Hey Girl. I See You Sitting in the Back.

Hey Girl. I See You Sitting in the Back.

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I have the unique privilege of going into various schools K-12 to teach, perform, and observe theatre and playwrighting. It is hands-down and raise-your-hand-to-talk-please one of my favorite jobs. My very first day we were interrupted by a fire drill (remember those??) and the entire school marched out to the football field to be counted. But regardless of the school district, classroom, or even grade-level, it’s remarkable just how quickly sitting in a Too-Tiny desk with all those Big-Feelings reverts you back into the emotional angst of adolescence.

 

Peer Pressure.

Self Esteem.

Self Doubt.

Fear of the Future.

And never enough sleep.

 

Every classroom I visit is unique and yet wildly the same. Motivational posters. Mystery smells. Mr/Ms/Mrs. So-&-So. And the same social dynamics that were present when you and I went through primary and secondary school all still exist. True, technology has changed how they interface and doubtlessly informs the hierarchy patrol and totem pole. But all the same cliques and character tropes are as present and cliché as the last teen-flick you saw on the silver screen: from the Mean Girls to the Jocks, the Rebel Dudes to the Artsy Burnouts.

 

Enter a visiting group of bright-eyed Teaching Artists asking for creativity! Imagination! Participation! First grade students could not be more elated. Middle-schoolers and the high school scene? Dubious at best.

 

Pinned under the pressure of peer-devised scrutiny and judgment, nobody is eager to stand out. Many of our students do not want to be singled-out, answer questions, or be there at all. Thankfully over the course of a few weeks, as a relationship and trust is built, this dynamic shifts. Today, my colleague entreated his classroom to consider her/his fellow peers as their personal Support Squad. I love that.

 

But. Big observation point here. And yes, I’ll just preface that it is clearly subjective and assessed from a small sampling and it is still pertinent. Because though that rapport builds, my female students continue to stay reticent and quiet. Save for a few outliers, girls are less willing to speak up, speak out, or engage in classroom dialogue. In moments of sharing written work they are the first to insist on anonymity, they will skirt away from receiving positive feedback, they dodge out when the bell rings.

 

I know I’m not making a shocking announcement here. None of this is groundbreaking or sadly I would imagine, unexpected. Absolutely, there are populations and classrooms and situations and arguments where I would be completely inaccurate and please, please, prove me wrong. But I feel so strongly about shifting this balance and inspiring, educating, and working with youth of all gender and race and sexuality and age/shape/make/what-have-you until this conversation becomes simply how to keep the arts alive and engaging for youth. Not youth and gender. Or youth and race. Etc etc etc

 

So, I’m engaging in the dialogue. Consider me enrolled in the coursework. I am participating and raising my hand and pointing my finger and stomping my feet. I am going to talk about how and when and where Feminine Energy shows up…and too-often doesn’t have the space or feel safe to express itself. Equally, I’m going to talk about Masculine Energy and celebrate MEN! And boyhood! And genderhood! (If that’s a thing.) This is not a debate of right or wrong. This is a forum.

 

This is an Inequality Insurrection.

 

Jump in. Let’s make a splash. I hear tidal waves have big impacts.

 

Hopscotch and Tic-tac-toe,

I love the way you domino,

Maelyn