Children banned from school fair for being poor

A primary school in Flushing, Queens has prevented 100 of their students from attending a school carnival hosted by the PTA because the kids’ parents did not pay the $10 fee. Instead of spending 45 minutes playing on bouncy castles and inflatable slides and eating popcorn, the 100 kids were stuck inside the school auditorium watching Disney movies.

The New York Post claims that the carnival was a fundraising activity hosted by the PTA during school hours but the decision to include children was made by the school principal. The PTA raised $2000 – £3000.

Even if these were the children of millionaires who were too lazy to pay, these children didn’t deserve to be isolated and humiliated the way they were. No child deserves to be treated this way.

The fact is, though, that these children were mostly from migrant Chinese families living in extreme poverty. They didn’t pay because $10 was needed for groceries and rent. And, any adult with an ounce of compassion should know that. None of the adults in this situation behaved appropriately. Even if the decision was the principals, the teachers and members of the PTA should have stood up to her. Other parents should have stepped in and raised a stink.

All schools are chronically underfunded and the situation for poor neighbourhoods in the US is catastrophic. Fundraising for schools is absolutely necessary but putting fundraising above the emotional wellbeing of children is just disgusting.

I’ve been thinking about this since I first read the article this morning and I just can’t get the image of 100 kids shoved in an auditorium being punished for being poor out of my head. The distress and the heartbreak of children too young to understand why they were being punished. I just don’t understand how any professional or parent could sit back and watch this without standing up for those kids.

I have to ask if those children would have been excluded if they were mostly white.

 

 

 

 

Mrs Doubtfire is Patriarchy in Action.

I have always hated the film Mrs Doubtfire as I thought it was creepy. As a teenager, I never understood how a useless father who lost custody of his children in the divorce due to his useless, incompetent and lazy parenting. Hell, even the editors at Wikipedia – who are not known for their feminist analysis – get that this a film about a pathetic man:

His wife, Miranda (Sally Field), considers him irresponsible and immature, and their marriage is on the rocks. When Daniel throws Chris a birthday party despite his bad report card, Miranda loses her temper and asks for a divorce. At their first custody hearing, the judge provisionally grants Miranda custody of the children, as Daniel has neither a suitable residence nor a steady job.

The entire premise of the film is that the character of Daniel Hillard, played by Robin Williams, is a dickhead. This isn’t a loveable film about a man supporting his ex-partner and children. This is a man who had a temper tantrum at being held accountable for his piss-poor fathering and instead of taking responsibility for the consequences of his behaviour, he chose to lie to his children and ex-partner by dressing up as a female housekeeper. The idea that his ex-partner Miranda is too stupid to notice that her new “housekeeper” is, in fact, her ex-husband in drag demonstrates a remarkable lack of belief in women’s intelligence.

My analysis as a teenager wasn’t feminist. It was just disbelief that a useless father could miraculously become a better one overnight. You don’t need to be a feminist to look at the fathers of all your friends – who have little to no contact and commit financial abuse of their children by their refusal to pay maintenance – to understand that whitewashing a man’s laziness helps no one. The ending of the film is all about evil women and nasty judges punishing men for being useless and the children being devastated at their father being removed from their lives. Miranda got full custody of the children because the father REPEATEDLY lied to her, the children and the judge. Having a steady job and a permanent address does not undo years of piss-poor parenting and lies. The premise of the film is that children are men’s possessions and it doesn’t matter how shit a parent they are, the children will be harmed by being parented properly by their mother. The fact that evidence points out the exact opposite of this is always ignored, even with an abusive father, because father’s rights are always more important than the health and wellbeing of the children involved.

I haven’t seen Mrs Doubtfire in years  and it wasn’t until I saw this shared on Facebook that I realized the subtext of the film that I had been missing for years:

Angela LeeI was just telling Jitana that Mrs. Doubtfire was a tribute to domestic violence and stalking. Yup, one of the most famous comedies in fact romanticizes IPV stalking. Women are always the joke.

I hadn’t even realized that this film was about stalking and intimate partner violence. I had always focused on the relationship with the children. The stalking of the mother and the wearing down of her boundaries is classic abusive behaviour. Being “jealous” of Miranda’s relationship with a new man isn’t the behaviour of a good man – it’s the behaviour of an abusive man who believes his ex-wife is also his possession. Daniel has no right to interfere with his ex-wife’s new relationships. He has no right to stalk her and he has no right to manipulate her. Lying to Miranda and the children about who he is isn’t a funny movie plot. It’s the creepy behaviour of a classically abusive man.

We need to stop pretending these kinds of films are just a bit of fun. They reinforce male ownership of children, stalking as appropriate behaviour for men and rewarding men for not being assholes. Children aren’t rewards. And, a lifetime of piss-poor parenting and irresponsible behaviour cannot be overcome by lying to your children.

The Problem with the Patriarchal Construction of Consent

I’ve been trying to clarify my thoughts on consent and the remarkable problems some men seem to be having with the issue [see every nincompoop supporting the convicted rapist Ched Evans]. This was written by my dear friend Basil on the I Believe Her: Supporting the Innocent Victim of Ched Evans FB page. Basil says it so much better than I could:

I think there is an enormous confusion over consent and what it means and that consent in itself, is a very loaded and problematic term. I don’t know about anyone else, but I have never consented to sex in my life; when I have sex, I actively participate in the process, I don’t just passively consent to the process being done to me. I think this is where the problem lies; historically, men made the laws and men got to define what sex means and they defined it as something which men do to women; men’s sexuality was said to be active while women’s was passive.

The rape laws we have inherited, although they have been tweaked and modified a bit, still rest on this fundamentally wrong, misogynist assumption that came from a time when the idea of women’s active sexuality was horrifying to the men who got to make the laws. Let’s face it, rapists got to define what rape was and seeing as how most rapists don’t consider themselves rapists, it’s no wonder that a lot of men with confused and abusive attitudes to women, get themselves in a muddle when confronted by rape. We live in a society which constantly tells women that they aren’t being raped when they are; Hence the 85% non-reporting rate when women are raped – most rape victims know that they will be told that they haven’t been raped when they have and many of them actually manage to convince themselves that they haven’t been raped, “because he didn’t beat me up” or “I didn’t fight him off” or “he didn’t use any other violence” etc. This is what happens, when men get to define what sex and rape are, in a society with the historical baggage our one has.

Basil also tweeted this: Consent: a concept invented by men to give themselves permission to rape women then get to call it something other than rape.

I usually say this: If you don’t understand the legal definition of consent, you shouldn’t be having sex because there’s a pretty good chance you’re a rapist.


School Uniforms: Reinforcing Patriarchal Norms?

I’ve been frantically running around tonight making sure my children’s school uniforms are ready for tomorrow morning. This activity never fails to make me cranky; not because of the “laundry” aspect but because it reminds me just how much I hate the whole issue of uniforms. Inevitably, anyone who is acquainted with me will have heard sections of this rant because I truly believe the only reason for school uniforms is to reinforce capitalist-patriarchal norms.

The following is an amended rant from a post originally made on the Mumsnet talk boards:

This might be very disjointed and take several points to get across because I’ve come to this point from several areas: a background in education, as a mother, as a feminist, and as someone who is beyond angry at how children, and more specifically teenagers, are demonised in Western culture.

1) Educational aspect: the theory is that children in uniforms learn better because they aren’t concerned about clothing and that uniforms denote respect and causes children to behave better.

As a teacher, I think the theory that children behave better in uniforms is horseshit. Children respond to adults who respect themselves, their colleagues and the students. Behaviour is better in schools which have effective management teams with good teachers who are supported. The best uniform in the world won’t make up for shit management. It can’t compensate for serious social problems in children’s families or poor teaching. Kids in jeans in a good school with a good headteacher will preform well because they are respected and want to not because they are wearing or not wearing a tie.

Many, many countries do not use school uniforms and have just as much good behaviour, bad behaviour and ‘results’ as UK school. It must be noted that most schools will still have a uniform policy banning offensive t-shirts, non-existent skirts, and, in inner-cities, banning gang colours.

2) Poverty: The theory is that all children in the same outfit means that kids won’t get bullied over clothing. This is wrong. If your school has an expensive uniform available from only one shop, the poorest parents won’t be able to afford it anyways. Kids can tell the difference between clothes from Tescos and clothes from M&S even in schools which have generic cheap uniforms. They can tell the difference between boots bought from Clarks and knock-offs from ShoeZone. If they are bullied for clothing, they are just as likely to be bullied for wearing thread-bare too small uniform as they are for wearing Tescos brand jeans.

This argument also fails to address the issue of bullying. Bullies go after the weakest link. If it isn’t uniform, it will be something else. The problem is not that the children are dressed the same or not; the problem is that the school has a culture of bullying which is not being addressed effectively. That’s the definition of a shit school. Pretending that clothes will make it go away is naive and disrespectful to the children who are victimised by bullying. It makes them responsible for being bullied because they aren’t dressed appropriately rather than blaming the bullying on the bully and the school environment which allows them to continue without intervention.

Bullying and our bullying culture is part of the patriarchal structure of our society which sets up everyone in a hierarchy of importance. It also marginalises any child who does not ‘fit’ the mold.

3) Conformity: I think maintaining conformity is about maintaining our hierarchical society. I believe it is misogynistic as well as classist: setting out a clear difference between those who are important and those who are not.

4) Material Culture of Uniforms: Uniforms tend to be of poor quality, prone to die problems and rip easily. it is more expensive to keep replacing cheap items of clothing that it is to purchase new better quality clothes. jeans from Tescos (£10) last a lot longer on a physical child that a pair of cheap nylon trousers. If you have more than one child, you are more likely to get more wear out of Tescos jeans than you are the cheap nylon trousers.

5) Respect: This is where I think the issue of uniforms moves into questions of patriarchy. I think, in many ways, they are outward emblems of social control designed to make children ‘others’. If you think of the work which requires uniforms, most are of low status and equally low pay [sanitation workers etc]: jobs which are frequently preformed by women.

I think it is also the outward signifier of respect: those in power require these to make themselves feel better. Its like the idea that you can never be rude to your ‘elders’ because they are old, they must be obeyed. Why should you have to respect a 90 year old man because he’s old. He may also be a paedophile, have committed severe violence against his wife or children, be a violent alcoholic. Requiring respect for being old means that the opposite, children, require no respect.

I think, as a society, we are reaping serious social damage due to our lack of respect for our children.

There are so many other things that schools need to worry about [children who are being abused at home, being bullied, ensuring that all kids leave literate even if they have serious social problem which makes continuous school attendance difficult] that arguing over a tie just seems petty. The argument becomes you must wear the tie because I told you to not because it is of any benefit to you.

The other part is the more time we spend faffing about over uniforms, the less time we spend actually ensuring that the kid who is lashing out isn’t lashing out because he’s just testing boundaries [normal for teenagers] but is lashing out because of abuse, poverty, fear or a 101 other reasons. Uniforms are form of hierarchical social control and, fundamentally, only serve to reinforce Patriarchal norms at the expense of our children’s education and their self-respect.