Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Teen's Thoughts on the Dress Code Scandal

I'm going to kick this off by saying I'm from Utah. Home of Wasatch High, whose yearbook photoshopping scandal set off a worldwide dress code crisis. It hit the local news first. The instant she saw the headline, Esme said, "You should blog about this!"
"No, I'm staying out of this one." That's my policy whenever teenagers makes headlines, like Malala Yousafazi or Michael Brown. If major news sources are covering it, what can I add? Besides, this was more of a sexism issue than ageism.
A summer passed. Two weeks ago, Bingham High, our ex-rivals, several girls away on homecoming night for wearing dresses like this:
Vetted: Taylor Gillespie had checked her dress against the guidelines before arriving but was turned away
They were told to go home and change. Yeah, good luck finding a second dress on homecoming night.
This is my home turf. I don't have to stay out of this fight. I've got words to add.
Back in seventh grade, our principal told us that "distracting" piercings and hair styles were banned from school. That's something I didn't understand. Sure, when my friend Maya walked into first period with pink hair freshman year, it was somewhat distracting. But we all got used to it in a good ten minutes. Is clothing any different?
I don't buy the distracting excuse. While we're at it, let's ban our distracting orange wall carpet from 1980. It's been two years since I set foot in that school and my eyeballs are still scarred.
My school's dress code isn't that strict. In one Florida school last month, sophomore Miranda Larkin was forced to wear this getup when she showed up in a short skirt:
The same slogan is written on her sweatpants.
In one Texas school, the students staged a protest  after 160 of them were suspended for breaking the dress code. Last March, Illinois middle schoolers picketed their school for the right to wear leggings and yoga pants.
I've only seen a girl punished once. She showed up to foods class in a tank top. Our teacher told her off in front of the class. grabbed a chef's jacket, and dropped it onto her table. "You can wear this."
We have a dress code, yes, but it's enforced arbitrarily. If the principal happens to see your cleavage hanging out, she'll tell you to pull up your shirt. But a hundred other girls like you won't be bothered.
Is there sexism in dress codes? Yes. But there's more than that. It's an issue of age.
Adults say, "Thi s move isn't appropriate for my kids" when they're squeamish about admitting to their own moral standards. I've always been taught that if I'm offered drugs or sex, I should say, "My parents would kill me." Not that I have my own moral standards.
Teachers and parents tell us, "That dress isn't age appropriate. You neckline isn't appropriate for a school environment."
Screw age. Screw school. I know where I'm drawing my line. If a length or cut is appropriate for a man but inappropriate for a woman, that's discrimination. If an outfit is appropriate for a woman but inappropriate for a girl, that's discrimination. Do we need to keep hiding behind this ageist excuse the way parents hide their standards behind toddlers?
I'd rather see all women dress the way schoolgirls are told to than schoolgirls allowed to dress like women.
These past months, women-and more importantly, girls-have flooded social media with outcries. I'm pleased. What can I say? I like having power. I like it when teenagers make headlines for something other than getting shot. I like seeing my peers unified. Bingham High organized a walkout and, more importantly, took to twitter.
The top complaint: By shaming girls for the way they dress instead of the boys who stare at them, we're promoting rape culture. Another argument I don't buy.
I have this pair of yellow shorts. Mid-thigh length. I wear them as a cover up for swimming but they could pass as real clothes. Three years ago, my family was headed down to the lake for a boating trip when we had to stop at a gas station. My mom went inside to buy ice. I hung back by the candy shelves.
My mom always changes in the lake bathrooms, so she was dressed in normal clothes. I had my short shorts and an old T-shirt. We didn't look like boaters. There was this twenty-something guy in front of us buying cigarettes. When we walked up to the counter, his gaze skimmed over her and went straight to me. They landed on my thighs. His eyes went down, up, and back down again. Then he paid for his cigarettes and left.
I wanted to holler after him, "We're going to the lake! I'd never wear these as a real outfit. Besides, I'm fourteen, what are your eyes doing on me anyways?"
Then I thought, Oh, so this is why I don't dress like this all the time. 
Boys, it does sting when you check a girl out. I'm sure that man forgot about me by the time he drove home. But here I am blogging about it three years later. It was the first time I'd felt the weight of a man's eyes on me. Even if you think a girl's asking for it, you don't need to be the answer.
The first time I saw a girl groped in the halls was eighth grade. She swatted his hands away and I could tell it was a move she'd practiced. She had a large chest but I don't recall any of it showing.
Is sexual assault an issue for teenage girls? Most definitely. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, 44% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18. 15% of those are under twelve.
I don't think low cut shirts lower a boy's test score. In fact, I think learning to look away is a valuable life skill most boys should pick up in middle school. We're doing boys a disservice too when we say they can't control themselves around tank top clad girls.
That said, I don't have a problem with the dress code itself. Rape is an issue I'd like to see addressed more, but pointing a finger at dress codes isn't an effective way to do it. Yes, it's hard to find a modesty dance outfit. Even in conservative little Utah so many girls resort to shawls and wraps. I'd like to see some dress companies jump in and help us out. But the rules aren't so stringent as everyone makes them out to be.
Here's my take on it: I cover my body parts. Not to keep the boys around me clean and pure. That's their job. I dress modestly because choose not to view my body as a sexual object. Not because I'm worried about boys who will do the same. I don't want my self image to be wrapped up in what a boy things of my cleavage.
I'm fine with the rules. But the logic behind them is flawed.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

National Banned Book Week is Here Again!

Always YA books. Oh, and MG. I'm not overlooking you, Captain Underpants. I haven't read Fifty Shades of Grey, but I know it's Twilight with all the fun magic parts zapped out of it and a relationship many readers interpreted as abusive got sexed up. Twilight topped the charts in years past, though it seems we're finally over it. Adults do all the book banning, but for some odd reason, they rarely choose to ban books they'd want to read.
For the record, I read Twilight. I'm okay.
I planned on reading Beloved soon. I should read at least one Toni Morrison book before I graduate. But after seeing this, I think I'll get my hands on The Bluest Eye. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Who Wants to be a Teenager?

Good evening, folks, and welcome to the latest episode of Who Wants to Be a Teenager! Today we're playing for 500 Sanity Points. Here's the first question.
You and your parents have a minor disagreement. You don't want to fight, you just want to explain your point and get out of this conversation with some dignity. What do you do?

A. Say what you have to say in one or two sentences.
  Your parents ask clarifying questions and make you repeat things. Game over!

B. Spend the next hour explaining to your parents what you mean.
  "I'm done arguing with you, kid. Go to your room." Game over!

C. Say what you have to say in a soft tone.
  Your parents don't hear you. Go back and pick a new option.

D. Say it in a loud, clear voice with words carefully enunciated.
  Yelling at your parents is wrong. Game over!

E. Use simple words and lots of repetition so there is no way they can misunderstand you.
  Talking down to your parents is rude. Game over!

F. Use those erudite words you picked up from your latest vocabulary quiz. 
  Any eloquent argument can be trumped by the phrase "Don't talk back to me." Game over! 

G. Shut up, retreat to your room, and listen to mood music as you scream into a pillow.
  Congratulations! You get to keep playing! However, that wasn't actually a victory, so you're back to your original score of 0 Sanity Points. Don't forget to tune in next time for Who Wants to Be a Teenager?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Books with Merit

I will never believe that children's books don't have merit. If I did that, I'd have to believe that children don't have merit, that humans are born with no merit, and that merit can be earned by something simple as passing a birthday.
But I take AP English classes with hoity toity AP English students who try to convince the teacher-and themselves-that they're mature and enlightened readers. "Oh, I read Perks of Being A Wallflower, but I didn't like it. The emotions are too simplistic for my enlightened self, but what should I expect from a young adult book?" "I need an example of a badly written book for this argument. I'll use Twilight, even though I've never read it." "We're discussing commercial fiction that makes money but has no literary merit? Ooh, I've got a clever one! Harry Potter!"
Whenever I hear this, I think of little April Henry.
April grew up in a small Oregon town. She didn't like to hunt or fish, so there wasn't much to do. She scribbled stories to pass the time. After writing one about a six foot tall frog named Herman who liked peanut butter, she decided, "I bet Roald Dahl would like this!" It didn't cross her mind that Roald Dahl probably had Peter van Houten sized stacks of fanmail lining his hallways. She wrote it down in her best elementary school penmanship, found his publisher's address, and sent it off to England.
And he wrote back.
It didn't stop there. Dahl shared the story with the editor of a British children's magazine and got April published. Fastforward to the present. April is now a New York Times bestselling author of mysteries and thrillers-a genre my lit textbook's author used when describing books without merit. Her six young adult books have been finalists for ALA's Top Ten Books for Teens, Barnes and Noble Top Teen Picks, and one of them, Girl, Stolen, is taught in schools. Yes, schools. That means it's read primarily by people who haven't reach the "Pass go, collect 200 merit points" stage yet.
Oh, and she's also got eleven adult books, if that's your thing.
How often does a child who doesn't read become an adult who does? I'd argue that those are the most important kinds of writers, because without them, adult writers wouldn't have an audience. I'm an amateur writer with five complete books hiding inside my tiny laptop. They wouldn't be there without Magic Tree House, Junie B. Jones, Cam Jansen, The Bailey School Kids, and every book I picked up after. My hoity toity AP friends started out reading something, and so did the English professor who wrote our textbook.
On Saturday, Roald Dahl day, April shared her story via twitter. It's no secret the Roald Dahl made her a writer-there's a whole section devoted to the story on her website.
So yes, I'm an AP student. I've got The Crucible on hold at the library but only because I need something to read while I wait for the latest Ever After High book. And the latest Heroes of Olympus book. And the latest Ally Condie book. I've read all of April Henry's books for meritless people, so I've got to keep busy. Middle grade, young adult, lit class-friendly adult, I don't care. Just tell me a good story. Then I'll decide if it has merit or not. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Victim Myth

Today our assistant principal showed up in my English class to rehash the same speech we get every year: dress code, parking, drug use, etc. Let's call him Mr. Jones, since I nearly got in trouble last time I did a post about child abuse. Mr. Jones also told us the reason we shouldn't send nude pictures (during school hours and on school property): "Because if you do, not that any of you would, you would be charged with producing child pornography."
Similar laws exist for adults but are rarely enforced.
I raised my hand. "Mr. Jones, don't you think it's a little more important that we go after the corporations and individuals producing pornography instead of -"
"I don't control corporations. If I were king of the world, sure, I'd do that. But I only control my school."
At this point he assured us that of course  he (and the other principals, and teachers, and the counseling center, and the school cop) will help us if we're sexually assaulted (on school property during school hours). But his earlier comment still stands. He and the other principals, and teachers, and the counseling center, and the school cop, aren't those Trusted Adults those brochures in the counseling center speak of. Not unless Trusted Adults means we trust them to punish us. It's not their fault-there's a law.
Let's pretend I have a decent phone camera, decent cleavage, and an indecent boyfriend. Because I have all these things, I decide to send him a nude picture. He forwards it to all his buddies.
I could go crying to the principal, but why would I? I can now be charged with production, possession, and distribution of child pornography. Three counts. Oh, he'd get two of those counts. But I wouldn't be blameless. Rules like this keep kids from coming out about sexual abuse.
Where did I hear this, you ask? From a school assembly sophomore year. It ended with "tell a trusted adult."
I found this on twitter a while ago:
Embedded image permalink
According to RAINN, Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network, many teenagers don't report sexual assault because they're afraid of getting in trouble for things like drinking or sneaking out. And then there's the added stigma of just being sexually harassed. We'd rather be blameless than justified.
Just as health class teaches us "Don't be raped, girls" instead of "Don't rape anybody, boys"
administrators teach us "Don't break the rules because you'll get in trouble" instead of "Don't break the rules because it's immoral." They imagine us suffering the consequences instead doing the deed.
There's this myth that people are either entirely blameless or entirely guilty. Am I saying girls who experience sexual abuse deserve it for the way they act and dress? No. Definitely not. What I'm saying is, we think that a victim needs to be pure as the driven snow before she-or he-deserves the title of victim. Be a wolf or be a lamb.
Yes, it's wrong to post or share any kind of porn. Those who do so aren't excusable. But girls and boys who've made mistakes in the past need help more than punishment. Otherwise they won't report their problems and they stay trapped in a vicious cycle.
This isn't just a problem that exists during school hours on school property. It's a law, not a school code, that created it.
It's a big, scary world out there, my little lambs. There are wolves, and if you get eaten, you can be charged with sheep endangerment. Be sure you don't post any pictures of your soft, vulnerable underbelly anywhere wolves can see them-
not that you ever would. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Caution: Unmarked Obstacles Ahead

As a blogger, I hate Internet filters. As a skier, I respect the color orange.
I've been skiing since I was nine years old. At the top of every lift I've ever seen is a sign that reads Caution: Unmarked Obstacles ahead. I thought those were incredibly stupid. Why didn't ski patrol go around marking those obstacles instead of putting a useless banner at the top of the mountain?
Years of skiing taught me the answer. It's impossible to mark every obstacle. At the beginning of the season, skiers can easily avoid a small pine tree. Several weeks later that tree is now a shrub that can trip them up. Later on, enough snow has fallen to bury the tree completely. At the end of the season the snow melts and the tree is an obstacle again.
Setting up an Internet filter is like trying to put orange markers around every tree, bush, rock, post, and dip on the mountain. It won't work and it certainly won't teach you how to navigate the terrain safely. Making that effort is a waste of ski patrol's time.
So instead of trying to set up your orange tape, remind yourself of the unmarked obstacles. Browse smart. Ski away from anything that looks like it might hurt you. Call out to your friends if they're  headed the wrong way. And of you do fall down, plant your poles in the ground-or call for the help you need-and pick yourself back up.
I have no problem with basic filters, like safe search. I hate sleazy pop ups as much as you do, probably more. Ski patrol does mark major hazards. But most other filters fail spectacularly. For example, my parents installed K9 last month. I couldn't take it seriously with that stupid puppy logo. We took it down after realizing it blocked my blog. My offense? I dared to post-gasp-YouTube clips. Go away, children. Report me, adults. I'm corrupting you with this radical new idea that the Internet can contain videos.
In the end, it doesn't matter what kind of protection you set up. Boundaries only help if you stay inside them. Most accidents happen when skiers explore off the path.  The most important boundaries you can ever set up are the ones inside your own head.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Let Your Natural Sweetness Shine Through

Replace "women" with "teenagers" and you have every lecture on adolescent brain development I've ever heard.