Tag Archive | choice

Uniform change – pantastic

I read recently about a Dunedin intermediate that listened to its students when they said everyone should have the option to wear pants. The Principal decided why not ditch all gender rules and just have uniform options for everyone. It’s a great idea to have choice but do students really have ‘free choice’? I get that it gives girls the option to wear pants, that’s great but do guys feel just as excited to wear kilts or culottes? (does anyone get excited about culottes?) It is an important step and great that a school leader listened to students.

My experience of gender norms in schools goes way beyond uniform. I think body hair is the gender marker for most children, especially for girls. If girls have short hair at primary or intermediate they are constantly asked ‘are you a boy or a girl’ – the correct answer is ‘yes’ in case you ever get asked this question. I did all the time when I was at primary school, it never bothered me but it got a bit annoying at times, so I would just tackle harder in bull-rush or soccer and let my actions do the talking.

High schools are a bit tougher on the gender thing. I’m not sure why young adults need to be clothed in gender coded clothes for their education. I still don’t understand why pants are so scary for girls schools or why boys schools panic over guys with long hair. Because a gender ‘neutral’ option is a boys option. This is my point. Society is still basically scared of males being feminine or expressing femininity. Guys have such limited gender expression beyond masculinity in our school cultures and uniforms (including hair regulations) don’t help.

So I hope high schools start following the lead of primary and intermediates but I secretly hope we move away from uniforms completely. There are other ways to express school pride, identity and unity beyond making everyone look the same. That is not valuing diversity, it is fear of difference.

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Talking bull

This week is bullying awareness week, well, unofficially and Pink Shirt Day is Friday 20th May. So how to start a conversation about bullying that hasn’t already been done a thousand times….

There are plenty of bullying stories out there, and stories of people who make a stand it against it. There are lots of ideas on how to stop bullying, and schools put in punishments to make it clear it’s wrong to bully. There are also plenty of groups willing to come in and do a presentation, performance share a personal story to help ‘get the message out’ about how bad bullying is. How is that in spite of all this education, it still happens?

I think some of the reason is we go looking for a kind of person or action that we can identify. But is there such a thing as ‘a bully’ does this type of person actually exist? Because I get a bit confused when I talk with people about ‘bullies’. If I ask a range of people about a student from parents, teachers, friends, coaches I get different responses – I never have everyone say ‘yeah they are a bully 100%. So one shift I think needs to happen is to look at bullying not IN people – but BETWEEN people. Anyone can bully or be bullied, there is no ‘type’. You can also be bully and bullied at the same time, which is perhaps why it gets a little confusing.

Another thing I find interesting is the idea that people grow up and grow out of being bullies, I’m not so sure about that. Adults bully that’s a fact, our family violence statistics back that up. Family violence is about control and the use of fear to maintain that control. Bullying is similar. Anyone can bully because everyone feels vulnerable, scared and powerless at times. Bullying is a form of social event – no – I don’t mean it’s something to promote, but people form connections. People make sense of themselves and others through these actions, they give entry into groups. If we look at it this way then anyone can become involved because everyone needs to feel connected, a sense of belonging.

One good example is mocking, put downs, teasing. Humour and laughing are something all of us enjoy. The thing about humour is in order for it to work there has to be some form of shame attached – otherwise it doesn’t work. Friends can sometimes do this with each other. If someone has to say ‘naaaaa jokes’ to convince you that you shouldn’t be offended then it’s likely to have been intended to shame, hurt or humiliate.

Bullying and humour can be an uncomfortable fit. Both can pick on difference, or a sense of wrongness about that difference, this is something we all need to challenge. Laughing together at circumstances or even ourselves is good and healthy. Humour can help us understand the strange ways we are expected to be in the world based on our gender, culture, age, sexuality or functioning. But pointing and laughing at someone is not joining with them in a sense of understanding, it’s alienating and isolating.

I guess my challenge is to groups of friends. How do you respect each other’s differences when having a laugh? How do you laugh in public together-including in digital spaces? Is someone potentially getting their way of being in the world made wrong in the moment? How can you in that moment shift what you do to create a safer more respectful and ethical form of action? Because while you might not be doing the action that gets defined as bullying, your response will either be part of the acceptance and normalising of that or it will challenge it. I’m also interested in challenging homophobic put downs and harassment. Even if it’s amongst friends it can hurt but making it unsafe to be gay or transgendered. Sexuality and gender are unique human qualities we all want others to value. Feeling safe in who we are as people is a fundamental human need.

And just for the record, I think the worst examples of bullying are from adults not young people. It’s also why I love animals, they are just straight up about how they feel about you and they don’t really care about what their friends think if they are friends with another species.

Earth Day a bit craycray

Did you celebrate Earth Day on the 22nd of April? I think I did but I wasn’t sure how to. I could go online and get lots of ideas about how to do my part to look after the planet, or see how the way we live impacts on the environment, or how technology can save us and make it all better.

So I am officially confused by Earth Day and I am ok with that. Because I think my confusion keeps my mind open to why we even need an Earth Day and to keep asking questions about the future of the planet and EVERYTHING on it.

How do other species celebrate earth day? Be good to include them in the picture. I have one idea that is a bit weird. What if those gazillionaires instead of taking their holidays in pristine untouched beautiful parts of the world got a ‘Matrix Moment’ – as sort of ‘welcome to the desert of the real’ and someone flicks the switch on their view to see the open cast mining and the people scrambling around in the mud searching for small fragments to sell for enough money to stay alive for another day, or perhaps the deforestation of jungle and the displacement of endangered species for the growth of the palm oil industry so important for cosmetics (now that Whale hunting is kind of unfashionable).

Maybe we all need a similar reality check when we crave the next iPhone and ask why there might be suicide nets on the outside of the building where they are made. I like what Morpheus says in The Matrix when Neo realised how much the real world sucks: ‘I didn’t say it would be easy I just said it would be the truth’.

My Earth Day wake up truth is we are still addicted to stuff we don’t really need, and the real price that is being paid by species that get turned into handbags, shoes and lose their habitat for human consumption.

That is why I think many people prefer The Blue Pill.

Back to the future

In 1989 Marty McFly travelled to the future. The mysterious date was 21st October 2015. That date has arrived. No hoverboards and no self lacing shoes, but plenty of other tech was spot on. Some of the fashion looks suspiciously 1980’s but with sheen and shine added. I was also a bit excited yesterday about the new Star Wars movie – The Force Awakens trailer being released. I think I freaked a few people out at work with the intensity of my enthusiasm.

When thinking future I imagine technology. I imagine what humans might be wearing and sorry Star Trek fans – it isn’t a lycra onesie. But I hope gender kind of breaks down in the future that clothing is about what works, does the job.

So how is functionality defined in clothing? Movement? Comfort? I’m not really sure anymore after talking to some insightful young people at school. They came to me about wanting the uniform reviewed. It seems we kind of got stuck back in time with dresses and skirts and this strange third option called culottes. Think skirt but with a parting in the middle, so it looks like a skirt but is supposed to ‘function’ like shorts…yeah right.

My point is no-where in any future movie do you see culottes. I don’t think Daisy Ridley will be taking down storm troopers in culottes in The Force Awakens. Culottes are a bad compromise sometimes you have to pick a side – the middle is not comfortable. To offer truly functional options there needs to be shorts and pants as well as skirts, dresses, tunics and multiple shirt options – short and long sleeve.

But maybe the really radical future idea is no uniform. At the very least not prescribing uniform based on someones hormones, chromosomes and those bits only health teachers get to talk about.

What’s the buzz?

When you watch someone die knowing they were addicted to socially acceptable legal substances like alcohol and tobacco there is a hollow sense of irony. The questions I am left with are more about how substances are seen as harmful or helpful.

We like to feel good, we seek excitement, we like things that give us experiences, sensations and states that are enjoyable – we are drawn to them naturally. Funny thing is if you look into it, all species are into altered states. I’m not kidding. Young dolphins have been known to seek out poisonous puffer fish, hold them in their mouths then release them in order to experience the effects of the toxins. There are numerous examples in nature of this phenomenon of ‘getting out of it’.

It’s interesting to look at the history of some substances and how they have been seen by cultures and societies depending on their perceived usefulness. From shemanic rituals to religious experiences, traditional herbal medicines to pharmaceutical medical applications, there are histories and knowledges that have allowed some to come through seen as ‘good’ and some as ‘bad’.

You can do your own research about substances from all sorts of perspectives and evidence but the question remains about choice and control. I still struggle with the idea that we can watch people smoking and drinking, advertise alcohol, have it in movies and t.v. while those desperate to seek treatment for seizures with cannabis oil are denied access under our current law. It’s like our eyes are wide shut when it comes to rethinking drugs and alcohol.

But ultimately I think about my uncle who represented Wales in Trampolining in the 1960’s and how he was a thrill seeker. How he replaced one buzz for another but because they were socially acceptable and normalised few people probably expressed concern. I will finish with a question written by Carl Sagan 24 years ago about the war on drugs in America;

“is there something intrinsically immoral about feeling good by taking a molecule”

That question really does blow my mind.

Divergent: Romeo and Juliet meets Dystopia

I read somewhere that ‘movies are like the modern version of the campfire’ and I think what that means is they have become a way of telling stories about ourselves. Books do this of course but the visual aural spectacle of watching something on the big screen (and in 3D if you don’t get motion sick like me) is probably how a lot of people come across powerful themes like dystopia.

If you’re not familiar with the term, dystopia is the opposite of utopia or living in a ‘perfect world’. Typical features of dystopia are totalitarian governments with severe or extreme forms of control that are often dehumanising or degrading in some way, and sometimes include a version of environmental disaster (natural or unnatural). Dystopian themed literature exploded in the 1930’s and 40’s perhaps in response to world events at the time with some real classics emerging such as Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley and my all time favourite 1984 by George Orwell (written in 1949..clearly didn’t predict the true horror of 80’s fashion).

With The Hunger Games, Delirium and Divergent arriving to push dystopic themes into the ‘hearts’ (fluttering?) and minds of young people, it is probably important to look beyond the visuals of these productions to some of the important messages they potentially have.
I saw Divergent recently and putting aside the romantic under/overtones the messages around how societies might re-organise themselves after an apocalypse of some kind follows a familiar pattern. The first is the idea of social structures changing especially government and law. In Divergent society is organised into faction based on roles performed by people. Once you reach a certain age you are tested to see what faction your personal qualities best suit. You then get the choice to go with that or stay with your faction of birth. The risk is if you choose another faction you say goodbye to your family. The second idea is of revolution and where that comes from is resistance. In Divergent, if you are someone who’s skills, qualities and abilities fit multiple factions you get an ‘inconclusive’ result meaning you are divergent and this is a threat to the governing social structure. Divergents hide and do what they can to stay hidden as they are hunted down.

I liked the idea of some following their hearts rather than the test result, breaking free of family tradition. The idea of ‘fitting in’ versus belonging runs strongly through Divergent. It reminded me of schools in many ways and how quickly they test you to see where you fit. The factions in this case could be generalised stereotypes of ‘sporty’ ‘sciency, mathsy (geeky)’ ‘languagy’ ‘arty’ you get the idea. Gradually the lines between the factions appear to strengthen as the expectation to choose your future pathway draws nearer. Psychological tests are beginning to appear in schools as a tool to help young people ‘choose’ where they fit. Teachers and parents sit eagerly awaiting your decision, they know you, your potential but here you are secretly ‘divergent’ screaming on the inside ‘yes I’m good at sport but I love literature and chemistry, why do I have to choose?’ It isn’t an extreme leap to notice as well that families have certain hopes and expectations for where their children should belong. Walking away from that to follow what deep down you know is important to you can feel like being exiled or disowned.

We not only label people by looks we have drawn imaginary lines around knowledge and skills and forced young people to ‘fit’ and for me this resembles a socially acceptable form of dystopia. I like divergent ways of being and want to reassure any others hiding out there that you are not alone and your place is everywhere and anywhere.

Really the only difference between the topias is ‘dys-u’ how strange language is at times.

To Vote or Not To Vote? – that is not the only question.

It’s an interesting thing ‘legal ages’. Society world wide is a bit inconsistent when it comes to young people and the ages of readiness to do things, but in general (at least from a New Zealand perspective) the idea is the law tries to offer protection and a lot of the time it works. We have some legal ages in NZ that are ‘loosely’ enforced such as the drinking age and age of consent for sex. By loose I mean it’s possible that some young people will enter into either of these activities before they reach the legal age or after – or even never at all. Voting is quite different. There is no sneaking around that one, its 18 through and through.

It got me wondering how those High School students of voting age this year make sense of the world of politics. It’s curious how bullying, back stabbing, name calling etc are frowned upon in schools yet seem to be almost essential qualities for politics, at least that’s how it appears to me. Figuring out which political party you might vote for is in many ways like dating. Political parties parade their policies to attract voters and if you are a first time voter they will be courting you ‘hard out’. But what about your parents? Do they have a preference of who you should be ‘with’? It’s a conundrum for many to the point where it might seem like an arranged marriage as though your party vote represents a form of faith, passed down generation to generation. It is a form of relationship and it can be hard to ‘come out’ as something other than what family or friends expect you to be. Dinner time conversations every three years could get incredibly tense at times I imagine in some households.

But it’s ok, because at the end of the day it’s just you behind the card board box wall and a pen. You and you alone cast that vote or not vote. Whatever you tell others will be a matter of politics, and we all know that what people say and do might not always be the same thing.

Ice Cream – everyone one loves it…right?

Once upon a time there was an ice cream shop. Now, everyone loves ice-cream (at least in this story) it is part of life from early childhood through all stages of life. So there were many shops selling ice-cream (IC) for obvious reasons.

However – there was only one flavour IC. But people didn’t mind because they were not aware there was any other possibility for flavour. The one flavour on offer was vanilla. Vanilla was delicious and while a lot of people enjoyed it – others were not so fussed but went along with agreeing it was delicious and indeed the best thing in the world.  Read More…

Obligation — where does it come from?

Most people would say they feel obligated as a result of someone else’s expectation(s) of them. That’s no surprise when you look at the dictionary definition:

an act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound; a duty or commitment: [ with infinitive ] : I have an obligation to look after her.

• [ mass noun ] the condition of being morally or legally bound to do something: they are under no obligation to stick to the scheme.

• a debt of gratitude for a service or favour: she didn’t want to be under an obligation to him.

• [ Law ] a binding agreement committing a person to a payment or other action.

Morality, legal binding, that’s pretty weighty stuff. Here’s another way of thinking about obligation that, for me, feels easier to swallow: Read More…