Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Columnist Examines Rihanna, Single-Sex Ed

A student columnist in the Cornell Daily Sun had an interesting take on the New York Times' recent piece on single-sex education. Author Ariela Rutkin-Becker uses the Rhianna/Chris Brown situation to demonstrate the harm in the messages sent to children when we separately teach boys to be tough and girls to be sensitive. Referring to the teachers profiled in the article, she writes
Ms. Hudson’s baby-talk [to her all-female class: "remember what I spoke to you about? About being the bright shining star that you are?] and Mr. Napolitano’s hyper-macho rhetoric [to his class of boys, on "how to be a man"] only help to perpetuate the idea that w omen are the fairer sex. Which brings us to the Rihanna situation....Rihanna’s acquiescence is terrifying because of her idol status to the aforementioned demographic: young and impressionable girls who are now even more accustomed to the idea of automatically — within a month! — forgiving a man who beats you.
Will girls be even more willing to accept Rihanna's forgiveness of her abuser as model behavior as they absorb the messages sent by single sex education? Rutkin-Becker quotes an article about Rihanna's forgiveness of Brown: “Teenage girls […] have been taught that ‘what really matters is that we don’t destroy boys.’ [They] think that if they speak out against an abuser, the boy’s future will be shattered.” The message sent by single sex education is, similarly, that "what really matters is that we don't destroy boys." This lesson is underscored in all-girls classrooms, which, "run like a therapy session" (according to the Times) fail to teach girls to girls to exert their power. Meanwhile, next door, the boys are toughening up. We can't let these social experiments continue and expect to change the culture of girls who identify with and support women who expect abuse and forgive their abusers. As Ritkin-Becker put it,
We must teach our girls the good intention behind Ms. Hudson’s patronizing tone — that each one is, indeed, a “bright shining star.” But part of being this star means that you don’t take shit from anyone. I’m waiting for that part to be incorporated into any school curriculum — single-sex or otherwise.