To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Year 2: Part 2: Post 9: Gender

We’re getting close to the end of the spring semester now; there’s only two weeks left. I knew this semester was short, but it’s gone faster this year than last. In three weeks I’ll be on the Island with Charlie. I have to get ready. I’m almost halfway through the reading I have to do for it.

And I still haven’t talked Gender Studies, my Friday class with Allen and Kit.

I think I explained how it’s actually two classes, a women’s studies class for women and a men’s studies class for men, that sometimes meet together. But when we meet together it isn’t just a single, merged class (except according to the schedule we will do that on the last meeting). Instead, either the men attend the women’s studies class or the other way around. The first two weeks we were separate, then we started alternating: women’s class; men’s class; separate meetings; men’s class; women’s class; and then the last one will be joint.

In the beginning, I was honestly a little confused in the men’s class. I think a lot of us were. I mean, if the whole reason we have women’s studies is that most studies ignore women, then why do we need men’s studies? But Allen, who teaches that class, smiled and asked if I thought only women could be obscured by sexism? So we talked about that. We talked about how sexism hurts men—less than it hurts women, but still, we did come up with a list of things we’re really glad are changing—what a completely non-sexist society might be like, and how men’s roles and women’s roles are connected, so if men don’t change our roles it makes it harder for women to change theirs. We talked about a lot of things.

A couple of things stand out as interesting or funny. A lot of stuff was funny.

Like, on the first day, Allen said “So, does anyone have any questions or confusion about the plumbing?” He meant sexual anatomy (what “pipes” go where and how they connect, I suppose), and we all cracked up. 

Nobody raised their hands on that question, of course, but Allen actually pressed the point a bit.

“Some of you probably do need to learn a few things about anatomy and physical sex." Again, everybody cracked up. He grinned and held up his hand, as if asking us to hold off on giggling and listen to him. We simmered down. "A lot of people reach adulthood without knowing how birth control and sexually transmitted disease prevention works or not knowing what questions men and women need to ask prior to pelvic surgery. And the scary thing is you don’t know that you don’t know, so you have no reason to go find out.”

So we talked about common misconceptions (yes, some of us were wrong about a few things), and unusual misconceptions (I suppose Dan, who is not me, not knowing girls fart until last year counts), and we drew anatomical diagrams on the board. I don’t think that part would have been funny, except that we were a little uncomfortable so we kept cracking up.

Or, at least a couple of us did. There were guys in the class who could say words like "labia" without either giggling or stammering, but I wasn't one of them. Eventually Allen got tired of it and started laughing at us.

"Ok, ok!" he cried, "I know some of you are still fourteen inside, but can we please...ok, have a big laugh, get it out of your, two, three--VAGINA!" We all burst out laughing, even the mature majority of the class. "Boo!" More laughter. We all simmered down and Allen continued. "Ok, anyone delivered by caesarian section here? Anyone?" No hands went up. "Ok, then, so you all came out of one of these once upon a time, and most of you want to get into another one...these are the bodies of our mothers, our sisters, our friends, and our lovers, so can we please have a little respect!" Except he was still laughing at us, so we weren't quite as chastened as we might have been.

But we did make an effort and I did learn how to talk about women's bodies with a straight face.

Or, the first time we went to the women’s studies class, Kit walked into the middle of the room, welcomed us and then asked, with no preamble whatsoever,

“Have any of you men ever wondered how we handle menstrual hygiene on campus?”

Again, we all cracked up because we were uncomfortable. Nobody responded. Kit smiled.

“You didn’t, did you? Come on, fess up.” We fessed up; none of us had.

“Should we have?” asked Dan, bravely. “Why? I thought you all wanted that private, anyway?”

“Well, all women never want the same thing,” Kit began, “but yes, generally speaking, it is private. But that doesn’t mean you can’t wonder. You wonder about other private things about women, after all.” She had us there.  “The thing is, you live with us, you share bathrooms with some of us, and so you know we aren’t filling waste baskets with used pads or tampon applicators. So that opens up a mystery; if we aren’t using disposable products, what are we using?” She was right; I’d cleaned bathrooms on campus for a year, and never saw any sign of menstruation. And I never wondered about it.

“I don’t know that I’d elevate this to a should” she continued, looking at Dan. “There are a lot of mysteries to attend to in this world, and this one is, after all, private. But almost every woman on campus menstruates, and we have to figure out how to deal with it. It’s a big part of our lives. And I would go so far as to say, yes, you should wonder about women’s lives, even those aspects that have nothing obvious to do with you. Because that’s part of getting to know us as people. And because sometimes you might be able to help.”

“How?” asked Dan. Kit smiled in approval. That was evidently the right question.

“You might be able to offer a female friend a tampon," she began. "You might be able to recognize the symptoms of toxic shock syndrome, ectopic pregnancy, or a heart attack, which often has different symptoms in women than men. You might be able to be a good friend to a woman who has survived rape, coped with sexual discrimination in the workplace, or lost a child to miscarriage. Any number of things.”

I don't understand a lot of what gets said in that class, but hearing Kit say that that there are useful things we, as men, can do for women feels really good.

Note; I have certain friends who will have my hide if I don't point out that sexual assault is not a distinctively women's issue; what Kit meant is that a woman who has survived an assault might need a male friend who is comfortable thinking about the perspectives of women.

[Next Post: Monday, April 21st: Spring] 

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