August 24, 2006

Classroom Moment

In a post over at The Happy Feminist, she describes a light bulb moment her father had, which reminded me of a discussion in my classroom some years ago.

We were talking about a chapter in a bell hooks' book, a discussion of cultural attitudes towards homosexuality. One student was analyzing historical reasons for homophobia in southern communities -- slave owners wanted their slaves to reproduce -- while another student was analyzing what she thought were the dynamics behind homophobia -- fear and anger.

SmallTownBoy, who seemed visibly disturbed by the discussion, kept interjecting phrases like, "it's just wrong." His reaction seemed so emotional that it made me curious. I wondered if he would have any sort of anecdote or reasoning to back up his vehement opinion.

Finally, SmallTownBoy told us that he had worked at a pizza place over the summer, and that one of the other workers was gay. He paused at that point, clearly ready to give us the important part of the story.

"And he hit on me," he said. He sounded shocked. "This guy wanted to date me. And even after I said no, he kept after me."

He looked at his classmates, clearly expecting sympathy and perhaps horror.

The women and a few of the men in the classroom looked at each other. Some rolled their eyes. Most of the men in the classroom were silent, shifting uncomfortably in their seats.

Finally, a woman sitting behind SmallTownBoy spoke up. "Congratulations," she said. "Now you know what it is like to be a woman."

22 comments:

Scrivener said...

Ah, your student gace SmallTownBoy too much credit: now he has some glimmer of understanding of one aspect of what it is like to be a woman.

frog said...

Heh.

Peri said...

And what did you say after that?!

turtlebella said...

Oh my goodness, how witty of your student to have come up with that retort! I have to say, having heard that sort of remark on occassion from men, I would never have come up with that!

pPB said...

I still want to take you class.

Yankee, Transferred said...

What Scrivener said.

Kyla said...

*lol* Very funny...and I too agree with Scrivener.

Autumn said...

Indeed. I'm with Scrivner as well.

Linda (FM) said...

[applauding] Priceless.

jane dark said...

Hilarious (both the classroom and Scrivener)

medieval woman said...

completely classic!

landismom said...

Hahahahahahahahahaha!

Chip said...

someone should have told him he should have felt good about it, since it means he's an attractive guy, and obviously no one's going to force him to date another guy (although I suppose the hitter could have just been goofing on him because of his attitude)...

I wonder if that particular comment caused him to rethink his feelings at all. Do you know if it did?

molly said...

I, too, am interested in learning the boy's response? Did he have one?

kathy a said...

i don't think so, chip. i can remember that "you're attractive" line being used as a bludgeon -- the rest of the line was, often as not, "so why don't you have a boyfriend? i can take care of things for you." or else, "all you have to do is XYZ." the unsolicited deliverers of such advice thought they were doing me a favor. huh.

scrivener is on the mark. and i bet smalltownboy has a lot to think about now. thinking is good.

susan said...

add me to the list of folks wondering "so what happened next?"

jo(e) said...

I don't remember how the conversation went exactly -- we all started analyzing the dynamics of his encounter -- but SmallTownBoy ended up saying something like, "I never thought of that." So yeah, it did make him stop and think.

One young man said that he thought that that kind of fear is the basis of homophobia. "Every man is afraid that some guy is after his junk." Someone else said that women are trained from a young age how to deal with advances from men -- and men aren't.

We also talked about how straight men harrassing women is seen as "normal behavior" while a man harrassing a man is "deviant." I mean, even though people might say that sexual harrassment is a problem if a straight man does it, they don't somehow then jump to the conclusion that all straight men are perverts ....

Later in the conversation, one student talked about a statistic that writer Derrick Jensen had used in a talk we had been to. Men talk about the fear of getting raped in prison -- it's something joked about in our culture. But the rate that women get raped in just normal life is about the same as the rate that men get raped in prison.

The class was a mix of students from urban areas and students from rural areas -- with very different backgounds in terms of attitudes towards diversity -- and we all learned a lot from each other that semester. We started the semester with Audre Lorde and bell hooks, and that got us into some amazingly frank discussions about race and gender and sexual orientation.

What was cool was how honest the students were, how willing to speak up and be frank with each other, and how open to having their ideas challenged.

ccw said...

I love your students. That was a great response.

Ianqui said...

Brilliant comeback. Makes me think that every homophobic guy should be hit on by a gay man, although without your witty student to point out the obvious, they probably wouldn't make the connection by themselves.

kathy a said...

that sounds like a wonderful class session! it takes some courage to talk about one's experiences and fears, but the payoff is finding there is so much to learn from one another.

i don't really understand why homophobia is so deeply rooted. i remember an outside-class "light bulb" event, though, while i was in law school. a bunch of us got together for a dinner party, cooking and laughing together for hours, and then a couple of the guys volunteered to go out for ice cream. they were just walking a few blocks to the market, and some yahoo teenagers decided to beat them up because they decided my friends looked gay.

my friends weren't hurt really badly -- black eye, bruises, torn sweater -- but they were badly shaken, and embarassed to call the police. another friend at the party actually was gay, and we all talked long into the night.

the take-away lesson, for me, was how much courage it takes to be gay in a culture ridden with homophobia.

Ancrene Wiseass said...

Ah, what an excellently witty response!

After all, there's really no question that, for many men, homophobia is tied very, very closely to a fear that they might somehow become (or be perceived as being) "womanish."

And yet, many homophobic men want us to believe them when they wax poetic about their deep love of and respect for women.

Sarah Sometimes said...

I can remember experiencing something like this years ago--when a guy I was seeing made some disparaging remark about gay men, pretty much based on the same kind of experience, that a guy had pursued him even after he made it clear that he was not interested or not (God forbid!) gay. I remember being puzzled because this guy that I was seeing prided himself on his "liberal" attitudes and upbringing. I had the kind of thoughts people are writing about--like, as the woman in joe's class said, now you know what it's like being a woman. And,also, as someone wrote above, why is it somehow deviant or offensive when a man hits on a man but not when a man pursues a woman to the point of harassment? And, finally, I was struck by the sense of superiority the man I was seeing exhibited. I thought, what makes you so sacrosant or special that you would be offended that a man dared approach you? I suppose that sense of superiority is part of what heterosexual men grow up with in our culture.