Feminism | Posted by Zad B on 11/9/2009

The Gym Teacher

The Gym Teacher

The Gym Teacher

So I was calmly sitting in class gazing at my watch when the cleaner cleared his throat and announced the arrival of our new P.E. teacher. I payed him an uninterested look. He seemed quite nice, with a thick mustache and lots of wrinkles all around his eyes. I went back to gazing at my watch. I was hungry…

“Good morning, guys!” He said with a deep, phonily cheerful voice: “I’d like to get to know you all better! I will call your names and you will tell me something about yourselves!” Great, I thought sarcastically, while starting to make up some idiocy I could say, that would avoid him getting started on the usual stupid questions teachers ask foreign students: “And was it hard moving to a new country? How did you feel?”

Come my turn, however, he looked at my name and said: “Oh, how many sisters and brothers do you have?” His voice was incredibly patronizing; poor little thing kind of voice. For a moment I didn’t understand. I mean, what have my sisters and brothers have to do with…with whatever he wanted to know? But I quickly realized what he was saying.

“One” I answered between my teeth. He seemed surprised. Obviously, he didn’t think my parents knew how to use contraception. He looked like he would have like to give me a brochure on birth control judging by the way he looked at me. Or maybe he thought I’d soon be married off by my cruel, cruel parents to some abusive middle-aged man. I wanted to give him a nice punch in the face.

Next he threw on a speech to all the boys about how girls are the most wonderful things (and I put emphasis on things) we have (because they, meaning boys, have girls, right?)…and how they should be respected and taken care of because they are so delicate. Oh, and a boy should never play against a girl, because ha! Imagine those idiot boys bragging because they’ve beaten a little girl! Of course he wouldn’t want to hurt a girl’s self-esteem so.

By now I was imagining wonderful sanguinary scenes about how I’d beat him in a football match, then cut his head and throw it brilliantly in the basket. He really made we want to go and learn how to play baseball (despite my personal incompetence in all sports due to my complete lack of coordination) just so I could show him.

He then asked what football teams the boys supported (obviously girls don’t support teams). I was outraged, not quite knowing how to point out his obvious misogyny without getting in trouble. But before I could say something, he got on again about how he’d separate boys and girls to avoid one keeping the other behind. The girls’ gym will have a surround system and steps (I hate dancing!), while the boys’ a climbing wall and football equipment. I couldn’t believe it! All my life I’d wished for a gym with a climbing-wall, and now I wasn’t going to get it because I was a girl?!

Now I could really have strangled him. But talking ‘impertinently’ to teachers is considered a major infraction at our school, so I tried to keep calm. At least until I talked to my friends about it. Surely together we’d make a greater force. However, when I told them about it later, they were all surprised. They hadn’t seen anything wrong or offensive in the teacher’s behavior. Actually, most agreed he was really nice.

Doesn’t this make you think there’s something intensely wrong with how things are going?
I feel I should really do something, but I don’t quite know what.

Any suggestions?

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  • Zuzu @ at 11:34 am, November 9th, 2009

    You should try talking to your principle or whatever staff member might actually get something done (although at my school there isn’t really someone like that…). Even if they won’t care about his stupid little comments, the climbing wall thing is pretty blatant sexism and I’m sure they’d let you use it if you ask…hopefully.

  • Zoe @ at 12:08 pm, November 9th, 2009

    Ugh. Such blatant sexism.
    I’d be pissed too.

  • Lindsie @ at 12:11 pm, November 9th, 2009

    I can barely believe this true because it is SO wrong! I don’t know how seriously your administrators take this kind of thing or if they would listen to a student when it comes to (legit) complaints like this. I would suggest checking your student handbook- there should be a code of student rights and responsibilities (which often include teacher expectations too.)

    Also, see if there is an ethics code or contract teachers signed committing them to an equal opportunity classroom. If you file a complaint, they are likely going to want plenty of evidence about the sexism before they take it seriously. Are there any other teachers who would support your claims?

    And although your friends seem to have no problem with him, they would likely back you up if you insisted it was unfair to keep girls from using a climbing wall. You shouldn’t be deprived use of school property based on sex.

    Also, who is funding those gyms and would they approve such separation of sexes? I think to get anything done with this, you are going to have to dig a little. I wish you the best of luck, hope you keep this bog updated about it!

  • Helen H. @ at 12:13 pm, November 9th, 2009

    Sexist gym teachers. Oh, joy.

    And I’m being terribly nosy, but where are you from, if I may ask?

  • Clio @ at 12:33 pm, November 9th, 2009

    I think that the best thing is to make an appointment to meet with the gym teacher as soon as possible – before meeting with other teachers, counselors, administrators, or parents. When you meet with him, don’t use the words “sexist” or “stereotypes” because he will see it as confrontational. Don’t say that boys and girls doing sports together is good for everyone because he won’t feel you are qualified to make that decision. I would focus on two issues – Will girls have equal opportunity to use the climbing wall, if they want to, and Will girls who hate dance (and I second that emotion) have the opportunity to play actual sports instead. If he says no to either or these, ask for reasons, politely, and once he gives them do not argue against them. Just say ok I understand and go. Legally he doesn’t have a leg to stand on, but that is the difference between de facto and de jure segregation. You can take what you learn from your conversation with him and plan where to go from there.

  • JC @ at 1:16 pm, November 9th, 2009

    Here’s some suggestions…

    Punch him in the fucking nuts.

    Spit in his face, knee him, flip him off and leave.

    I’m sick of trying to reasonably leverage with imbeciles. Who cares?

    He’s nice? That’s not enough.

  • Maria D @ at 1:35 pm, November 9th, 2009

    I agree with Clio. Be calm and don’t let on what you really think about his teaching. The fastest way to hit a brick wall with teachers is to make them think you don’t like them or what they’re doing. And schools will usually side with the teacher first, especially when it comes to ‘delicate’ issues like sexism or prejudice.

    Jeez, I remember being singled out by race. I was the only Latina in my entire middle school who’d been born in the USA and spoke English as a first language. No one could grasp the fact that I didn’t dance, I only had one sibling, and *gasp* my parents weren’t impoverished. Hell, my mom has a doctorate. PTSA conferences were filled with wide-eyed stares and apologetic stammering for any ‘miscommunications’

  • -Z- @ at 1:51 pm, November 9th, 2009

    I would recommend you calmly discuss this with an administrator at your school.

    The same thing happened to me when I was in highschool gym class. Initially, I would line up with the “Boys” line and refuse to play with the “Girls”. And immediately afterwards, I spoke with an administrator who calmly took aside the gym teacher and handled the situation.

    Treating the girls like delicate objects who couldn’t play with the boys was no longer after that discussion.

    Never be afraid to speak up! Best of luck!

  • ACW @ at 2:03 pm, November 9th, 2009

    Arrghh. (beats head against monitor)
    I’d have to settle for something in between the sucker punch and peaceable conversation sans the word ‘sexism’.
    Regardless of the infractions, the issue needs to be addressed. I firmly believe in treating others with as much respect as they give me. Your gut instinct is to physically harm him, because his comments, mindset, and behavior are as much as a slap in the face. I can’t believe your classmates weren’t offended, too.

  • zadb @ at 2:51 pm, November 9th, 2009

    Helen H., I’m from Lebanon.
    -Z-, wow, good job! Hopefully it will go well for me too.

  • Angela @ at 4:19 pm, November 9th, 2009

    Absolutely talk to your parents first, they can be some of the best support you will ever have in your life. Then bring it up with the school administration. Depending on where you’re from there may be advocacy groups that can get behind you. Fight this , go to your local paper, do everything you can! From the sounds of the lavish gym equipment your school is private? If that’s the case then you and your folks are paying customers and deserve to have your voice heard.

  • SarahC @ at 6:18 pm, November 9th, 2009

    Since you don’t seem to be in a position to demand instant equality, my suggestion is to request that the boys and the girls alternate which facilities they use and exercise programs they follow. Look for studies specific to gym classes that support your point of view, both for gender integration and varied activities. Look at information on what muscles steps actually use. If you can make a reasoned argument as to why segregated gym class doesn’t work, you should at least be able to get him to mix up the activities. As to controversial language, I would not start out my using sexism, misogyny, or feminism in your arguments. Since you’re not in a position to change his way of thinking about women, just focus on why the gym class isn’t helping as much as it could. Also, look at what the boys are doing. There’s probably some evidence that this routine won’t give them the right balanced workout, either.

  • Martha @ at 7:39 pm, November 9th, 2009

    I recommend contacting the Women’s Sports Foundation – http://www.womenssportsfoundation.org to see if they have any advice. They have done a lot of work around Title IX, a federal law that forbids sex discrimination in school athletic programs. They also have a program called GoGirlGo that focuses specifically on research and grants to expand sports activities for girls. See http://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/GoGirlGo.aspx

  • Rachel @ at 9:20 pm, November 9th, 2009

    Contacting a higher authority would be the most efficient route.

    Honestly I would have fired up at him right then and there. Typically my elaborate vocabulary and overall erudite presentation (I was about to put ‘smart-sounding-ness’, but I thought I’d impress ;]) makes others concede to my will just to get me to shut up. However, with that absurd attitude, I don’t know what effect it would have. But a seed planted in infertile soil has more potential that its absence.

  • Tea @ at 9:37 pm, November 9th, 2009

    reminds me of the teacher at my school who won’t give a grade higher than an A- unless you wear shortshorts

  • rebareis @ at 11:23 pm, November 9th, 2009

    Ugh people like that make me want to throw up. Luckily I go to an all girls school and my gym teacher is a woman (a lesbian too, so she and I could talk feminist). Anyway, this is clearly going to run into Title IX and I think as long as you talk to an administrator about it you can get it fixed… Not because schools really care these days but they don’t want to mess with the legal crap.

  • O'Phylia @ at 12:31 am, November 10th, 2009

    *tries to hold anger in*
    Is talking to him completely out? If not, try to be respectful while letting him know that you aren’t happy with him. It’s possible, I promise.
    Otherwise, do what others have said earlier. Talk to his superiors and if that doesn’t work, make a petition for something you want changed. For instance, having that climbing wall for everyone.

  • sammy @ at 12:32 am, November 10th, 2009

    Send your administration the link to this post


  • k @ at 1:42 am, November 12th, 2009

    oh man, that’s awful. :( sorry to hear that! try + take action if you can.


  • KS @ at 9:39 pm, November 12th, 2009


  • kathy @ at 8:59 pm, April 1st, 2010

    oh my gosh, i have an asshole teacher too, only not as extreme.
    when me and my friend joke around before he calls attendance, he looks at us like “really? these silly idiotic teenage girls, talking about boys again” or something. granted, when me and my friend are talking, we usually have stupid conversations about boys, mainly because we just had a sugary lunch (oh, the wonderful public school system) and we’re tired and stressed.
    but theres this one time in gym class that i cant stop thinking about-
    the class was playing floor hockey, and me and my friend wanted to be on the purple team, because the purple team goalie was really good. when we got purple sticks, my friend was like “yes!!!” and we high fived (its our cheesy thing we do)the gymj teacher gave us a bored look and said “oh, so you girls are happy because the purple sticks match w/ your outfits,right?”
    i could not believe it.
    the first thing to do that came to mind was to roll my eyes and say sarcastically “yeah. cuz girls are just superficial.”
    i wish i had verbally bitten his head off now, but then i was too tired and shocked to think of any arguments.
    i agree with you, your gym teacher was being an asshole, and you deserve to be on that climbing wall as much as any boy there, argh, im pissed at him now, and i dont even know him!!

  • A @ at 11:25 pm, September 18th, 2010

    @ Tea — that’s awful! More information please?

  • Maddi @ at 10:57 pm, November 4th, 2010

    This reminds me of elementary school. Fat, older gym teacher insisted that
    a) girls that scored points in floor hockey got more points, because who would actually let a girl score?
    b) homeruns in kickball:
    for guys, the backboard of a basketball hoop.
    for girls, the entire upper half of the wall.

    I hated gym because of him, but the thought of him is what keeps me in the weightroom afterschool. Gotta prove him wrong.

  • tasmia @ at 1:35 pm, February 13th, 2011

    I really think you should have said something, getting in trouble be damned. Your voice is the most powerful tool to combat sexism. :P
    Definitely talk to a person of authority.

  • Thea @ at 9:09 pm, November 27th, 2011

    Um, discrimination in school athletic program based on gender is ILLEGAL (Title IX). That includes having different resources and programs. He sounds like an sexist, racist, misogynistic asshole. D:<

  • anonymous @ at 5:13 am, February 19th, 2012

    just makes me angry reading this. i wouldn’t be able to hold my tongue! i would make sure he got fired! but staying calm and conrtolling your anger is way better! at least now you could prepare is smart strategy to call him on it and do something productive about it. like going to the boys’ gym and insisting on using the climbing wall! don’t be afraid of getting into trouble, you are your own authority.

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