Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A 6-year-old's Suspension and Rape Culture

A first grader was recently suspended from school for several days for kissing a female peer on the hand during a reading group.

Wait... what? That sounds pretty ridiculous. Like... really ridiculous. At least, that was my first thought. H (my husband) text me about it this morning and suggested I write about it so I googled it a few minutes ago. The article I found is here and it focuses on the question of whether or not we can call this incident sexual harassment and whether or not the school over reacted.
The first thing that really stood out to me was this line:

"Jennifer Saunders said her son was suspended once before for kissing the girl and had other disciplinary problems, and she was surprised to find out that he would be forced out of school again for several days."
So this kid had kissed this girl before and was told not to do it again, he was suspended, and still he doesn't respect the "No." He's six, so I can't judge him too harshly, but I do think his parents are doing him a disservice. Based on the article, it seems that his mom is really excusing the actions of her son to her son. I mean, if my kid was suspended for kissing a girl on the hand, whether it was a repeat offense or not, I would probably think the whole thing was pretty silly. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't have a serious talk with the kid about consent and appropriate boundaries.

At the same time the behavior is being excused, relevant information is also seeming to be withheld; the mom says,

"This is taking it to an extreme that doesn't need to be met with a six year old. Now my son is asking questions. What is sex mommy? That should not ever be said, sex. Not in a sentence with a six year old."
She has a right to her own ideas about when sensitive conversations need to happen, but it seems to me that this little boy might be able to understand his situation a little bit better if his questions were answered accurately, honestly, and responsibly. If he understood what sex was, why it's special, and what it has to do with kissing, he might be able to understand why people are upset by his lack of boundaries.

Now, the little girl's family didn't comment about the situation but the school policy is against "unwanted touching" and the Superintendent of the school district said,

"The focus needs to be on his behavior. We usually try to get the student to stop, but if it continues, we need to take action and it sometimes rises to the level of suspension."
It seems as if the little girl probably told him the touching was unwanted, if not at the time of this incident, at the time of a previous one. Additionally, his teacher or another adult at the school had clearly told him the touching needed to stop.

I'll be honest, I'm not really too concerned with a six year old kid kissing some other six year old kid on the hand. I am, however, concerned with the idea of who this little boy will grow into. What kind of man will he become if he is consistently being taught that other people's boundaries are unimportant and that he doesn't need to follow the rules of his society.

And what are the readers of this USA Today article going to learn?
This boy broke a rule, invading the personal space of someone else with unwanted touching.
Now there is news about it, questioning whether the boy's motive was bad and whether the consequences are too heavy.
Whether his actions caused the little girl to be uncomfortable and unfocused in her learning environment isn't even discussed.
The idea of consent being violated is simply rolled over with the phrase, "he has a crush on a girl at school and she likes him back." As if that makes it alright that he invaded her space.

Again, not really that big of a deal. I remember little boys kissing me on the hand or cheek at school in elementary school and even when I didn't like it, it didn't damage me. That being said, this format we've just explored is used really often in much more serious circumstances.

Like with Steubenville, when several boys broke some rules, invading the personal space of someone by touching her in a way she couldn't consent to.
Then there was news about it, questioning whether the boys' motives were bad and whether the consequences were too heavy.
Whether their actions cause Jane Doe tremendous pain, anxiety, depression, etc. was barely even discussed.
The idea of consent being violated was simply rolled over with phrases like, "party girl," and "drunk." As if that made it okay that they raped her.

A little boy kissing a little girl on the hand during reading group in the first grade is not a big deal. Refusing to see the patterns we, as adults, are developing and imposing on children, especially so young, IS a big deal.
I'm sure this kid is really great and awesome. He probably doesn't understand why he's been suspended for trying to make the girl he likes feel special and I do feel for him, but he still has to be taught that intent is less relevant than harm.

I've only read this one article about it and I obviously know nothing about this boy, girl, or their families. I can't possible make an accurate judgment about whether suspension was too harsh, but I do know that our culture sets kids up to continue the long tradition of rape culture and victim blaming we live with.

1 comment:

  1. I said these exact points to a friend of mine on FB the other day when he posted a status about this article. Everyone thought I was crazy - I wasn't saying he was a horrible kid, I just said this raises some concerns that aren't being addressed. Not learning boundaries as a kid has the potential to become really damaging later down the line.