Purity, Slut Shaming, and Virtue Policing – On “Virtue Makes You Beautiful”

I’m always one for a good remake of a pop song.  Hell, I even worked with friends to create a consent-based version of “Call Me Maybe” a few years ago.

So when I saw someone post a remake of a song I absolutely hate for its really messed up, sexist message to young women, I thought to myself, “Hey, it can’t be worse than the original!”

Wow, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In short, I hate “What Makes You Beautiful” because this group of “heart-throb” teen pop-stars tell young women over and over through a myriad of cheesy lyrics that  what makes them beautiful is having no self esteem and not actually finding themselves beautiful.

Just what we need! Another song telling women that it’s “hot” for them to hate themselves!

And what’s worse, it’s a bunch of men telling women what they should think about themselves!

So when I saw that there was a remake out there, I was intrigued, hoping that maybe it would put some subversive spin on the terrible message.  And this is what I found.

In case you can’t bring yourself to rage watch the whole thing, it’s a bunch of high school boys with the help of superstar (within a certain world) Mormon musician Alex Boye signing about how women are far more attractive when they have the “self respect” not to wear “short skirts or low cut shirts” and that they are most beautiful when they are “modest” and “virtuous.”

Oh, and with the line “girls with integrity are hard to find these days,” they basically say that women who don’t “respect themselves” by dressing “modestly” have no integrity and only would dress the way they do to attract the attention of “a guy that only cares what he sees with his eyes.”

Ugh.

Okay. So it’s hard to know what all to say about this, and I can’t help but think that I’m being trolled with this entire thing, but it’s really popular!  It has a total of probably 500,000 hits in various copies on the internet!

While it may seem that I’ve taken to my blog just to complain about this nastiness, I actually do want to do more than just rage out about this purity policing.

When the song first started, I had hope.  After all, a message telling young women that they are more than sexual objects and that confidence and self respect and intelligence are all beautiful qualities could be a good one.

But this remake doesn’t do that. It sends girls and women some really terrible messages, but as an educator who works primarily in engaging men in feminist work, I am concerned with the messages it sends to men:

1. Whether by valuing only a woman’s sexuality or “virtue,” men still get to decide what’s beautiful. What girls and women think doesn’t really matter.

In reality, though, we as men should have absolutely no right to tell a woman (or any person for that matter) “that’s what makes you beautiful.”  Sure, we can be attracted to certain things like confidence and even particular styles of dress (though we should definitely interrogate that attraction for underlying sexism and paternalism), but women are the only ones who get to decide what’s beautiful.  If a woman feels beautiful in a niqab or in daisy dukes, her opinion is the only one that matters.  And by publicly putting out messages like this one, we are basically shaming any woman who doesn’t act in the way we deem “beautiful” as somehow the opposite.

2.  There is a dichotomy (a false one) between women who “respect themselves” by dressing “modestly” and slutty slut sluts who have no “virtue.”

Young men (well, men in general) get some pretty terrible messages about how they should think about women, but this false dichotomy not only hurts women for obvious reasons (I hope they’re obvious…), but it forces men to lie about our attractions so as not to appear “without virtue” ourselves.  After all, yes, we may be attracted to people who dress in what these dudes consider “modest clothing,” but we are also likely attracted to all sorts of people and styles of dress and ways of being (and not just women, but I’ll get to that later).

When we claim that we think it’s wrong for women to be anything but “virtuous” in this strict construction of virtue, we end up shaming women while casting ourselves into guilt and shame when we find women attractive who don’t fit the “virtuous” profile. It’s just unhealthy, repressed sexuality mixed in with some good, old-fashioned slut shaming!

The reality is that a person can dress modestly and be a terrible, mean, downright nasty person, and another person can have all the integrity in the world and love to show their beautiful thighs to everyone while riding their cruiser bike.  How we as humans dress says nothing about our character!

3.  Men have the right to body police and slut shame women so long as we do it through positive language like “modesty” and “virtue.”

I would guess that if I asked most of these guys if they think it’s wrong to yell “SLUT” at a woman on the street who is wearing a low-cut top, they would say yes (even if, in practice, they might do it).  Yet that’s exactly what they are doing, only in reverse.

They are yelling singing publicly that women who dress “modestly” are “virtuous” and “beautiful,” they are slut shaming without ever yelling impolite words.  This allows us as men to feel like we’re being honorable when we’re really no different than the men on the street who harass women for what they wear.

4.  Guys are and should only be attracted to women.

Finally, I know without a shadow of a doubt that they meant it to be this way, but watching this video, you would think that men only are ever attracted to women.  Why is this hurtful?  Well, LGBTQQAAI young people who grow up in “purity cultures” like that pushed by this video live in worlds founded on guilt, shame, hurt, and violence, and they take their lives in staggering numbers.  Thus, though it’s not the focus of the video, the heterosexism present also hurts.  Who knows, maybe it’s hurting one of the people acting in the video!

In essence, this was a bit of a rant.  But it was meant to be more than that!  It was meant to be a call to consider how “purity” and “virtue” messages like this one are actually really damaging, and we need more adult men (I’m looking at you, Alex Boye) to call young men to consider why this hurts everyone.

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10 Keys for Creating an Inclusive Classroom for LGBTQ Students

Everyday FeminismThis week’s post comes via Everyday Feminism!  I’m definitely excited to have this piece published at a site with such a large community!

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Lately I have been facilitating a lot of professional development sessions for teachers on building inclusive environments for diverse student populations.

And one thing is clear to me: most teachers want to be as supportive as possible to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) students but aren’t sure how best to do so.

The unfortunate reality is that few schools are safe spaces for LGBTQ students:

  • 84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.
  • 63.7% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 27.2% reported being physically harassed and 12.5% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression.
  • 72.4% heard homophobic remarks, such as “faggot” or “dyke,” frequently or often at school.
  • Nearly two-thirds (61.1%) of students reported that they felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation, and more than a third (39.9%) felt unsafe because of their gender expression.
  • 29.1% of LGBT students missed a class at least once and 30.0% missed at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns, compared to only 8.0% and 6.7%, respectively, of a national sample of secondary school students.
  • The reported grade point average of students who were more frequently harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender expression was almost half a grade lower than for students who were less often harassed (2.7 vs. 3.1).
  • Increased levels of victimization were related to increased levels of depression and anxiety and decreased levels of self-esteem.
  • Being out in school had positive and negative repercussions for LGBT students %96 outness was related to higher levels of victimization, but also higher levels of psychological well-being.

(Source: GLSEN 2009 National School Climate Survey)

As a result, more and more teachers are looking for help in supporting their LGBTQ students, and schools are looking for proactive ways to create a safer environment for students of all sexual orientations.

To try to offer support, I have compiled a list of 10 things teachers can do to create a more inclusive classroom environment for LGBTQ students.  Though these can in no way be comprehensive, they are meant to be a starting place for better supporting our LGBTQ students in the classroom environment.

Read the complete list at Everyday Feminism.

10 Keys to Creating an Inclusive Classroom Community for LGBTQ Students

Lately I have been facilitating a lot of professional development sessions for teachers on building inclusive environments for diverse student populations, and one thing is clear to me: most teachers want to be as supportive as possible to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) students but aren’t sure how best to do so.

The unfortunate reality is that few schools are safe spaces for LGBTQ students.

  • 84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.
  • 63.7% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 27.2% reported being physically harassed and 12.5% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression.
  • 72.4% heard homophobic remarks, such as “faggot” or “dyke,” frequently or often at school.
  • Nearly two-thirds (61.1%) of students reported that they felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation, and more than a third (39.9%) felt unsafe because of their gender expression.
  • 29.1% of LGBT students missed a class at least once and 30.0% missed at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns, compared to only 8.0% and 6.7%, respectively, of a national sample of secondary school students.
  • The reported grade point average of students who were more frequently harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender expression was almost half a grade lower than for students who were less often harassed (2.7 vs. 3.1).
  • Increased levels of victimization were related to increased levels of depression and anxiety and decreased levels of self-esteem.
  • Being out in school had positive and negative repercussions for LGBT students %96 outness was related to higher levels of victimization, but also higher levels of psychological well-being.
    Source: GLSEN 2009 National School Climate Survey

As a result, more and more teachers are looking for help in supporting their LGBTQ students, and schools are looking for proactive ways to create a safer environment for students of all sexual orientations.  To try to offer support, I have compiled a list of 10 things teachers can do to create a more inclusive classroom environment for LGBTQ students.  Though these can in no way be comprehensive, they are meant to be a starting place for better supporting our LGBTQ students in the classroom environment.

The Ten Keys to Building an Inclusive Classroom Community:
Supporting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning Students

  1. Use inclusive language
    – Use precise terms like Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning (LGBTQ) rather than homosexual or gay as an umbrella term.
    – Use terms like partner instead of boyfriend and girlfriend or husband and wife.
  2. Never tolerate abusive language in your classroom or in the halls
    – Language like, “That’s so gay” or “You’re such a fag” is common in schools, and it actively creates an unsafe environment for LGBTQ students and LGBTQ Allies.  We must respond to (and be sure not to ignore such language).
    – Don’t simply be punitive with hurtful language.  Instead, explain why it is not welcome and is hurtful.  This helps students understand why they shouldn’t use the language rather than just making them avoid using it around you.
  3. Never assume heterosexuality
    – Building relationships with students is wonderful!  Ask about students’ lives, but don’t assume heterosexuality in your language.  A question like, “Are you seeing anybody these days?” goes a lot further than, “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?”
  4. Maintain confidentiality within the confines of your professional responsibilities
    – There are certain things like abuse that we cannot keep confidential, but outside of that, make sure students feel safe by always keep what they share in confidentiality.
    – Create a space in which students can talk to you about their struggles, helping all students to understand that you are someone they can talk to during free time.
    – Be careful never to “out” an LGBTQ student, meaning that if a student is not open in their sexual orientation and they share that with you, be careful not to share that information with others.  Sometimes being out can be more dangerous than being closeted.
  5. Keep an eye out for bullying and act to stop it
    – It’s tough to know the best way to respond to bullying.  Sometimes it means interrupting bullying as it happens.  Sometimes it means talking to the bullies or the bullied afterward.
    – In responding to bullying, be careful to not make the target out to be the weak one in the situation, as that can make bullying worse in the long run.
  6. Respect the needs and wishes of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual students
    – Support them in their decisions and their needs, helping them to make safe choices that will help them be happy and fully realized as a young person.
    – Questions like, “Are you sure?”  “Could this be a phase?” are not helpful.
  7. Respect the needs and wishes of Transgender students
    – Respect the names students wish to be called and the pronouns they prefer.  When unsure, ask with empathy and respect.
    – Respect the clothing choices students make, supporting them as they figure out how they want to perform their gender.
  8. Encourage respectful disagreement on issues of sexual identity
    – Dialogue and discussion inside and outside the classroom are helpful and healthy so long as respectful.  Don’t shut down conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity, but make sure to facilitate the conversation down inclusive roads and correct misconceptions.
  9. Recognize that you’re not an expert.  You will make mistakes and occasionally be insensitive.
    – Humble yourself and apologize where necessary; learn from your mistakes, and always try to broaden your understanding of LGBTQ issues so you can best support all of your students.
  10. Acknowledge that building an inclusive community is better for everyone, and fight to make it a school-wide priority.
    – Inclusive communities experience less bullying and violence.
    – Inclusive communities are likely to boast higher achievement and are stronger school spirit.

For more ideas for building an inclusive community, check out the recommendations for positive interventions and support from the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network.

Bullying, Hate Crimes, and Mother Monster

I love Lady Gaga.  I love her bizarre style.  I love her music (Born This Way is my JAM).  I love how unabashedly weird she is.  Whenever I hear about her or something she’s working on, I want to scream, “PUT YOUR PAWS UP!”

Lady Gaga understands that we currently face a culture and climate in the United States where it is just plain not safe to be young and gay.  While the number one cause of death among teenagers in the U.S. is an auto accident, the number one cause of death among gay teenagers is suicide.

In the midst of this, I appreciate Lady Gaga’s attention to the issue.  She has a HUGE microphone, and she is able to reach a lot of people with a message of acceptance and love while advocating action to end bullying of LGBTQ teens.

She recently wrote and performed the song “Hair” after 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer committed suicide because he was bullied.

However, in some of her advocacy around this issue, I think she is wildly misguided.  I’m sorry, Mother Monster.

She recently recorded this video for the students at Etobicoke School of the Arts in Toronto after they made a pledge to end bullying.

I was totally on board until she said, “I am going to be working as hard as I can to make bullying a hate crime.”

Now, while I find her sentiment a noble one, I find a lot of things problematic with her approach, as she tries to make bullying a hate crime.

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Talking True LGBTQ Equality

Often when I am presenting around the country, I bring up the issue of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) rights, and I get this response, “Jamie, I understand what you’re trying to say, but I don’t believe it is morally acceptable for someone to be Gay.”

Though I find this sentiment troubling and filled with heterosexism, I find it best not to respond to the question directly.  Instead, I say, “Well, I am not going to engage you on that point.  Instead, let me ask you a question.  Should someone, regardless of their sexual orientation or their gender identity, feel safe to walk the streets and feel secure in their job, in their livelihood?”

Every time I have asked this question, I get the same answer: an enthusiastic YES!

Therein lies the problem.  Our society treats Lesbian, Gy, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning folks as second-class citizens.  How can we even begin a conversation about marriage equality when LGBTQ people cannot walk down the street, apply for a job, or express themselves openly in their workplace without fear?

This morning I was reading the news, and I came across an article describing the findings of Harvard researcher Andras Tilcsik.  Tilcsik sent out the two counterfeit resumes to the same 1700 job openings around the country.  The only real difference between the resumes is that half identified the applicant as having been the treasurer in a Gay college campus organization.  Tilcsik found that those resumes that identified the candidate as Gay (or at minimum a Straight Ally) were 40% less likely to get a call back than the resumes that said nothing of Sexual Orientation.  Notably, there was also tremendous regional differences, with those employers in the Midwest and South much more likely to discriminate than those in, say, the North East.

I suppose I wasn’t at all surprised by the findings of the study, but it did catch my eye because it simply adds to the patchwork of discrimination against LGBTQ people in this country.

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Highlighting a Hero – Graeme Taylor

I’ve had an amazing week!  On Monday, I was in Othello, WA, speaking to the student body of Othello High School, and on Tuesday, I was able to speak to the students of Warden High School in Warden, WA.  I was facilitating my signature workshop, The Wall, and, as I always am when I get to work with incredible young people, I left Washington feeling inspired.  Thus, I plan to write a blog post in the next few days about the inspiration I draw from incredible young people like the ones I worked with in the last few days, but I have been swamped since getting home, so in the mean time, I am going to post a quick little something highlighting a mind-blowingly-awesome young person I’ve read about this week.

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