Title IX Advocates

Linda Purrington (lpurring@earthlink.net)
Mon, 23 Mar 1998 11:44:24 -0800

Adri, my email crashed, so I am sending you these notes through the
listserv; I wrote them for a university class of new teachers, and would
be glad to know what you--and anyone else--think of them. Linda
Linda Purrington <lpurring@earthlink.net>

Notes on the movement for gender equity in the schools from the
perspective and experience of parents who have served as advocates for=20
1. There is a conflict of interest between the school and the child
and his or her parents. To assume that the child is wrong, and that the
child=92s interests are necessarily represented by the school is to be
blind to the way gender inequity is woven into the foundations and
structure of the entire social system and the entire school system.=20
(Example: Sonoma State University) Schools, like any other
organization, should not be in the business of investigating themselves
and finding no evidence of wrongdoing. That=92s a little like a one-part=
political system. If you make the mistake of thinking that because the
schools/colleges have the funding and infrastructure to mount a campaign
for gender equity within those schools, and you therefore moderate your
approach to "not alienate" the school officials and teachers, as by
forgetting to discuss the law, or by replacing grassroots organizing
with self-esteem classes, you lose your position as advocate of the
child and become instead an advocate for the system. Therefore: always
keep the potential conflict in mind and stand with the child, rather
than with the system. Wherever possible, empower students to know their
rights and to act and speak for themselves.

2. Sexual harassment is only one point on the sexual discrimination
spectrum. Separating it off in your own thinking impedes your
understanding and your ability to help. People may say, "I don=92t want
information on discrimination against girls, I want information on
sexual harassment." But Title IX is not an athletic equity law, it is
not a girls in math law, it is not a sexual harassment law=97it is all
those things. Gender inequity is systemic, not fragmented. Therefore,
always seek ways to understand and present girls=92 experiences of
discrimination as part of a whole, rather than separate them off as
different things. United, the causes are clear; divided, they are
confused. =20

3. There is always retaliation for seeking gender equity. We have
heard about retaliation in every one of the gender equity cases we
network across the country. It ranges from death threats to murder
attempts; rape threats are made daily in -----County schools, as are
death threats. These involve assault and battery, and are criminal
offenses. Yet the schools and the police may treat them as secondary
offenses, just as domestic violence outside the school is treated as if
it were secondary. There is so much retaliation by teachers,
principals, classmates, and other adults in the school community and
surrounding community that retaliation must be anticipated in every
If a minor complaint is not dealt with correctly, the retaliation can
swiftly become more drastic than the original event. And even when a
complaint is handled correctly, the child is likely to be perceived as
have received a favor for that intervention; if she then brings a second
or even a third event to the same people who dealt well with the
original report, she will be perceived as using up too much of the
goodwill she has allotted to her=97and then she can just go hang if thing=
get rough. Therefore, always watch for the tendency to retaliate, and
block it. Make sure that everyone knows that gender equity is a right,
not a privilege that must be earned and can be revoked at someone else=92=

=B7 In addition, note that the parent who has become the child=92s advoca=
at that point will get a full share of retaliation. Example: Mary De
Rosa. In many cases, it has been necessary to remove the child from the
school, from the school district, from the community; the family must
often move to another community. Parents have no formal organization or
network equal to that that supports school administrators and teachers.
They do not have powerful and well-funded organizational structures, and
they do not have unions. The only powerful parents=92 organizations, thos=
of the far right and religious fundamentalists, which are heavily
patriarchal, work against gender equity, and for returning females to a
position of power and lack of civil rights. Parents working for gender
equity have to buck the popular liberal stereotype of parents as being
fundamentalist and totalitarian. Therefore, the best shot parents have
at providing themselves with support is by founding their own grassroots
organizations that are well rooted in their communities and that have
links to other communities in case they are too isolated by retaliation
and ostracism.
=B7 Threatening to kill or hurt someone who has told is an old and
effective trick; the child will often not tell about abuse, including by
a teacher. And if you tell the mother that her child will get hurt, the
mother will be in anguish and will very likely not tell. And if you
tell a child that her mother will be hurt if she tells, the child will
not tell. And so on. This retaliation technique is always a potential
threat. Therefore, do not break confidentiality heedlessly--move to
protect the victims from further victimization.
=B7 Telling has become a reasonable and supported response for many adult
women, although not all by any means. But for a child who is at school
with her tormentors while her parents are elsewhere all day, retaliation
may be deadly. This is a crucial reason why prevention is so much more
effective than treatment after the fact: Prevention is possible, but
fixing the damage may not. Therefore, take charge of your school
environment and prevent sexual discrimination and assault=97the courts ar=
running out of patience with the notion that if you didn=92t know about
it, you aren=92t responsible for it.

4. The child and his or her parents are standing on a moving train,
called child development. The child who is harassed on the school bus at
age 7 may have to wait until she is 16 before all the formal proceedings
have ended. A parent trying to get help for their child must always take
into consideration that he or she is legally the person most responsible
for helping her develop well. And enduring court procedures in the
interest of formal redress and some real advances for other, much
younger children may not seem to be in the best interests of real
redress for the individual child. For all these reasons, the adults in
the school usually don=92t need to do much=97all they need to do is outwa=
the traumatized family and child, which does not have an appetite for
identifying itself as a victim, does not have the resources to find
lawyers, and does not want anything with quite the same intensity that
they want the child to be safe and happy again. The family or child
with a burning desire for justice, and justice for all, is the unusual
one=97the one that drives the law to get up off its haunches and slouch a
little further down the path of history. Therefore, always look at the
wider, long-term consequences of a case to see how it might be handled
to benefit the most children. And make sure the victim=92s voice be
heard. She has already been done down once; don=92t silence the victim
twice by preempting what she says about how the situation should be

5. Law protecting women and children is inadequate. Title IX is not
a very strong law=97we really need an Equal Rights Amendment. Children
have fewer civil rights than adults; and they are placed under the
protection of adults. The schools still act in loco parentis, yet they
are largely immune to charges of irresponsibility. Children are
required to go to school; but while they are at school, and even while a
working parent is on the job far away, the parent is considered the
child=92s first resort for protection. And school individuals still enjoy
governmental immunity to a very great extent. These laws are changing,
but they will not change fast enough to protect children adequately for
at least the next century. Therefore, if you want to wear the hat of
gender equity worker, you need to be educating every person you meet, at
top intensity, about the law, and you need to be leading the battle to
get inadequate law changed and adequate law enforced.

6. Women are gaining civil rights, and they are therefore the first
line of defense for the children they take care of. Women who felt
nothing could be done for themselves are now bringing new understanding
and new civil rights to the defense of their children, especially their
daughters. There is a direct connection, for example, between the
improved requirements for police reporting in domestic violence cases
and the increased and more effective demand for gender equity in the
schools. One of the most important mandates you as educators in Sonoma
County have received is the mandates for improved responses to and
prevention of domestic violence. These recommendations are intended not
only to provide better conditions for children and women within the home
from which they come every day to be educated, but also to improve daily
conditions of violence within the schools and colleges, and to develop
and effectively use curriculum that will change society in the direction
of equity for all. Therefore, find ways to actively implement changes
that empower women in all walks of life, because these will filter
through to the children they are raising, both girls and boys.=20

Finally, although these notes sketch the struggle for gender equity in
negative and adversarial terms, because that has been forced on the
description by real life, the prospect for gender equity is bright. It
is bright because this is not an uphill trek=97it is being aided by
globalization and accessibility of information, the shift from
economies based on physical strength to economies based on abilities
that are shared equally by men and women.

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