Sunday, March 7, 2021

A high school student’s view of equality


The #MeToo movement isn’t really about catcalling or dress codes, but I can see how it’s related to both of them—especially since I read a lot of high school student newspapers.

At Lane Tech College Prep in Chicago, a student describes what must have been a scary scene as she had just stepped off a mass transit train, returning from the Lollapalooza music festival, when a group of men, much older than she, started yelling out comments, including “Hey sexy, nice ass. How 'bout you come over here and get to know us?”

The writer calls this catcalling “verbal harassment … not a compliment.” This kind of behavior is “downright creepy,” she writes.

Treating high school girls as sex objects takes the situation of #MeToo well beyond my ability to comment, so I really don’t know what to say when I read commentary like this. I’ll therefore just report how I have always thought about this sort of thing:

A woman’s body is like her property. I would no more steal a woman’s purse than I would take anything else that belonged to her, including that sexuality these boors in Chicago seem to feel they have some sort of right to.

But I also want to point out that the situation for girls in suburban schools isn’t much better than it is for those who get off a CTA train. Dress codes in high schools are incredibly, and unconscionably, biased against girls.

“I was dress coded once for my bra straps being visible,” a junior at Naperville Central High School in Chicago’s western suburbs was quoted as saying in that school’s student newspaper in an article entitled “What are you looking at?”

That title may be a little misleading, as “looking at” each other isn’t really the problem. It’s just that for a male (or female) teacher to dress code a girl means he (or she) has to look at her body. Not only does this embarrass the girl but it also makes her (and everyone who finds out about the dress code violation) look at her body or body parts as an object.

“I think when people are embarrassed,” one teacher was quoted as saying, “they choose to go the route of, ‘All right, you were looking at me, and you are looking at me in a way you shouldn’t and that’s why you noticed me.'”

Maybe that’s ridiculous, as the teacher suggests, but that is the kind of attitude that reinforces the “woman’s body as sex object” idea, which is what leads to catcalling on the part of some rude men among us, who used to be students.

When I think about #MeToo and the years and decades of abuse women have endured at the hands of men who felt entitled to take a woman’s body for their own, I think about Winston Churchill, who was quoted as saying in the movie The Darkest Hour, “This is not the end. It’s not even the beginning of the end. But maybe it’s the end of the beginning.”

The student newspaper at Catonsville High School, just west of Baltimore, points out that in 2014, the US Department of Defense “spent $41.6 million on Viagra and $82.24 million on erectile dysfunction for male soldiers, but won’t spend anything on feminine products for female soldiers.”

Again, even our government, where the men were once students who saw girls getting dress coded for the tiniest of infractions of poorly written guidelines, sends the message, with funding, that women’s bodies are somehow not worth protecting, keeping healthy, or making strong as much as a man’s.

Long way to go. The article ends a little more optimistic than it began:

While there have been many important strides to improve gender equality in society, large gaps still exist between men and women in areas such as salaries, healthcare, and medical research. Trying to close the gaps between men and women improves society overall by showing that everyone deserves equal rights no matter your gender.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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