When I was in high school, way back before smart phones and social media, in what modern anthropologists, historians, and teens increasingly refer to as the Actual Closure of the Dark Ages, I had a most memorable mathematics teacher. In fact, good fortune saw to it that I had many memorable teachers throughout my education. I’m quite sure I remember every teacher I had from Kindergarten through to the completion of my B.Sc. Some are nothing more than a name and a foggy image in my mind while others star in countless tales of eccentricity, inspiration, and even friendship. But none were quite as memorable in the way that my grade 11 (or was it grade 10) math teacher was memorable.
What makes for a memorable teacher?
Mrs. Emm (name has been changed, as Bon Scott so eloquently put it, to protect the guilty) was a serious, no-nonsense math teacher. This isn’t to say that she was mean or unfriendly, not at all. She just didn’t put much stock into socializing between teacher and students as did some of the other faculty, from my recollection. She was also young, blonde, and very attractive. I’m inclined to say she was petite, for she was short, but that word erroneously intimates that she was tiny and boyish. She may have fancied a youthful bob cut but Mrs. Emm was categorically not boyish. And her stylish, form-fitting, curve-accentuating wardrobe would easily erase any and all lingering doubts. My particular favourite was a sexy*, tight, silky blouse and short skirt combination.
*Okay, I’m creeped out writing that word in reference to one of my former teacher’s outfit even as an adult but dammit that’s the best description of it.
Mrs. Emm also had a unique preference for keeping the front row of desks in her classroom free of students. She may have had secretive reasons for this peculiarity but evidence suggests it was simply to provide an assortment of places to rest while teaching the class away from the blackboard. It was thus not uncommon for her to partially sit on a desktop with one leg draped over onto the seat and the other leg standing on the floor. If she happened to be wearing the aforementioned skirt and I was lucky enough to have parked myself in the column of desks with the perfect sightline, I could easily see inner thigh right above the knee. Sometimes a little more. And on a good, no, a great day, if the angles were in my favour and with just the right amount of slouching. I. Could. Just. About. See…
Such is the nature of memorable teachers. I honestly don’t recall if I ever did see Mrs. Emm’s underwear but considering the details I do remember, I’m quite positive such a momentous view would be seared into my memory like a retinal branding. Regardless, there are two things I am absolutely sure of. THAT was distracting. And I passed grade 11 math.
Dress codes are a hot topic again. This is hardly revolutionary. Society, particularly public schools, has been grappling with the question of appropriate dress against a backdrop of constantly evolving fashion trends and accelerating social progression for more than a century. Nonetheless, the intensity and certainly the frequency of this debate seem to have escalated of late. Social media and our obsessive 24/7 news cycle provides a global soapbox upon which our every grievance, from the trite to the appalling, is immediately amplified. And there appears to be no paucity of willing preachers.
Dress Code Brouhaha
On an almost weekly basis, a high school dress code infraction incites an articulate, young woman to publicly voice her indignation and a frazzled, tin-eared administrator to issue an inept response. The story is picked up by a major news outlet, quickly proliferates on Twitter before culminating in a flood of liked and shared articles and haughty blog posts on Facebook. And I now take a bow, for here is mine.
I have no desire to deliberate the content or validity of high school dress codes here. I will neither support nor oppose the contentions of administrators or defendants. Though I admit with a ping of mischievous guilt to wishing a young man would take a similarly defiant stand and show up to school shirtless proclaiming his right to comfort and dominion over his own body (oh look, there goes my claim to impartiality). Then again, it is these young men, these boys, to whom I wish to give a voice.
In every dress code ruckus there are two inevitabilities; administration will claim they are protecting boys from distraction and the girl will claim that if boys are distracted by her shoulders they need to learn how to control themselves. Even the gender language used, boys instead of young men versus young women instead of girls, implies that the females are mature while the males are not. An unpleasant tone permeates the entire conversation especially now that assertions of “rape culture” and “sexualization of young women” are being added to the mix. Administrators fret over these hapless boys and girls are disgusted by them. At least the two warring parties agree on one thing. Male sexual desire, even in the most innocent of contexts such as noticing a girl, is an affliction requiring intervention. I find this disgraceful.
It has been awhile, but I was a young man once which makes me as qualified as anyone to take an internet stand on an emotional subject. I lived it. I was in the trenches. My testosterone levels have (thankfully) mellowed over the years but I still vividly remember those hormone-driven days of my teens. The details and nuances may change with each generation but there are some basics of the human condition that remain universal throughout time. Teenagers discovering a sexual interest in each other, is surely one.
Puberty is distracting!
So here’s my big revelation. Brace yourselves, it’s a biggie. You’ll likely be dumbstruck with a “why didn’t I think of that” moment as soon as I tell you but it’s quite apparent few of us have realized this. Ready? Here it is. You know what’s distracting? Really, truly, absolutely, irrevocably distracting? Puberty!
It’s simply a fact of life. Teenage boys are distracted by teenage girls (or other teenage boys, for some). They always have been and they always will be. And here’s another mind-blowing lightning bolt of awareness, though admittedly I come to this conclusion through circumstantial evidence only. Teenage girls are distracted by teenage boys (or other teenage girls, for some). They always have been and they always will be. Justin Bieber can attest to that fact. As can Justin Timberlake, Duran Duran, David Cassidy, The Beatles, and Bobby Darin to name but a few.
Are we really so naïve as to think that if girls wear “appropriate” clothing not only will boys avoid distraction but they will embrace a newfound focus on the teacher? That boys are singularly distracted by bare skin on females in a school setting? That the gym class visible out the window, the mounds of hardened gum under the desk, the spider zigzagging across the floor, the number of holes in the ceiling tiles, the hum of the flickering fluorescent light, or the vulgar cartoon on the inside cover of a textbook, none of these are distracting? Or that boys won’t make their own distractions, like collectively deciding to randomly stand up and start applauding in the middle of class much to the bewilderment of the stumped, but pleased, physics teacher? We’re actually thinking this? Sober? A lot of people need to find a quiet, solitary, happy place and take a long, honest trip down memory lane. Pulling their heads out of their asses would work too.
Forget Mrs. Emm (just for a moment, not forever, as if that were possible), I spent many a day in school entranced by the potential that the girl sitting diagonally to me might raise her arm to ask a question thereby exposing the arm hole of her shirt which, if sufficiently loose fitting, would allow me to catch a glimpse of her bra. And that was a boring ole t-shirt! No, I’m not proud of that fact but neither am I ashamed of it. I’m quite sure any classmate a guy finds attractive could wear a shapeless, drab, oil rigger’s insulated overalls to school and he’d still be distracted by the subject of his desires. He shouldn’t be ashamed of that either.
Why are we so desperate to remove and even demonize one of the most wonderful joys of youth? Daydreaming about girls is not a crime. There is nothing unsavoury or disrespectable or aberrant about noticing a girl because you think she’s pretty. It’s a good thing, a harmless thing, a natural thing. My god it was one of the greatest things about being young. Sure it was fraught with fear and confusion and heartbreak and, yes, distraction. But it was also fun and exhilarating and invigorating and, yes, memorable. Think back to high school. Remember those charged teenage years. Is your mind filled with recollections of algebra lessons and English essays? Or is it flush with flashbacks of friends and infatuations and crushes and first loves and, yes, hot teachers?
Boys are not mindless perverts
We’re all struggling with a great deal of ugliness in the world these days. The exposure of hideous male behaviours such as the FHRITP idiots and ghastly drunken rape videos has ignited a vibrant, passionate, and often confrontational discussion regarding the rights, freedom and safety of women in our society, and deservedly so. We will all be better for it. But let us be careful not to confuse the malignant with the benign.
Boys liking girls is not wrong. Boys desiring girls is not immoral. Boys distracted by girls do not need protection or to learn control. There is nothing physical about distraction. Noticing a pretty girl is not a violation. It is simply something millions of young men have been doing innocently and respectably for generations. And you’ll be happy to know a significant percentage of them have managed to graduate high school despite the distraction of girls wearing spaghetti-strap halter dresses. Or tight blue jeans. Or miniskirts. Or short shorts. Or bell bottoms. Or poodle skirts. Or dresses exposing the ankle.