Wednesday, 4 August 2010

A Long Way, Baby

I came across a joke the other day that I didn't like very much. It was just a one-liner, something along the lines of "So-and-so shut up faster than a girl in math class." If, in 2010, girls are still shutting up in panicked confusion in math class, it's not a laughing matter. It's an outrage, a failure of the schools to take as much interest in the problem of "Janey can't figure out equasions" as the problem of "Johnny can't read."

Given a choice between two years in the women's prison on Popcorn Road and reliving the two years I suffered under an absolutely crackers math teacher in North Toronto, I would take the prison 10 out of 10 times. It would be less damaging. It wasn't just that the teacher's method was mostly barking and shrieking. It wasn't that I understood less and less and panicked more and more. It was that she punctuated her vague attempts to teach math with editorials on life, which included the deathless line, "All you girls born in Toronto should leave to leave room for the immigrants."

But, as I've written many times before, probably because traumatized people relate their trauma over and over again, the worse part of her philosophy was that her husband's (all-male) students were better at math than we were, just as her husband was a better teacher than she was. And the reason for this gender math gap was that we wasted time mooning over the boys, whereas the boys couldn't care less about girls. And since I had had crushes on a number of boys who didn't show any interest in me, I actually believed this. I was trapped in the woman's class for two years, after all.

Today I can barely write down a telephone number correctly, let alone handle any mathematic concept more complicated than dividing up a cake. But, thank God, I have mostly managed to shake off the idea that boys don't care about girls. I say 'mostly' for the other day I said something like,

"You know, it's really nice that, despite the outrageous immodesty and terrible behaviour of so many, men are still interested in women."

"What do you mean?" shrieked my husband, who started dating at 10. "Of course they are!"

Not all of them are, of course. There are men who just cannot stand women. Some are gay, and some are straight. Some were brought up to despise women, and the best thing women can do is give them a wide berth or, if forced to work with them, scream like a hot kettle at the very first sneer. Men like these, however, have been a tiny minority everywhere I've lived. I've never been to Saudi Arabia.

Sexual politics get more difficult in Church circles. There's the whole woman priest issue, which simply will not go away, leaving another generation of women to chew painfully on their own livers and another generation of priests to jump nervously whenever the subject is mentioned. Feminist theologians are swift to accuse the Church of hating women, and orthodox theologians do their darnedest to refute this. Of course there are men in the Church who bitterly resent women--but I would say that they are in the minority. I once got a look of sheer serpentine disdain from a priest to whom I'd just been introduced as a PhD student of Theology, but he was only one man. I seethed through the sexist jokes of some of the boys in the pro-life movement, but they were only boys.

"Wrap it up, Seraphic," I hear you cry. "What is your point? Make your point, woman!"

My point is that although there are a few men who dislike or are bored by women-in-general, they are in the minority and should not be allowed either to ruin our day or to blight our feelings about men. Their dislike or boredom doesn't matter that much.

This entire train of thought was inspired by the following comment made by an ex-seminiarian around 1900: "What you can see to admire in the female form I don't know. All those curves and protuberances that seem to fascinate you only go to show what nature intended her for--all that she's fit for--breeding."

This ex-seminarian died thirteen years later in abject poverty and disgrace, leaving no more than a few strange novels and the memory of a bizarre personality. What he thought about women was so patently ridiculous, there is no point in getting mad. I did get mad when I read it, but really, why bother? Most men, gay or straight, love us. Those who don't are freaks.


Anonymous said...

I know this is not the point of your article, but as a math teacher, I did want to reassure you about math education in 2010 at least in the USA. There is research that shows that girls and boys are now scoring equally on standardized tests for the first time. In the district I teach in, I would even contend that girls are outperforming the boys, and definitely do not have a problem speaking up in math class.

I am so sorry you had such a bad math experience that has stuck with you for so long. The power of one person to influence another's life so strongly is a reminder of why we all have to be so careful about the way we treat each other.

Seraphic said...

Normally I don't allow anonymous comments, but this one, bearing such glad tidings, can stay.

I would add that it is TEACHERS who have the kind of power to mark a kid's life for good or for ill. Parents and priests, of course, are teachers, but I think elementary school and high school teachers have go to be super-aware that if they impose their eccentricities on their charges, that means dozens, perhaps hundreds, of kids will bear the scar for the rest of their lives.

theobromophile said...

Teaching math is tough - I don't think I fully appreciated that for a while! (I teach math for a test prep company and do private tutoring.)

The other thing with standardised tests is that girls outperform expectations in college. For example, if both a boy and a girl get a 700 on the math SAT, the girl will probably do better in her college math classes than the boy will. Nevertheless, I'm thrilled to hear that girls are catching up!

"What you can see to admire in the female form I don't know. All those curves and protuberances that seem to fascinate you only go to show what nature intended her for--all that she's fit for--breeding."

Last time I checked, it's not very Christian to treat human beings like animals, which is exactly what this misguided seminarian is doing. (Perhaps he had mommy issues?) Horses breed. Dogs breed. Humans have babies and make new life. Ironically enough, the same anti-child (or anti-childbearing) attitude is seen among radical liberals/progressives, who scornfully refer to heterosexual couples who have their own children as "breeders". Way to dehumanise people you've never met!

Steve T. said...

"I once got a look of sheer serpentine disdain from a priest to whom I'd just been introduced as a PhD student of Theology"

I wonder, was the cause of his disdain the flocks of "wymyn" PhDs in Theology who use their credentials to attack the Church and spread arrant nonsense?

Seraphic Spouse said...

Steve T., it might have been. On the other hand, there are flocks of "seminarians" who also use their credentials to attack the Church and spread errant nonsense, and I don't look at seminarians like that upon first meeting them.

Seraphic said...

On second thought, to be fair, the seminarians are usually priests by that point. And they're usually just continuing the work of other earlier, priest, their professors.

I can't think of any heresies named after a woman, although there are plenty named after men. And both Calvin and Luther were Catholic priests.

Spelling the word "woman" as "wymyn" when you're a man is just a shade too bitter. Perhaps the column on "Anger Goggles" would be of interest.