Saturday, November 13, 2010

12-year-old girl beaten after Christian youth meeting for "having a boy's name."

What's in a name? A 12-year-old girl at Hernando Middle School in Mississippi was beaten by five fellow students -- reportedly because they said her name, Randi, was "a boy name."
"They started talking about me like I was a man," she told local news station WREG. "That I shouldn't be in this world. And my name was a boy name." The four girls and a boy surrounded her after a Fellowship of Christian Students meeting, and, she said, kicked her in the rib and leg, hit her in the face, sat on her, pushed her face into the floor, and threw her onto a cafeteria table.
Apparently, the incident was caught on surveillance camera, but in order to maintain student privacy, the film has not been released. A school administrator issued a statement, said WREG, that "fighting is not tolerated and that disciplinary action will be taken to the fullest extent of the law." No charges were filed, however, because the police were not called. Whether the attack was an isolated incident or part of ongoing bullying remains unknown.
The student in question was not said to be LGBT -- but whether she is or not doesn't matter. She was beaten because she was perceived to be in some way not conforming to her gender. That is yet another reason schools need to include discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in diversity and anti-bullying programs. It is not just LGBT students at risk, but potentially others as well. Students, teachers, and staff must learn that even characteristics some people might view as "deviant" or "sinful" are still no excuse for violence and bullying.
The part in bold is what is most important to me.  I'm not going to blame the kids' Christian youth group for this, much less Christianity as a whole, much less religion as a whole.  For all we know, the timing of this attack is irrelevant to the motivation.  The only reason I think it's worth mentioning at all is that perhaps in the future, the Fellowship of Christian Students could emphasize that beating the crap out of a girl because you think her name is boyish is not exactly loving behavior

My continuing suspicion is that at the root of homophobia, misogyny, transphobia, and any other gender-role-based hatred you will find a rigid belief in the necessity of conforming to gender roles-- a belief that there are ways that men and women should behave, look, and apparently even be named, and there is something wrong with people who do not conform to these standards.  This suspicion first occurred to me while being assaulted and called a dyke for having short hair in middle school, and has pretty much developed and strengthened from that point on.

The more complex problem is where this fervent desire to maintain gender conformity comes from, and everybody seems to have a different answer to that.  Some people are willing to chalk it up entirely to religion, and indeed it certainly seems like most religious systems on the planet have some kind of prescriptions about how men should be and how women should be, but I think it's more likely that those prescriptions became codified in religion because they existed prior to it.  That because people already thought that such conformity was necessary, they decided that that's what God/the gods/the universe want as well.  There are even (even?  I guess this is not surprising at all) people who use evolutionary psychology to make the argument that men and women have evolved to be certain things and therefore that's how they should be.  I have no issue with arguments that there are male and female behavioral tendencies that have evolved, but once you start getting normative with that stuff, I will whack you soundly over the head with the Mallet of Naturalistic Fallacy. 

I'm guessing the parents of the kids who beat this girl up didn't specifically tell them that people who diverge from tightly prescribed gender roles have something wrong with them and should be punished.  But there are a lot of ways to convey that message less explicitly and most people don't seem to see anything wrong with doing so.  No, you're not going to catch me saying that kids should only be given gender-neutral toys or toys intended for the opposite sex, boys should be enrolled in ballet and girls signed up for the baseball team whether they like it or not, etc.  But while I know full well that kids like to have things simple and categorized while they're young, I can't help but think that accommodating that urge when it comes to gender is going to serve them poorly later on, and certainly that actively providing and enforcing views about gender conformity when they're at any age is encouraging them to become like the students in this story.

Of course, maybe these kids just hate Randi and were using any excuse to go after her.  "You have a boy's name" is such a stupid reason to go after anyone that it's entirely possible.  But the gender role conformity thing shouldn't be dignified by calling it anything other than stupid.

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