School Removes “Feminist” Form Students T-Shirt In Photo – Did They Overstep Their Bounds?

I first encountered this story on a friends facebook status and meant to make a post about it. Finding it again on twitter the other night brought it back to mind.

Basically, a 13 year old female student from Ohio were a t-shirt which bore the word “feminism” in a photo of the entire student body. On release of the photograph, it was noted that the principal had digitally eliminated the word “feminism” from the the student in question’s t-shirt. After discovering this, I am assuming they took it to the social media  sphere, and a big uproar ensued (hence why I read about it in The Independent, a British publication with a feminist slant).

First, I am not really surprised that this went “viral”. With how hot button the issue of feminism is in the social media sphere today, its no wonder that a perceived case of  discrimination on account to a person’s feminist stance would annoy and anger a great many.
But, truth be told, I can not say that I see this as a case of discrimination. Both on account to the schools reasoning, and on account to one of my own.

The rational that the school gave for removing the word, was because the principal felt that some people may object to it. Along with a reference to the slippery slope argument (“What will the next word be?”).
That is a weak argument, but I can see how they may have found themselves presented with a weird position. There are “viral” stories coming out almost weekly (if not daily!) about this outrage or that, caused by this organization or that not taking into account how some group somewhere may be offended by some communication or action of their organization.
If that was the case here (the school trying to keep neutral), then I guess that backfired.

As for the slippery slope argument, this is not REALLY all that applicable. As a school, you can mandate out anything EXTREMELY offensive. What would make things interesting however, is if a male student (or a female! it really does not matter) showed up to such a photo with a shirt that said “MRA”.

It would be interesting for a couple of reasons. I would be curious if the school gives the shirt (and the student) the same treatment as was given to the “feminist” student. I am not talking about having classes to teach about MRA issues (note that the feminist student got that). All I am curious about is if they would allow the presence of the shirt. If not, then ide be curious of why they decided NOT to allow the shirt (and how such a decision would not by hypocritical in the face of the “feminist” shirt).
Another thing I would be curious about, is what the reaction of the internet and also the student in question would be to such a t-shirt. It would be interesting to find opposition, because then it would not be out of line to call into question the agenda of such people.

I feel for the school (assuming that they were in fact, trying to avoid a dispute, and ended up getting one anyway). And I am not against the students “freedom of expression” right to wear the “feminist” t-shirt.
However, I don’t think that the school needed any better of a reason to censor the shirt then, frankly, having a neutral school photo. In a photo that is just meant to document a students presence in a school, I hardly think that personal beliefs should be given any precedent. I would say the same thing if on the shirt was a cross, a half moon, or some other religious or secular symbol.
The same goes for photos that are used for such things  as student ID cards or in the year book. There purpose is for identification or documentation, not self expression. If you want to self express, do that on your own time.
Clearly this is not an issue for the student in question, judging by the twitter photo. Its not like they don’t have the equipment or the medium to self express to the world.

When it comes to this story, there were a couple aspects that I found myself either in disagreement with, or being bothered by.

When it comes to what I was in disagreement with, it was mainly that this was somehow a form of discrimination. For the reasons outlined above. And for reasons pertaining to, why students are in school in the first place. Preparation for life in the outside world.

One thing I can tell you about life in the workplace, is that you better get used to wearing a uniform, or conforming to some sort of dress code. By dress code, I don’t mean not being allowed to wear short shorts or shirts that say offensive things either. I mean, putting on a potentially ugly and uncomfortable uniform shirt and pant combo, and wearing that for at least 8 hours (if not more), while often times dealing with the public. Or it could mean wearing a 2 or 3 piece suit to work (or some other form of formal attire).

Very rare are jobs that allow what one would call “casual” attire (what you have in most schools with no uniform policy). I have been in the workforce for 7 years, and so far have only had one job that had a lax or “casual” attire policy (that was a telemarketing company).
So if your in middle or high school and the biggest attire concern you had/have is no short shorts or attention grabbing phrases or imagery in photos, consider yourself lucky. Consider yourself lucky to not be forced into uniform, and consider yourself to be in an easy part of life.

As for what bothers me about this story, I would have to say that it is the age of the student involved. She is 13 years old, still in middle school. But she is already well on her way to being an SJW. Or at very least, she is far more versed and shows far more interest in the topic than many (most?) preteens of her age show towards any topic.

Not that this is necessarily a BAD thing. I just wonder how much of a hand social media had in shaping this strong belief. Well, its obvious that it likely had a lot to do with it, which is not inherently a problem. The question is if it was a case of absorbing ideology, or genuine passion for this cause.

Social media (and the internet itself) has been great for the forwarding of many social causes. One of the more well known of those would be the growth of the NU-Atheist movement.
Social media has been instrumental in both bringing these like minded people together, and also in connecting them with people of differing views (providing them with a platform to converse). A connection that often spurred discussion, and sometimes convinced people that were on the fence (barley clinging to a given belief, usually religious) to finally dump it and come to the “dark” side. Where we have cookies.

Which is a good thing. I have always been a fan of the ability of the internet to single handedly break religion’s stranglehold on the cultural conversations surrounding beliefs. That is not to say that such conversations didn’t still occur (particularly in academia). But they were certainly not mainstream by any means.

But though I don’t really see all these conversations online as being overtly harmful, I do know that many tend to occur in closed arenas (I sometimes go as far as to calling them echo chambers).
When it comes to both atheism and feminism, much of the voices in both online communities (some overlapping) are just regular people wanting to be a part of the group. They are usually not people with any significant educational background in the particulars of the areas of discussion.
With both community’s, some of these individuals can become quite influential voices , particularly those with a Youtube fanbase. One such example is Dusty Smith, showing his colors here .  And to quote a scholar friend of mine’s view of Anita Sarkeesian, “She strikes me as an undergrad masquerading as a professor”.

In both cases (digital atheist and feminist communities), I do not see all that many outside scholars weighing in, and those that do, tend to be aligned with the prevailing arguments (for example, Richard Dawkins). Which in itself makes some sense (im sure that most such individuals have better things to do then to “debate” or talk about their career on social media).

But at the same time, the lacking of these voices of legitimate criticism often leaves behind only the illegitimate criticism, which in turn leaves the group being intellectually superior, just by contrast.
For example, a sexist or misogynist will make a feminist of most any stance look to be on the high ground. And the religious mindset alone puts the average atheist ahead. The community is never hesitant to play that card.
But the issue comes when such individuals learn to lump ANY criticism of their stance into the category of illegitimate criticism. I see this all the time in both communities. The prevailing opinion of the community is “A”, so therefore my opinion on the matter is “A”. I do not have to give this any critical thought, because I am already on the side of reason.
Anyone who disagrees with my shared community assessment, is sexist, misogynistic, illogical, irrational, and retarded (I have seen the later used enough by people in the atheist community to include it).

It was only last year that I really begun to really see hostility from the atheist community aimed towards the rest of the secular community (particularly agnostics). And “Atheism Plus” (a combination of the tenants of atheism, with those of feminism) was also something fairly recent (coined in 2012 I believe). Which  made me do some thinking.

Facebook has been around since 2006 (it was around before, but not open to the public until 2006). It is now 2015.
If those groups were opened in 2006, that means that it has been around 9 years since then. In between then and now, there have likely been a huge number of teens and  people in general whom have visited said groups, and utilized them in coming to a conclusion of secularism. Which would not be an issue. Unless that is, Atheists make out their stance as being more “logical” then the rest. In such a case, such groups would just be preaching a new, replacement ideology.

And here is where I come back to what concerns me about the initial story, the 13 year old girl in the feminist t-shirt.

I do not know her viewpoints. I don’t know where they came from (is it strongly parentally influenced, or is it on account to online exposure?). And I don’t know if the girl would be what one would call “reasonable”, or if they are on the extreme side.

None the less, the attention to such a topic being given at such a young age, is a bit disconcerting to me.

Its one thing if they are just passionate about the cause. I can understand that. My whole life has had many situations of me sticking up for some cause  or another that I have believed in (even in my middle school years).

But this almost seems a case of, ideological expression. The first thing that the student did upon noticing the removal of the word from the photo, was go right to social media and share the story.
Although one would need to hear from someone around the student to better understand their stances, the fact that they wore it before also seems to betray it as an act of ideological expression.

A big reason why I have learned to try and stay away from labels (if at all possible), is because of the weight they have behind them (particularly in the age of social media). They are utilized when applicable (to keep the conversation going). But for the most part, I no longer think of myself as being anything more then my physical traits betray.

For example, I am male. I am of mixed ancestry. I have brown hair, and brown eyes. But I am not Atheist, Feminist, Liberal, Progressive or other personality traits.
Do I have viewpoints that happen to fit into said categories (among others)?


But I do not find a need to insert myself into any given group or label, because frankly, I do not need to. I do not need the assurance of the collective to know that I am correct in my choice. Always an interesting thing to think about, since almost everyone who joins a given label, does so under those pretenses. And not all of them are right. But most have the same stubborn group mentality.

Which is another lesson of the last few years. How all encompassing some of these labels are to people. Lets take politics in my family.

A family member of mine has always been socially liberal (a fan of the NDP). This he got from their father, and he likely got it from his father. Which is of no real issue, until an election some time ago had a candidate that said family member liked, but they were affiliated with a different party to his preferred New Democrats (the candidate was a Liberal). Though he liked him, he said that he could not vote for him, because he was in the wrong party.
Which got me to thinking. If someone has ideas and a platform that you like, what does it matter what colors they are running behind?

I do not think ill of said family member for having such a mindset. He likely does not even realize this error in his thinking (nor do millions of others whom display the same single party loyalty no matter what the available alternatives).
Yet at the same time, it bugs me.
People value things like tradition, loyalty and such. And unfortunately, this bleeds into politics quite a bit. But I wish people would be a little more thoughtful, since what good is tradition, if it is often times at your own expense?

The political “bubble” also is a great example of why I choose not to embrace most any labels.

These things start innocent enough.  All these ideologies have origin in their label. Lets take Atheism.
It is simple enough. It illustrates a lack of belief in, a given phenomenon (usually a deity). But somehow over time, that explanation has become an excuse for the average atheist to criticize people in other areas of the secular community for not “being honest with themselves”. Yes, I have heard that before. Particularly Agnostics.

This is particularly amusing, since an agnostic to me has always been, someone who does not know the answer. The theist says yes, the atheist says no, the agnostic atheist says “I have no proof either way, but the evidence points to no”. And the agnostic says “I don’t know”.
Yet for some reason, this has become a regularly discussed issue of modern secular debate. Which is hilarious, because its a non issue!

To quote Bill Maher:

Do you believe in a talking snake? Me neither – we’re on the same team!

And when it comes to feminism, that is an ideological train wreck.

It started out with good (albeit Caucasian focused) intentions. And though there is always work to be done, women are now closer to their male counterparts then they ever were before.
But as for the progression, there was the first wave, then the 2ed wave, and following that was the 3ed wave.

And here is where many people say that the movement went off the rails. But others also note that there was a split in terms of the feminist movement.
By now, most of us know about the wave of radicalized feminism that has swept social media of late. Many people (me as well, in the past) have called this the 3ed wave, the batshit man hater phase. But it has come to my attention that this wave of feminism, though popular, well known and well exposed, is not the single facing of the 3ed wave.
Within the largely unnoticed confines of the academic community, the conversation has since moved on, into what academics call the 3ed wave. Though I have no real insight into these conversations, I am assured that they are not, the insanity of the popular conversation.

Which brings us to the other side of the coin, what I will call tumblr/pseudo-feminism. This is currently the most well known face of the movement. Some say that this fanatical side has become the mainstream of feminism, but I am not really sure. Social media is driven by the insane, so I am unsure if this is the dominant face of the movement, or just the most well covered (due to its insanity being well suited to the platform).

Either way, I have written about the dangers of this kind of fanatical feminism before. From the risks to the healthy dating and sex lives of those of both genders, to how many aspects are detrimental to real victims of sex crimes.

But this story exposes an interesting, new risk. The risk of finding a new pair of rose colored glasses (or religion), under the guise of moving into a more logical way of thinking.

Again, I am not saying that all who find various atheist, feminist or other single issue oriented groups (particularly those at a young age) are going to be “indoctrinated” into those given ideologies.
But there is a big difference between providing the information and letting the person decide for themselves, and making the claim that you are the correct choice.

Though most applicable to the Atheist community, I have also seen this kind of hostility in the feminist community, particularly when people bring up the term “Egalitarian”.  some go as far as saying “If you are not a feminist, then you are a bigot”.

When the answer is unknowable, or the topic is vague, you can not apply black and white standards.
You can be assured that is being blatantly sexist, or someone with an unequivocal certainty of the presence of a deity, is in the wrong. We do not disagree there.
But if someone chooses not want to answer the question posed by the ultimate enigma, they are not wrong. They are just staying neutral in a subject with no evidence anyway.
And as for those that align themselves with the whole of the human family (rather then just one half of it), I fail to see the “bigotry”. In some cases I would even be inclined to say “Look in the mirror!”.

I keep bringing this stuff up, because these hard lined thoughts from within both groups, are only stifling their ultimate goals. And in some cases, they are even undermining them.

This may or may not be applicable to the student in question in the article above. She may not have come to her conclusions due to radical online feminism. But given todays climate, I am not going to rule it out.

Either way, in the game of life, what should be important is teaching people (preferably from a young age) how to think, not WHAT to think.
Though we live in an age where many people do not hesitate to call themselves “free thinkers”, I think that many fail to truly grasp the term.

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