Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Feminism deemed too "controversial" for school photo.

The decision of an Ohio middle school principal is garnering quite a bit of attention this week.  Ms. Young, Principal of Clermont Northeastern Middle School in Batavia, Ohio, recently had a student’s t-shirt digitally edited to remove a message and avoid controversy. 

Surely this t-shirt must have had some foul language, right?  Or made some vulgar innuendo?  Violated the school’s dress code?  What message could have been so controversial?  

Turns out, it is the word FEMINIST.
(Photo: WXIX)

Sophie Thomas, an eighth grader at Clermont Northeastern wore a black t-shirt with the word “Feminist” written on it for a recent picture day.  When questioned about the decision to alter the image, Principal Young reportedly stated that the “class photo was no place for a statement that she deemed controversial” and that she decided to alter the image because “some people might find it [Ms. Thomas’ t-shirt] offensive.” 

After discovering that her t-shift had been blacked out, Ms. Thomas took to Instagram to launch a protest:  
(Photo: idiotsophie/Instagram)

Apparently, after enough local scrutiny, Principal Young apologized to Ms. Thomas.  In one report, she even admitted that the shirt did not violate any school policies or dress codes.  And when asked what she hoped to accomplish, Ms. Thomas reportedly stated:
I want everyone to realize that we need feminism ... I want you to have someone come into the school and educate everyone about feminism. I want us to go to the news station together and show the people that we are working together to make this school and our community a better place for everyone. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
Principal Young’s attempts to avoid controversy certainly failed.  In addition to several articles being published (see them here on BuzzFeed, Ravishly, Think Progress, and the Washington Times), feminists on social media are showing their support using the hashtags #ideservefreedomofexpression and #keepfeminisminschools. 
(Via Twitter here.)

One education reporter summarized the situation perfectly:  “Yes, we live in a society where the word ‘feminist’ is still, apparently, controversial. Sigh.”

Sigh, indeed. 

While the articles have not addressed it, this cases seems to trigger an interesting 1st Amendment argument.  Could Ms. Thomas and her mother claim that Clermont Northwestern violated her 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech when they censored her t-shirt in the class photo?  Obviously, would need more information to answer that question legally. 

But this case also raises important policy questions.  Do we want school administrators censoring students’ t-shirts at all?  Do we want school administrators censoring this message? 

Apparently, the school has stated it will hold larger discussions with students regarding feminism.  Here’s hoping the school can learn from this and provide a meaningful opportunity for its students to discuss feminism because clearly Ms. Thomas is right: we need feminism.


Juliana said...

This is incredibly frustrating to read, but sadly this Principal is not alone. Apparently, "feminism" and "misogyny" are banned words on trip advisor, as part of a site-wide ban on "political language." You can read more about it here: http://kitchenette.jezebel.com/feminism-and-misogyny-are-apparently-banned-words-o-1691599391

Hart Ku said...

It's definitely discouraging to see how feminism is still considered by many to be an extreme viewpoint. I don't really know why the term "feminism" is seen to be as "controversial" as it is. Or why a shirt with the word on it should offend anyone.

Which is not to say that I would encourage children to use Class Photo Days as opportunities to rage against the machine, generally. A class photo is for everyone in the class, after all. And the teen seems to admit that she was intentionally provocative. But, I think it's important to consider that it's much MORE sad that this particular fight to reclaim the word even needs to be fought in the first place. And that its not so clear who is winning.