When A Teacher Photographed A Sexist Quote In The Hallway, The School Received A Massive Backlash

It seemed like an innocent quote to encourage good behavior. But when Lisa Beckman posted a picture of the slogan on Twitter, people started talking. And as the quote’s context and connotations were dissected, the school whose wall it was painted on received a massive backlash.

At first glance, it may have appeared as a motivating quote to prompt good student behavior. Indeed, it had adorned the wall of Gregory-Lincoln Education Center in Houston, Texas, for more than five years. And so far it had been viewed simply as an anonymous, but nonetheless inspirational, quote.

Taken at face value, it’s not too much unlike “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And that is the Golden Rule; an ethical teaching based on words attributed to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

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But this is 2018, and it’s rare that anything will pass without being placed under the microscope of scrutiny, particularly when it’s shared on social media. Which is exactly what happened to a picture of the quote when Beckman shared it with her Twitter followers. And she had something to say about it.

Beckman describes herself, among other things as an “Accidental Activist.” She was sent the picture by a friend who teaches at the school. But when she saw it, she saw a deeper meaning than merely “Be nice to each other.” And she wasn’t shy in making her feelings known.

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Tweeting to over 1,000 followers, Beckman said, “This is the wall at Gregory-Lincoln Middle School in Houston I.S.D. It’s perpetuating horrible gender stereotypes, shaming women and relinquishing boys of all responsibility. It’s sexist, misogynistic and discriminatory!”

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The quote read, “The more you act like a lady, the more he’ll act like a gentleman.” And when you consider what else Beckman posted in the tweet, her outrage starts to make more sense. It’s easy to see the quote as, at best, outdated in its advice for women to behave in a “ladylike” way if they wish to be treated well by men. But when the quote is viewed with Beckman’s #MeToo hashtag, it gains a whole new depth.

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For those who aren’t aware, the Me Too movement – marked by the #MeToo hashtag in Beckman’s tweet – gained momentum in 2017 to raise awareness of sexual harassment and assault at work. Used in the context of the school’s quote, however, the slogan changes meaning.

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Kelly Graham is a “polymath, mother, minister, sex educator and coder,” according to the website Quora. And as she admitted on the knowledge-sharing platform in August 2018, the quote taken at face value, “Reminds us to behave toward others as we want them to behave toward us.”

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“Which,” Graham continues, “is fine and good, except… the context is loaded with sexism.” Indeed, if it goes that everyone should treat people with respect if they wish to be treated with respect in return, then arguably a gender-neutral quote would be more appropriate.

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Tish Ochoa knows the picture’s photographer and has a six-year-old daughter. She told Houston’s ABC 13 News, “I think we’re reinforcing stereotypes. I mean, look at the climate in which we’re living. We’re supposed to be teaching people to be responsible for their own actions. What is this teaching little girls?”

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Indeed, the Gregory-Lincoln school is for students from kindergarten through to eighth grade. Ochoa added, “I’m the mother of a six-year-old girl. I would die if my girl went to the school and saw that.” And that’s before taking to account where the slogan is thought to have originated.

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Much of the mainstream media attributes the quote to one Sydney Biddle Barrows. These days, Barrows is a businesswoman, but she’s most famous for running an escort agency in the ‘70s and ‘80s under the alias Sheila Devin. Considering her time as a madam came to an end after she entered a guilty plea to promoting prostitution, the quote takes a new context yet again.

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It’s clear that Graham doesn’t hold back when writing on Quora. She continued, “[The quote] is a reminder that in the 21st century, males still don’t own their drives and behaviors. [Instead they] expect females to refrain from provoking them into lust.” Indeed, viewed in its new light, the ownership of behavior appears to be squarely on the female.

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Graham continues to lay out that it makes no difference how a woman of any age dresses or behaves, men should take responsibility for their own actions. She finishes by saying, “It’s a misogynistic lie and a trap. The only reason men act like gentlemen is because they choose to.”

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With this in mind, not only did Beckman share the image in a tweet, she also lobbied for the quote to be removed. She then wrote to the school and its board to tell them what she thought of it. Moreover, it seemed, many people agreed with her take. The tweet received more than 24,000 likes and got nearly 10,000 retweets.

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And it seems that the school district, in fact, concurred. Indeed, it later released a statement to Houston Public Media that said, “The quote does not align with Houston I.S.D. values and it will be taken down. The input of our community is invaluable, and we appreciate that this was brought to our attention.”

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It seems in this case that direct action worked. Indeed, mere hours after Beckman’s viral tweet, all traces of the offending slogan disappeared from the wall. Diana Davila, a member of the Houston I.S.D. Board of Trustees said in a tweet, “This was removed last night. Thanks to the people who brought it to our attention.”

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Although it may have been a small victory in the continuing fight for women’s equality, Beckman took it nonetheless. She later addressed Houston I.S.D. directly in a tweet to thank them for their action. She wrote, “I see this as proof that our elected officials listen when we speak up.”

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A teacher later anonymously explained to KHOU11 News in Houston that she had never been comfortable with the quote. She said, “To me it meant that girls need to take responsibility, not only for their own actions, but for whatever the boys do to us, as well. I just didn’t feel like that was an image of the equality and self-determination that, we as a district or myself as a mother, want to portray.”

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