"A boy in your daughter's class said he wanted to crush her private parts. I'm just calling to inform you of the incident."
I was in the middle of planning a lesson for my Teaching Tolerance grant with a coworker when I received this phone call from my daughter's assistant principal of her elementary school. The grant was awarded to us to educate our students about past injustices so that they can help recognize, prevent, and change injustices in the future. Our students are asked to use our lessons to help pay it forward and educate others through acts of service. This is what I was in the middle of thinking about when I received this phone call concerning my second-grade daughter.
As a mother and a teacher, I have done my best to give my daughter and other young ladies a real feminist role model. My daughter's media is carefully looked at, and I consider what she is exposed to. Her room is decorated in female superheroes, she reads obscure graphic novels with female heroines, we search for movies and shows with strong female protagonists, we listen to empowering music. She knows who Patti Smith is, and we educate her on important women in history. She did her first-grade report on Lucy Parsons. In her world, women are equal to men. Women are strong and brave. Women have a voice.
As a teacher, I have purposely sought out literature that is not written by white men so as to give all my students something they can relate to. I have encouraged my female students to take on leadership roles and think for themselves. I have taught them lessons that have nothing to do with school about loving themselves and not settling for someone to avoid being alone.
I know that the world I am selling to my daughter and my students does not yet exist, but I believe that one day it can — with the proper education. So when I walked into the assistant principal's office the next day with my husband to request that this boy who sexually harassed my daughter be removed from her class, I had hope.
My daughter is not herself. She has shared she is afraid.
My hope was that the woman who was in charge would know about my daughter's rights. I also hoped that she recognized that the comment this boy made is damaging in many ways. I hoped she would see that this was a learned behavior and this boy needs counseling and his parents need to be held accountable. I hoped that as a woman, the assistant principal would be empathetic with my daughter and know that having her in the same classroom with an aggressor would send a message that my daughter is less than.
My husband had reviewed the school's handbook, refreshed his Title IX knowledge, and was prepared to logically explain my daughter's rights.
"I'm sorry, I am not familiar with Title IX; can you explain it to me?" I never expected to hear these words from an assistant principal — let alone a female administrator. I am not an administrator, and I know what Title IX is. She did not remove the boy from the class. When pressed about the school's sexual harassment policy, she couldn't really explain it and said they haven't ever had a problem like this. She thought this could all be fixed by her checking in with the boy on a weekly basis.
At this point, it took all of my being to remain calm.
As I write this, the boy is still in her class. As parents, we are planning our next move. At home, we have been watching DC Super Hero Girls movies, listening to the "Essential Feminism" playlist on iTunes, and doing lots of self-care. We are talking to her about how brave and strong she is. We are encouraging her to talk to us and her teacher (who has been wonderful through all of this) about any further fears or incidents.
My daughter is not herself. She has shared she is afraid. We are doing all that we can to keep her calm.
I am sharing this because even though the assistant principal said she has never dealt with anything like this before, I don't think this story is unique. I think there are more incidents like this happening in elementary schools. I think we are failing our girls but we are also failing our boys. We are teaching our girls that they do not matter, that they do not have rights, and that this kind of comment is not a real problem. We are teaching them to swallow abuse because the boy needs "help." We are teaching boys that they can say terrible things to or about girls and only receive sympathy. We are not holding them accountable. The "boys will be boys" attitude is giving them a false sense of power.
We need better education in this country — and it has nothing to do with math and English.