Someone at lunch today called me brave.
I don’t know how to respond to that.
I had finished telling stories of my time in 2nd grade slavery. I was a long term sub with an absolutely dreadful experience–that class is the biggest reason I got out of education altogether.
I’d been in that class for a while and noticed the horrible sexism of the kids. I had kids who would use “like a girl” as the ULTIMATE put down to other boys. I finally overheard it one day, instead of having a report from a tattletale that was usually less than trustworthy. I knew I had to do something to put it right at that moment.
I stopped all scheduled instruction and bellowed “LOOK AT ME. LOOK AT ME RIGHT. NOW.” in a voice that usually meant the world was about to end, recess and snack times were canceled, and that you’d rather be anywhere than in my classroom at that moment.
“GIRLS!” I yelp. “GIRLS! SHOW ME HOW TO JUMP. LIKE A GIRL. GET UP OUT OF YOUR SEATS AND SHOW ME. JUMP RIGHT NOW.” The girls in my class give nervous glances to each other and to me; they’re not sure what is happening. Ms.B isn’t usually this weird in the middle of reading time. Finally, some of them jump. “Jump again! Jump high! Show me how you jump, girls!” At this encouragement, they smile and spring from the ground towards the heavens. My girls jump for all they are worth–which is millions, by my calculations. “THAT! THAT BOYS! THAT IS HOW YOU JUMP LIKE A GIRL!” My boys grumble to themselves and their friends. Generations of inbred sexism won’t be undone quickly or easily; this I know.
I lead my girls through a few extra activities. We run like girls. We punch like girls. We do math like girls. We lead the class like girls.
I don’t know if I really got anything through any of those boys brains that day, but I certainly did see a turnaround in the tiny females in my class. My girls smiled wider and they sang louder. They seemed proud to be girls and they finally seemed to believe that they could do anything. We learned about important women in history and I pointed out our country’s never had a girl in charge. I told them any single one of my girls could lead the world and I meant it.
I taught that lesson because I knew it was the right thing to do.
I taught that lesson because sometimes at school, you don’t need to practice finding the proper verb tense.
Sometimes at school, you need to practice being a good human being.
When I told other adults in the building what I’d done, I was met with resistance, especially from most of the women. Adult women who disagreed with me that women can do anything men can. Adult women who were uncomfortable with me teaching little girls that they were just as good as little boys. Adult women who perhaps never had any discussions about equality, gender, and civil rights.
I never thought that I’d done anything special or extraordinary, so today at lunch when another woman called me brave for tackling these subjects in a classroom, I was flabbergasted.
I’m not sure who or what I consider to be brave in the highest sense, but me? Lil ole me? Naaaaaaaah.
It was hard praise to hear and even harder praise to believe, but maybe just maybe… My lesson did make a difference. Maybe one of the kids in my class will call a friend on some sexist behavior one day. To me, that kid will be the brave one. I made a point to a captive audience; standing up to your friends when they do something wrong?
That’s real bravery.