Yesterday, in my grade six Life Orientation class, the topic was “gender stereotypes”. I usually like to set them up for failure a bit in the beginning by saying, “We all know that there are some things that only men can do and there are some things that only women can do…” I then break them up into groups, tell them to make two columns on a sheet of paper (one labeled “men”, one labeled “women”), and then write things (such as jobs, hobbies, sports, chores around the house, etc.) that only the specific gender of that column can do. I tell them I want to see which group can come up with the most.
They usually take the bait with open arms. They jump write into the activity, frantically writing that only boys can play rugby, only girls can cook, only boys can be construction workers, and only girls can be secretaries. I then spend the rest of the class explaining what stereotypes are, and then debunking the stereotypes the learners have, writing all the groups’ collected “data” on the board, talking them through them, proving a person of the opposite gender can actually do that specific task, and then marking the word or phrase out.
We are usually left with a handful of things not able to be discredited; and this usually consists of “only women can give birth” (which is harder to prove after that “man” who used to be a women had a baby and was on Oprah not too long ago) or gender specific words like “only a man can be a king” and “only a woman can be a queen” (though that is also in question due to the prevalence of drag queens in Cape Town). Anyways, you get the point. We realize woman can play rugby and do construction, and men can cook and be nurses. And we all go home with a powerful epiphany.
Well yesterday during the group time, one group called me over for a question. I walked over and the one boy said, “Is it alright if we say only guys can master paint?” The group looked nervous, awaiting my response. At that stage in the group activity, because I am just wanting them to say a bunch of cliché stereotypes, I usually just say yes to anything and everything they ask. But I was really curious as to what a master painter was. Are we talking Leonardo da Vinci, or did this kid’s uncle just over glorify his job as a painter by telling his nephew he is a master painter?
I inquired, “What’s a master painter? I don’t believe I have ever heard of that.”
The twelve-year-old boy looked at me as though I was the stupidest person to ever walk the face of the earth, “Master paint!”
I was still confused, “Um, yep, master paint. I don’t know what that is.”
Another boy in the group tried, “MASTER PAINT!” The girls laughed, I assumed at the fact I had never heard of master painting. Is this like the newest Dragon Ball Z-type craze?
Flabbergasted, the one boy picked up a dictionary and started flipping through it. I questioned further, “So, do master painters paint houses, or paintings, or what, like…”
Before I could get out the rest of my sentence, feeling sorry for me, and slightly irritated at my thick-headedness, the other boy put his hand on the binding of the dictionary and stroked it up and down, whilst looking me dead in the eyes saying, “MASTER PAINT! MAAAAAASTEEEEER PAINT!!”
I immediately got it, “OH! Masturbate!”
“Bate?”, the group said in unison.
“Yeah, bate, not paint!”
“Ah, so can we put it on the list?”
“Sure!” I mean come on! We know only boys masturbate, but both men and women can be master painters right? I mean, it’s the year 2010!
The group carried on. Group time ended. Another boy later disproved this group’s theory that only boys can masturbate, by explaining that girls do it too by “using their fingers”. Twelve-year-olds. Sigh. I guess that’s another story for another blog.