“I hit her with my tie”
Recently I walked into my Grade 10 class and witnessed one of the girls viciously throw a pencil bag at one of the boys. Let’s call the girl Sarah and the boy Luxolo. Anger was written all over Sarah’s face and the humiliation from the rest of the class didn’t make matters any easier. As one of the cool boys in my class, Luxolo was innocent in the matter as Sarah looked like the hysterical girl that needs to be controlled. Or simply needs to calm down and sort out her mood swings.
I investigated the cause of the fight and I was told that Sarah and Luxolo had an altercation because Sarah was sitting in Luxolo’s chair. Luxolo bumped into Sarah to get her attention but Sarah was offended by this. According to Sarah, Luxolo slapped her, twice. So Luxolo was the woman-basher. According to Luxolo, he used his tie to hit her because he had been taught never to slap a girl with his bare hands. When pressed about hitting Sarah, Luxolo responded “I hit her with my tie because I’m not allowed to hit girls”. Luxolo was furious that Sarah was seemingly getting away with hitting him because she’s a girl while he was lambasted and scorned for using violence against a girl (by bumping into her and hitting her with his tie).
The entire incident was a spectacle with the rest of the learners in the class as bystanders in the commotion. This altercation made me furious and left me thinking about how my classroom really is a microcosm of society because when a gendered incident occurs, we always fall into the trap of reinforcing gender stereotypes—the hysterical damsel in distress and the violent black man—that exacerbate the problem rather than allow a different narrative. Even teenagers understand that women’s emotions can be discredited when you label them as hysterical. And black males are always in the wrong because they are violent. Luxolo’s words “because she’s a girl” suggested that he felt that girls can get away with certain actions because they pull the gender card.
I tried to approach the situation where both pupils were in the wrong: two human beings who dealt with a situation badly. Is it too simplistic to do this? Is it too soon to want to look at the behavior at face value rather than the value judgments we make depending on who is embodying the behavior?
Beyond the gendered narrative of the incident, the reaction of the rest of the class was puzzling. There was little indignation from the learners. Any action that has nothing to do with school work is always welcomed in a room full of teenagers. The laughter in response to the incident made me think about what we do as people when we witness a gendered incident, whether violent or not. Do we step in before things get out of hand or do we simply shrug and accept it as the status quo?