Teaching Sexism

I found this horrifying gem a couple of days ago while perusing EFL websites.  Jokes!  What a great teaching tool!  I mean, nothing teaches us more about culture than its humor, right?  So let’s read some North American jokes about love and marriage to teach us about the culture of relationships in the US and Canada:

*A man inserted an ad in the classifieds: “Wife wanted.”
The next day he received a hundred letters. They all said the same thing: “You can have mine.”

Oh, I get it.  It’s because having a wife is such a burden!  I mean, if the bitch didn’t cook and clean, we wouldn’t even put up with her, amiright?

*Q: Why are men with pierced ears better suited for marriage?
A: Because they have suffered and bought jewelry.

Those gold-digging wives!  All they care about is getting their greedy little hands on some bling and making their poor husbands suffer, presumably by working long and hard hours in order to buy wife said jewelry. 

Who thought this was an appropriate lesson for anyone, let alone ESL students?

"Magic in the Moonlight" and "Begin Again" ***spoilers***

If you’re planning on seeing either of these films and don’t want them entirely ruined for you, please don’t read this post. 

Magic in the Moonlight

I’m not a Woody Allen aficionado; I find his films hit or miss.  He seems more concerned with quantity than quality.  When his movies are good, they’re great, and when they’re not, they’re pretty fucking awful (cough, cough, “Melinda and Melinda,” cough, cough). 

A quick set up: Colin Firth plays Stanley Crawford, an arrogant, condescending, and abrasive magician who is thoroughly convinced that there must be a scientific, logical explanation for everything and leads a joyless life in which he mocks almost everyone he interacts with.  Oh, and by the way, he takes a sort of sadistic delight in defrauding spiritualists.

Enter a young and beautiful spiritualist: Sophie Baker, played by Emma Stone.

Classic rom com tropes ensue.  Witty dialogue, romantic leads taking the piss out of each other, a montage of said leads spending time together (even getting caught in the rain after their car breaks down).  Of course, they’re both involved with someone else; Stanley has a fiancée who’s perfect match for him on paper, and Sophie is being courted by a young, bronzed blueblood who serenades her with a ukulele.   

Stanley finally admits his belief in Sophie’s ability after she tells him a series of secrets she couldn’t have possibly known.  Now that he believes there’s something truly magical in the universe, he gets a new lease on life and actually starts enjoying it.  After spending a week together, Sophie starts developing romantic feelings for Stanley; when she tells him this, he shuts her down.  There’s no big, sweeping music or reciprocal declarations of love; he’s basically just like, “Wait, what?  You like like me?  That’s madness, you silly girl.”  This is true to his character; he’s insensitive and socially inept, and her feelings don’t make sense to him.     

But at the end of the film, Stanley suddenly realizes that he does have romantic feelings for Sophie, and that even though his fiancée is compatible with him in many ways, he doesn’t feel any passion for her.  The problem with this is that throughout the movie, Stanley has been a TOTAL DOUCHE to Sophie.  In almost all of their interactions, he’s patronizing, insulting, and demeaning.  Even as he’s proposing marriage to her, he tells her that he’s doing it as a favor to her and she is an ingrate (actual word used in the film) if she doesn’t take him up on it.  She doesn’t.  And that’s where the movie should have ended. 

Instead, Woody Allen totally ruins it by having her sweep in at the last minute and accept Colin Firth’s proposal before he kisses her, aaaaaand cut.  The end.  There you have it!  Perfect, instant love.  The words, “Oh, COME on!” expectorated themselves forcefully from my mouth as I watched, horrified.   

So why am I writing about a Woody Allen film — a film that’s really more about faith and the desire to believe in something than it is about relationships — in a sex/education blog?  Because I think the movie, despite its charm (and it is entertaining in the way that most romantic comedies are; even Stanley’s condescending quips are delightfully cynical and snarky), conveys some seriously harmful messages about relationships (as most romantic comedies do). 

For one thing, Sophie’s choice between Brice (the young, rich stock character) and Stanley is presented as a binary choice, and one that she must make now.  All of the characters assume she will marry Brice because even though she obviously doesn’t care for him, he’s rich.  I just kept thinking, “Run!  Run, Sophie!  There are more options in the world!”    

Secondly, the whole reason Brice says he wants to marry her is because she “knows him better than he knows himself.”  It doesn’t actually seem like he loves Sophie, but rather her supernatural ability.  It doesn’t seem like Stanley loves her either, for that matter — he likes that she makes him feel… something, but he doesn’t really love her.  Both of them see her only in the capacity of what she can do for them. 

The worst of the lot, though, is that Sophie decides, in the end, to marry Stanley — even though he repeatedly degrades her throughout the short time (less than a month!) they know each other.  This confirms for all the self-proclaimed “nice guys” in the world that women really do want to be with men who treat them like shit.

Sigh.  At least the setting, costumes, and cinematography are lush and inspiring.

Begin Again

It was like drinking a cold beer after hiking all day long.  It is so refreshing to see a movie where the (presumably) heterosexual male and female lead characters have a deep and fucking meaningful connection that is neither romantic nor sexual.  It does get a bit cheesy at times (of course it’s unrealistic; it’s a musical), but it’s so lovely and endearing that you forgive John Carney for those moments.  There’s no huge, dramatic, artificial conflict in the middle to move the plot along; the film doesn’t need that. 

Keira Knightly doesn’t end up with the guy who broke her heart; she doesn’t get up on stage with him and she doesn’t forgive him.  Nor does she have any obnoxious “You go, girl!” moment where she gets to publicly leave him as you might see in a romantic comedy.  She simply rides off into the summer evening, alone and perhaps grieving her lost relationship, but knowing that things will get better.  To that I say, Hell Yes.       

Also, the songs are catchy.  This movie is delightful and will make you feel good about life.  Go see it… but not for Adam Levine’s acting or KK’s singing. 

One last thing: I just kept thinking throughout the film, “Haven’t any of these characters heard of ethical non-monogamy?  I mean, maybe they should pick up a copy of The Ethical Slut.” 

Actual responses I got from a recent CL post…

… in women for women, the last sentence of which was, “If you are a man, please respect my boundaries and yourself by not replying.”

Im from Sweden….35 years old, fit, friendly and open minded.
Im interested being a guy in the room watching you and your gf….
Im attractive (hope you think so….) and not pushy [italics mine] so Im fine not participating. Im free the whole day so if you want to invite me just let me know 🙂  Also, I have some toys that you might be interested in using!!

Hi. H r u?
Im from middle east krn citizen ..I live here about 15 yrs ..I can speak krn well ..can we meet on Saturday?

Hi, How are you doing? I am a cute, handsome and tall guy. I am a PhD student at Korean university. I would love to hangout with you :). I like to watch movies, traveling; hang out with friends and learning new things in life to broaden my horizons. I would love to read, writing scientific articles, gym, sports and walking round the beach and city for fun. I am 5’11”, athletic, brown-skinned, dark hair. I am friendly, easy going and love meeting new people.
(At least this one contains complete sentences.)

Hey i saw ur ad on cl. Seem pretty cool. Wanted to chat and see whats good. If ur ibterested i can send a pic so let me know. Kakao ———— or email me bak

And my favorite: 
Are u still looking?

I fear for humanity.  

Another Ranty Rant About Sex Education

Near the end of this school year in San Marcos, CA (San Diego County), a middle school health teacher did an activity in class from a school board-approved abstinence-plus curriculum which involved papers posted on the wall describing different sexual activities, such as hugging, kissing, “above the waist,” “below the waist,” and “all the way” (whatever that means – not exactly descriptive language).  Students were supposed to stand near the paper that described what level they thought was most appropriate for middle school students.  I wouldn’t necessarily do this activity in my classroom (partially because of the use of antiquated euphemisms and partially because I think the discussion would be better done in small groups), but I don’t see it as particularly harmful.  It opens a dialogue among peers about what they think is right for them, which validates and gives them ownership of their feelings, and hopefully gets them talking to their parents about it. 

However, one student thought that the teacher was asking her to stand under the sign appropriate to what she’d already done; she felt pressured to self-report and told her parents, who then proceeded to vomit a shit storm of sex negativity on the school.

So, first of all, NO MIDDLE SCHOOL SEX ED CURRICULUM — especially one that’s only abstinence-plus and not comprehensive — would ever ask students to publicly, in front of alllll their classmates, discuss what they’d done sexually.  That’s ridiculous.  Furthermore, parents at this particular school have to sign permission slips in order for their children to take the class AND the curriculum is available to parents in this district to pursue at their leisure.

Second of all, until recently, these students followed an abstinence-only program; having done thorough content analysis on a few of these programs, I can say unflinchingly that they are reductive, harmful, glaringly sex negative, objectifying, and shame students if they fall anywhere outside of mainstream sexual or gender norms.  Abstinence-plus is barely a step up. 

The parents said in an interview that  “For the children to get that confused is just another reason why it [sexuality education] shouldn’t even be in the schools.” (ABC10 News, June 4th, 2014)  Wh-wh-whaaaat?  Middle school students were confused about something?  If we removed any curriculum that is remotely confusing to students who are in the middle of a hormonal coup d’etat, there wouldn’t be any curriculum to teach.  

So, parents continue to lose their shit over their children talking about sex.  Not news, but still frustrating.

Here’s something fun that’s totally unrelated to take the edge off!  It’s my favorite weekly feature on a blog.

Let us go into your hotel…

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking down a very narrow dark alley toward my guesthouse in a small city in Southeast Asia when I was silently approached from behind and tapped on the back.  I spun around to see a young man nervously clutching a paper in his hand.  He looked at the paper and read from it: “Can I come into your hotel and interview you?  Let us go inside it will be more comfortable there.”  I walked out into the main alley where there were streetlights and people and asked him to repeat himself, not 100% sure I’d heard him correctly.  He followed me and read the same sentences again, motioning inside and starting to move toward my hotel.  “Hold on,” I said, holding up my hand in a universal stop position (it’s probably not actually universal, but I think he got my drift).  A friend of his then magically appeared out of the shadows; they exchanged a few words, and the friend mysteriously melted back into the dark alley from whence he’d emerged. 

I looked at the young man, concern furrowing my eyebrows.  “You want to interview me?” I asked him. “Yes,” he said.  “Are you a student?” I asked.  “Yes,” he said.  “How many questions are there?” I queried.  “Yes,” he stated. 


I then asked him to hand me the paper, and allllll the questions included were about sexuality.  Now, if you know me (and some of you do), you know that I’ll talk about sex pretty much anytime with anyone.  But this was weird.  The questions included:

Have you had a boyfriend or husband?
Do you have a husband or boyfriend now?
Have you ever kissed a man?
How many men have you dated?

It got more risqué from there, until the last two:

Have you ever had sex with a man you didn’t know?
Would you mind if I touch you?

What. The. Fuck.  The questions weren’t actually written in grammatically-correct English; I wish I’d taken a photo of the paper, but it seemed awkward to say, “You can definitely NOT come into my hotel, but hey, mind if I take a picture of your questions real quick?”  Some of the questions had non-English words randomly thrown in — probably where the translating app / software couldn’t find a direct translation.

I told the young man that these questions were too personal for me, and I wouldn’t do the interview.  I looked apologetic, but I was really thinking, “HOLY SHIT.  Does anyone really do this?  And how do they feel as the questions get progressively more sexy?  Eek!”

Has anyone else experienced anything like this?  My guess is that it was his buddy who put him up to it as a way to score with foreign women, but who knows?  Thoughts?