One of the most common topics in Our Stories, Our Voices edited by Amy Reed, is the use of women’s bodies for the pleasure of others. Twenty-one young adult authors write autobiographical essays about their experiences of being female in America. While there are many topics covered within this volume including immigration, racism, and homophobia; the topic addressed by the greatest number of authors is definitely the sexualization of women and girls.
There is such a strong juxtaposition right now of women who are saying “me too”
and “no more” and men who are allowed to remain in positions of power who have perpetrated acts of violence against these women. We cannot wait to teach boys and girls about gender equality and sexual objectification of either sex, it has to happen now. This is the time to make a statement as a society that every body belongs completely and solely to the individual that inhabits it. The body is something to be shared if, and only if, the person to whom it belongs gives complete and whole-hearted consent.
Several essayists point out that this goes beyond physical contact. Julie Murphy addresses this issue in her essay about weight, “Fat and Loud.” She says, “The reason why society–men especially– are so easily upset by fatness is because it’s a giant (no pun intended!) middle finger to every dude who thinks that the female body exists for nothing less than the male gaze” (137-138).
As our access to visual images of bodies grows wider and wider with TV, movies, and online resources, we need to be careful to teach children that the image of their bodies also belongs to them. How they look should not be defined or directed by anyone else. The other day, one of my students said to me, “You would be pretty if you wore makeup.” I was a bit taken aback by this statement and I believe my response was, “Thank you…I think.” I could have, and should have, said something like, “Well, I believe that people who are kind to themselves and others are beautiful and that we can all look different on the outside and still be pretty.” I hope that this teachable moment will occur again.
Our Stories, Our Voices is an avenue for high school teachers to address cultural norms about a variety of issues including gender and sexuality. It is also a book that will hopefully inspire girls to tell their own stories and boys to reflect on their place within those stories.
Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:
Identity 1: I have a positive view of myself, including an awareness of and comfort with my membership in multiple groups in society.
Identity 4: I express pride and confidence in my identity without perceiving or treating anyone else as inferior.
RI.1- Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
RI.2- Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.
RI.6- Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness or beauty of the text.
SL.1- Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.