Laurie Toby Edison

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DON’T TOUCH

Laurie says:

A high school student’s petition against her school’s new ban on physical contact between students, except handshakes, is in this post from Jezebel.

She says: I am insulted by the presumption that I’m too immature to decide which kind of touches are appropriate for school.

In a a society that whose media sexualizes younger and younger girls and politicians are safe unless they’re “found in bed with a dead girl or a live boy”, there is something profoundly ironic about her school’s ban on physical contact between students. This is yet another example of  the very effective social policy of of punishing the young, or other relatively powerless groups, instead of actually doing something about abusive behavior in the larger society.  This symbolism creates the illusion that something is being done while allowing the powerful to continue unpunished.

Her petition speaks clearly to the issue:

We, the undersigned, call for removal of or significant amendments to the new “No Touching” policy at our high school. The case for our request rests on several points:
• Interpersonal touch is not inherently sexual, and to treat it as such is to make it so. Touch can be a powerful bonding mechanism between friends, and any rule that fails to differentiate between acts of sex and acts of friendship seems arbitrary and inherently draconian.
• High school students will soon be turned loose and made responsible for their own decisions. Is it not the responsibility of educators to impart valuable life skills and ready us for autonomy? Outright bans are not the way to do so. Rather than be taught to see interpersonal touch as inherently bad, we should learn the nuances of what is and is not appropriate for public venues. Don’t force us to look at the world in black and white. Show us the shades of gray.
• Imposing limits on interpersonal relationships merely divides “school” and “life” into separate and often warring factions. This further alienates many teens who already fail to find much real-world meaning in school. School should be a holistic place in which social as well as academic needs are met. If we’re expected to integrate education into our lives, we should be allowed to bring our lives into our place of education.
• According to the World Book encyclopedia, “[m]ost teenagers mature psychologically at the rate set by their society. As a result, psychological adolescence normally lasts at least as long as the period of legal dependence.” In other words, micromanaging merely infantilizes us. Trust us to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate touches, and we won’t let you down.

I wish her luck!

2 Responses to “DON’T TOUCH”

  1. Deanne Says:

    I hope that she is successful in overturning this ridiculous policy. This is the first I’ve heard of it, but it looks like it’s getting some mainstream media attention, too, with Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper covering the trend this past Friday.

  2. Adrian Says:

    If I were a student at the school, I’d be really uncomfortable with that petition. While I’m capable of defending my boundaries wrt being touched, it feels like active defense. It’s tiring. I’m not saying everybody who touches me means it in a sexual way, or in a hostile way. That wasn’t even true before I had the freedom to choose who I spent my time with.

    I’m saying that when I was in primary and secondary school, I experienced most touch from acquaintances and classmates as more or less unwelcome. I found it distracting to be surrounded by people who thought it was ok to play with my hair, or rub my back, or try to tickle me. I complained when I thought it was getting too bad, but I misjudged the situation many times. (The response, from individuals I told to stop and from adults who noticed me trying to stop them was that it’s just friendly, there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s unreasonable to make a big deal about it.) It would have been nice to have some space that was free of that tiring, distracting strain.

    As an adult who is responsible for my own decisions, I have a lot more choices about where I spend my time. I don’t spend a lot of time with people who touch without asking. I try not to spend ANY time with people who get defensive about being told not to touch.

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