Third wave feminists have been behaving so poorly that I'm unable to call myself a feminist, but I do hold fairly egalitarian views. My classrooms this summer are composed almost entirely of men. In particular, the majority are Latino men, a demographic known for machismo. You might expect that this would make for some friction in the classroom, as macho men and feministy-types are generally not the best of buds.
Yet, I feel quite tickled to be a princess every time my students fall over themselves in the mad scramble to cross the room and take the 5-gallon water bottle for the cooler from me. When they see me pick one up by myself, despite the fact that I have no trouble doing so, the expressions of panic on their faces are very near priceless. It's like they've been caught with their pants down and they rush to make up for being remiss in their manly duties.
Recently, the window air conditioning in my rinky-dink classroom died suddenly in the middle of class. When pressing the power button didn't restart it, I took a few steps toward the breaker box. As my students realized my destination, they all inhaled sharply with surprise and held it in anticipation. I threw the appropriate switches to the sound of astonished gasps. Then, I returned to the A/C, pressed the power button and it fired back to life. It should have made headlines: Young Female Teacher Knows How to Flick Switches on a Breaker Box; Turns On Air Conditioning Unit.
I am always amused around new mothers. They report the accomplishments of their babies with such enthusiasm. "Last night," they say, their eyes alight with pride, "Ava rolled herself over." Or, "Did you see that? Liam just picked up his own head!" By the time you are in your mid-twenties, you have to work much harder and do much more impressive things in order to garner that kind of approval and praise. Nobody ever shows me off like that anymore, no matter how long I sit up by myself without falling over.
But, in my classes, I am a bit like one of those babies. I am congratulated and adored for doing barely more than just existing. It is a wonderful boost to the ego, one that I highly recommend. Now, if the reaction to me doing stereotypical "man" things were grunts of arrogant disapproval, that would not be such a feel-good experience. However, my class generally appears to be genuinely impressed and astounded that a woman would do these kinds of things.
A number of my students know that I drive a manual transmission. I would hardly be surprised if they bragged about that fact to their buddies on nights out (although they would undoubtedly leave out the vehicle being an unsexy second-hand Honda Accord):
Student 1: My teacher is better than your teacher!
Student 2: Oh yeah? I bet my teacher is better than your teacher!
Student 1: My teacher can.... teach English!
Student 2: My teacher can.... teach English.... WHILE SHE DRIVES A MANUAL TRANSMISSION!
Student 1: Your teacher is clearly superior.
Now, if their point of origin was a more egalitarian society, like Canada, they wouldn't find these things particularly impressive or even noteworthy. Probably, they wouldn't bring me treats or censor their language around me, either. So, while I may personally like the idea of less rigid gender roles, I have to admit that I'm reaping the benefits of both systems right now: being treated like a princess while being adored for acting like a man. I guess I just never learned to be offended while I'm basking in the glow of my own awesomeness.
Let it be known that neither chivalry nor believing gender stereotypes are quite the same thing as sexism, latent or otherwise.
"What, Sir, would the people of the earth be without woman? They would be scarce, Sir, mighty scarce." Mark Twain