Re: [EDEQUITY Discussion] Bullying, teasing, gender

Date: Mon Jul 10 2000 - 09:45:13 EDT


I appreciated your thoughtful discussion and request for suggestions
regarding the gender related harassment of students who "act different," in

particular boys whose behavior falls outside the narrow boundaries of
acceptable "boy behavior." Any behavior outside the lines or the "male
(drawing on a popular awareness activity) is often perceived as not male or

effeminate. There are few boys who are not aware of these boundaries and
price that one pays for stepping outside. Michael Thompson (co-author of
Raising Cain) calls homophobia a "force stronger than gravity in the lives
adolescent boys." And the teasing and bullying that is directed toward
boys reflects a homophobia that is far more insidious than the narrower
of homosexuality."

However, the tentacles of homophobia reach far beyond the treatment of
lesbians and the transgendered. From my perspective, I see that more
narrowly directed brand of homophobia almost a "red herring" (though
understandably and frighteningly real for GLBT individuals) that misdirects

our attention from the broader and deeper problem; namely, the policing of
all boys away from qualities that humanize us and connect us to our
and the feeling of others. This works against the development of empathy,
plain and simple. I challenge anyone to tell me that homophobia of this
is not a dynamic in almost every boy's life.

This broader form of homophobic policing is often acceptable within our
institutions and social interactions and, a such, is perpetuated by adults
and students alike. It reveals itself in the "innocent" comments such as
"don't be such a wuss" or "he's just a mama's boy" that I frequently
from parents and coaches on the sidelines of the playing fields. I realize

what you are referring to with respect to your son and others is more
extreme, but such acceptability makes it harder to draw the line when it
comes to the behavior of those who don't "fit in." In the grand scheme it
part of the same package and it all, to a certain degree, serves to
disconnect many boys from their own feelings and those of others. And its
often played out under the guise of "making men" out of our boys.

Pardon my digression here from your interest in suggestions, but it is
important to say that I find the absence of any discussion of homophobia
the recent book, "The War Against Boys," more than telling from a political

perspective. The word is never mentioned in its almost 200 pages. Curious

because almost any boy will tell you that the worst thing he can be called
a "fag" or any related term. You see, homophobia is part of the real "war
against boys." And contrary to the argument that Sommers posits, it is not
construction of the femininst agenda. Quite predictably, she argues that
war against boys is, in part, an attempt to "feminize boys", in
deny them their true nature. What nature is that? To mistreat those who do

not reflect the values of traditional masculinity? In effect, Sommers and
her supporters are reinforcing such broad based homophobia by labeling the
qualities that connect us as humans as "feminine." There is much invested
maintaining the "status quo" here and make no mistake about it, the
conservatives feel strongly that we cannot afford a nation of
males. Just as Teddy Roosevelt saw them as a threat in the early 1900's,
Sommers is giving us the 21st century version of that same argument.

As for suggestions, you clearly identify one key strategy when you indicate

"it makes a huge difference when teachers confront this problem." I
agree more and will add to that the critical importance of adult males
our schools and communities who openly confront every form of homophobia.
mere confrontation of homophobia by men and women in our schools reflects
"caring and compassion" that, while open to being labeled "feminine," truly

erves to create the foundation of our communities. And for those who
this much ado about nothing, I must point out the consciousness and courage

reflected in the decision of the Department of Education in Scotland to
prohibit the use of "sissy" and related terms in their schools. By doing
they have openly recognized the emotional power such words carry in the
of our children...especially our boys.

My own experience with teachers has taught me the simple power of raising
consciousness about far reaching and a limiting effects that homophobia can

have on all of us. Further, in my work with men and boys I have also
experienced the struggle that males often have in moving beyond their own
homophobia. Whie it speaks to the power of homohobia, the struggle is
essential if we are to ever create the kind of learning and work
that are truly safe and humanizing at the same time they value the
differences that any community offers.

In closing, the "wake up call" necessary to combat homophobia was more than

evident this past year as students (2 boys and a girl) filed lawsuits
three school districts in my area of New York State alleging "deliberate
indifference" with respect to repeated patterns of homophobic teasing and
bullying. Individual teachers were named in at least two of the suits for
observing the bullying and not intervening. Such acceptability results
an unconsciousness that can no longer be tolerated. As Nan Stein has
indicated recently, we need to shift our attention from "zero tolerance" to

"zero indifference." I fear for the hurt so many children will continue to

experience until we all have the courage to confront such behavior.

Thanks again for your insights. I look for to other approaches and
strategies throughout this dialogue.

Craig Flood

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