Teacher’s Corner: Come for the stress, stay for the misogyny!

It’s an open secret that female teachers often have a harder time than male teachers*. Not because we’re worse teachers, but because society tells kids, especially those assigned male that men have to be respected and women not so much. This is especially obvious when there are serious clashes, like it happened today.

As usually, the matter at hand was pretty unimportant. During class one boy put a handkerchief in front of his mouth, like the bad guy in  western. I told him to put that thing away and that if I saw it again that day I’d confiscate it. As the bell rang for recess, he had that thing in front of his mouth again and I told him to hand it over, which he did. But the hanky wasn’t his, but a classmate’s, who now protested loudly. Now, since he knew what would happen if I saw that thing again and still lent it to his classmate, I saw no reason to hand it back there and then. I told him he could pick it up after the 6th lesson, as it is usual in our school when we confiscate things. I had momentarily forgotten that they only had 5 lessons that day, but before I could correct myself, he yelled “are you fucking kidding me?”

I told him that I had just been about to correct myself, but for that disrespectful yelling, I would stand by lesson 6. Now, many of our students have problems with the difference between owning something and possessing something and the right to use something. They keep thinking that us taking stuff away from them for a defined period of time is theft (sadly many parents think the same). So the kid tried to threaten me with calling his mum who would pick it up for him! I called his bluff and invited him to do so. After lesson 6, because then I would have time to talk to his mum.

At that point he yelled the German equivalent of “go fuck yourself, bitch!” Well, he got part of what he asked for, I called his mum and told her to pick him up because he could no longer participate in school that day. I still have the handkerchief.

What was kind of surprising was my internal reaction. I’m used to a lot. Again, I work with kids with many issues in a neighbourhood with many social problems and I don’t take their shit personal. If they yell at me I usually shrug my shoulders, wait until they calm down, tell them about the consequences and move on. And I’m also not angry with that boy. He actually apologised and I accepted it, but for 5 minutes, I was completely shaken. Not because a kid had yelled at me. Or insulted me. But because for those words that cause a gut reaction in me and many other women, because we know that they are so often accompanied with violence. Because they are meant to put us into our place, to make us afraid. Just for a moment he succeeded. And there are no equivalent words that would do that to a man.


*Exceptions apply. I once had a male colleague who had serious problems with a class with whom I went along fine. One of the boys in his late adolescence chose that particular colleague to have his dominance fights with.


  1. kestrel says

    I’ve had that feeling too…

    One time I happened to be at a park and heard this conversation. There were two women who were blackbelts and they were working out some fight choreography for a test. A bunch of other women stood at a respectful distance and watched. When the two women stopped for a breather, one of the people standing by asked, “What does it feel like to be a second degree black belt?” And the woman thought for a moment and said, “It feels like being a six-foot tall man.” And I thought, yes. A lot of times men don’t get that, but yes. It shouldn’t be that way, but our culture has made it so.

  2. voyager says

    Yeah, I’ve had that feeling too. Once, just before being raped. (a long time ago, now) Your reaction is not over the top. In the heat of the moment that boy meant to intimidate you and his unchecked rage was unpredictable. Very scary stuff, Giliell.

  3. says

    I’m sorry it happened to you.
    It’s not that I was afraid in that moment (he was storming down the stairs and I’m not afraid of 5th graders in general), it was that deeply seated gut reaction because of course we know.

  4. Ice Swimmer says

    And when a woman teacher is assertive it often feels bossy and aggressive. It shouldn’t and it took me all the way to my bachelor’s studies to realize that. There was this physics teacher doing a course in which there was also lab work, and the gender-skewed lot (1 woman, about 40 men) that we were, were the students. If she had been a man, the way she talked and acted wouldn’t have felt exceptional.

    Her behaviour felt bossy and aggressive, but I think the Horde influence made me eventually realize that it was just that she was, due to the ingrained misogyny of the society, at a disadvantage as a person who had to get those dudes (and the few women) to take her seriously and to do their exercises and get them to produce properly formatted and coherent lab reports in time* (so that they would eventually be able to write their bachelor’s thesis).

    * = I don’t envy those who have to bang the importance of error estimates, significant figures as well as proper citation and referring into heads of the people have never done a proper lab report.

  5. Ice Swimmer says

    And I realize I’m talking about smaller issues than the physical, psychological and verbal violence that voyager and Giliell have talked about.

  6. khms says

    And there are no equivalent words that would do that to a man.

    Hmm. Probably not to most, the way our society works, but there is also a group who was always at the butt-end of physical violence … I’ve successfully suppressed those memories enough that I couldn’t come up with any wording, but I remember there being such terrifying remarks.
    Of course, the bullies were almost always male. Male lobster culture (long before the lobster man).

  7. Jazzlet says

    Oh yes, I know that feeling, though thankfully I haven’t felt it for several years. The last time I did feel it was maybe four years ago and the man concerned didn’t physically attack me, but he did steal the glasses off my face before storming off. I am sufficiently short-sighted that that left me pretty much helpless. Fortunately I had my phone with me so I was able to call both Mr Jazz and the poilice all of whom tuened up very fast, not that the police could actually do anything as the man was long gone. It did prove to me that neither of my dogs were likely to attack anyone as they both thankfullya stayed well clear of the action. I needed Mr Jazz as we’d driven to the walk and there was no way I could drive back, I can’t focus on the hands at the end of my arm without glasses, I wouldn’t have been able to see the road. But that stealing of my glasses rendered me helpless, as helpless as if he’d beaten me up, but with no risk of leaving any evidence.

  8. says


    Probably not to most, the way our society works, but there is also a group who was always at the butt-end of physical violence …

    There are words that can do that to men belonging to specific subgroups. I’m pretty sure gay men and trans men and black men and probably just small men know words that will instantly cause that reaction. Yet there are none you can throw at just any man.
    Sorry about the bullying. I promise I’m doing my best, though it’s a fucking struggle because some of those kids have zero decency you could appeal to.

  9. says

    I suppose a threat like “I’ll kill you” might be close for a male. Generally, the way a bully wants to defeat another male is to threaten them with consequences so severe that it breaks their resistance. (In my cynical moments, which is most of them, I think that when “Sam Colt made all men equal” he also destabilized us out of less lethal dominance behaviors. You can’t simply dominate someone who has a weapon; it gets complicated really quickly)

  10. says

    Yet there are none you can throw at just any man.

    It’s sobering to think that attempts to do exactly that are often represented as bad-ass masculinity in popular culture. Clint Eastwood’s Harry Calahan’s little speeches while he’s holding a gun in someone’s face, or Harvey Keitel’s Mister White in Reservoir Dogs’ “If you shoot me in a dream you’d better wake up and apologize” -- these represents attempts to achieve terror-dominance over other males with a couple of words. The popular cultural consequences of ignoring such a threat are inevitably death or humiliation.

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