Sunday, March 29, 2009

Boys Will Be Boys: Everyday Misogyny in the Classroom

So I tutor groups of exchange students at a school grades 5 through 9. As soon as I started working there, I noticed that it was 90% boys; however, most of my classes have (obviously) had only boys in them, so gender relations hasn't come up much. My class this semester, however, has 7 students, only 2 of whom are girls. (Two of the five in the entire school, mind you). The boys in this class will regularly refuse to sit next to the girls or to be on teams with them. They make faces and groan when I make them work together. At first I wasn't sure what to do exactly because of course the same thing happened to me when I was in school. I was just like "oh well, that's what kids do, they pretend that boys and girls have cooties."

But really, it's sexist and hurtful and I'm not having it. Maybe it's different in schools where the gender ratio is more balanced -- maybe it's not sexist then -- I'm not sure, I still have to think about it. But what has been going on in my classroom has certainly been a product of a misogynistic mindset. My students and I have talked extensively about race and racism this semester and the conversations we've had have been very productive and strongly felt. When responding to homophobic remarks I have explained to them that hating someone because they're gay is the same mindset as hating someone because of their race. I have to say that I haven't heard a single homophobic slur since. When I talked to them about the misogyny that's been going on I drew a similar parallel. I'm not sure that the main ringleader was much fazed, but the four other boys looked pretty abashed. And, as a teacher, if you can the followers on your side, you've already gone a long way towards controlling your troublemaker.

What would happen if teachers across the country started refusing to let boys ostracize girls simply for being female? What would happen if teachers started calling boys on being sexist and proactively taught their young students about the effects of sexism, racism and other prejudices? Not just as a history lesson mind you, but to say: "Here, we've learned about racism in the past. We've learned about Muhammad Ali and the Civil Rights Movement. Here are the ways that you are perpetuating the same hateful thinking in your own life. This is the way that fear of difference goes down in our classroom. How do you feel about it? What are you going to do about it?"


Phvern said...

I think this is a subtle but significant issue. My kids have actually gotten into trouble for 'bad attitudes' because they refuse to participate in boy vs. girl competitions. (ok, so maybe they do have bad attitudes... but that's a separate issue.) Anyway, it's great that you've talked with your students about it!

Niele said...
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