"I heard a voice from heaven saying, 'Son, let this woman be a bride to you in the restoration of my people. Let her be a mother for these people, regenerating souls through the salvation of spirit and water.'" (Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Age and Gender Power Imbalance

I had trouble posting a comment at a fascinating new-to-me blog today. And it was pretty lengthy and directly related to recent entries around the BLM Stations of the Cross. So I will reproduce it here as a post and invite the writer to conversation via email.

One of my second grade girls today gave me a flower at recess. It was just a dandelion, but quite lovely. I was very touched, and I thanked her as I tucked it up behind my ear, much to her evident delight.

A while later, I was chatting with another second grader who had had a dispute with one of her classmates. As our conversation wrapped up, she, without any warning, reached out and plucked the flower off my head. “There,” she said in a thoroughly satisfied manner, “now you don’t look like a girl.” And before I could respond, she ran off.


Hi Race!

I found you through the Feminism and Religion post--so delightful to find brothers who also experience Her as the primary (or sole) face of divinity!

I am moved by the anecdote and glad you are so passionate for the protection of transgirls and boys. I am also heartbroken that this little cis girl has already internalized the misogyny of church and society which is at the heart of sexism as well as homophobia and transphobia. Women must stay in their oppressed stance and men in their oppressive one in the kyriarchal binary--which leads to femicide and queercide when the border is threatened by "uppity women" or "feminizing men." So she, like a black child enforcing white supremacist beauty standards on himself or other black children, is acting out received oppression as a victim rather than a perpetrator.

Hence I am profoundly uncomfortable with your description of the encounter between a very young female student and a male adult in a position of authority over her. Especially since the adult apparently made no attempt to gently address either respect for other people's possessions and physical space-- or the deep panic induced in her by the blurring of gender strictures forced upon her since the day she was wrapped in a pink blanket and destined for rape culture and the wage gap.

This tiny child "without any warning reached out and plucked off" your flower leading to her "thorough satisfaction" then "ran off before [you]could say anything." You "felt a sickness lurch in [your] stomach." The "seed" of "oppression" and "violence" was in "her words" because she had "made it her own."

All these words are strongly reminiscent of my own feelings as a victim of clergy sexual abuse from a male pastor enabled by a sexist church and academy--and of mine now, and my teenage daughter's, as queer cis women when we are experiencing aggression and boundary violations by straight or gay cis men who have us at a significant power disadvantage both physically and socially.

This week that is taking the form of her first experience of foolish mansplaining and traumatic gaslighting from a straight white cis male pastor in response to respectful critiques of the misogynoir in his anti-racist art installation. So I would greatly appreciate your reading over and reconsidering your piece with the power dynamics of age and authority between you and your student, and of gender/sex between you and her--and me, and all female assigned people--in mind.


1 comment:

  1. Dr. Grimes,

    Thank you for your very thoughtful reflection on my experience, which has encouraged me in turn, as you suggested, to try to see it from another angle (an angle helpfully informed by some of your recent writing on "attuned" techniques for interacting with children). I do wish the encounter had given me more opportunity to engage the student in question; unfortunately, second-grade recesses are both quite quick and quite chaotic! Had I had more time, however, I'm not altogether sure what I might have said, because in this case the power imbalance flowed both ways, albeit in quite different fashions.

    I am a man. I am a man who has been marked in varying ways and degrees as "feminine" by both men and women his whole life. I am a man who is–I hesitate to say "well-versed", but perhaps I might say better versed than most men–in lesbian feminist thought. I am therefore acutely conscious of the ways in which men's appropriation of traits, mannerisms, and forms of expression typically identified as "feminine" serves to erase certain kinds of women's identities and to invade spaces which many women have, with tremendous effort, attempted to hold safe.

    As an adult male teacher, I was certainly the authority figure over a second-grade girl in all ordinary respects, but it struck me even in the moment that she, as a female-assigned person, was an appropriate arbiter of the acceptability of my expression (accidental as it was, in this case) when she perceived it to invade the precinct of her identity. To have challenged her in that assessment, and to have insisted that I had some kind of right to adopt what she, with the support of the culture in which she lives, regarded as distinctively feminine would have struck me (and still does, I think) as an assertion of male privilege at her expense.

    It is a complicated issue, however, and find myself very much of one mind one moment, and another at another. I would be grateful to talk it through with you for the next time a similar situation arises.