Summary of events: Twitter getting at Patrice Brown for her attire in the classroom. The internet runs rife with claims about her outfits being inappropriate for the classroom, that her students will be distracted, and the notion that fathers will be lining up for parent teacher conferences in hopes of catching a glimpse of said teacher (rather than lining up because they are actively involved in their children’s education.) I have several points to make, for each of which you haters can have several seats.
Women of color, especially black women, are historically sexualized by society. Is this instance specifically about race? No. But to ignore context and history is absurd. It’s this ignorance that leads us to make the claims we do. I already hear people telling me that they can’t watch what they say for everybody, or that they can’t tailor their words to every person that is “sensitive,” but you can. I don’t know where the notion that we should speak our minds all the time came from. Being a decent human is exhausting. It takes work. If you find it easy, you probably aren’t doing it right.
Next; what is society’s obsession with placing their own sexualized thoughts into the minds of children? She teaches the 4th grade. If your child is distracted by someone, it is up to you to shape that. Teach them boundaries. Use this time to have a discussion. Use this time to teach them how to respect others. She is not teaching in a mini skirt, nor does she have any cleavage showing. I work in a classroom and can tell you she’s following the dress code. I highly doubt your child is thinking about what’s underneath her clothes. I was a child not that long ago. Kids are gross, but they really aren’t that nuanced to perceive older women in such a sexualized way.
Another thing: if she were thinner, would her outfit be appropriate? What if she were less curvy? She is covering her body appropriately, but because of her shape there seems to be an issue. This is the biggest problem I have with the #teacherbae (which is an awful hashtag, but more on that in a minute) controversy. I say this because you all know damn well that if she were to wear something more loose fitting, ya’ll would get at her for looking sloppy. Tell me I’m wrong! You would say she could dress better, or that she could look more “put together.”
You want us to be confident; to be smart; to care about our jobs. But for women, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. She clearly is confident. She clearly is smart (she could not hold her position if she weren’t). And because of her apparent confidence, you can gather that she cares about her job and about her students. But that isn’t enough, because nothing ever is.
If she were wearing a pantsuit, society would say she isn’t soft enough or feminine enough. If she were wearing an ill-fitting dress, society would say she didn’t care about her appearance and therefore couldn’t possibly care about her students. SOCIETY put emphasis on her body. If we just regarded her body for exactly what it is- just a body- there wouldn’t be an issue. It’s a body. Most of us have one. Stop perverting what we are all born with.
Finally, the hashtag #teacherbae.
Please stop identifying women by our appearance. However well meaning it might be, it’s still objectifying. You’re still highlighting our physical attributes when we have so much more to offer. And you can’t blame this on not knowing her, or say her appearance is the only thing you have to go by. That’s not true. You know she is a teacher. You know she molds young minds. You know that, in order to be in this position, she has AT LEAST a bachelor’s degree [Editor’s note: she most definitely probably has a masters too].
Is education everything? Of course not. But I would certainly rather be judged on accomplishments I strived for than my appearance which, as noteworthy as that may be, is something I was born with and did not struggle (as hard) to achieve. And maybe if society would stop doing this [the Editor will optimistically not be holding his breath], stop highlighting our appearance (positively or negatively) we could be given recognition for things that actually matter. [Editor’s note: the best compliment is not “you’re beautiful” but “you deserve equal pay for equal work.”]
by: Christine P. Colón