"Now that you have touched the women you have struck a rock, you have dislodged a boulder, you will be crushed."~ Women's Freedom Song, August, 1956
Isn’t it ironic that Ms. Fluke and Mr. “I Rush In With My Big Fat Mouth Because I Don’t Have A Brain” Limbaugh have consumed the news these last days? Appropriately, it’s International Women’s History Month.
For years now, I’ve heard the masses use the term, “Man up!” Whether it be in regard to sporting events or an iffy situation that requires balls of steel.
“Man up” has come to mean: Don’t be a sissy, a woosy or a scaredy cat.’ And more concerning: Don’t be a woman.
I actually have a bone to pick, as my mama used to say, with the fact that we never hear or say “Woman up!” If a woman is 6’9” and can dunk a basketball, we say she's "too masculine.”
If a woman stands up to her bigot neighbor, she’s labeled a “bitch.” And if a little girl is getting teased at school, we either head straight to the principal’s office or tell her to “Man up.”
Our language dictates our attitudes. End of story. And this language more than suggests, it internalizes, the notion that brave, strong and fearless humans are male.
Before my trailer park management days, I taught school for a short time. That was once upon lifetime ago. Of all the grades I taught, I would say 6th grade was my favorite. Perhaps that has to do with the part of me that is ‘a glutton for punishment’ but those kids were each at a fork in their roads. That’s the age when one step can be a path to opportunity and a different step can make them a criminal. But I loved those rascals. They thought they were the “big men and women on campus” 'cuz they were the sixth graders. They'd strut their 12-inch chests in front of the little first graders, yet cry when their best friend didn't talk with them.
I had a young guy my first year of teaching 6th grade; a guy to whom I attribute every gray hair on my head. Once I sat him down and encouraged him to take a serious look at his creative writing; to dive deeper into the sea of poetry because I thought he had a talent. He looked at me with dark round eyes and said, “Look, Ms. Fern. I’m an athlete not a poet.”
I told Alvin that of course he could be both, but that he’d never get to the NFL unless he opened a few books and wrote a few papers now and then.
I actually saw him a couple weeks ago; all 6’5’’ of him. He was handsome and polite and genuinely happy to see me. And as I looked up at him, he said to me, “You were the best teacher I ever had. I have a stack of poetry on my desk right now. And I write all the time.” Then he went on to say that he just got a full-ride scholarship to a Division 1 school and he would be attending there in the fall. He was proud to share with me that he is the 3rd leading receiver in the community college system of California.
So one of my favorite months of the school year was March.
March is Women’s History Month and March 8 is International Women’s History Day. All my lessons, for those 31 days, were geared around this awesome celebration.
We studied women in US history, women around the globe, the women in our own families, the women who make a difference every day and get little or no recognition; women in the arts, the sciences, humanities… Each student was to create personal goals during the month of March and document ways they were actively showing respect to the women in their lives.
All essays centered on famous women in history. All art, music and drama projects were also thematic. (I taught these subjects “under the radar” because George W. Bush’s enactment of No Child Left Behind left those of us in “program improvement schools’ without the ability to teach the arts during "academic time.")
Every March 8, we would host A Celebration Day in which we would make invitations and invite women in our community to come to our classroom and speak about their jobs. We would prepare gifts, set a table filled with flowers, cookies and tea, and write questions to ask our guests. Women from all walks of life accepted our invitation: a janitor, a school superintendent, a coach, an office administrator, a stay-at-home mom, nurse, police sergeant, professor, carpenter, mail carrier… all visited my classrooms over the years and encouraged my students to believe in themselves and to always set high standards.
I had this kid one particular year (there’s always one) that I will never forget. He, along with his parents, actually got my ass to a hearing with our superintendent, human resource director and my principal.
It all started (or so I thought) on International Women’s History Day when he popped a balloon while one of the guest speakers was giving her presentation.
I removed him from the classroom. (not physically, but I ‘effin wanted to) To this day, I can still remember the grin on his face. It was sinister.
That was when my troubles started to emerge.
Seems, for some time, he had been ‘documenting’ me for his mom; jotting down every word I said in the classroom, so that she could “build her case” against me; form her little misconstrued, out-of-context spitballs to blow at me from across the room…
“You say ‘policeperson’ rather than ‘policeman,’ don’t you Ms. Fern?” she began at the hearing I was mandated to attend. “You constantly point out the gender in certain words in order to favor women.” “And why do you celebrate Women’s History Month and do not have a Men’s History Month in your classroom?” the step-dad piped in.
We all gathered at the hearing that afternoon; the student, the parents, the principal, the superintendent, the human resource man and myself to discuss these things and also a complaint I had filed regarding something the student yelled out in class during silent reading…
“I’d like to ride your mother like a pole!” shocked me right out of the book I was reading and got that kid back into the office for the 10th time that week. Of course, when the students were questioned later regarding his comment, they all didn’t hear a thing.
“The comment my son yelled out wasn’t inappropriate; except that he should have been quietly reading.” The mom continued. “And it certainly wasn’t harassment of anyone, let alone sexual harassment or degradation of women as you seem to think.”
“Woman up!” I thought. “Are you so oppressed that you cannot or will not recognize the hatred of women that lives inside your son and quite possibly, inside yourself?”
The superintendent cleared her throat and paused with a look that I will always remember…
“I actually was invited to speak in your son’s classroom on International Women’s Day.” She said. “It was a positive, up-lifting experience for the students, as well as, for me.”
The meeting continued in a manner I must admit felt nothing short of supportive.
I’m thinking about that kid today. He’d be all of 20 or 21 years old now. I wonder if he’s in college or if he found a good job? I wonder if he has a girlfriend or a wife? Or maybe a husband?
I wonder if he and his mother are close and if he respects the very ground she walks on? I wonder if he beats his kids? And I wonder, now that March has arrived, if it crosses his mind that it’s Women’s History Month? Has he thought about this significant time of acknowledgement of all the great women who are the backbone of every society and who have served for centuries as mobilizers of change? Women who “woman up” and selflessly give to their children, families and communities.
His name was Jesse and I’m thinking about him as I write today’s blog.
I know the forming of his character lies in his own hands, but I hope I had a small,
yet worthy, influence.
Causes Valerie Fern Supports
AFRP (Animal Friends Rescue Project), POMDR (Peace of Mind Dog Rescue)
CWOB (Compassion Without Borders)
Bead For Life...