Pom in Oz: How the Grace Tame PM photo controversy can help what we teach our girls and boys
How can a photo of a person not smiling become the topic of such debate and controversy?
How does the image of Grace Tame, former Australian of the Year, standing next to our Prime Minister cause both outrage and delight?
Because she didn’t smile? Or are the reasons so much deeper than that? Is it because she has become this symbol of what so many people are feeling?
If Grace was a student in my class or my own daughter and she stood next to me with a similar expression, I would be a little worried.
I would perhaps feel like she was fed up, had a great deal of frustration and certainly didn’t see painting a smile on her face as a prerequisite of being in my presence.
Simply put, why should she smile? Or, why should anyone smile if it would be a false, forced thing to do? Exactly what are we telling our young people, especially our young girls and women? Are we seriously still sticking with the “smile love, it might never happen” cliché?
Because, to be blunt, in Grace’s case it most certainly has happened. She was the victim of a horrific period of abuse and has hardly had the support of certain high-level members of our ruling party. So, no, she shouldn’t “smile for the sake of it”. Far from it.
On a recent social media “debate” — don’t you love them? — I was called immature, naïve and a poor example for my students and children. Simply because I would advocate for Grace’s — and others’ — right to express themselves in an honest open way.
I would never tell a girl to smile no matter what. I would absolutely never tell anyone that they should respect people in power regardless of their actions and not speak up against any injustices or wrongdoings.
Where would it stop? Would we tell them when to laugh? Who to speak to? When to be quiet?
We have a duty as men to tell and show our young men and women that it is always OK to speak out. It is acceptable to show your emotions and strength can be expressed in many different ways. We don’t tell our young men that it is OK to dictate feelings and emotions to women and girls. We tell them to be kind above all and that kindness must start within themselves.
I am grateful for many things. I am especially grateful today for the strong women in mine and my children’s lives. My wife and the mother of my children who is a constant talisman for strong females. Showing my own daughter that you can remain polite, dignified and still true to yourself. I am grateful that she shows me every day why the lioness is the leader of the pride. She shows me that being quiet when injustice occurs simply is not an option. That letting out a roar to show the world that you don’t lie down when exploited is not only acceptable but desperately needed.
I am also grateful more than ever for the strong, powerful Christian women in my church and my school.
From the brilliant sports and home-ec teacher who shows our students that its not the males who rule the cricket field and cooking good food is a true art form. And our pocket rocket admin staff who show us men that gender and sex have nothing to do with powerful leadership, with energy levels that would rival even the most enduring Duracell bunny.
Because this is what I want my own boy to see. He needs to see that success or failure in life will come his way but it should never be dependent on his sex. He needs to look no further than his own mother and sister to see a strong confident and successful person.
I have no doubts that this opinion piece will divide but that matters not one bit. I just hope at the very least it might spark some new thoughts.
Let’s celebrate our strong women. May we marry them. May we father them. May we teach them.
Derek Goforth is a teacher at Geraldton Christian College
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