Wednesday, September 23, 2009

reading IS sexy, dammit!

Powell's makes a pretty rad bumper sticker to promote reading. There's a picture of a girl looking over her thick, thick glasses, giving a sort of come-hither look; next to her are the words "reading is sexy."

I have this sticker up in my classroom. Because reading IS sexy, dammit, and literacy is a good quality, whether you're thinking of sex or no. And my 4th and 6th periods--super excited mostly, I'm sure, because it said "sexy" and that's still kind of risque for 12-year-olds--all asked me if they could have stickers too. They're $2 each, so I told them no, but I did offer to make them bookmarks instead. That's how I found myself at Office Max this weekend, buying astro-glow card stock, then in the production room early Monday morning cutting out about 60 new "reading is sexy" bookmarks.

Tuesday morning, my principal came to tell me that he'd had a visit from a parent. She was livid that I had given her daughter something that said "sexy" on it, and rather than talk to me, had felt compelled to march herself down to the principal's office, show him in person, and complain to him.

Okay. So she was upset about the sticker. Fair enough. I did wonder if I was going to get any flack for handing out something that promoted, however indirectly, sexiness--even if it's much more in the spirit of "reading is cool" than "I am going to have sex with people who read." I was somewhat prepared for it. I just wish that she's talked to me first, instead of going to my principal. It was fine, I mean; he supported me without giving his opinion either way; I think the parent felt better; I wasn't reprimanded or anything (my principal had already seen the sticker in my room and we'd already had a conversation about it), but it was still kind of a shitty start to my day. I wish people would talk to me when they have a problem with something I do, not to someone over my head. Give me a chance to explain and rectify the situation, you know?

Also, I'm kind of annoyed that she was so upset by it. I know it says "sexy," but I was so excited to see my kiddos into something where reading has positive connotations. The last two years, "nerd"--usually, in my class, someone who likes to read--has been such a negative stigma that I was super stoked to see them embrace the reading is sexy mantra instead of the reading is dumb and makes you a social outcast norm. And I don't know if it would have worked as well without the slightly illicit pull of sexiness, something that lets these kiddos into the forbidden world of adulthood, even if they don't really know much about it other than that "sexy" is a word that their parents get upset about.

I don't know. Maybe it isn't the most age-appropriate message for them. Maybe I'm just contributing to the hyper-sexualization of American youth. But I don't think so. I think this sticker mostly just sends the message that reading is attractive, something to look out for, something positive, something that you should want to do. And I would have loved to talk to that parent about it--I just wish she had given me the opportunity.


DocSocrates said...

You should make another batch of bookmarks that read: "Whiny Tattletales Know Where To Stick It."

* * * said...

haha! That's great! I suppose it would be petty and mean in the scheme of things, though very satisfying in the short term!:)

Do you think "sexy" is out of line for 7th graders though? It's possible I was wrong about it..

Ricardo said...

I think you're actually contributing to the HYPO-sexualization of youth. By using the word "sexy" to promote something that is an of itself a nonsexual act, and, indeed, a generally enriching and intellectual act, you are redefining sexiness to include something both (sexually) harmless and overwhelmingly positive. Surely the kids you teach are inundated with negative images of sexuality every five seconds they watch TV, and you've implanted in their tiny brains the notion that sexiness is a quality that encompasses more than wearing low cut shirts and cootchy shorts, or bagging a bunch of girls and having cut abs.

It is a deliciously subversive move that will probably change half those children's lives... some day one of them will be walking past a coffee shop and see some man or woman reading Margaret Atwood or Tolstoy and linger for just a moment longer than they should as they gaze in at the reader, suddenly and inexplicably aroused. They'll comment to a friend as they walk away "damn, reading is sexy." Better yet, maybe they'll be bold enough to write their number on an old, ragtag bookmark they got in seventh grade and have kept ever since. They'll pull it out from between the pages of the Tim O'Brien novel tucked securely in their knapsack, and slip the reader that scrap of astro-glow card stock with the faded words their mother had so objected to years before, and was now about to determine their genetic future.

May it come to pass.

* * * said...

oh ricardo, how I love you:) You're right though, I think, and James said something similar: it's kind of about redefining sexy to comprise positive, non-carnal attributes as well. (not that carnal's all bad, but it's nice to think that literacy can be attractive and arousing, isn't it?:)

I should have told that parent that I was helping her daughter to conceive of herself in a more wholesome, holistic sense of sexy. (though she probably still would have been pissed off. Oh well.)