Posts Tagged ‘individuality’

A personal story goes a long way . . .



By | Straightlaced

A few months ago, Straightlaced–How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up screened at the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference in Colorado. Wanda Holland Greene, Head of the Hamlin School in San Francisco and long time supporter of GroundSpark, co-presented the film with Social Studies Teacher Kirsten Gustavson to an audience made up primarily of independent school leaders and teachers of color.

Wanda opened the workshop by asking the group to do something we are rarely asked to do in our everyday lives as adults: Think back to when you were a child and try to remember a message that you received about what it meant to be a “proper man” or a “proper woman.” She asked participants to think about what their chosen message was and try to hear it in the source’s voice—was it their mother’s voice, their teacher’s voice, the television, the radio, or maybe their pastor?

Wanda Holland Green and Kirsten Gustavson

Wanda Holland Green and Kirsten Gustavson

Unearthing the messages about who and what they should be in the world, and locating the many different sources of these messages, was incredibly revealing. “I wanted the audience to have an introspective approach to the topic of gender,” Wanda says.  But she also wanted people to bring their insights into their classrooms. She goes on: “So what does it mean to create a safe, inclusive learning environment in our classrooms when gender messages come from so many multiple sources, unique to each individual’s experience? If diversity is a component of excellence, how do we take into account the varying experiences of gender expectations that all of our students face?”

The answer to this question is obviously complex, but one important piece is surely Wanda and Kirsten’s approach of asking educators to think back to when they themselves were young. “Straightlaced allowed us to reconnect our professional work on diversity and inclusion with the very real “stuff” of lived human experience.  By sharing our own feelings and stories about gender, we remembered how powerful the messages are, and many left the session energized and excited to help our young people better understand their own experiences,” Kirsten noted. Sharing our personal stories allows us to see the similarities and differences in what we all experience and offers a chance for dialogue to grow. Certainly the young people in Straightlaced show us what a powerful force stories can be.

Here’s GroundSpark’s challenge to you: Tell us your personal story. Leave a comment about a message you received when you were younger about what being a “proper man” or a “proper woman” means.

Arresting Teenagers Doesn’t Solve Gender Pressures



By | Latest News

I was recently out in western Massacusetts for screenings of Straightlaced and Let’s Get Real. At one of them, the superintendent and assistant superintendent of the South Hadley, Massachusetts school district were in attendance. They were very moved by the films and said they thought they would be very helpful to their work in the district. Bullying, gender, and homophobia must be on their minds a lot right now, because of the suicide of 15-year old Phoebe Prince, who attended high school in their town. Since those screenings I have been following the Prince case closely and today have an opinion piece about it published in The Huffington Post.

We are reprinting it here as well.

Arresting Teenagers Doesn’t Solve Gender Pressures

“It is completely understandable why there has been so much pressure on government authorities in South Hadley, Massachusetts to find someone to blame for 15-year old Phoebe Prince’s suicide last month.

But the issues involved in this case, and in the case of Carl Walker Hoover, the ten-year old boy who committed suicide this time last year a few miles away in Springfield, Massachusetts, are far more complex and cultural than a tale of bullies run amuck who need to be dealt with as criminals.

We can lock up perpetrators and institute all the anti-bullying rules and policies we want, but unless the responsible adults in every community–educators, parents, administrators, and counselors–find a way to open up real, meaningful dialogue about gender and sexuality based pressures and bias–what happened to Phoebe and to Carl is likely to continue.

As a documentary filmmaker who has made several films about youth, bullying and prejudice, I have had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of diverse high school students about the internal struggles they face every day to feel good about themselves in our culture.

Invariably over half the students in every high school classroom I’ve visited–private or public, in rural, suburban, or inner city communities–have jumped at the chance to talk about the pressures they contend with which are connected to societal norms about gender and sexuality.

“Please don’t go,” a female sophomore begged when we visited her history class. “We never get to talk about this stuff but it’s what I think about all the time, every day.”

Phoebe Prince committed suicide after constant bullying at school.

Phoebe Prince committed suicide after constant bullying at school.

When I read about Phoebe, I thought of the many female students we’ve interviewed who have confided about the daily stress they face trying to make sense of the mixed messages they receive from the media, their families, and their peers about how a young woman is supposed to look and act.

Young women are constantly told that their value as human beings is determined by how sexy they are, how much skin they reveal, how close to some ideal of perfection their body curves match. And then they are chastised for crossing some invisible line and “going too far.”

One high school senior told me about the spiral of pressures that led her to turn to serious drugs. “I feel that people are judging me all the time,” she said. “I’m just paranoid, like, what are they thinking, do they think my boobs are big, do they think they are small, do they think my butt’s big?”

If girls fail to tow the line, they are invariably subjected to negative slurs and accusations connected to their sexuality–“slut,” “whore,” “bitch” if they go too far one way, “dyke” if they go the other.

And when it comes to actual sexual activity, it is very challenging to grapple with our culture’s double standard. “Like when a man runs around or sleeps with a lot of women, ” one girl complained. “He’s a player. All the boys give him his props, and they go brag about it. But when a woman tends to sleep around, she’s a whore, a slut or a ripper.”

Similarly, when I read about Carl Walker Hoover last year, I thought about the boys I interviewed who have shared their worries about how they dress, how physically affectionate they can be with their male friends, the expectations they face to lose their virginity and have lots of sexual partners, the way they talk, the way they hold their bodies when they walk–all to fit some unarticulated norm about the proper way to be masculine. They are painfully aware of how one little slip in behavior or appearance could lead to being the recipient of relentless anti-gay slurs.

“Having your sexuality questioned is a very powerful tool in controlling someone,” one male high school junior told me. “And I think that’s mainly why people say (things about that). Because it’s so easy to control someone by questioning something that they don’t know, by making fun of something they can’t help.”

Arresting those who bully may bring some brief consolation to one community. But it does nothing to create a culture where every single student is able to come of age in a supportive, nurturing way.

We need to demand that our school curricula help all students understand that they do not need to play into these destructive cultural messages and they can be allies to each other as they navigate these muddy cultural waters. And we need to work together to ensure that all young people have the space and respect to develop their sexuality and gender expression in authentic, safe ways that match who they really are inside.”

Our whole staff at GroundSpark is working hard to help everyone concerned about “bullying” to dig deeper and start dealing with the sexism and homophobia that fuels so much of it. Please get involved — share this article with your friends and colleagues, and consider making a donation to GroundSpark as well.

Teaching Tolerance and GroundSpark’s That’s A Family!



By | That's A Family!

The acclaimed Teaching Tolerance program recently released a great new activity for young people in efforts to explore family diversity and the different ways in which to define a family. Making use of the 2010 Census and GroundSpark’s film That’s A Family!, the activity challenges students to explore diverse configurations that form families.

Check out this amazing activity!

Frameline 33 Screens STRAIGHTLACED



By | Straightlaced

This Friday, June 26 at 6:00 PM, as part of Frameline33 –  San Francisco’s LGBT Film Festival, Director Debra Chasnoff and Producer Sue Chen will be at the Roxie Theater for a local San Francisco screening of Straightlaced

NOTE: On Frameline’s website, the show is listed as SOLD OUT, but rush tickets are available! If you come to the door a half hour or so early and tell the box office to put you on the standby list, you will probably get in, as some unused tickets will become available. Q & A with director and producer after feature. See you there!

Straightlaced: San Francisco World Premiere!



By | Straightlaced

Last month was a milestone for me and everyone here at GroundSpark. We had the world premiere of Straightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up in San Francisco! We literally finished the film at midnight the night before. And, as with the debut of all of our other films, I was a bit of a nervous wreck sitting in the audience, wondering how the 750 people in the packed house would respond.

Check out some of these highlights from the night:

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Click the above image to start the Flash Video

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Introducing the GroundSpark Blog!



By | Straightlaced

We are launching GroundSpark’s blog today in memory of Lawrence King, the eighth grader who was murdered by a fellow student in class a year ago simply because he didn’t conform to conventional ideas about what young men are supposed to look or act like.

We hope that by spreading the hope and wisdom of the young people in all of our Respect for All Project films — Let’s Get Real, That’s a Family!, It’s Elementary, It’s STILL Elementary, and now Straightlaced, — we can help ensure that young people like Larry King can safely and joyously discover whoever they truly are.

We look forward to seeing what you have to say on this blog. So don’t be shy — add your voice to and join in the dialogue about the power of film to spark culture change, especially for students in every school.