If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.
it is only october, school is in full swing, the first set of grades have gone out, i have a firm grasp of who my students show themselves to be, and i've noticed some troubling things: the girls in my class are dangerously mean.
my female students are consumed with spreading lies and rumors about each other and fighting at the drop of the hat because someone said something wrong about them, oft times to the detriment of their schoolwork. their relationship with each other is very twisted and convoluted. my group, my intervention group, is hard to get a hold on. one day they are friends, having sleep-overs and hanging out at lunch, and the next day they are on the verge of tearing each other's hair out. it's taxing. the mean behaviors exhibited by my female students is nothing new. women have always found it difficult to get along because we are socialized to compete (for jobs, men, scholarships, etc), but it seems to be getting more and more intense, and i am not the only one who has noticed it.
in 2006, Kristen Norwood, a graduate student conducted a survey of women for her graduate thesis. this study took a look at the behavior women display toward other women they have never met. she found,
The participants freely admitted that they often feel other women are being "catty" or spiteful in a petty way toward them and admitted that they behaved the same way. They cited several reasons, the most common being jealousy over physical attractiveness and attention from men. Other reasons included competition and jealousy resulting from self-esteem issues and from perceived similarities or differences with other women.
The issue of self-esteem, or lack thereof, is a major issue in my class. i often tell my students that people who speak negatively about someone else are really just trying to mask something about themselves. to that, i've heard groans, and the usual, "i don't got nothing wrong wit me!" but their behavior and history speak otherwise. the girls in my class have a lot of issues. many have lost parents, were abused, and don't know how to really feel anything other than animosity toward others.
i have quickly learned that being a teacher also means being a psychologist and a social worker. everyday i navigate tricky emotional landmines and put out fires before they become explosive. i am struggling, though, to impart wisdom and a sense of self-worth to my female students. i know that for me, just being represented through the material in class went a long way to provide positive images of self. conversations about self, about how to deal with others, and about the options that are afforded with education are also a must, but is that enough?
how do we teach our girls, and our boys, that they are enough?