Mommie Dearest: Going To Hell In A Handbag

There are a lot of worries parents might have as their child heads off to school: academic struggles, not getting along with teachers or classmates, bad behavior. The potential consequences for these concerns are worrisome as well. As a mother (and one who used to teach high school social studies), I don’t think it’s all that unusual to fret over things like these.

But one thing I didn’t think I’d have to be worried about is the possibility of my son being suspended for his sense of style. A 13-year-old 8th grader from Kansas was recently suspended for wearing a Vera Bradley handbag while attending school.

Suspended. For having a quilted bag. Seriously.

Skylar Davis [above] was told to take off his bag at school, which he had been wearing daily since August. When he was refused, he was sent home and suspended, with the instruction that he could return to school, but only without his bag.

Let’s break this down for a second. A 13-year-old boy (with the style sense of a 45-year-old suburban Mom from Connecticut notwithstanding) was told he could not go to school because of his bag. As noted by KCTV,  the Anderson School District handbook doesn’t state anywhere that handbags are prohibited. More importantly, it was noted that other students — girl students — carried purses and bags with them in school with no issue.

So what the hell is going on here? Are we so wrapped up in traditional gender stereotypes that we’re willing to disrupt a young man’s education over a freaking quilted, paisley purse?! Is the concept of masculinity that fragile that an 8th grader exhibiting a sense of self-confidence and independence can somehow dismantle the entire concept with one accessory?

The school has yet to comment publicly on this story – which is quite telling. And all calls made to Assistant Principal Don Hillard, who enacted the suspension, have so far gone unanswered.

There are a few things at play here. First, there could certainly be underlying homophobia present within the school – both within the school culture itself and the larger infrastructure of the community. I don’t know Garnett, Kansas or the Anderson School District at all, but it doesn’t seem like a large leap to make. Yet, regardless of the sexual orientation of this young boy — and we have no idea what it is, nor should it matter — there is a clear disdain for anyone stepping outside a pre-described, and frankly outdated, set of gender stereotypes.

Look, I could get nitpicky. The particular Vera Bradley bag that Skyler has is actually called a “messenger bag” per the Vera Bradley website, so it’s not actually a purse. But it’s beyond whether it’s a purse or handbag or messenger bag. It’s about the fact that a school district is depriving a student of education because he dresses, or rather in this case, accessorizes, outside the norm. He is not hurting anyone else with his style, nor is he even disrupting the day-to-day learning process.

And here’s why it concerns me. Today I sent my son off to school wearing a pink cloth headband — his choice. My almost seven-year-old son has long, blond, curly hair. He gets mistaken for a girl on the reg, but has learned to brush it off and politely correct folks. Thankfully, we live in a progressive, liberal enclave where nobody bats an eye, and he’s not even the boy with the longest hair in his school (or even on his all boy’s town-sponsored soccer team, where three other boys rocked hair longer than their shoulders). My son also rocks a handbag. He has many of them — most handmade from various friends and given as gifts. And he fills his handbag up with ninjas and Lego pieces and mini swords, but that’s besides the point. My son is who he is and he doesn’t hurt anyone or go out of his way to do things to purposefully make anyone uncomfortable. He’s a kid, comfortable with who he is and what he likes, and he’s just living his life.

But what if we lived elsewhere? What if we lived someplace that gave him shit for his sparkly nails or headbands? What if he decided to tote his school supplies in one of his handbags instead of the rainbow tie-dyed backpack he currently uses? What if he was a student at a school that decided his bag was worth risking his education and creating a bigger deal and stigma?

It appalls me that a school — a place we send our children to learn, expand their minds, and discover their potential—- is punishing a student for being who he is. Skylar isn’t breaking any rules, distracting anyone else, or hurting anyone. And yet he is the one being targeting. What lesson is that sending to Skylar and his fellow classmates?


[Image via KTCV5]

Read more from Avital Norman Nathman at The Mamafesto.