Valentine’s Day is coming. As many couples negotiate plans to celebrate their relationships, there’s an elephant in the room.
Last fall, our social sphere was rocked by allegation after allegation of sexual misconduct in the workplace. The emboldened #metoo movement has sparked considerable discussion about consent.
Some argue that we raise our girls to be submissive, to feel as though denying an invitation is wrong, while at the same time shaming those who choose to say yes. Others feel that the movement has gotten out of hand, taking the passing accusations of women — sometimes without physical evidence — to “take down” prominent public and/or professional figures.
Regardless of where you fall on the debate, it’s likely that you can agree that children shouldn’t be caught in the crosshairs of this very adult social issue. Perhaps you’re hoping that public dialogue now will create a better atmosphere for children in the future, both boy and girl.
What usually happens, however, is that the public debate being had by adults gets played out on our children. As Valentine’s Day approaches, one 6th grader’s mom is furious.
Natalie Richard’s daughter attends Kanesville Elementary School in New Haven, Utah. The school is preparing for its Valentine’s Day Dance.
Recently, Richard’s daughter came home and told her mom that she wasn’t allowed to say “no” if a boy asked to dance. Richard rebuffed the comment, assuming the girl had misunderstood, and told her that dances didn’t work like that.
When Richard talked to the teacher, she was shocked to learn her daughter had not been mistaken. The teacher explained that the no rejection policy was how the dance had run for years without any concern.
In the days leading up to the voluntary dance, students write five names of people they’d like to dance with. If there are any objections, students are encouraged to speak up at that time.
Lane Findlay, representative for the Weber School District, reconfirmed the district-wide rule. The intent, they reasoned, is to promote inclusivity.
“We want to promote kindness, and so we want you to say yes when someone asks you to dance,” Findlay explained. She considers the rule to be about teaching “respect” and “politeness.”
It is certainly difficult to ask someone to dance. Perhaps the district’s heart is in the right place; they are looking to protect their boys from pride-crushing rejections.
I argue, however, that the rule favors the emotions and comforts of one gender over the other and that enforcing this rule teaches girls that saying “no” is wrong. Then, skeptics of women’s accounts of abuse waged against them, think it’s outlandish that any honest women would “go along” with unwanted advances or remain silent when someone went too far.
Richard seems to agree, saying that while she can see the value and intent of the rule, there are other ways to instill inclusivity than the school’s dance. “Sends a bad message to girls that girls have to say ‘yes’; sends a bad message to boys that girls can’t say no,” she commented.
While Findlay concedes that there may be an objection between students on the pick-five lists. However, instead of excusing students from the dancing commitment, she says that the “situation” can be worked out between the students and parents.
Richard countered that rejection is a part of life and regardless of the district’s intent, children are coming away with the wrong message. She’s worried about the psychological impact this rule has had on her daughter.
“My daughter keeps coming to me and saying ‘I can’t say no to a boy.’ That’s the message kids are getting,” Richard pressed.
Additionally, Richard is frustrated that parents are not aware of this policy, which remains in place. She believes the school should send permission slips explaining the details of the school function.
While sending permission slips will raise awareness with parents, it side-steps the issue and doesn’t change the message. No one should have to accept the advances of anyone else just to be polite.
That’s not respect, nor is it teaching how to be respectful. Being respectful should be the responsibility of all children, not just the burden of girls trying not to hurt boys’ feelings.
The district needs to look at their policies and consider the message they are sending in the social climate we live in. In the meantime, it’s commendable that Richard advocated for her daughter and other girls at this elementary school — early childhood messages are often the hardest to unlearn.
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