Gender Issues: Switching Sides in the Classroom

My class has finished our Sociology syllabus, so yesterday we got around and discussed some gender issues. Cue the drumroll!

For me, Sociology has been the most-awaited subject every week since the 10th grade. People and the way they relate to others has always intrigued me. Moreover, the fact that they have all these theories to explain everything we do, socially. The studies are relatively simple and relatable, since it’s basically what we do everyday. The other reason is probably because I’m not the most sociable kid in your year–I even find it hard to interact with my fellow classmates. It’s like I love the idea of human interaction, but not quite on doing so. Studying sociology makes me feel less reclusive and kind of just be… in the middle of society.

Of course it depends on the teacher’s approach, not only to make us memorize the theories, but also to trigger our realization that these knowledge are necessary and applicable further in life. We’re indeed very lucky to have someone as passionate as my teacher who actually cares about each of us as a person, and continues to come up with progressive methods of learning in order to gain our knowledge and insight. For two years, besides our theoretical studies we’ve covered a lot of social and political issues like poverty, capital punishment, gasoline price raise, the head police officer controversy, even the elections last year. On the beginning of the class, a student is picked to talk about a topic from the latest news. It’s one of the best way to raise political awareness among teenagers, especially some of my friends who don’t even follow the news. It’s got everything to do with our lives, and I, for one, don’t want to turn a blind eye to every policy and conflict and wrongdoings happening everyday around me.

Most of the times, students are raised to conform with society. We are taught to be responsible teenagers while still being treated like a child and getting put down to our places when we state our opinions. We are taught to settle over simpler matters like getting good grades, relationship drama, and pointless fooling-around than social and politic issues. But I can see these things starting to change, when strongly opinionated kids who are good at public speaking starts to emerge, and my English teachers started bringing in examples of article from The Jakarta Post which one of them covers female’s role in the development of our country. Once I talked about the article with this girl, and then she told me she identified as a feminist. Can you hear that? That’s the sound of my faith in humanity recovering.

As a feminist myself, I am delighted to have issues about gender brought up in class. Although this has been a gripping matter all around the world, it’s still an elephant in the room here in Indonesia–basically anywhere that is not Magdalene or critical feminist-friendly communities. Such topics are still a taboo in a land where its patriarchal and unquestioning native culture are still held high.

Before we started, the teacher showed us two videos: a short animation on culture shock, and an animated visualization of gender stereotypes. Although the latter wasn’t explicitly degrading female, I think it’s quite offensive and unnecessary in the world we’re living now, e.g woman cries while watching romantic movies while the man dozes off; woman takes more time to get ready for a date than the man, and you can see a lot more on the link above. Seems like the teacher was just trying to trigger our opinions, but there wasn’t much. Most of the kids found the first video more interesting and talked about it more. But this one girl said she agreed with the female stereotype that was displayed on the second video. Which kind of surprised me, because she’s one of the people I thought was more mature and opinionated than most. Has misogyny rooted this deep in our society that young women just accept the fact that she is no more than a stereotype? The women who shops, talks all the time, and does all the housework? Though she didn’t capture the whole class’ opinion, for sure. I didn’t even speak up because I was too caught up on thinking about the main reason why it offended me at the time, with a socially acceptable argument. Ah, well.

Then, the teacher divided the class into boys and girls, and had us argue in defense of our opposite gender. The real fun began. There were arguments from the boys’ side saying that girls are hard to understand and I could only laugh. Another day, another stereotype.

It was not quite the proper debate, since we didn’t start from one point of argument, instead we just explored the issues the opposite gender has and assert or ask questions about them. The first round was just stating something we understood about the genders. The boys stated that female are more appreciative towards the process (of a relationship) than male, who values the results more. We, Team Meninist, pointed out that male are not able to express themselves freely, because men are deemed to be the tough protector. They expected to be rational and straight-faced 24/7 while in the reality, they have their moments of weakness too, and they get shamed for showing it. (That was me! I spoke up in class! Can I get a hell yeah?)

On the questions round, we asked the boys why the female tend to be passive aggressive and always speaks in codes when it comes to relationship. Or, at least, that’s how they put us in this small box. Their answer was, that women weighs everything carefully before they settle on their choices. Like they stated earlier, women appreciates their feelings and the process of relationship, so they had to consider a lot of things. They also included the common perception that physical relationships could be more of a disadvantage to girls (later, a girl retorted, saying that these days more and more girls happily owns their sexual lives, but I’m not yet clear if the notion was affirming or not).

Which led to a question from the boys: why are most guys asshole?

I didn’t know which was funnier: the boys throwing their own stereotypes into their faces, or that odd, recklessly considered question which my mental answer was clear to: not all guys are asshole, but you’re just that unlucky. A more carefully-thought but highly unorthodox answer that just came to me a few moments ago: guys like yall have been sitting on the throne of patriarchy for so long, you start to accept the notion that women are inferior towards you.

We didn’t have long since there was a class period shortage, but I can conclude so far that this barely scrapes the surface of The Gender Problem. In the context of sociology, I think what we should be discussing is the position of both genders in society and politics. Also, I don’t think people in the class has realized the real gender inequality problem yet, seeing the lack of response in the stereotype video. It’s hard to know where to start with people who aren’t familiar with the concept of feminism. But relationship talk is a start, since it’s the idea we all could easily relate to.

These kinds of debates are exciting, yet frightening. I could finally see where my classmates stand on these matter. I could either celebrate the awareness, or bite my nails on how the lack of exposure of these topics results into ignorance among them. Kudos to my sociology teacher who invented this interesting experimental debate! This is highly relevant to the things happening around us these days, and I’m glad to have it brought to our class. We sure can learn a lot from this, including rejecting our fear of being seen as controversial and socially unacceptable. At the end, we should own up our beliefs and fight for it. And yes, that was for me.

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