Respectability Politics and Misogynoir in Education

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My social media timelines have been on fire with the news of Patrice Brown, also know as “#TeacherBae”. Patrice Brown is a paraprofessional in Atlanta whose photos went viral and caused a debate on whether or not her attire is appropriate for her field.

But, in actuality, the true statement should read: “Her body does not fall in line with Euro-centric body standards, therefore it is automatically sexual and wrong.”

Once again, we have stooped to spewing sexism and misogynoir in order to demonize a Black woman for her existence.

Many supporters, including myself, were worried that #TeacherBae would lose her job. We waited patiently for the school system to respond to the social media bonfire.

Yesterday, Atlanta Public Schools released this statement:

“The Atlanta Public Schools shared their employee dress code with 11Alive. It list sexamples of appropriate and inappropriate attire but leaves the determination of violations to the discretion of the administrators for each school.

APS confirmed that Brown was a paraprofessional employed with the district and that she has been “given guidance regarding the APS Employee Dress Code, the use of social media, and Georgia Code of Ethics for educators, and she has been cooperative in addressing her presence on social media.”

Here is a copy of the district’s dress code policy- proof that she did not go against the policy:

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(Also, peep the fact that headwraps are not allowed. Another policy that negatively affects Black women. But that’s another blog post for another time!)

I was relieved to see that #TeacherBae had not been fired, but also worried that this would negatively affect her career in the future. Many supported Patrice Brown, which sparked conversations on how her photos would not have been an issue, had she been the American teacher standard- a thin, white woman.

Check this out:

Below is a photo of Patrice Brown and two other models wearing the same dress:

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I highly doubt that there would be complaints if the other two women were teachers.

While the district was combing through Ms. Brown’s photos, it would have been nice if they focused on this one instead:

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Because despite the fact that statistically, Black women are the most educated in America and account for the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs, the only thing that truly matters is our figures and how men (and sometimes other women) respond to them.

 

With all of the talk about #TeacherBae, I couldn’t help but to reflect on my own experiences of misogynoir and body shaming in education.

I snapped this selfie at Starbucks before I went into work at an organization I worked for briefly last year. That same morning, I was scolded because of this outfit (the skirt was knee length and I had on knee high boots, as well).

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The sad part was that I was scolded by another woman. She threw so many respectability politics at me all at once- she wasn’t a fan of my “flamboyant” style, she wasn’t a fan of my clothing choices and deemed them inappropriate to work with high schoolers (she complained that my shirts were too revealing and that my skirts needed to be at the ankle, which was not happening) ….She even complained about my “primping” in the ladies bathroom (on my lunch breaks, mind you. Yes, I touch up my makeup every lunch break!) As an athletic Black woman who stands at 5’7 with 32DD breasts (and was breastfeeding at the time) and inherited my mother’s bum (well, half of it!), it is pretty difficult to conceal any of my curves, regardless of the outfit.

The biggest insult she threw at me was that she thought I was a “Party Girl” and was “wild” (which was interesting because I only talked to two people at work and was a mute the rest of the time- How did she come about such observations through an icebreaker? Maybe it was my earrings). She even suggested that my relationship with my friend, Peter, was inappropriate and sent the wrong message (we had lunch together most days because we had similar interests. Mind you, Peter had a girlfriend who I met, is awesome, and does photographs for me!). To automatically assume that we were “involved” was absolutely disgusting and belittling. Also, I found out through my friend that during the interviews, she was the ONLY one on the panel that DID NOT want to hire me, nitpicking at my resume and experience. She’d wanted to hire a younger white man with minimal experience and no dedication to social justice instead.

I spent many nights brainstorming and trying to come up with reasons why this woman was so critical of me, and only one made sense: “She sees a young Black woman with a vibrant, outgoing personality, which automatically equates me to being promiscuous.” It’s a stereotype as old as time and the proof of it is embedded in our country’s history. Black woman are not allowed to have curves, make friends of the opposite sex, or take pride in our appearance without automatically being labeled as “slutty” and ridiculed (re: Hottentot Venus)

It disgusted me that another woman would display such internalized sexism and be so  critical of my appearance and body shape- especially because her bum was ten times bigger than mine (but of course, she concealed it with ankle length skirts and bulky sweaters-which is her choice!) and so presumptuous about my “lifestyle” (which consists of writing, trying new recipes, picking gum out of my son’s hair, reading Berenstein Bear books, and late night “Golden Girls” marathons- not parties)

Misogynoir is always unfortunate and hard to stomach, but it is especially hurtful when your breast and butt size speaks louder than your resume and dedication to youth does.

Recently, I read an article on Mother Jones discussing the fact that there are hardly any Black female teachers left (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/09/black-teachers-public-schools-education-system-philadelphia)

I think the #TeacherBae incident is a prime example of why that has become the case. We’re tired.

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