How a well meaning high school yoga teacher can perpetuate gender stereotypes.
I’m proud to be raising a feminist daughter. Not sure how it happened, really…but I’d like to think I played some role in my 18 year old’s awareness of gender bias, and desire to make things right in the world. She is in the process of working with her high school administrators to update the dress code during her senior year there. Equality works it’s way into her circle of friends, too…She has friends of different ethnicities (even in our very homogeneous suburb), different interests, different sexual orientations…it’s a pretty great group of kids that she hangs out with! Yep. I’m a proud mama. But enough about me and my kid, here’s what’s going on in her yoga class:
Her high school offers yoga as an option for PE…which, as a yoga teacher, former studio owner, and lover of all things yoga, I think is fantastic! Sweet, right?!
I was pretty surprised when she told me that the handful of boys in the class are made to practice in the front of the class. The reason? Well, you’ve probably guessed it…so the boys won’t check out the girls’ butts during their class, and make the girls uncomfortable.
My daughter and I both believe that this is wrong…and I’m so glad she brought it to my attention! I wonder how often this happens in other yoga classes for teens?!
What’s so wrong with keeping boys in the front, you ask?!! Well…
1. The notion that boys can’t control their impulses around girls is preposterous…and that it’s the GIRL’S behavior that disrupts the learning environment is ridiculous. When it’s assumed that boys can’t control themselves , it becomes a girl’s responsibility to keep from showing her butt (or cleavage, arms, legs, etc. etc.). This in turn promotes “rape culture“…by taking any blame from the boy, and putting it on the girl. This can become a HUGE problem down the road. Studies show that college aged women have a high risk for being victims of sexual assault. I firmly believe that allowing boys to believe at a young age that they aren’t responsible for their actions can contribute to justifications by them before/during/after an assault. It’s the “she was dressed like a slut and was asking for it” mentality that is so prevalent in our culture. This same type of thing happens with the dress codes in school…the notion that girls need to be covered because boys can’t control their lustful desires when they see a bare shoulder…it distracts from the learning environment. Humph.
2. Why should boys automatically be guilty, and girls innocent? Boys aren’t the only teens with raging hormones. Until they commit an offense, shouldn’t boys be allowed to practice yoga where they feel most comfortable?
3. Who’s to say that girls aren’t checking other girls out…or, that boys aren’t checking each other out! Should it be ok to pretend that LGBT teens don’t exist? That this is only a boy-girl issue? I think not.
Sure, a high school yoga teacher might have some eyes wandering during class. However, it’s the teacher’s responsibility to keep an eye out for her students…both for safety in the asana, as well as making sure that more of the students’ attention is on his or her own practice, and not on the person practicing on the next mat. These 1950’s-era gender stereotypes should not have a place in a yoga classroom. Sexual advances in yoga class of any kind should not be tolerated (at any age!) and should have consequences when they happen in a high school class, but boys should not be punished in advance for something they didn’t do.
Fortunately, her yoga teacher was incredibly understanding when my daughter talked to her about it. She hadn’t considered the message it sends to the students…and when she spoke to the school administration about it, she found that it is school policy to have the boys in front. REALLY! So, I’m proud to say, that my daughter was able to have the administration change their policy, and now boys and girls are assigned their places in yoga class alphabetically. Hurrah!!
Yoga is a practice of turning our attention inward, and has SUCH a great benefit to teens…I hope they all can now find peace on their mats.