Saturday, June 23, 2007

Untouchable

There's an interesting article in the latest Canterbury magazine (vol.4 no.1) about Penni Cushman's research on male primary school teachers. The entrenched sexism in play here is so blatant and pernicious that I'm amazed the issue doesn't receive more attention (especially among those who care about social justice and gender equality). As Cushman says:
It's frightening what men have to deal with in schools now. They don't want to touch children and they're afraid of being alone with a child. A climate of mistrust around male teachers has been created and that puts a lot of stress on men in schools and creates confusion among children.

Her survey of male teachers [PDF] uncovered an "overriding sense of hopelessness and regret" about the social norms governing their contact with children. As one teacher wrote:
It is sad that I feel I can’t put my arms round a child to comfort them the way a female teacher or parent does.

Indeed. Worse than sad, I'd say, the underlying gender norms and social attitudes are downright immoral. Cushman summarizes the findings:
Although there were teachers among the survey respondents and focus group participants who set aside the ‘no touch’ policies, they were very much a minority. Most teachers chose to endure the concomitant anxiety and humiliation associated with avoidance of touch rather than engage in practices that left them vulnerable. The resultant hands-off behaviour is, of course, the very behaviour advocated in the code of practice. However, adherence to these NZEI guidelines was seen by some teachers to be invoking ‘paranoia’, and there was fear that the children themselves might develop an unreasonable suspicion of male teachers. Despite the suggestion in the code of practice that teachers explain why they cannot respond to physical contact, most males did not heed this advice, or were unaware of it. As one pointed out, how, exactly, does a male teacher explain to children that because of his gender he is untouchable?

See also: A Climate of Fear.

N.B. This is in a New Zealand context -- I'm not sure whether other countries are quite so bad.

2 comments:

  1. I think its a symptm of how we deal with controling authority.

    Thios sort of method is the same as how we tie the hands of police and tie the hands of government to make laws.

    The better way to run things is to design systems that work so you can trust them.

    GNZ

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  2. "The better way to run things is to design systems that work so you can trust them."

    This is a pretty meaningless comment. So, we need to fix things by having them fixed, so that they are fixed?

    The problem here is that guidelines limiting proper behaviour and healthy human to human relationships are never going to stop the potential for someone to committ a heineous assault.

    But what is does do is ruin what should be healthy interaction, casting suspicion and unnecessarily sexualising all male teacher-child relations.

    It is simply responding (over-reacting actually) to hysteria. It is no different to the dangers of over-reacting in any other sphere. For example anti-terrorist legislation limiting privacy and human rights, may be a good faith attempt to stop another 9/11, but in effect do more harm to society and the values they are trying to protect.

    What i find interesting and sad is that while social justice advocates for minority and ethnic rights have (albiet suprisingly slowly) argued against the way muslims are under suspicion in the US for example, those who advocate gender equality are silent on issues such as this and others that affect men. If the movement had really been 'gender equality' rather than simply 'feminism', i think important issues such as this one would be better addressed.

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