Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tear Goes Nothing

Today, class started with a continuation of our talk about oppression from yesterday. We had a specific and well-worded definition which I wrote down, but I found Dean Almandrez's example far more interesting. She said that oppression is like a birdcage. When you're the bird, you can only see the individual bars, never the cage as a whole, or the totality of your oppression. We covered the five faces of oppression: exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. 

We had a conversation on marriage, and the roots of Ms., Mrs., and Mr., and I was very surprised about one of them. As we know, Ms. means Miss, and Mr. means Mister. But I was shocked to find that what we abbreviate as Mrs. came from "Master's." We talked about a few other common sexist remarks and acts. For example, some people say that women are "asking for it" when they are dressed a certain way and are raped. One of my classmates brought up an interesting point that people teach women how to defend themselves from rape, but she said that as far as she knew, no one ever spreads the message to men not to rape. 

We briefly discussed hegemony, then talked about our reading, which was about gender roles. As a class, we watched a clip about Thomas Beatie, the pregnant man. He was born a woman, but identifies as a man, and has had testosterone treatments, but is still capable of giving birth. We discussed his situation as a class, then moved on to a class activity. 

We split the class in half and each side was assigned a gender. My side was the one given the role of women. We drew a box on the board, and had space inside and outside the box. We were asked to write expectations and stereotypes for women on the inside, and consequences for not conforming to those expectations on the outside.  

The male expectations and consequences
The female expectations and consequences

Afterward, we were asked to organize a role-play that illustrated the gender roles and the negative results of leaving them. My group split into a few different groups with different scenarios. In my smaller group's skit, we showed a situation where a girl was criticized for dressing "like a slut" and then "like a prude," during which I had ad-libbed a line that made a lot of the class laugh. (Dean Almandrez told us that the situation that the small skit I was a part of had been an example of a "double-bind," where "you're darned if you do, you're darned if you don't.") When we discussed our role-plays as a group, however, I realized that my ridiculous improvised line wasn't far from the truth. Some people would actually have said the same thing about someone without thinking twice, but it was considered preposterous in the classroom environment. 

We stopped class for lunch, and this time we had an assignment. We were to ask a stranger what the words "masculine" and "feminine" meant to him or her. I asked a boy in the Ratty, and he responded that masculine meant that you had muscles, and feminine just meant "female." I noticed that he was attributing strength to the dominant group, and showing that the subordinate group was nothing more than an "other," and this impression was strengthened when my classmates reported that some of them had received similar responses. We talked about gender identity and people who identify as transgender, then took a break before our workshop, which was supposed to be about diversity. 

I don't know what exactly I expected from the workshop. I don't know whether I thought I was familiar with what they'd be teaching us, or that a "diversity workshop" just wasn't a good idea. I mean, how can you teach someone diversity? 

When I walked in the building...well, I walked in the wrong side of the building. When I eventually found and walked in the room, I saw the seven categories of "otherness" that I had been growing so used to taped to the walls. Same old, same old, I had thought. I was wrong. 

First of all, we didn't start our class with a name game or some forced socialization ("talk to someone you don't know about..."), we played a game called Pterodactyl. I'd like to say right away that any explanation I give will not do it justice. In the game, you stand in a circle, and you have to either say "pterodactyl" and pass your turn on to the next person, or make a "pterodactyl noise" and turn the direction of the turns the other way. The difficulty of the game is that you can't show your teeth. Everyone almost immediately made a face like a person missing his or her dentures or made a "pterodactyl noise." The struggle of the game (in not being able to show your teeth) is to fight with your constant laughter from classmates screeching at each other or making sounds like "ber-bac-bo."

We started with an activity where we went to the part of the room with the category we chose, filling in statements like, "In my daily life, I am most aware of ____," which for some people was religion, gender, or race. After we chose our wall or corner, we discussed why we feel that way with the others in our part of the room, and reported back what we found to the class. For the last question, I chose a wall with only two other people. I answered why I chose that wall, and then listened to someone I had had maybe a conversation or two with at most. Talking about that problem provoked a very emotional response in both her and myself, because I identified with her situation. My classmate described a situation that I could relate to, but which was far more severe than my own. By the end of the activity, both of us were hugging and in tears. I cry easily when I haven't had enough to drink, and I can assure you, I had had plenty to drink. I'm really glad to say that out of that moment, I have formed a much stronger relationship with that person now, especially considering that we barely knew each other before. 

Then we moved on to the circle activity, where they made more statements relating to the seven categories and how we stood in each, but instead of "which is it" questions, they were "yes or no" questions. If the statement applied to you, you stepped forward. If not, you stood still. By the end of the activity, I learned that I had already pre-judged the people around me. It was amazing to me that without knowing these people, I assumed that I was the only one that felt a certain way, and how quickly I was proven wrong. We moved into the last activity, where we got in small groups and discussed each of our reactions to the exercise, and I noticed that, once again, other people felt very similarly to how I did. 

I struggle to believe that it has only been three days. It feels as though at least a week has passed, and I don't mean that in a bad way. Knowing me (and I do), it seems impossible that I have done and learned so much in so little time. To absorb this at home, I'd need a lot more time, but here, everything seems different. A classmate of mine (and an ILCer) talked about how disappointed she'd be when she returned home to high school. I realized how absolutely accurate that statement is. I feel like I've been treated with a beautiful day on a sunny beach, knowing I'll have to spend a month in the snow. (Just so you know, the snow is still summer. It's just not summer here.) This program is so different from what I'm used to. Here, I'm responsible for being on time, with the right materials, in the right place, and on a larger scale than at home. Instead of keeping track of those things moving room to room, I'm keeping track of those things from building to building. If I forget something, I'm not walking down the hall to get it, I'm walking seven blocks to get it. There's a heavy weight on both sides of the scale, though. With all this responsibility, I'm also rewarded with a lot of freedom. Every minute I'm not in class I can spend wherever I choose. I'm learning how to be independent, how to not need someone else to show me the way somewhere (I'm barely using my map anymore) or how to do something. I'm not used to all this. I'm especially not used to learning one subject all day, and I can't remember ever being so intellectually (and emotionally) stimulated by a class. 
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