Day 92: A Lesson in Gender Relations

23 Nov

We’ve officially been here for three months! This week may have been the fastest week yet! We had a normal schedule and I taught all grades, including eighth grade.

I’ve been thinking about why my eighth grade students have been so difficult to deal with in a classroom setting and began to put my class in perspective with the rest of their lives at the shuang yu xue xiao (Baoding Eastern Bilingual School).
Every day, students wake up at 6 and spend the rest of their highly regimented day in class, doing homework, or cleaning the grounds until 10pm when they must go to bed. They keep up this schedule every day for 11 days straight until they get to go home for a three-day weekend every other week. My class is the only class in which there are no lasting repercussions for misbehavior nor is there any incentive to pay attention and learn since my class has no grades. When I put my class into context with the rest of their schedule and when considering their average age of 13, it’s no wonder they don’t seem eager to sit and be quiet through my class. There is no excuse for how rude and disrespectful they have been to me but I can understand their reluctance to sit through another class (also making it their second English class for the day).
With all of this in mind, I decided to take my eighth graders outside for class yesterday. Rarely do they get to go outside and I figured all the normal behaviour, which is so frustrating in the classroom, would not be an issue outside.

After threatening them with homework from me if they did not behave, we wandered outside and spent most of the class period playing games. After playing we all went inside and I went around the room individually giving each kid an English name. All of this went very well and I finished Thursday afternoon and Friday, after a total of more than seven hours of running around with and managing over 350 eighth graders, happy and exhausted.

One of the best things about playing outside with these kids was my discovery that opposite genders absolutely will not touch each other. Girls will hold hands and climb all over each other and boys will do the same, but if I tell a girl to touch a boy they repel each as if they were like-poles of a magnet. I discovered this in my first class when I divided the class into mixed-gender groups and told them to hold hands to make a circle so that I could teach them the human-knot game. Once they realized they would have to touch a member of the opposite sex they absolutely refused to play the game. Once I divided them into groups of girls vs. boys, everything worked much better.
In the human knot game, you have students make a circle shoulder to shoulder, link hands with the people across from them, and then untangle themselves without letting go of each other’s hands. While the girls worked out how to untangle themselves very methodically and reasonably, the boys, completely directed by their hormonal teenage brains, threw their bodies at the human “knots” as hard as they could until it broke, and ending with most of them in a pile on the ground.
The second game we played involves everyone making a line by linking hands and facing the same direction with one end of the line holding onto a tree or a pole and then everyone going through the arches to make a looped interlinking line that can then be untwisted once everyone is done looping. Again, I could only play this game with one line of girls and one line of boys. The mixed gender repulsion was so strong that when I was trying to get a boy to hold my hand to demonstrate the second game, some boys were running away from me to get as far away as possible while other boys were throwing their friends at me as if it were some kind of punishment. In a couple of classes I managed to get one or two boys to hold my hand long enough for me to demonstrate what was going on so that I could get all of the kids involved in racing boys vs. girls. The girls, of course, with their absence of awkward teenage pent-up physical aggression, always won. In only one class was I able to get a boy on one hand and a girl on the other so I could get the entire class to participate in one interlinking loop line (this line fell apart before it was completed because of the kids’ intent to throw each other all over the place, but we had a lot of fun).

I’ve been really intrigued by the gender relations here in China. Now that I’m here and observing people, there is a lot more separation between genders than I was expecting. Rarely, at least from what I have seen in public, are there groups formed of mixed sexes. Men seem to stay together and women seem to stay together. Whereas in the States it seems to be a constant battle for some to keep the genders separated (which invariably makes them want to get together even more) the separate genders seem to want to avoid one another. Maybe this is one of the reasons teen pregnancy isn’t a problem here.

Imagine if I were to tell a group of 13-14 year old boys to hold hands in the US – there would be as much aversion to touching another guy as there was to coming into close physical proximity with the opposite gender here. And if I were to tell an eighth grade boy in the States to hold my hand, they’d be fighting each other over who gets to stand next to the young teacher they’re all simultaneously frightened by and in love with.

Public displays of affection, from my experience in China, are rare and when seen, almost always in younger couples, it is strikingly apparent due to its rarity. This is something I was not expecting to notice. PDA, though still somewhat frowned upon in the US, is not something I generally notice in the States because of its “normality”. Here, though, I notice any kind of physical contact a lot more. The equivalent here of holding hands in the US is the male holding the back of the women’s arm above the elbow, neck, or opposite shoulder. Holding hands as I am accustomed to seeing is rare and when seen is more likely to be seen between two girl friends rather than a romantic couple.
Even married couples don’t seem to touch each other. Some friends of ours are married and yet I have never actually seen them touch, nor sit next to each other (even at dinner). While the woman will link arms with me while walking around (and tell me she loves me in very broken English), I have never seen any hints at physical affection between husband and wife. The aversion to mixed-gender interactions really makes me amazed there is an over-population problem in China at all.

The daily life in China is pretty boring. Now that we’re in a routine, we’ve stopped noticing the unique little details of daily life in China which has left me with less to write about – actually, there’s not less to write about it, there’s just less I’m noticing as different now that my standards and expectations have adjusted. The people who pass us on their bikes singing no longer make us think, “wow! If someone did that in the U.S. we might think they were crazy!” and instead we just smile and appreciate that little freedom people feel here.

We discovered another alley selling street food over by He Da (the closest University to us) and right down the street from QLH. It’s actually not an alley but an indoor market with vendors and mini restaurants. The hustle and cheerful bustle in their covered marketplace is intoxicating and quite a lot of fun. We’ve made friends with a couple that sell a bread dish we like and we are quickly becoming regulars with the vendors that sell a combination of our two favorite street “sandwiches”.

We have no plans for this weekend other than some grocery shopping and relaxing. We made a visit to the newest Starbucks in Baoding and had a taste of the seasonal specials – outrageously expensive but a welcome reminder of holidays at home.

To end this post, here is a video of some of Duncan’s second graders singing before class.

Have a great weekend and thank you for reading!

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Posted by on November 23, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized


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