In a less successful adventure in the aforementioned week of teaching, the class developed and drew superhero characters. Then, we met with a mini-course on feminist topics so they could show us their ‘zines and we could show them our characters.
One person in my class, to whom I will refer as Student D, drew… well, what do you think a 13-year-old dude would want to draw? Putting it delicately, he wanted to draw a lady. He even asked our guest speaker, Von Allan, how to draw ladies. It was all quite hilarembarassing (new portmanteau just for the occasion).
On the day before the presentations, Student D and I had a conversation about why his character should be wearing clothes more than not. At first, I asked for the rationale behind her near-nudity, but since I didn’t get “she got her powers from a house fire that destroyed all of her clothes” or “her power is fire, which burns off all her clothes” or even “her power is invisibility, so she can’t wear clothes” or, really, anything, I eventually resorted to the pedagogical tactic of “what would your mother say?” I said he had to be able to take the character home to his mom, so she should be at least that appropriately dressed.
In keeping with this stringent guideline, he planned to draw his lady character wearing some unravelling mummy bandages, since she turned out to be an Egyptian princess from 10,000 years ago who has been revived. He tastefully – well… strategically is a better word — wrapped the character in mummy bandages to cover her various lady parts. All the other characters were revived mummies, too, and it was looking pretty acceptable, and even borderline tasteful (for a bunch of half-dressed characters). His drawing skills were not the issue – the problem I often have in my class is that students want to hone their already stellar drawing skills, whereas I’m more of a “trick people into learning history and critical thinking through comic books” kind of person. I was just mildly concerned about anyone using my class as an excuse to draw naked people without a back story.
Good enough so far. That evening, Student D took that home to work on it. He forgot to bring it back the next morning for our presentations, so while I wasn’t looking in the short time before we met the other class, he sketched a lady character on a table wearing a skimpy top. When we met with the mini-course on FEMINIST TOPICS (in case you forgot) to present our characters, he went first. His presentation consisted of “I drew her cuz she’s hot.” I asked him to explain her a bit further. So he added, “Oh, also, she’s bisexual.” Eventually he elaborated on her backstory and superpowers, but the other class had already groaned at him quite a few times (and rightfully so!) for drawing a scantily-clad woman without any readily apparent justification. Considering that their class focused quite a bit on representations of femininity in the media, I was pleasantly surprised that they didn’t throw anything at him.
What happened next was even more hilarembarassing. Student C presented her character, Rocket Man, and the other class said he looked sexy. Then Student D said, “Oh, I see how it is,” which nearly set off a renewed confrontation with the other class. Their teacher was Not Amused by his attitude and we went our separate ways.
However, all was not lost. Back in the classroom, I had already prepared a unit on stereotypes and a worksheet about gender stereotypes. We talked about the male-dominated comic book industry, compared a cover of a Superman comic book and the cover of a comic book about Michelle Obama, talked about active and passive and PARTIALLY NAKED roles in the media, and generally had a fruitful debate about heroes, villains, prejudices, gender roles, sexual orientation, ethnicity, misperceptions, what had happened during our exchange with the other class, and what it would have been like if one of the ladies in the class had drawn a lady (or dude) character with no clothes, or what it would be like if a dude had drawn a dude character with no clothes. We agreed that, generally, a shortage of clothing is Not Acceptable or Appropriate unless it has some type of justification or reason.
Lesson learned for me: I need to move the stereotype unit to a point earlier in the session so I quit inspiring characters like Naked Lady 2011.
I hope this blog post is less of a bemoan-y type of gripe and more of a thought-provoking commentary on a pedagogical moment that went wrong, then very wrong, then was quasi-redeemed at the end, too late to save face in front of another class, but hopefully in time to tip you off to potential pitfalls in your own class(es) or help you intentionally cultivate your own teachable moments with Students.