Writer’s note: This blogpost was written in response to the photos that Hayfield CTE Teacher John Finneman took of shirtless female students. Mr. Finneman states that his intent was to promote health for “Wellness Week.”
Beyond the Surface Level
I deeply appreciate the H2N Newsmagazine’s effort to promote First Amendment rights, as students did in an article titled “Point/Counterpoint: Were the pictures taken for ‘Wellness Week’ appropriate for school?” I acknowledge our community’s effort to promote an inclusive environment in which students are safe to disclose their thoughts on issues that concern them. As a proud member of the Hayfield community, I make a conscious effort to contribute to this inclusive, respectful, and uplifting environment. I would like to discuss this article in a way that fosters mutual respect and acknowledges diverse points-of-view.
In the article, Senior Alexis Beard condemns the objectification of women in these photos, the students’ lack of parental permission, and the fact that a young male teacher was alone in a room with shirtless females (the great majority of whom are minors). To acknowledge the counterpoint, Lizzy Goldsworthy’s central argument was that we should, “…see these amazing women as athletes and not sex objects.” I appreciate Lizzy’s positive attitude toward female athletes, but let’s evaluate this statement. Her goal is to dissuade students from viewing these women in a sexual way, which I support. But let’s consider the psychology of the human mind and body. If a female views an image of a muscled man in minimal clothing, she is likely to have some kind of sexual response. This inherent aspect of my nature as a female is the reason why I choose not to look at explicit images as they do not promote a dignified view of the opposite sex. Simply informing males not to view the girls in the photos in a sexual way is to ask them to do something that is contrary to their nature. Neither men nor women can blame themselves for viewing an exposed body in a sexual way because we are biologically programmed to perceive them that way. It would be ideal if we could feasibly shift our point-of-view so that we don’t sexualize these individuals, but it contradicts human nature. This aspect of who we are as humans does not justify the objectification of either gender. Rather, it condemns the promotion of images that appear to have been intentionally made sexual. The images draw the most attention not to the workout equipment or the sports drink that one of the students carries. Instead, the focus of the photos is on the females’ bodies whose physical features are made prominent by water that has been sprayed onto their midriffs. We certainly cannot deny the inherent sexual nature of the images.
Beyond the H2N article, I find several incongruities in the argument that supports the promotion of these photos. While Mr. Finneman argues that the administrative decision to remove the photos from Twitter is “sexist,” we must evaluate the photographer’s attitude toward individuals of the female sex. During the first semester of the school year, Mr. Finneman said the following statement to a male student: “Stop being such a girl.” As one of the four females who was present at the time, I was deeply offended. I don’t understand why the word “girl” holds a negative connotation to some individuals. I acknowledge that Mr. Finneman’s comment may have been intended to be lighthearted, but making comments that enforce the dominance of a particular demographic is not conducive to an inclusive environment. Such remarks can lead female students to feeling subjugated, as the class consists of almost thirty males and only five females.
Another contradiction I have found in Mr. Finneman’s argument against the administrative decision is a comment he made in the instructions of an assignment that pertains to modeling. The assignment requires students to create a PowerPoint presentation that incorporates custom animations which demonstrate tasks for models to perform. Some of these tasks include basic responsibilities for a model, such as proper eating, learning the catwalk, and more. In the instructions, which Mr. Finneman typed himself, he states, “While these models are beautiful, they are not always very bright.” Although this comment may seem harmless at the surface-level, we see a connection between the comment he made to his male student, the sexualized photos, and these instructions. They all degrade the female sex.
We are aware of the stereotype that models lack intelligence. These women are solely acknowledged for their sex appeal and physical appearance (unjustifiably, of course). With the comment Mr. Finneman made in his instructions, he subtly agreed with this degrading notion. I absolutely respect all women regardless of the way they dress, but we fail to recognize the possible coexistence between beauty and intelligence. I’m sure that women in the modeling industry may have had successful academic careers. But we reduce these women to nothing more than just a beautiful body, not a human with real thoughts, aspirations, and values.
Another pressing issue relating to this subject is the fact that we don’t pay much attention to mental health. As someone who has struggled with social anxiety as a freshman and still battles other forms of this issue, I find that it is crucial that we promote mental health. These photos have ultimately reduced the idea of “health” to nothing more than females in sports bras. But do these pictures truly promote all dimensions of health? Do they foster diversity, a value that my school prides itself on? Have they yielded a positive impact on the school community? They have not made a discernible difference in promoting the general welfare of the Hayfield student population. We must pay close attention to the result that they produced. Countless staff members feel unsettled. Students have been put in an uncomfortable situation in which they wonder, “Should I say something?” Members of our community have had to repress their ideas to avoid being the subject of backlash. In no way are these consequences healthy for our school, as we value inclusivity and freedom of expression.
Allow me to ask, why weren’t males included? Is a beautiful female body all health really is to us? And that leads me to wonder, if I’m not wearing a sports bra, would I be viewed as being just as healthy as any of the females who are? We need to make a conscious effort to promote diversity and inclusivity.
In this case, the effect of gender on our point-of-view is evident. In the photos, all of the girls are considered “thin” and are undeniably petite. Girls around the world grow up with the idea that they have to live up to the narrow perception of “beauty” and “health” that our media promotes. If you look up “model” on any search engine, it will be difficult for you to find any females who weigh more than 120lbs. What does that imply? Our culture supports the long-standing notion that beauty is an exclusive idea. I would not want my child to think that she has to have fair skin, blonde hair, blue eyes, etc. to simply feel beautiful. It’s clear that girls are negatively impacted by our media’s strict ideal of what “healthy” looks like. The number of females who suffer from eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, is far greater than the number of males who struggle with these issues. The photos would have truly made a positive impact in our community if we promoted the idea that we can be beautiful and healthy without stripping layers of clothing, without meeting up to ideals that may seem out-of-reach to young females.
I am distraught by various factors of this issue, but I hope to encourage you to do a few things. Look beyond the surface level. Mull over the incongruities I discussed earlier.
As a cross-country athlete, I understand that females have the right to dress liberally, and I completely respect those who choose to run in sports bras. But we must understand that there are different rules within a classroom environment. I acknowledge that the girls whose photos were taken gave Mr. Finneman permission to do so. But consent cannot be given when there is a power imbalance.
Although the H2N article provided two substantive points-of-view on this issue, we should certainly read between the lines. We need to not only evaluate the information that was disclosed in Mr. Finneman’s letter but also pay attention to what is said. Telling a male student to, “stop being such a girl,” and then complaining about sexism invalidates the complaint itself.
If we truly aim to promote health, we should take some action that will produce a discernible difference. We should reach out to our peers and ask them how they’re doing, support members of our community during difficult times, and promote an inclusive atmosphere. I genuinely wish that you feel safe and comfortable at Hayfield Secondary. Whether our beliefs align or not, I respect your point-of-view and thank you so much for reading.
Note: If you are interested in learning more about the modeling assignment that I discussed, please click the link below. Please pay attention not only to the comment that is made in paragraph three but also the condescending language. Thank you.
Link: Modeling Assignment