I have a conundrum for you. Let’s say a certain Churubusco High School in Indiana is being sued by the ACLU. The school had banned two female students from all athletic and extra-curricular activities for one year for appearing in some photos where they were in lingerie, licking phallus-shaped lollipops. Dan Savage, a sex advice columnist whom I have read for many years, spent the intro of his November 10th podcast episode carpet f-bombing the whole situation. How dare they stifle these girls’ freedom of expression! Their bodies are theirs to post on MySpace where “only their friends can see them”. Here comes the conundrum. Why do I think that suing this school over this is a galactically stupid idea?
Now again, I wouldn’t be ranting about this unless I read Savage’s column, or listened to his podcast. They are entertaining and open up an important dialogue about our modern moral values. However, if he’s willing to beat up a principal over this, he has no idea how these situations work. The reason this suspension seems like an authoritarian beat-down is that the schools can’t talk to the media like the ACLU can. They can’t provide details of sweet jack all if it isn’t approved by their lawyers. Details like where they got the photos, what else the girls may be in trouble for, or complaints from other parents regarding these girls’ behavior.
Still, even though the photos were taken off of school grounds, since they made it into school grounds, that turns it into something the school needs to deal with. It’s not going to matter that the photos were posted in a private area of Myspace (no pun intended) if the girls have several hundred friends. Even if the school did nothing about it, the photos would probably be used against the girls in some other way, which would have the girls’ parents screeching into the principal’s office waving around a bullying lawsuit with the fury of 1000 Elizabeth Hasselbecks.
What will the lawsuit accomplish anyway, even if the girls win? Posting racy pictures online is still a bad idea. They will make you look flakey and desperate for attention no matter how enlightened our society gets. Meanwhile, the school will have to make some cuts to pay for their legal fees. What do you think will be the first to go? Athletics? Nah, the soccer moms would tear them a new arse. How about services that fewer students use, like drug counseling, or special needs? Oooh, I know! They could cut sex education! And if you think that the Principal should have thought more about his students’ welfare before going on his crusade against women’s bodies, ponder this. If he’s like any other school principal in the country, between dealing with this lawsuit, his staff, and hundreds of other students and parents, he has no time to think of anything but his students’ welfare.
You know, I deplore censorship of any kind. I also think sexual expression is a beautiful thing. Even so, this should not be the hill we die on for those ideals. The administration of Churubusco High School made a tough call, but this punishment pales in comparison to the kind of difficulties these girls will face in the future if they think this behavior is okay. Photos like that could damage their careers and relationships. Now that the girls know better, they can avoid all that. Freedom is the supreme value of our time, but if we send our kids to these schools to learn how to make decisions and think for themselves, we have to appreciate the lessons in all their forms. Even the ones that get you kicked off the volley ball team.