More gender-regulating in schools: TX district wants Apache boy to cut his long hair
Well, I can't say that I'm surprised that this news item is coming out of the state of Texas. The place where football players are kings and their cheerleading counterparts are crowned queens. Literally. Every spring at prom. So, when I saw this news story (posted @GLSEN on Twitter), I hate to say that I just sighed in empathy for this child and his family. Texans with their big hair (on women), oil money, and uber-macho values have an even more narrow definition of "appropriate" masculinity and feminity than most of North America. So there is a rural school district that has a dress code that prohibits male students from having hair "past the collar or eyes". The superintendent is asking for the family to provide written documentation that long hair is part of the Apache spiritual tradition for men in their culture.
Sadly, it sounds like the school district doesn't even begin to understand or appreciate native spiritualities as the officials quoted in the article are saying that if long hair is part of an "organized religion" then they may reconsider their decision. How "organized" does the religion have to be? This is just a case of schools trying to establish order and conformity so as to avoid diversity, controversy, and conflict in a predominantly homogeneous community. Unfortunately, we've learned from many similar cases here in Quebec, that in an increasinly diverse and mobile society dominant groups need to become flexible and learn to appreciate and learn from other cultural perspectives. In this case it is challenging notions of gender roles, in other cases -- such as the famous Kirpan case here in Quebec, it challenged notions and policies of how to define a "weapon" and maintain a "safe school" environment. Sikhs have even won the right to wear turbans as part of their standard "mountie" (RCMP) uniform instead of the familiar broad-rimmed hat. France has gone so far as to ban any religious symbol in schools: hijabs were the primary target, but crosses, rosaries, and stars of David are also included in this ban.
In a semi-related case in Massachussetts which I mentioned in my previous blog, a Commonwealth of MA court decided that a school could not impose a gender-related dress code on a transgender student as it was considered discriminatory based on sex. So the same argument could be applied here: if girls are allowed to wear long hair in the school and that hasn't proved to be disruptive to the school community, why have a different rule for boys?
Fortunately, the child's mom is using this as an educational opportunity for the school and her son. She said she is ready to fight the Needville rule and has not considered moving to another school district with a less stringent hair code.
"It would just teach our son that it is easier to roll over and do what you're told and not stand up for your rights."