School Administrators Underwriting Gender Inequality

Or – If you keep asking people to attack you we will be forced to suspend you

Trigger warning: This story involves very disturbing sexual and gendered abuse toward the student involved.

Yesterday I noted how South Philly High rep. suggested the district was enforcing equal consequences across the board for ‘fighting’ in response to a single day assault on 26 Asian students. Yes, the district rep. said, Asian students were suspended right alongside the attackers for ‘fighting.’ Because you know – zero tolerance – and lets not call this a biased or racist attack or dig any deeper than who hit who and measuring bruises.  Moving on…

So today I thought I’d point out another administrative pattern I’ve often observed toward a different group of targeted students: Those sleazy girls.  You know the ones who teachers often suggest are just ‘putting it all out there on display’ all the time.   I would bet that given a moment to think any student or teacher can name the girls on the wrong/hated side of this gender line. 

So, what do you do when a young girl becomes one of the named representatives for every sort of misogynistic hate available? You know the class slut.  Well, of course, if you can pin the misogyny on her somehow then you can suspend her too.

Here is how it works.  In  the case I just read about the little girl involved, Hope Witsell, engaged in some photo sexting with a crush. Once her photo went viral she spent the reminder of last school year becoming the ‘slut’ of her community in Florida.  Once the viral photo, originally intended for a love interest, came to the attention of the school, the girl was punished – twice.  And her public reputation and personal identity spiraled into oblivion.  

Hope’s story is a tragic case in which the community tagged trampy girl did not survive the ridicule, total sexualization, and administrative ‘corrections’ she was offered for her fleeting indiscretion. In September of this year she committed suicide leaving behind a journal chronicling her downward spiral.

Here is the short version of Hope’s story:

A middle school girl decided to send a topless photo to a love interest. (A poll recently showed some 20 percent of teens admitting they’ve sent nude pictures of themselves over cell phones). The photo somehow got passed along to the entire school… then to the entire high school… and outward… Within no time this 13-year-old girl was the physical locus for every slut and whore comment imaginable.

“The hallways were not fun at that time — she’d walk into class and somebody would say, ‘Oh, here comes the slut,’ ” Hope’s friend, Lane James, told the newspaper.

It is not mentioned in the article, but I would conjecture from my research that many males also offered or threatened to have sex with her as well on a regular basis.  In all of my observations and interviews I found that, I’m gonna do you, I’m gonna nail you, etc… is both a flirtatious and threatening promise of rape which is highly prevalent among adolescent males.

In any case, as her topless photo continued traveling, along with her name and identity, high schoolers and outsiders begin to take the opportunity to attack her as a slut.   Afterall – she has asked for this hasn’t she? She dared to explore her emerging sexuality with a love interest. I mean that just seems to be begging for the tag of tramp does it not?

In a journal entry discovered after her death, Hope wrote, “Tons of people talk about me behind my back and I hate it because they call me a whore! And I can’t be a whore. I’m too inexperienced. So secretly, TONS of people hate me.”

Well the weight of it all was clearly tearing her apart. And that seems to be when the school discovered this underground activity.

Shortly after the school year ended, school officials caught wind of the hubbub surrounding Hope’s cell phone photo. They contacted the Witsells and told them Hope would be suspended for the first week of the next school year.

I mean shoot, what else could they do. Her body started all this right. She was practically distributing pornography. Look how far it had spread. Those obscene breasts of hers on every phone creating such a ruckus.

Sure she hadn’t been the one to forward them. Sure middle school teachers and administrators know that pubescent children are full of questions and curiosity about their emerging sexuality. Sure professional educators know that the rate of sexual harassment and sexual assault by young males is through the roof in middle school and high school (not to mention in the rate of sexual harassment and assault by men in the big big world).

But the point here is – they were her breasts – right.  This wasn’t one of those other photo incidents where the students tag a girl into a pornographic photo that is not her. I mean that is clearly unfair – unless she dresses provocatively or has some other historical reputation befitting this harassment.   But this one is clear, exposing your female body and showing an interest in sexuality pretty much make any 13-year-old girl the problem, am I right?

Well, the message that her body and her sexuality was her entirety became clear to Hope throughout this period. During the summer she was at a FFA convention and, “Hope gave in to incessant badgering from a group of boys staying across from Hope and her friend in a hotel room to provide them with a picture of her breasts.”

Worry not, the school would discipline her again for this activity by banning her from the FFA. The boys involved in the sexual harassment at the hotel, the behavior the journalist called “incessant badgering,” well there is no more mention of them in the article. 

The assumption here of course was that Hope was the one needing correcting, Hope and her obscene body were the problem that needed wrangling.  Was it time for the professional educators to dig deeper yet?

Wellllll maybe…

On Sept. 11, Hope met with school counselors, who noticed cuts on Hope’s leg they believed to be self-inflicted. They had her sign a “no-harm contract,” in which she promised to talk to an adult if she felt the urge to hurt herself. But, attorney Aftab told TODAY, the school didn’t inform Hope’s parents of the contract. “In this case, the school blew it,” Aftab said. “They never told the parents how at risk she was.”

The following day, Hope wrote in her journal: “I’m done for sure now. I can feel it in my stomach. I’m going to try and strangle myself. I hope it works.”

So the school decided it was now time for a no-harm contract.

Another administrative intervention placing all responsibility for this climate of rampant misogyny onto Hope.  An intervention that was about a centimeter from the surface of a ton of sexualized self loathing tied to public loathing, personal shame tied to public shame at female sexuality, personal paralysis tied to public imprisonment in an emerging sexual body.  A no-harm contract ought to do it right?!

The no-harm contract did not work as Hope strangled herself to death shortly after this brief intervention into her mental state.

And what really hacks me off, and yes as you can see I cannot pull back from my rage at this sort of educational malpractice, is that the take away offered by the school, by the media, by everyone involved is this: Hope and her adolescent developing sexual body and interests should have never started all of this.

Can’t you see that poor choices on her part are the problem.  That easy access to sexting is the problem. Period.  Her body, her breasts, her camera, and her actions, that is what caused all of this.  The rest was simply inevitable.

We are to see that even “good girls” have dangerous bodies and sexualities and that they need to better learn to hide, be invisible, and grow up sexually under a rock.   Because that is just the way it is – boys sex drive is unbridled and they are going to taunt, beg, harass, and threaten. Girls must keep it under wraps – or they will get what they deserve – a bad reputation or worse.  And if that bad reputation begins to get in the way of other peoples daily existence, in the way of the educational environment… well we can simply suspend them for a while.

And we don’t really even need to consider or discuss any other problems here.  Like pervasive sexual harassment, trafficking private photos, biased language toward females… I mean of course you better never use the n-word in front of a school official, but bitch, slut, whore etc. are fair game in front of many middle and high school teachers.   

But really, none of this is part of the problem right, this is all just a given at any school.  

And any good girl is going to play along with the game – putting down the whores, sexing herself up to just the exact right proportion, and walking the razors edge as a female as her body matures into a dangerous sexy machine.

So, just remember adolescent girls your body is a dangerous weapon, just asking for trouble. Use it with caution, expect it to be used by others without retribution and prepare for the worst.  And please, don’t harm yourself.  There are plenty of other people willing to do that for you.

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Filed under Bully, Gender, Harassment / Bias, Hazing, School Violence, Sexual Assault, Sexual Harassment, Uncategorized