Saturday, March 12, 2011

International Women's Day

March 8 was International Women’s Day and I have decided to center my lessons on it. My world wise school letter (my correspondence with a classroom in America) also focuses on it. The following is my letter to that classroom:

Dear Students,

Next week is International Women’s Day on March 8. Many countries around the world are celebrating and honoring women on this day and making efforts to encourage equality, independence, and leadership amongst today’s women. There are still countries in the world today that do not let woman have jobs, will arrange marriages for women and not let them choose their husbands, and will not let woman speak out and have a voice in the community.
Can you imagine a world in which women aren’t permitted to speak in front of men, cannot defend themselves against domestic violence because the police are corrupt and will not do anything, or cannot divorce their husbands for fear of never seeing their children again? How does this compare with the United States? Women in the United States can vote, run for president and be the CEO of a company, but in your opinion are men and women truly equal in America? Why or why not?

China is a growing country both economically and politically. The country has the second largest economy after the United States, but women and men are still far from equal. My observation is that female students are sometimes punished for things while their male classmates are not. Many of my female Chinese friends believe that their main purpose in life is to get married and have children and many girls that pursue ambitious careers or majors (like engineering, computer science, or politics) are shunned. Some of my students tell me that their parents sent them to this college to find a husband because many in-laws and men find teachers to make good wives because they can care for children. I asked my students if they ever thought that a woman could be the president of China and they said “no, never”.

In my classes this week I am challenging my students to think about women, equality, and leadership in different ways. I want to extend this on to you. Next week we can compare your answers with the answers my students gave.

First my lesson has my students finishing the sentence: “100 years from now women will…”

Next my students will answer ten questions:

1. Would you prefer a man supervisor or a woman supervisor?
2. Would you prefer a man or woman doctor?
3. Do you think that there are some sports/activities that are just for men or just for women? What sports/activities?
4. Would you want your child to have a man or woman teacher?
5. Do you think it is easier to be a man or a woman?
6. Do you think it is easier to be a mother or a father?
7. Do you think it is a good thing for a woman to be president of the United States?
8. Do you think little boys and girls should be treated differently?
9. Do you think women should stay at home and take care of children?
10. Are there jobs that are just for men and just for women? What are they?

After each group has discussed their answers, I will ask each group to think about an influential woman in Chinese history. Then I will hand each group an article about an influential woman in the world. The women are: Marie Curie, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gertrude B. Elion, Helen Keller, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Thatcher, Mother Theresa, and Jane Goodall. Do you know all of these women? Can you think of any other influential women in the United States and in the world? The students must create a poster and present this woman to the class and explain what year she lived, what she accomplished, and how she has changed the way women live today.

Finally the students will write a paragraph either about women, in general, or about one inspiring woman. In your next letter to me you can write a paragraph about an inspiring woman that you know and maybe I can share it with my students.

I look forward to reading your letters. Happy International Women’s Day!


Katie D’Souza
Peace Corps China 16

In my classes this week the responses were…mixed. For completion of the sentence students said women will be more beautiful, stronger, and more independent, equal with me, more confident, taller, more powerful, and have more freedom.

The answers for the discussion questions varied. More students preferred a male supervisor because they are brave, confident, calm, careful and handsome. Those that selected woman supervisor said because it would be easier to communicate with them (keep in mind that the majority of my students are girls).

It was 50/50 on the doctor question. They chose a female doctor because of comfort and because they are kind but chose male doctors because they are smart and careful and handsome.
Almost every student said that there were sports and activities just for men (basketball, football, wrestling and boxing) and just for women (ballet, badminton, volleyball, and shopping).
The majority of students preferred a woman teacher for their child because they are more caring and like mothers.

It was divided between whether it is easier to be a man or a woman. They said it was difficult to be a man because they have much responsibility and pressure but that women must do many things in their families and homes. I would say that most said both were difficult, though.
The majority of students said that it is easier to be a father because the mother must care for the children, give birth to children, clean the house and cook the meals and the father just has to make money.
Some students said that it would be good to have a woman president of the US because she can help the women but those that chose no said it was because woman didn’t have the sense of responsibility or care.

Most students said that boys and girls should be treated differently because their genders are different and boys must be taught to be brave, like sports, and be confident and girls must be taught to be gentle and kind.
For the next question I think every student either said no that women should not stay at home and watch the kids, that the responsibility must be shared, or that the woman should just do what she likes.

During the entire lesson and discussion I didn’t say anything and tried my best not to change my facial expression but this was rather difficult on this next question. Are there jobs that are just for men and just for women? Some students said no, some said yes and one group almost made me drop my jaw when they said yes, jobs for women are secretary, nurse and teacher and jobs for men are high technology jobs and jobs with much responsibility. Later when the students were creating posters for influential women I gave that group Marie Curie. Maybe that changed one of their minds. Secretary, nurse and teacher…you’ve got to be kidding. I had a discussion with one of the leaders from Peace Corps China and she said that China for women is about equal with women in the US in the 1950s.

But moving on from that interesting lesson, I did receive a flower, glass, and office decorations from students on Women’s Day which was very nice. The school gave all women teachers the afternoon off which disappointed me because I like teaching and I didn’t get to do my woman’s day lesson with two classes, but I did spend the afternoon talking and walking with a Chinese teacher friend of mine. It was a rather sad and frustrating conversation for me because she was telling me that she was feeling all of this pressure from family, friends and society to date and get married. She is only 26! I wish she didn’t have these feelings. She is incredibly smart and together but she lacks so much confidence and having these pressures certainly doesn’t build her confidence any higher.

On another note, a different teacher told me that he and his wife are getting divorced and he has already moved out of his house and into the same apartment building as me. He started the conversation asking me about divorce in the US and whether there were many. I said truthfully that it is about 50% at which time he informed me of his current issue. I felt sorry for him but more importantly for his 13 year old daughter. It is interesting how comfortable the Chinese feel discussing their issues with foreigners. I think it’s because we can take their secrets and such with us when we inevitably return to our countries.

The strangest thing occurred to me this week. I gained super strength and super vision after having a run-in with an electrical cord. Obviously that’s not true but I did manage to give myself a mild electric shock which was a rather strange feeling that coerced through my body. I was plugging in my water purifier after cleaning it and not realizing that the other end of the cord was still in the outlet I was plugging the cord into a wet socket. BZZ! Anyways I am fine. Just another interesting day in the life of Katie.

Friday I watched The Pianist with two teachers. If you haven’t seen it you should. It is the true story of this Polish Jewish pianist during the Nazi invasion of Poland. While watching it I was shocked at how little they knew about the sufferings of the Jews by the Nazis. They continually asked me questions like why are they doing that? Where are they taking them? Katie, what is going to happen to them? I am very glad I watched it with them rather than if they’d watched it alone and never had their questions answered. It wasn’t that they didn’t know anything. They were aware of the concentration camps and that they targeted the Jews, but they didn’t grasp the details. I was thinking again about this and how I definitely need to do something for Holocaust Memorial Day and then I asked myself how many Americans know Chinese history or understand the sufferings they endured at the hands of the Japanese? How much knowledge do Americans have of the sufferings endured in all other nonwestern countries? I was thinking how little do these Chinese teachers know of the Holocaust when I should be thinking how little we all know. My education rarely touched on African, Middle Eastern, and Asian literature, history and culture—why?

And to wrap-up my week I spent a good part of this weekend making my apartment the cleanest it’s ever been. I scrubbed, moved things around, organized, and put my blood sweat and tears into making my apartment look sparkling, minus the blood and tears. The tears almost came, but I kept them under. I added photographs to my website but then I realized that the pictures will not show the hard work I endured, but you’ll just have to take my word on it.

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