Domestic Violence Is Not Straight Violence

Written by Sidney Wegener

Sidney is a first year Master’s Candidate study Women’s and Gender History at Sarah Lawrence College. Their academic interests include lesbianism and lesbian history in American from the 1920’s to the 1930’s. They are currently pursuing many different avenues for research in U.S. history pertaining to women’s and queer studies and looking forward to working on a thesis related to the linguistic and social evolution of female sexuality.

Warning: this article consists of narrative, rhetoric, and statistics that may be triggering for some readers as it discusses the queer experiences of domestic/sexual violence.

I sat and quietly listened, my heart pounding, while one of my close friends in high school told me about the fight she and her girlfriend had gotten into the night beforehand. I was doing my best not to stare at her bruised and swollen left eye. This was my first relatively close encounter with domestic violence. I remember, when I was younger, hearing about how sometimes “bad boyfriends or husbands beat their women.” However, all of the rhetoric I had ever heard, or read, about abusive partnerships consisted of a single story: men abusing women. I am writing this article for the purpose of displacing this narrative because domestic violence is not limited to cisgendered, heterosexual relationships.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence provides the following statistics on queer/trans relationship abuse:

  • 43.8% of lesbian women and 61.1% of bisexual women have expereinced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner
  • 26% of gay men and 37.3% of bisexual men have expereinced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner
  • Transgender victims are more likely to expereince intimate partner violence in public
  • LGBTQ Black/African American victims are more likely to experience physical violence, compared to those who do not identify as Black/African American
  • LGBTQ victims on public assistance are more likely to experience intimate partner violence compared to those who are not on public assistance (public assistance refers to state/government forms of support for individuals in need and/or disabled)

https://ncadv.org/blog/posts/domestic-violence-and-the-lgbtq-community

These are only a few statistics which counter the widespread presumption that domestic abuse occurs only among cisgendered/straight partnerships. While these statistics primarily address monogamous relationship dynamics, it is crucial to take into account the array of different genders, races, classes, and sexual orientations which experience domestic abuse and/or sexual violence. Domestic and sexual violence can occur on seperate grounds as well as overlap with eachother. Domestic violence can also come in many different forms, not all of which are readily recognizable in queer relationships. For example, if one partner threatens to “out” their significant other as non-cisgendered or non-heterosexual, the act constitutes as one of abuse between intimate partners. In addition to this, misuse of pronouns in intimate partnerships also operates as a form of emotional/verbal abuse. Parallel to the assumption that domestic violence transpires only between couples consisting of a man and a woman, gender plays a critical role in how abuse (sexual, verbal, physical, financial, or otherwise) is defined, perceived, and treated by the victim’s loved ones and the public. 

LGBTQIA+ people who find themselves experiencing domestic or sexual violence face many more obstacles in finding support and protection from the party responsible for the abuse. Often, sexual violence or abuse that takes place between same-sex and/or transgender couples is taken even less seriously than that which occurs betweeen cisgender/heterosexual couples. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “In 2012, fewer than 5% of LGBTQ survivors of intimate partner violence sought orders of protection”.  This statistic reflects that there are numerous reasons why queer/transgender victims do not report their experiences, often pertaining to anti-queer/trans legislature or lack of support. 

Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month as well as LGBTQIA+ History Month, I found that this article is a particularly important one to write. In a world where systemic violence is inflicted upon LGBTQIA+ bodies daily, I would like to call attention to intimate partner violence which persists within our own community. Beyond that, it is crucial to disrupt the ongoing narrative that domestic abuse/sexual violence is a strictly cisgender/straight phenomenon. By bringing statistics on the realities of queer/trans relationship abuse and violence to light, I hope that cisgendered and straight allies can be more aware of and compassionate toward their queer/trans loved one’s expereinces. In addition to this, I would like to emphasize the importance of validating the violence experienced among members of the LGBTQIA+ community in all forms.

If you are located in a state that is anti-trans and/or anti-homosexual, lacking support from your community, or if you are unsure of whether or not you have experienced sexual and/or domestic violence; seeking help as an abuse victim, and member of the LGBTQIA+ community, involves facing many different obstacles. However, reporting the person responsible for the abuse and/or violence is a critical way in which victims can be validated and protected by community and law. Below are some resources for those who have experienced, are expereincing, or know someone who is a victim of queer domestic and/or sexual violence. Reach out, report, and support because Domestic Violence Awareness Month means standing up against intimate partner violence in all forms and for all people.

Statistics Source: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence,  https://ncadv.org/blog/posts/domestic-violence-and-the-lgbtq-community

The Anti-Violence Project: serves people who are LGBTQ; Hotline 1-212-714-1141, Bilingual 24/7

FORGE: serves transgender and gender nonconforming survivors of domestic and sexual violence; provides referrals to local counselors, 1-414-559-2123

Northwest Network– serves LGBT survivors of abuse; can provide local referrals: 1-206-568-7777

Here is the Tell

Written by Kris Malone Grossman

Kris received their BA in English from UC Berkeley and an MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Women’s Spirituality at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, where she is co-researching prismatic narrative standpoint and women’s embodied art practice.

Content Warning: This piece discusses alcoholism, abuse, and violence.

In recent years some members and friends of A.A. have asked if it would be wise to update the language, idioms, and historical references in the book to present a more contemporary image for the Fellowship. However, because the book has helped so many alcoholics find recovery, there exists strong sentiment within the Fellowship against any change to it.

                                                —From the Introduction to Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

Its a miracle Im here to tell you this:

all those years I tried to be dead.

It hurts to say all this.

I need you. Talk to me.

How does my life remind you of your own?

                                                                        —Joan Larkin, from “A Qualification: Pat H.”

Shame: the unspoken, taking root. Uprooting, tap-rooting, tapping the soul, rooting in the bones. Perfidious tangled roots sinking down, primed to exhaust one’s stores. The unspoken, unspeaking—re-unspeaking, pushing the shame down, down, down, where, having no outlet, it serpentines through the body, lodging in cells, with its tendriling fingers that refuse to be stilled, an unchecked, shapeshifting entity casting itself about, thrashing against one’s heart: a silent cacophony. A cacophony: the voices of women in my family, “The day you were born was the worst day of my life—you ripped me to pieces, I almost died,” my great-grandmother to my grandmother, an oft-repeated, shaming refrain; my great-grandmother, forced, while pregnant, to sequester in her prairie town, lest someone spot her and be reminded: something shameful had occurred, was occurring, her womanbody an emblem of shame, invidious reminder of companion shame: townsmen practicing manifest destiny on women’s bodies as they had the land, “You ripped me to pieces” the foreboding leitmotif informing my grandmother’s girlhood, at nine, forced to bind her breasts, lest she and her girlbody shamefully arouse any men. Such manifest solicitousness, a nine-year-old’s solicitousness, a girl’s, a child’s, solicitousness, she, whose father, complicit in his silence, just like my mother’s father, the man my grandmother, who ripped apart her mother, would marry, because that’s what girls do, because that’s what you do: rip apart your mothers and marry silent men and keep equally silent in a perfectly silent, perpetual re-silencing. He’s a real quiet man, they say of the men in my family. Shame, silence, how, when the two wed, their union begets ever more shame. How shame lodged in my mother’s bones, carried down: generations, embodied memory. How shame coursed through her veins that, pre-Rowe and losing blood, hemorrhaged, Scarlet lettered, covert, ashamed, you ripped me to pieces, I almost died, she marries my father, a drinker, a Real Quiet Man,who was it who said, Silence is deafening?, a silence that suffused the house I grew up in, the street I grew up on, the street where a house alight with shameful ghosts will later collapse in on itself, a two-story house, a many-storied house, front corner room upstairs where boys took girls down, housecats traipsing nonchalantly past, past the stacks of smut rags dirty socks wet towels musky T-shirts lumped in the hall, the silence of addiction and shame and Real Quiet Men and Real Quiet Boys and Even Really And Ever So Much Quieter Girls; alcoholism, they say, is a family disease, one big unhappy family disease in its variegated unhappy ways. Silence, addiction, shame, you ripped me to pieces the day you were born. Infants, before they feed, often become so agitated by the scent of the breast they cannot suckle. Fists clenched, bodies taut, tensed, thrashing, the infant seeking, red-faced, screaming, for the breast. The milk lets down to the sound of her cries, the milk sprays, the milk wets her cheek, whetting her appetite. Milk surging so swiftly it gags the infant when she latches on. She screams again, outraged, repeats the pattern again and again. Insanity, some genius claimed, is doing the same thing over and over again expecting—expecting what? Sometimes you win. Sometimes, the infant wins. When she does, her fists slowly uncurl. Her body relaxes. The breast. The milk. What she’s been waiting for. Not for shaming not for binding: for nourishing. The infant suckles, the fists slowly uncurl. She suckles, soothed in her suckling. That with swagger my girlfriends and I boasted loudly, we sucked it up, outing the truth in bluster designed to silencetruth: another line, push it down; another fuck, push it down; another denial, push it down; what was happening to us, push it down; who was doing it, push it down. What was happening? We could only guess: guess from what we knew: what was happening to us, to each other, our mothers, our grandmothers: Real Quiet Men. Real Quiet Boys. Who kept each other’s company. A quiet sort of company. This is a family affair. This is family business. This is—Oh, come now! Boys will be boys. He was high, he was drunk, he was not in control, he was not in his right mind, he was needing an outlet, he was suffering, he was misunderstood, he was laid off, he was turned on, he was scared, he was having fun, he was, he was, he was. He was what? He needed what? He was not in control of what?

We were what. We were what was happening to us: our own quiet addictions, taking root alongside shame, twisting together like strands of DNA, an (un)coping mechanism. What was (re)happening to us: Real Quiet Boyfriends who, like the brothers and fathers and uncles and mothers’ boyfriends we knew, in keeping with our families of origin, in keeping with the tenet that alcoholism is a family disease, that alcoholism is a community disease, that addiction is our disease, we would be likely to partner with addicts, in our cases lovers who also knew that boys will be boys. Boyfriends, girlfriends, who, too, had been schooled in the cult of silence, who understood that we were astutely trained in its tacit curriculum: boys will be boys will be men will be boys.In the borrowed pickup. In the carpeted bedroom. In the wet grassy lawn at Fair Oaks Park. In the cemetery orange groves. In the swelter of a Sacramento Valley summer night. In the manure-smelling horse pastures. In the Safeway parking lot. In the knock-down, ho-hum everyday dirt road: pull out, pull down, peel out, pull off. Remaking the map, the map of California, the map of our bods. Shares that are violent or sexual in nature are better left for discussion outside the group. Admitted to God? To Him? Admitted what? The nature of our wrongs? Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of what? How despite this, we begin to tell. How the memories tell themselves, fold in on themselves, unfurl again. A single subdivision block. A cast of girls casting about, cast on the heap, giving over to go-fast and gone down. Carrying us, sweeping us, down. Lost at sea. Adrift on some sea. How not to tell. This is the tell. Here is the tell. Boyfriend, father, brother, lover: Where does one end and the other begin?

Bibliography

Alcoholics Anonymous, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, last accessed September 1, 2019, https://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/twelve-steps-and-twelve-traditions

Larkin, Joan. A Long Sound. Penobscot, ME: Granite Press, 1986.

Hispanic Heritage and Making America Great

By Madison Filzer

Madison is a second year Master’s Candidate in the Women’s and Gender History program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her research interests include Civil Rights activism in Cleveland, Ohio and Black women’s activism in the United States.

Let me take you back to 1942, only a few years after the Great Depression, in the midst of World War II. In many ways, the United States was struggling on the homefront. With no one to work the jobs that were too low paying to sustain the American dream, there was no way to meet the demands of consumers. In a quick fix to the lack of able-bodied laborers here in the states, millions of migrant workers from Mexico were welcomed with open arms to ensure that our agriculture industry continued despite feeling the effects of war. At that moment, the Bracero Program was born. Bracero in this context, which literally translates to “laborer” in Spanish, meant one who works with their hands.

On August 4, 1942, the United States entered into the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement in order to sustain the large farm industry in the United States. Over the course of twenty-two years, it’s estimated that over two million Mexican immigrants signed contracts to work on American farms and railroads on a temporary basis for wages lower than Americans not fighting in the war were willing to work for. This program was later enacted into law as an amendment to the Migrant Labor Agreement of 1951. The extension of this agreement repeatedly brought Mexican workers back to the states to work in return for housing, low wages, and “humane treatment.” 

As one could imagine, the housing was poor, the job came with risks, and the workers were not treated humanely. But that isn’t why I wrote this piece … I want to talk about the immigration rhetoric we currently hear from the most recent occupant of the White House. The fact of the matter is that at one point, we were welcoming Latinx immigrants to the United States because we were in need of help. Now, only four decades later, there are people advocating for a wall separating the U.S. from Mexico. By ignoring this history, we allow a false narrative of the “bad hombre” to be perpetuated. 

Yes, this was a bilateral deal that was beneficial to both parties in some way, but the logic that follows this history is the notion that there are jobs in America that Americans simply won’t do. We outsourced laborers to fill our needs and we still do. Imagine if every immigrant worker left right now … do we have enough people left to sustain the economy? I don’t know but I don’t think we want to find out. 

In case you didn’t know, September 15th through October 15th is National Hispanic Heritage Month, and I feel compelled to write this in honor of LatinX immigrant history. When I first heard of the Bracero Program a quick Google search returned few results. I feel like if more people knew about the program,  they would have the same questions about immigration that I have. How can we turn our backs on people in search of opportunity when that’s what brought European immigrants here? How would we sustain life as we know it in the United States without people willing to do the hard labor that others shy away from? I might not have the answers to any of the above questions, but as an aspiring historian who has ample access to historical resources, I felt obligated to share information that I believe has the power to change the way people look at immigration. 

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

By Hannah McCandless

Hannah is a second year graduate student in the Women’s History Program at Sarah Lawrence College. Hannah is writing her thesis on Matilda Hamilton Fee and women in higher education administration in the south during the 19th century. 

When first introduced to Women’s Studies in college, I initially gravitated toward studying the educational discrepancies I noticed in my high school regarding sex education. Growing up in a relatively small town in the Bible Belt south, I can assure you, there were several. I look back at the startled young woman, realizing for the first time, that her Physical Education and Health classes were nothing more than half facts and shame tactics, and I’m thankful that my college professors were encouraging that I explore that missing part of my education more. In this post, I’ll be looking at state sex education laws, the heteronormativity of the curriculum, and some long term effects of skewed facts and questions left unanswered. 

In my freshmen year college dorm room, I found myself talking with my peers about our experiences with sex education. Students from northern states quickly realized that their experiences were vastly different from those of southern states. Those of us from Kentucky thought we might have similar experiences if we went to public schools, but we found that was not the case. According to federal law, states are allowed to determine their sex education curriculum. Broadly, states’ choices range from one of three mandate options: “sex education,” “HIV education,” and “sex education and HIV education.” Within that’s collection of options, states are allowed to push abstinence only education.  Looking at the map below, you can see which states ascribe to which educational theory. Notice a pattern? 

https://infographic.statista.com/normal/chartoftheday_18825_state_laws_sex_ed_in_the_us_n.jpg

Yep, that’s right, a lot of southern states coming in strong on that abstinence only curriculum. Digging even deeper, we find that several states, Kentucky included, allow for each county or school district to decide the sex education curriculum. In some states, the Superintendent of a school district can decide what the curriculum will include. In others, site based councils (which often include parent membership) decide what is taught. That kind of power in the hands of few, with varying agendas, leads to inconsistencies in educational outcomes. 

As you may have noticed earlier, when I listed the main types of routes for sex education curriculum, they are all based to some degree in the assumption that sex happens between a cisgender male and cisgender female. The phrasing of abstinence only and other aspects of sex education are extremely heteronormative. That is to say that, in most teacher’s curriculum, straight and monogamous relationships are set as the norm. With that comes strong and harmful gender norms that pigeonhole young people. One study even found that the curriculum taught in several schools, because it plugs heteronormative relationships so strongly, promoted homophobia. 

When we look at the sex education system in the US, there are several long term effects. Mentioned above, one ends up being a complete intolerance for people in relationships that are non heteronormative. Another is a higher rate of teen pregnancy and STIs in states that lack more comprehensive and medically accurate sex education. Another is a friend from college not knowing that the urethra and vagina are two different holes. The system is flawed and it leads to unhealthy relationships with others and our own bodies. If you get nothing else from this piece, look at this website to see what your state says about sex education. If you can reach out to your local school board and ask what the curriculum is and find out if it is medically accurate. Work with parents and site boards to create more inclusive and comprehensive sex education. 

Sources: 

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1363460713497216?journalCode=sexa

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.statista.com/chart/amp/18825/state-laws-sex-ed-in-the-us/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.statista.com/chart/amp/18825/state-laws-sex-ed-in-the-us/

https://siecus.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/SIECUS-SP-FY17-State-Law-and-Policy-Chart.pdf

Being Gay for Halloween

Written by Sidney Wegener

Sidney is a first year MA candidate studying Women’s and Gender History at Sarah Lawrence College. Their academic interests include lesbianism and lesbian history in American from the 1920’s to the 1930’s. They are currently pursuing many different avenues for research in U.S. history pertaining to women’s and queer studies and looking forward to working on a thesis related to the linguistic and social evolution of female sexuality.

Halloween, 2014, I was a senior in high school. At this point in time, I was already out of the closet; not necessarily by choice, but rather because some kid named Alex stole my phone in AP Environmental Science at the end of my sophomore year and read my text messages with my girlfriend at the time. He spread the news to just about everyone and by the end of the day the entireschool knew: I was a lesbian. My first high school did not find this amusing; my teachers found it intolerable, my coaches found it unathletic, and my “friends” found it shameful. Thankfully, I was able to transfer to a different high school a few towns over, and at this one, it seemed okay to be gay. I brought my girlfriend to homecoming, prom, and one of my basketball teammates, Sarah, was also a lesbian. I was no longer trapped in a nightmare of an institution, populated by a tiny town known for generation after generation settling back down in the same community. Everybody’s grandparents knew everybody’s grandparents, and everybody’s business was everybody’s entertainment. So by the time I was a senior at my second high school, I remember thinking to myself, “wow, this is what it’s like to be free, to be myself”. Looking back now, I laugh at how I felt so freely lesbian that I made myself into a costume. 

In 2014, Halloween was the Friday of Homecoming week. So, naturally, the students, teachers, and administration all wore their costumes for the last spirit day. Sarah and I coordinated our costumes. We both wore lab coats with large name tags reading: “Scientist for Straight Girls Wanting to Experiment”. Walking around campus, I remember thinking to myself how many of my female identified classmates were sporting costumes which seemed, to me at least, pretty sexy for walking from class to class. My second high school was a lot more lenient on the rules, and it showed during spirit week. However, that did not stop an administrative member from intervening in my stroll to chemistry. Despite my lab coat attire being quite fitting for a science class in which we wore protective eye gear, my name tag was inappropriate. When I met up with Sarah before basketball practice, she had also changed her costume and by the end of the day we were both just regular scientists. 

Now, I contemplate what it means to wear a “costume” and where the boundaries lie in terms of what is “appropriate.” I mean, how is it that Kaylee got to walk around in a see through Tinkerbell costume, and my pun on my own sexuality was “distracting”? If it was not a school spirit day designated for wearing a costume I wouldn’t have even been breaking the dress code. In a holiday themed effort to express myself, part of me realized that being gay was not something I could wear, unless it went without being said. Apparently, I was “promoting” homosexuality. Kaylee’s costume didn’t have a label on it reading “sexy, hyper-feminized Disney character”, whereas my costume’s meaning rested solely on a nametag, categorizing what kind of “scientist” I intended to be perceived as. Furthermore, Kaylee was not a Tinkerbell-identified human, while I was (and still am) a raging lesbian. So what is the difference for a high school, that allows everyone to wear costumes, between my “Scientist for Straight Girls Wanting to Experiment” lab coat and Kaylee’s “sexy seventeen year old girl take on Tinkerbell” costume? From where I stand today, it seems that dressing in a sexy costume as a seventeen year old girl in high school is okay, so long as it silently complies to a straight, male gaze. A lab coat, jeans, and a t-shirt are also fine-  until you label the outfit as a costume. Well, a lesbian costume.

Architects of Horror: Alice Guy-Blaché, Ida Lupino and Paula Maxa

Written by Marian Phillips

Marian Phillips is a second year Master’s candidate at Sarah Lawrence College studying Women’s and Gender History.

When I was thinking about what I was going to write about during the month of October, I considered everything I knew about women and feminism mixed with the horrific, absurd, and surreal. I thought about women I have written about previously (Diablo Cody, Karyn Kusama, and Millicent Patrick), flipped through my horror anthologies, and then I asked myself, “What about the women architects that helped build the genre?” I was drawn to three of my personal favorites that worked with and made space for women in the genre: Paula Maxa, Ida Lupino, and Alice Guy-Blaché. Sadly, they are not alive today, but their impact on the 19th and 20th century has deeply influenced contemporary horror films and literature, making it what it is today. 

In 1896, a 23-year-old Alice Guy-Blaché was recognized as the first woman director in history. While her films are not always considered outright horrific for an early 19th century audience, 21st century audiences consider them disturbing. Over the course of her career, Guy-Blaché directed approximately 1,000 films. One of these works includes the first woman directed film adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum in 1913. Guy-Blaché is no stranger to firsts. As such a prolific figure in film and horror, she has influenced some of the greats, including Alfred Hitchcock ad Sergei Eisenstein. She has received countless awards posthumously and was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2013. 

Alice Guy-Blaché

London, England born director, Ida Lupino was one of the only women directors in Hollywood, California during the 1950s. In 1953, she became known as one of the queens of B-movies with her film The Hitchhiker. The psychological horror film was the first done by a woman director. She showed her audiences that jump-scares weren’t necessary to incite fear; it could be achieved through the slow process of building psychological tension and emotion. Her most noteworthy achievement – besides this remarkable first – was her episode of The Twilight Zone titled “The Masks.” Lupino is the only woman that directed episodes for the iconic horror and sci-fi series. Undoubtedly, she paved the way for many more women to take on directorial positions in the genre. 

4/23/1943- Ida Lupino in surrealist portrait.

Unlike Guy-Blaché and Lupino, the most assassinated woman in history, Paula Maxa performed in horror productions. Having been murdered on stage over 10,000 times, historians note her as the original “scream queen.” She performed at the gore specialized French theatre, Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, from 1917 to the 1930s. Every night she was on stage, Maxa was either steamrolled, stabbed, disemboweled, slashed, or some other form of murderous activity. These performances had no deep meaning or critique on society, culture, or politics, but Maxa and her ability to die a unique death every night constructed the most utilized character in horror, the scream queen.

These women may have never been in direct contact with one another, or even enjoyed the media that each of them produced, but they built the pathways for each other and for future women in the horror genre. Guy-Blaché crafted film after film to incite fear and wonder from her audiences that ultimately influenced some of the greatest minds in the genre. Lupino showed the world that women could direct horror just as good as men, if not better. Maxa died 10,000 times so Janet Leigh (today’s most famous scream queen) could scream when Norman Bates peeled back the shower curtain. Their influence is long lasting and their presence in the field paved the way for more great women of horror, such as Shirley Jackson, Karyn Kusama, Leigh Janiak, Millicent Patrick, Jamie Lee Curtis (daughter of Janet Leigh), and countless others. 

Republican Motherhood and Women’s Emerging Roles in the Classroom

By Hannah McCandless
Hannah is a second year graduate student in the Women’s and Gender History Program at Sarah Lawrence College. She is writing her thesis on Matilda Hamilton Fee, a 19th century woman administrator at Berea College. Hannah is also an editor for the Re/Visionist. 

The first time I had a male teacher was for my 7th grade math class. To be completely honest, it was startling and I was not a fan of his teaching style. Less about the work and more about the rules, Mr. Whatshisface (I cannot remember his name for the life of me) made the class unbearable and unenjoyable. I’m sure some of it had to do with his unusual military approach to teaching. Despite the fact that every other non-male teacher in the building seemed to have the attention and respect of their students with little to no major disciplinary action, Mr. Whatshisface was unable to attain either. For me, it solidified in my 7th grade mind that women were naturally better teachers than men. Imagine my surprise when high school rolled around and nearly one third of the teachers were men. 

I didn’t notice at the time (though it seems apparent now) that when children were young, they were predominantly taught by female teachers. Alternatively, when children aged, they were taught more and more by male teachers. Why? I’m sure you noticed it, too. It becomes even more prominent in college when male professors begin to be about equal or greater than the number of female professors. 

There are a lot of reasons why people theorize that women and men teach different age groups. Most of these theories are based in sexism, such as ‘women are a moral center for the family, and therefore make a good teacher for young children.’ (Total BS – “moral” is relative and non-women have every ability to be that ‘moral’ compass.) Another focuses on women being ‘nurturers’ and thus being better suited to teach young children. (Since when can men not be nurturing?) And then when you’re ready for your kid to be thrown into the real world, have them be taught by a man who will be ‘harsh and realistic.’ 

Whatever merit these ideas do or don’t hold, none of them look at where traditional forms of education (i.s. Reading, writing, math) got started. When colonists first began invading the Americas and settling, education was not a major priority unless you were a Puritan (they sure loved reading the Bible). Most people were just working to survive. Once communities had existed for more time, families that had more wealth began teaching their children at home. Who was the primary teacher for those children, you may ask? The head of the house: good ole dad. Culturally, since the man was the head of the household, it was believed that they should be responsible for the moral, social, and intellectual upbringing of their children, both boys and girls. This was all taking place in the early 18th century before the United States was born. 

Though living conditions were better and life got somewhat easier, it became clear pretty quickly that the education of young children took a great deal of time. So gradually, the duties of educating young children in these well to do homes was handed down (yes, that choice of wording was intentional) to the mothers. No worries, though, because now we are entering the cultural phenomenon of “Republican Motherhood.” 

Republican Motherhood was the idea that mothers were now responsible for the upbringing of a new and virtuous nation via raising children who would emulate republican ideologies in order to support that new nation. Republicanism during this time period versus now are very different ideas, so take note that “Republican Motherhood” had the intention of raising children who would engage in democracy and work to support the country. Because of this, several educational institutions were opened up in the 1790s in order to educate women, so they might better educate their own children. 

Fast forward to the mid-nineteenth century. Public education is becoming more common and available to most white children. As long as you lived near enough people to have a school and you were white, there was a good chance that a school might open up near you. Now, the debates about coeducation and class separation are thought provoking and worth taking a look at, but what we are here to focus on is how women were relegated to certain types of teaching roles. Women were often hired as teachers for children for both single sex and coeducational classrooms. The predominantly male administrators seemed to have no problem with this. But when women began applying for jobs to teach young men, there were serious doubts. This debate about women teaching young men would eventually lead to women being almost completely isolated from jobs teaching boys in adolescence. 

The pattern of women being isolated to teaching younger students began long before I entered the 7th grade. As our culture has shifted to value education less and college / job training more, women have become ever more present in the K – 12 educational world. Our culture suggests that the most important learning comes after we finish grade school and thus women in those roles are degraded, underpaid, and overworked. It’s difficult to sum up the issues of our educational system in a quick 1,000 words, but hopefully this gives some perspective. Nothing ever just happens by accident. Women being undervalued as teachers has a starting point. 


Bibliography

Tyack, David B. and  Elisabeth Hansot. Learning Together: A History of Coeducation in American Schools. Yale University Press: 1990.