Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: My kids go to a school that has recently been trying to teach some age-appropriate lessons relevant to the #MeToo movement. In theory I think this is a good thing, but in practice I think they’re not doing it very well, mostly because they seem to think boys and girls need very different messages.
For example, they’ve repeated, “A boy should never hit a girl,” over and over, but I would prefer, “No one should hit anyone.” And, they did a “consent” lesson where boys and girls were separated, and the message to boys was, “You should not touch someone without their consent,” and the message to girls was, “You should speak up if someone touches you without your consent,” when I think both lessons should be taught to both boys and girls.
Do you think I should talk to my own kids about some of the misgivings I have about these lessons, or talk to the school, or just keep my mouth shut?
DEAR MISGIVINGS: Talk to both, please! The school’s mistakes — and I agree with your positions — are opportunities for important conversations with your kids. As always, be sure to listen as much as you talk, if not more, but certainly get things started by saying what bothers you and asking what they think.
And make an appointment today, please, to talk to the principal. Express gratitude for the willingness to take this on before you launch into your critique.
Re: Misgivings: The school is not in error — boys and girls do need different messages. Young boys need to rein in their aggressiveness, while young girls should be taught to find it, train it, and have it on tap for when it is needed.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: I strenuously disagree. Body autonomy is body autonomy. Consent is consent. Treating people as This Type or That Type is a gateway to shame, and shame is the stealth enemy of empowerment.
And if you think girls aren’t naturally aggressive, then you missed some brilliant soccer this summer.
Re: Misgivings: Please speak up. Obviously, I don’t want anyone hitting my daughter, but I don’t want her thinking she can hit boys and not face consequences because “she’s a girl.” And with the more recent broadened awareness of boys as victims of sexual abuse, it’s really important that all our children get the same messages.
Re: Misgivings: Make sure to also tell the school that BOTH lessons need to be taught to ALL children — boys also need to be able to speak up when touched without their consent or in harmful ways, and girls need to not touch anyone without consent. Violence against women needs to be acknowledged and taken seriously, but everyone needs to be empowered to speak up when they are violated.
Re: Misgivings: The school is not just wrong in this context, they’re actively part of the problem by indirectly teaching the kids that boys cannot be victimized and girls must be protected and therefore have less agency.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Yes, all of this. Thank you.