Friday, October 29, 2010

Talking with Men

I've had some interesting opportunities recently to talk to men in contexts that invited me to explicitly involve a feminist lens. While waiting for a "to go" order last night, I struck up a conversation with a guy who was waiting for his food. We were both standing outside the restaurant--I was standing next to my bike, which wasn't locked up, and he was waiting with his dog. I asked him if I could pet his dog (who was super-cute, named "Jack", and very happy to get some pets) and he mentioned that he could bring the dog to the school where he taught 3rd grade, and the kids loved him. Asking some more questions, I found out he's been teaching for over a decade, teaches at a private school in Oakland, has also taught kindergarten, and loves his job. I have a close friend who teaches, and we've talked some about how there is a gendered skew for grade school teachers, most of whom are women, and about how men are sometimes looked at askance for even wanting to teach children. I asked my new acquaintance what it was like for him, being in a profession that has many more women than men.

He had an interesting response that sort of surprised me in its sexism: He said that it was hard to get things done sometimes, because women teachers are more emotional than he was (being a man), and less pragmatic. I was sort of taken aback--I wanted to acknowledge his experience (after all, I had kind of asked a relatively personal question of a stranger), but felt a need to know more, and to respond. Unfortunately, his food was ready at that point, and I didn't get to talk to him further. I didn't get to ask him, for instance, if perhaps the teachers at his school felt "more emotional" than he felt, making it about personal traits, rather than about so-called gendered traits. I didn't get to ask him what "pragmatic" meant to him (did it mean ignoring passionate stances?). I applaud anybody who becomes a teacher, mostly because it's such a tough job, and I'm glad that there are men who want to teach kids, but I found the overly simplified sexism a little disheartening. Perhaps if I had talked to him more about why he felt that way, I would have gained a better understanding of where he was coming from.
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