Acceptable attire for male teachers.
Imagine a culture in which it is the custom for male teachers to strip to their underpants and socks before entering a classroom. Nobody born into this society bats an eyelid at a near-naked man solemnly announcing the lesson aims, because they have been accustomed to the sight since infant school. Imagine that you are a teacher visiting this country on an exchange. How readily will you fall in with the local custom? Will you stay dressed and endure the impatience of your underpanted colleagues, and your students who wonder why you want to stand out and what you might have to hide, or will you just shuck down and get on with the lesson?
I’ve been thinking about this since the start of the present course three weeks ago. I have a number of veiled Saudi ladies in my group. I cannot see their facial expressions and so cannot easily tell if they are happy or sad, confused or confident, smiling or fuming. One wears jam-jar thick glasses, and communicating with her is rather like talking to a neighbour peering through the letter-box. They have to endure the muggy classroom, heavy colds and hard work in a foreign language whilst draped in yards of ugly steel-grey or mud-brown cloth. The Saudi men of course have no such discomfort or disfigurement to endure. They wear smart casual, they take off their jackets and shoes if it gets hot, laugh and joke, and generally enjoy a sense of smug masculine entitlement.
Yesterday for a little bit of a lark we played noughts and crosses for vocabulary revision. The teacher draws a noughts and crosses grid on the board with a number in each square. The class is divided into two teams, Os, and Xs. The first team to play chooses a square, and is given a definition for which they must provide the right word to get their O or X in the square. This goes on until one team gets a line, or until deadlock. Inevitably the teams were men against women, and unfortunately the men won and congratulated themselves most heartily on a victory they saw as a foregone conclusion. This was just a trivial little divertissement in a long lesson, but their expectation of the inevitable superiority of male performance keeps on cropping up as the year progresses, in presentations, essay writing, study skills, the whole shoot.
It is exasperating to teach a class that will not integrate. Despite repeated attempts on our part to encourage mixing and elicit more contributions from the women, nothing will induce them to work with the men, so it is rather like having two classes in the one room. The women’s reaction to our attempts to get them to interact with males - they simply freeze - is what got me onto the fantasy of a culture where blokes teach in their jockey shorts. I know I’d resist the practice to the hilt, for it would go against every idea I hold of appropriate behaviour for the cirumstances. This is why I have stopped trying to integrate the two halves of the room, imagining that the women feel in my class much as I would in the scenario with the underwear. I just hope that with time they may begin to meld naturally. Such a change is not unprecedented. I had a Saudi lady last year who refused to play the modest maid with eyes downcast, and she shot down every opinion she disagreed with and called out every bloke who patronised the women. With time the men grew to respect her. I’m not holding my breath, however, as Abra was a one-off.
Here are a few quotes from a muslim website as a taste of the ideas that have formed these students:
- Beware of mingling with women.
- Women should not speak with men, except with a mahram (relative)
- A woman is an object of concealment, thus when she emerges, Satan surreptitiously pursues her.
- Every eye is a fornicator.
- Allah curses the one who looks (at females) and the one to whom the look was directed.
- No man is alone with a woman but the Shaytaan will be the third one present.
There. Lust is everywhere, ready to destroy you the second you give it way.
Like so many religious prohibitions, these beliefs are like bars, bolts and padlocks securing an empty room. Just let them go, and nothing will happen. Religious rules remind me of a cartoon strip reproduced in Steven Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought. A little space alien visiting earth is walking along a street when he comes to a STOP sign. So he stops. For several frames we see him standing obediently at the sign, as the sky gets darker and night falls. Eventually the little alien’s earthling friend finds him:
‘Oh, there you are… Come on, let’s go!’
‘What do you take me for?’ says the alien. ‘Some sort of rebel?’
A propos of very little, nutcase article here.