The Gender Police (page 9)
The popular codes inflicted expectations on everyone, effectively building impenetrable obstacles to authentic self-expression and connection. Instead, people talked about each other in ways I thought were mean as they jockeyed for status among the “in” groups.
While my childhood challenges were mild in comparison with what millions of American children endure today in their schools, I was often miserable, and I longed for some alternative safe space. I found some reprieve at the time in a community-oriented summer camp. For many of us there, camp became a preserve, a salvation from the rougher social environments we experienced during the rest of the year at school.
This community, and others where I’ve worked as a professional since then, showed me that compassion and connection with others are vital for learning and thriving. Such support should be available to all youth. People shouldn’t have to wait until they get through their school years before it presumably gets better; growing up shouldn’t have to be quite so hard.
I’ve worked for decades to change schools and the larger social environment that tends to breed violence and other bullying behavior. For eleven years I worked in secondary schools; I served as a conflict resolution coordinator, a teacher, a substance abuse prevention counselor, and a school social worker and guidance administrator, often dealing directly with bullies and their targets.
I listened to students in different kinds of educational environments, from the elite and exclusive to those from inner cities, as they complained about feeling frightened and confused, detached and lonely. More recently, I have worked in public and private universities as a sociology, social work, and criminal justice professor.
My research has focused primarily on the links between school violence and gender. Through it all, I have studied what would help students, male and female, to feel supported, recognized, and empowered by other students, as well as by teachers and parents.