Thursday, June 21, 2012

I was subbing for a class the other day and the students had been assigned a presentation on privacy laws. One student talked about bumblebees(?). Another spoke about privacy laws regarding medical treatment in Saudi Arabia. One of the students brought up the point of how husbands are not in the room when their wife (or wives, as many of the students have multiple) are giving birth. I pointed out that this was one of the differences in Saudi and North American custom. The guys conceded that yes, it is good, for the man to be with his wife when she is in the hospital, but then he should leave the room when the baby is coming out. "No real man would stay in the room during that moment. It is (lots of grossed out facial gestures here) not good and would cause problems in the marriage later on."

To each his own, okay. If you think your wife is disgusting when she's giving birth to the football-sized demon that you implanted within her, well I suppose you are entitled to your opinion. And of course it's very cultural. They think dogs are disgusting, too. 

This is probably one of the more difficult aspects of my job, though. If things like this come up, I have to bite my tongue and change the subject to something less controversial. I actually don't mind these kinds of conversations and am inclined to use them as a teaching opportunity, but particularly in my position I can't toe any lines, since I'm the one who's supposed to be setting the standard. One of my tasks is to go through and check Facebook pages to make sure no one's posted a photo of themselves in shorts, or has written anything even mildly open to debate. I'm the one with the final say on curriculum and have to go through and approve any material that might be shown in class. And the guidelines are extremely strict, as in if you're showing a photo of a husband and wife, they better not be holding hands or even touching for that matter. An aversion to hand-holding isn't something I can identify with but I have no particular aversion to Saudi squeamishness as far as it goes. Then I have other moments where a student explains to me the birth of a girl:

"No one says anything and a baby is good, but when a girl is born we all are disappointed. Everyone wishes for a boy and knows that a girl is a disappointment."

Change of subject. That's really all I can do.

I hope hope hope that when these men say these things, they are referring to "we" as men. I mean come on, that's kind of a butthole thing to consider only men as being worthy of having an opinion, but can you imagine if women feel that way too? If the cultural norm is so engrained that even they believe that their value and the value of a daughter is so much less than that of a man? 

I genuinely like the students I've taught, which is why it's so squirmy when you hear things like this. They're usually quite friendly and kind and I don't expect these sorts of things. A few students do demonstrate their disrespect, but it's not as blatant as "I won't be able to love my wife if I see her in a natural state of messiness while giving birth," and more along the lines of inappropriate compliments directed towards the teacher. The other day the students had to write job interviews and one of the questions posed was "What is your greatest achievement?" Muhammed answered that it was seeing me in class, "Your face is like the moon." This guys is probably in his fifties and we're lucky if we make it five consecutive minutes in class without him saying something like that. He just doesn't have any respect for me in my profession and thinks that because a woman is in front of him he can say these sorts of inappropriate things. The man has four wives and earlier in the class he mentioned his greatest career aspiration was to work in the lingerie department. 

Normally I'm fully on board with the idea that it's not for me to judge a culture's norms. I am certain that if I were raised in Saudi Arabia, I would have a very different understanding of the world, and likewise if they were raised over here. I'm not certain where it becomes overly permissive, though, when students speak so disrespectfully of their wives and women in general. When I sub and mention that I don't have scheduled class because I have a supervisory role, they don't understand it; that's not a job for a woman. 

I guess maybe that has to be my stand-off to their comments since I can't say anything else. So far, at least, these comments have been in the minority, but the way the other students in the class sort of clam up when someone mentions his disdain for women makes me think many of them feel this way at least to a certain extent. It's saddening because mostly they're very good to me and the other teachers - all women, all foreign - and I hope that this doesn't change when they walk away from English class. 

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