This letter appeared in The Daily Campus (University of Connecticut) on February 6, 2002 and The Mount Holyoke News (Mount Holyoke College) on February 7, 2002 as full page paid advertisements.
Also see below: "Corporal punishment as a feminist issue?", the editorial response by The Mount Holyoke News and letters to the editor by Alice Miller, Al Crowell, Jeff Charles and Tom Johnson.
Kim Gandy, President
National Organization for Women
733 15th St. NW, 2nd floor
Washington, D.C. 20005
February 1, 2002
Dear Ms. Gandy:
Please consider two hypothetical scenarios: 1) A male employer informs a 25-year-old female employee that she will not be considered for promotion unless she allows him to massage her buttocks. 2) A male school principal informs a 15-year-old schoolgirl that she will be suspended from classes for the next three days, therefore receiving zero grades on all missed tests and assignments, unless she submits to his spanking her on the buttocks with a wooden board. What are the essential differences between these two cases? Which of the two would you consider to be a more egregious violation of a defenseless victim? If you had to choose, which victim is in more urgent need of protection?
Bear in mind that the beating is more painful and more dangerous than the massage, that the schoolgirl is probably more dependent on the adults in her world and less resourceful in defending her own interests, and that the psychological consequences to her are more apt to be long-term, setting her up for future victimization by other presumed authority figures, e.g., boyfriend, husband, employer—anyone with the power to demand her compliance and to hurt her if she resists. At this time, thanks largely to the efforts of such organizations as yours, nowhere in the U.S. are employers legally permitted to demand sexual favors in exchange for job security or advancement. In the public school systems of 23 states, however, thinly disguised sexual favors can be, and are being, coerced from students with impunity. According to the most conservative estimates, legal beatings of schoolchildren number about 1/3 million incidents per year, and many of those beatings are inflicted by adult males on underage females (though even 18-year-old women are not exempt from being paddled). It is often with threats to these girls’ academic standing—and by extension, their prospects for college admission—that these men prevail on them to “assume the position.”
The purpose here is not to make a moral distinction between the mistreatment of girls and that of boys. We consider any deliberate aversive stimulation to the pelvic area of a non-consenting, underage person, irrespective of gender, to be a sexual violation.
The purpose is rather to present the issue in terms of your particular mission: the protection of women. Ironically and tragically, to date no major women’s rights advocacy group that we are aware of has addressed this issue (excepting a 1992 resolution by the Florida chapter of NOW and a story published in Women’s Enews last September). It seems clear to us that one way—arguably the best way—to empower grown women would be to stop systematically disempowering young girls. That could be achieved with relative ease and speed. Virtually every other advanced nation, and more than a few developing nations, have already given schoolchildren statutory protection from disciplinary beatings. Ten European nations and Israel have now extended that protection to children in their homes. Posted on our Web site is “Rape: Lesson No. 1,” a young woman’s account of her experience with corporal punishment while a student at a Florida public high school. It speaks eloquently to this issue and should be read by everyone concerned about violence against women. You may read and make copies of that document at www.nospank.net/s-rape.htm. You can also see typical paddling-related injuries at www.nospank.net/whacked3.htm.
In closing, we invite you to share this letter with board members, staff and the membership of your organization. We hope that you will decide that now is the time to protect schoolgirls from sexual violence disguised as discipline. To ignore their plight is to do a gross disservice to all women and to all society. Please keep us apprised of your plans in this regard. You may count on our cooperation in every way.
Jordan Riak, Executive Director
Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE)
P.O. Box 1033
Alamo, CA 94507-7033
Tel.: (925) 831-1661
Web site: "Project NoSpank" at www.nospank.net
Print Open Letter to NOW (Adobe PDF)
Corporal punishment as a feminist issue?
Editorial of February 7, 2002, The Mount Holyoke News, Mount Holyoke College
In this week's issue, we've run an advertisement by an organization which accuses feminists organizations of not adequately addressing the issue of corporal punishment in schools--an issue which this organization feels should be of considerable import to feminists. The solicitation of this adverstisement was in keeping with the national trend of using the ad space in college newspapers to propagate pointed opinions and accusations.
However, beyond the free speech implications which go along with our decision to run a particular advertisement, we found the content of the ad to have particular editorial value. Namely, should children's issues become feminist issues because of the potential detriment to a girl's development as a woman?
This, in turn, hits upon a particular nerve within the women's movement--the appropriateness of grouping women's and children's issues together under the same proverbial umbrella. We by no means devalue the horror of corporal punishment in schools, nor do we deny the value of the countless studies which illustrate both its negative impacts on the development of children and ineffectiveness at causing positve changes in behavior. However, that does not make corporal punishment an issue which should move to the forefront of the feminist agenda.
Handguns are detrimental to women; does that mean gun control should be a women's issue? What about the destruction of the environment--surely that negatively impacts women? Advocacy is about choosing battles, about fighting for those things which are most central to your ultimate objective at the moment.
Organizations such as the National Organization for Women have made countless valuable contributions to the status of and opportunities available to women today. But progress does not mean the end of the battle for equality. Thus, an accusation of neglect to a vital issue denies the import of the women's issues on which NOW continues to work diligently.
Clearly, groups exist to advocate for the protection of children from abusive punishment, both in schools and in home. The fact that feminist organizations have not adopted the issue does not devalue the work of these organizations. In fact, our research into Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education, the organization which has advertised with us this week, demonstrated the sincerity of the group's dedication to eliminating corporal punishment from our schools.
This organization spreads their word through a variety of media, including a Web site titled www.nospank.net. While the group has a respectable mission statement, it labels itself in a manner that can [be] deemed as inappropriate. A URL such as "nospank" seems to almost demean the credibility of the organization.
The site itself says that it is, "A resource for students, parents, educators, health care professionals, policy makers and everyone who believes that children's optimal development occurs in nurturing, violence-free environment and that every child has the right to grow and learn in such an environment."
While we support the right for children to grow up in a safe and comfortable environment, we question the methods in which organizations, such as this one, put forth their messages.
Allice Miller's letter to the editor of The Mount Holyoke News, February 26, 2002Dear Ms. Kate Schmeckpeper,Prisoners of Childhood: The Drama of the Gifted Child and the Search for the True Self (1980), For Your own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child Rearing and the Roots of Violence (1983) and Thou Shalt Not Be Aware (1984). Her most recent book is The Truth Will Set You Free (2001).Dear Ms. Schmeckpeper,
No doubt you are aware of Dr. Alice Miller. She is the author of ten books on the effects of violent child rearing. Among her best known works are
Dr. Miller has read the "The Open Letter to NOW," which appeared on February 7, 2002 in The Mount Holyoke News and your editorial response to it which appeared the same day. Below is her response, which she has asked me to forward.
I read your response to the letter of PTAVE and think that your need to set limits is quite comprehensible. It is simply impossible to engage oneself everywhere, even if the issue would deserve our engagement.
However, I think the issue of spanking children, especially the small ones, can’t be considered as being beyond the feminists’ agenda. Opening the eyes to hidden cruelty was always one of the main goals of feminists’ activity.
Twenty years ago, some few women like Florence Rush (The Best Kept Secret), Sandra Butler (The Conspiracy of Silence, The Trauma of Incest), Michelle Morris (If I should Die Before I Live) dared to detect the sexual exploitation of children (girls AND boys). Thanks to them, the sexual violence to children and this hidden terror became now known all over the world.
Now, we are all confronted with the alarming discovery of the hidden cruelty in child rearing. It begins already at the early age of one and a half year by hitting on the bottom, when the toddler is taught to behave and not to touch things. Until now, this humiliation went on unrecognized. But we are learning today from neurologists that hitting children which was considered as harmless for millennia is indeed dangerous not only for the individual person but also for society as a whole. By teaching toddlers violence we produce violence in the next generation because the child stores up in his developing brain (the first three years of life) the lessons she/he received from their parents. Early traumatizations lead to lesions (and other brain damages) that can already be observed on screens of computers. To a toddler, being spanked by a person whom she/he loves above all is a terribly shocking, confusing and scaring experience, as much as being tortured to an adult. But the consequences are even more serious because the denial, necessary for the child’s survival, creates barriers in the mind and emotional blindness that will later drive the adult to repeating the once endured abuse. No thinking person can ignore this knowledge.
The neurologist Jonathan Pincus, MD, shows in his book (Base Instincts, What Makes Killers Kill, 2001, Norton) with a heart-breaking clarity how much cruelty to small children passes uncontrolled and unpunished under the guise of the “strict upbringing” and what happens as a result.
We must thus do whatever we can to explain young people BEFORE they become parents why they should at any cost avoid humiliating small children by spanking them. The help of feminists in this battle against “educational” violence, against cruelty to children out of pure ignorance would be of course very welcomed.
It seems to me to be almost indispensable.
With best wishes for your important work,
Author of The Truth Will Set You Free, Basic Books, 2001, and nine other books on the roots of violence in childhood.
Al Crowell's letter to the editor of The Mount Holyoke News, February 19, 2002
Dear Editor in Chief, Kate Schmeckpeper,
I appreciate your taking the time to discuss such an important issue as violence toward children as revealed in the open letter to NOW ad placed by Jordan Riak of Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education. I believe our society could greatly profit from an open discussion of these issues as you have done.
I believe that paddling little girls' behinds, whether in school or in the home, is a fundamentally formative action and as such is a crucial issue affecting women's health. Because it is violence to a sexual and therefore, private area of the the litte girl, curbing this abuse is an upstream solution to the downstream problems affecting these girls in later life. Examples would be their passivity or lack of firm boundaries in the face of sexual pressure on dates, in marriage, or in the workplace.
I also believe that if women are violently abused by elders -- especially men -- they as future mothers will unconciously take it out on their sons and also convey a sense of passivity to their daughters.
As a society, we now know better than ever that early treatment of children shows up in their later years. Violence and sexual perversions forced on little girls will have negative affects to the maturing woman. These are no longer simple opinions, but are widely agreed upon.
For these reasons I share the idea that all groups, and in this case NOW, look at helping women at the source of their difficulties. We will all benefit from such action. Thank you for the opportunity for this discussion.
333 Clipper St. San Francisco, CA 94114
I am also sending hard copy
Jeff Charles' letter to the editor of The Mount Holyoke News, February 18, 2002
I am a member of NOW as well as a member of PTAVE. School "paddling" differs greatly from gun violence in its sexual abuse, harassment, and officially sanctioned aspects. To relate them we would have to have a case where child care workers routinely pressed a gun into the buttocks or sexual areas of both genders, where men did nearly all of the gun pushing, and females through age 19 were half of the teen victims. Both genders would be physically and sexually violated with hidden psychological damage, and women would likely be more greatly affected.
There is nothing actually in our society to compare the sexual effects of paddling to. There is no other arena where children and legal adults may be beaten black and blue with governmental oversight, approval, and immunity. There is no other arena where sexual abuse and harassment are both legal and "government policy in action" if we once recognize the sexual aspects. Paddling is a tremendous violation of Title IX as the sexual violation is not at all the same for the genders (there is no law against sexually harassing school students). Paddling amounts to nothing less than a "sex for grades" quid-pro-quo choice for teen females to "bend over" or have their grades and sports harmed with artificially long suspensions that non-paddling schools don't use.
There is at least one state NOW group--Florida NOW--which went on record with a resolution opposing school paddling on feminist grounds in the 1992 US House hearings on corporal punishment in schools. This is a superb document.
PTAVE's hope in publishing the ad was to highlight a subject of proven feminist concern to a broader class of people and NOW members who may not be aware of this hidden but widespread form of harassment, abuse, and hostile sexual environment in many of our nation's schools.
31299 Burton Ave
. St. Clair Shores, MI 48082-1464
586-860-0704 (Daytime pager)
Tom Johnson's letter to the editor of The Mount Holyoke News, February 19, 2002
To the editor:
Your Feb. 7 commentary on our advertised letter to NOW, while raising some worthwhile questions, appears to have missed a key point in our argument. In this letter, we were not simply calling on feminists to denounce corporal punishment. We were challenging them more specifically to recognize that given male school officials' authority to spank female students, this form of punishment can easily become an avenue of sexual harassment--a decidedly feminist concern. Moreover, despite your characterization of school paddling as a discrete "children's issue," even legally adult women are not exempt from such treatment, a fact which was noted in the letter. (This is not to say the institutional beating of girls in their early-to-mid teens has little to do with violence against women.)
Defending feminists' inattention to this subject, you argue, "Handguns are detrimental to women; does that mean gun control should be a women's issue?" Actually, NOW has over the years taken stands on gun control, as well as pollution, racism, Social Security, healthcare, bankruptcy law, and many other issues that don't seem particularly related to gender, let alone central to feminism's "ultimate objective at the moment." They have also been a strong advocate of gay rights, even though men are victims of homophobia to a greater degree than women. Would it really be such a reach for women's groups to likewise weigh in substantially on the question of paddling (or at least on the paddling of adolescent girls by men)? You don't have to believe this issue belongs at "the forefront of the feminist agenda" to wonder why feminists have yet to give it even marginal consideration. Just a simple resolution from NOW's leadership could go a long way toward raising awareness of the problems addressed in our letter, without detracting from the larger campaign for women's equality.
In closing, we appreciate your willingness to run the ad and are glad that you share our opposition to school corporal punishment. We also hope that upon reconsideration, our approach might seem not so misguided after all.
Special Projects Coordinator
Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education
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