said he’s also very reluctant to call students on inappropriate dress — because “all it takes to ruin a teaching career forever is the perception of wrongdoing.”
…”I was told by an older teacher my first week on the job: ‘Don’t be in a room with a female student without someone else there,’ ” Bourgea said. “And I don’t do it.”
In conversations with more than a dozen local male teachers, including several from The Chronicle’s Two Cents readers, reaction to girls who dress provocatively is clearly a worry, even though teachers rarely voice their concerns outside of the break room.
And the example given in the article of predatory teachers? Mary Kay Letourneau, naturally. As Bluestockingsrs points out, that case is “memorable because such relationships or assault (female teacher against male student) is the exception rather than the rule,” but it doesn’t have much to do with this story—except, perhaps to undermine its premises. Letourneau’s career was ruined not because of “the perception of wrongdoing,” but because she actually had sex with her student, who, I’m quite certain, was wearing neither a short skirt nor a low-cut top.
Its mention is also useful in redirecting blame for male teachers’ problems on the media; male teachers who successfully made it to retirement, even having taught during the introduction of the miniskirt, only managed to do so, you see, because “that was long before the era of Nancy Grace, ‘Court TV’ and a renaissance for a scandal-loving press, which found ratings nirvana in the 1990s with Mary Kay Letourneau, a Washington state teacher who had sex with her sixth-grade student, went to prison and eventually mothered two of his children.” And if it isn’t the press’ fault, it’s the parents:
Bourgea said people should look beyond clothes for the source of the problem. The students may just be reacting to parents who try to shelter them from some of the less innocent aspects of adolescence.
“The over-the-top hoochie-mama ‘rebellion’ that adolescent girls engage in is a direct response to a culture that is suffering from sexual repression,” Bourgea said. “If folks didn’t get so freaked out over the idea of young people as sexual beings — which doesn’t necessarily mean they all are, should be or want to be having sex — there would be no need for young people to be so freakishly hyper-sexualized.
“And there would be no need for teachers like me to treat female students like asbestos.”
So…he’s treating female students like asbestos (!!!) because female students are dressing provocatively in response to sexual repression…and the way to combat that is to…tell them to cover up their bodies because male teachers can’t handle it. Genius.
Now, I don’t want to ignore the issues that: 1. There is some attire that is simply not appropriate for school (just as it would not be appropriate in most professional environments); and 2. There is a way to convey to girls that they neither need to be ashamed of their bodies nor show them off at all times. These are serious concerns, for teachers and parents, and they need solutions. Hey, look—right in the same article and everything—solutions!
[Donn Harris, principal of San Francisco’s School of the Arts] will recruit a female colleague when a student is wearing something that is too revealing, even for School of the Arts. “I discuss a lot of things with kids. And I’m still more comfortable going to a female staff member,” Harris said. “I think they’ll connect in a way that’s more meaningful, and it’s just better that way.”
…[W]hen Mountain View High School instituted a dress code in the 2004-05 school year, [Dennis Devine, who retired in 2005 after teaching for 38 years] said it was a group of students who helped decide on the stricter standards, a process that worked well.
Wow. Imagine that. Maybe it’s not “an uncomfortable, no-win situation” after all!
And so we come to the part of the post where we wonder what ultimate purpose did this article serve, going as it did to such great pains to bury the practical and existing solutions to an issue that was framed from its outset to be an unwinnable problem for male teachers unless girls were shamed and blamed?
Oh. Well, gee. Maybe there’s our answer.
It’s really informative to look at this article within the context of a classic victim-blaming article. Consider any of the number of articles about which I’ve written in the last couple of months in which rape victims were blamed for getting themselves raped because of what they were wearing, how much they were drinking, where they were, etc.—every one of them follows the same basic premise as this article.
1. Men can’t control themselves.
2. Women are irresistible seductresses.
3. Women’s displayed bodies are community property.
4. A woman who dresses provocatively is giving explicit consent to any man who wants to fuck her and is not presumed to have the right to choose with whom she has sex (manifested in this story with the idea that it is only by threat of lawbreaking and/or ruining one’s career that male teachers resist their underage female students; their students’ attraction to them, or lack thereof, is not up for consideration).
5. Women are uniquely responsible for accommodating men’s inability to control themselves / their own self-protection.
Over and over and over, these same themes are played out in article after article. It should be profoundly alarming how similar a story about female high school students and their male teachers is to any one of thousands of articles about rape and victim-blaming. That it isn’t, that none of these articles ever seems to raise any eyebrows among casual readers, is exactly why we live in a culture in which one in six American women are victims of sexual assault and we consider that acceptable.