Friday, April 29, 2011

Girls and Boys

Here in the Deep South we are chugging along, trying to recover from a spate of tornadic destruction the scale of which hasn't been experienced in nearly forty years. My little Hamlet and college went unscathed, with nary a drop of rain falling, and not much wind, but midafternoon on Wednesday the town suddenly and mysteriously went dark, and there were threats that the power wouldn’t return until May.

Boys deal with this sort of thing by setting stuff on fire. They make flaming arrows out of sticks, dance around fire pits like goblins, and begin eyeing every stray object in terms of whether it will melt or explode. Meanwhile, rational adults of the female persuasion hide the spray cans and pray the ruffians will restrain themselves from dropping their pants and lighting their own farts. The semi-rational adults of the male persuasion smoke cigars and drink, and look the other way, because boys will be boys. And boys like fire.

Don’t tell me this doesn’t happen, because I’ve seen it with my own eyes, right before the lights just as mysteriously returned that very evening, crisis mostly averted.

Thursday dawned bright and clear and absolutely lovely, and in two of my classes I had tests to hand back. Portentously, the internet was still down on campus, which meant that most students would not have been able to check their grades on blackboard before coming to class.

For one girl, who had been anxiously emailing me about when the grades would be up just before the blackout, this meant that her grade, a 64, was a fresh hell she had no time to assimilate. She saw her grade, let out a strangled cry, and began weeping.

Crying Girl, how can I go over the test and try to help the rest of the class prepare for the final when you are crying? How can the rest of the class pay attention and correct their mistakes throughout the snuffling and wet breathing and outright sobs you are emitting?

I pressed on, thinking that a boy would take this in stride. A boy would go home and set something on fire. Or at least a boy would wait until the end of class to cry in his car when he got a bad grade, which is what I used to do.

So there will be a new policy. No crying in class. Please, no crying. Light your farts on fire but don’t cry. I can’t take it.


  1. A classroom crying incident was what prompted me to start only handing back student essays at the end of class, never (again) the beginning. (We do go over tests in class, though, and I've never had a student cry over one . . . yet.)

  2. @couldbe:

    Would do that if it were essays. I never turn back essays at the beginning of class. But it was a test, and they need it in hand as we go over it so they can correct their mistakes.

    Usually they've seen their grade via blackboard by the time they get back the test and they can compose themselves. Not this time.

  3. Ugh, the crying. So often it is manipulative, too, although perhaps not in this case since it was such a spontaneous outburst.

    One semester I had a girl who cried EVERY TIME she got a piece of work back in class. You would think she would have been embarrassed and tried to suck it up.

  4. I can't decide if the gender stereotyping is supposed to be taken tongue-in-cheek, or if you actually mean it? Because, anecdotes being what they are, I can point to just as many young men who burst into tears at their grades. And young women who set things on fire. I should post the story of the one who threw a brick through my car window, that was fun.

    And in the crying student's defense...while the 64 was the proximate cause, maybe having her town destroyed, going without power, and seeing reports of victims contributed to the lack of self-control - more than the presence of a vagina?

  5. Part of the gender stereotyping is tongue in cheek, but part not. I don't believe gender and the performance of gender is entirely a social construction.

    But that's another argument.

  6. And even to the extent that gender *is* a social construction, that doesn't keep it from having real consequences. Just look at race, which is almost entirely a social construction (I'll grant that some genetic groups have greater resistance or susceptibility to some medical conditions, and that those patterns to some extent track with what we consider "racial" groupings, but that's about it), but has very real consequences.

    The acceptability of crying in public, for either or both genders, also varies from culture to culture.

    Coming from a fairly stiff-upper-lip sort of culture myself, I don't deal well with it, either. I'd also prefer my students not start fires, with or without the help of whatever accelerants are handy, in my classroom, but that's more an issue of safety than psychological comfort. Also, does one need to partially disrobe in order to light farts on fire? I'm not familiar with the mechanics of the activity, but the post seems to imply it. If so, I'd object to that.

    Somebody should say something intelligent here about reactions to John Boehner's public tears, and how people would have reacted if Nancy Pelose had done the same, but my brain is too fried from reading papers to manage that.

    So I'll just say that, whether it perpetuates gender stereotypes or not, I enjoyed Stella's post, which rings pretty true for me.

  7. Pat Schroeder's presidential bid ended in tears in 1987, and there was some question about whether she could ever be taken seriously again.

    But in 2011, ol' Boehner boy can wipe away the strategic tear now and again, 'cause he's so sensitive and all. Gag me with a spoon.


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