Friday, October 26, 2012

"Teasing Your Friend" Doesn't Make It Funny or Okay

Warning: A rant is about to ensue.

It's nothing new. I imagine people have been tossing "joking" insults at their friends since the dawn of time, and especially boys. You've probably heard the type:

"Joe, you're such a girl." (Having two X chromosomes is an insult?)

"Hey, Larry likes guys." (Besides it being untrue, what's your point?)

"You're so gay, Jeff." ("Gay" as a vague catch-all synonym for stupid, clumsy, goofy, or whatever would actually fit the situation? ... Must not kill the children with my laser-eyes.)

That's when it's tame, and I'll let your imagination fill in when it's not. I'm sure there's some psychological/sociological explanation about male posturing, establishing dominance, or some other testosterone-fuelled phenomenon.

It drives me nuts.

What can I do about it? Probably not much. I try to take the extra moment for a stern "None of that in my classroom," but it's always met by the same thing:

"I'm just playing. Joe and I are buds. He knows I'm kidding."

The kidding aspect of it doesn't make it okay. I try to get that across (and get the class back on track with math, please-oh-please). It's very trying-to-empty-the-ocean-with-an-eyedropper. When I briefly mentioned it on Twitter the other day, I added the hashtag #CallMeSisyphus.

Super frustrating. I'm not stopping anytime soon, though.

Here's one reason why, aside from the fact that such "insults" are offensive, annoying, and unintelligent.

I know a guy, former student, now an adult, who's come out. I imagine him sitting in my classroom years ago. I imagine those stupid comments getting tossed around every single day. Back then, I was a new teacher who barely knew how to keep thirty teenagers from killing each other for forty-five minutes, much less having her ears tuned in to the random banter. So, I really don't know if it's gotten worse, or if I was just too stressed about not knowing what the heck I was doing to notice.

But even assuming such comments weren't lobbed at him directly (best-case scenario), I imagine how hearing it over and over made him feel.

Possibly he would have felt a little like I do when I hear that first type of insult: "You're such a girl," etc. Kind of like I feel when someone tells a guy they throw like a girl, and I want to respond with, "Yeah? Let me show you how to kick like a girl."

The feeling is that even if it's in so-called teasing, it holds an inherent assumption that being female or being gay or whatever is automatically inferior. Not worthy of respect.

Never mind that we're human beings. All of us.

And I know I've said it before, but I don't like this "looking-down" attitude on any front. Not Republicans talking trash about Democrats. Not atheists saying the religiously inclined are idiots.

You don't have to agree with someone to show them respect. And it's really not that hard.

Now, if only I could convince a few fourteen-to-fifteen-year-olds of that.

Any ideas?


SC Author said...

Awesome post. The root of all this is just not thinking enough. People aren't bad; they just don't think enough about their actions and how the victims might feel. Thought. Thought is what it comes down to, and too many people don't do enough of it.

Cat Woods said...


My daughter wrote a speech on this very topic last year. The sad statistic is that homosexuals or presumed homosexuals hear gay slurs at a rate of one every fourteen minutes. I won't get started on this soap-box issue here :)

The other--even scarier--statistic is that bullying peaks at 6th grade, a time when teachers and parents don't even realize that kids are engaging in such negative, cruel and potentially harmful behaviors.

So, sadly, it's not your 14-year-olds who need to learn, as it's almost too late for them. It's the third and fouth graders who need to learn how to be respectful. We need to tackle this issue at a much younger age than we are, instead of waiting until behavior patterns are set in these older kids.

But maybe you can let them know that roughly 65% of bullies end up with a felony conviction by the age of 24. And those who bully their friends are not exempt from this statistic.

It's just one more example of how an ounce of prevention would save a pound of hurt in the future.

They are just lucky to have you as a teacher.

Riley Redgate said...

YES. THIS. Ugh, words have so much power, ESPECIALLY those used lightly. It just shows where people's priorities lie, and how little some people care about injuring other people's feelings.

Honestly, though, it's mostly ignorance. So many people just don't see how it could mean something bigger, how it's not really just a joke or a passing comment, how it's part of something larger and scarier than anything they'll ever have to deal with. (because it's white straight cisgendered males a huge percent of the time. They'll never have to deal with rape culture or misogyny or homophobia or racist slurs, or even little things like "you throw like a BOY.")

I mean, honestly, if you hear that sort of thing again, I'd take a few minutes at the beginning or end of the next class just to address it and remind people that what they say always matters. I think kids forget that, a lot of the time.

Ditto Cat - they ARE lucky to have you! <3 I know another important thing is to make sure the kids know your classroom is a safe space, and if they need someone to talk to, you can be that person. So many kids nationwide don't have anywhere else to turn but teachers and school-related mentors.