I gave my students an assignment this week to design their own utopia. They had to come up with the type of society and government their utopia would have, what some of their laws would be, what the consequences for breaking those laws would be, etc. My final question asked what the gender roles in their society would be.
The last group in my first class got up to present their utopia, and when it came time to talk about gender roles, the speaker (a woman) said that the women would stay at home for the first twenty years after their children were born while the men worked, and then they would switch, with the men coming home to take care of the house and the women going off to work (we didn’t even have a conversation about heteronormativity or what happens to people who don’t get married; baby steps, you know?).
“Wait,” I said. “You mean that women have to do alllll the hard work of raising their children at home, and then just before retirement age (assuming these fictional married couples have their children between the ages of 25 – 35), the men get to come home and not participate in child care whatsoever while the women have to go off and join the workforce?” The young woman who was presenting looked flustered, so she asked one of her partners to help her explain.
I looked behind me at her male partner, who looked me in the eye and said, “Teacher, it is because when we are young, men are strong and women are wea-”
Before he could finish the word “weak,” I laid into him with a tirade of how women are NOT weak, we’re socialized to believe that we’re weak and then we internalize it, and how there is nothing weak about bearing and raising children, etc. etc.
All the female students in my class were nodding, but this guy just stared at me blankly as if to say, “Does not compute.” I can’t wait to do a gender workshop with this class.
Sometimes you need to let students come to their own realizations about the world, and sometimes you just have to throw down.