I just finished up a few weeks in the Bay Area, and I started to think about some questions more deeply. The starting point that sparked me to want to write this were some of the rules at our job. It was forbidden for boys or girls to be in each other’s rooms, but that it was OK for same-sex members to be in the rooms so long as the door was partially opened. Now, this is actually something that one of my 16 year old “residents” mentioned, but mainly because he likes to be oppositional.
Next, the structure of our program meant that each staff member was assigned a group of “residents” of the same gender. Granted, it makes sense because our title is Resident Advisor, so we will be living with them etc etc. BUT, I did find it strange that being an RA meant your contact was essentially limited to same gendered folks. Given that an inappropriate relationship is frowned upon, and did actually happen this summer. What if two same-gendered people did have a relationship? Then what about the rules?
So all of our group activities were based on same-gender groups, or packs as I like to think of it. We wonder why it is so hard to control the kids when they are in a single-sex group and forced to be that way when they are at the peak of puberty. To be honest, it is expected that 10+ students with similar hormones will cause trouble. No doubt about it. Either tons of bitching or violence.
Now the part that gets me is that the system forced the staff to fall into gender stereotypes. They hired a staff that was diverse in terms of interests, schools, majors and life trajectories yet we still were anchored to gendered roles. Two of the female RAs expressed disinterest in doing overly “girly” things like manicures, pedicures and tons of time shopping even though that’s what her girls wanted to do. And I know that me and another of the male RAs are way more cerebral than sporty – so our idea of fun wasn’t soccer or basketball.
You could say that it’s what was demanded, but only because the students wanted it. False. Some of the students wanted to do what other groups had done, one group falls into gender roles and it sounds appealing to the other group. Collapse differences because of group think, and you have reinforced some activities. I did have one student who wanted to go shopping, and many more who spent more time getting ready than girls did. But they always wanted to play sports or do otherwise hypermasculine things.
The structure of the program made some of these issues issues but I guess that’s just the way things often fall. But really, this is a tipping point for my next post.