Bondowoso / Daily Life / Peace Corps / People

Educating Boys and Empowering Women

In light of some other incidents that have happened this week with PCV female friends*, I took the following pretty hard.

Today was the last day of teaching in one of my favorite classes. This class is full of boys in 11th grade—43 of them to be exact—and it has often crossed my mind, especially when the boys get really wound up, that they could easily commandeer the class. This was one of those classes.

My counterpart had a meeting, so I was left alone to teach this last class. I wasn’t being very authoritative because the material had been covered, and they are moving on to 12th grade. Rather than enforcing silence and listening, I was filled with nostalgia, and I contemplated the mannerisms of some of these kids and how I’d miss them. This was the first class I’ve ever taught for an entire year in any place. I’ve grown a lot of affection for some of these boys, and a few are my best students.

Near the class’s ending, the boys wanted to take pictures. I wanted to take pictures too. In a country filled with cellphone cameras, the burning Indonesian desire to capture a moment like this with a low-quality photo was my own for the first time.

I started taking pictures of just the boys, crowding on top of each other at the front of the class. After several of those, they asked me to be a part of the photo. After a few shots, some of the boys took advantage of the disarray and crowdedness and I felt hands on my backside. I turned as quickly as I could and told the students immediately close to me that that was completely unacceptable. I took back my cellphone and walked out. Time was over anyways.

In the office I tried to maintain my anger. I can’t believe those kids! I’ve taught them for a whole year! I’m all the way here just to teach them and this is how they behave? I struggled to keep back tears. Then I start to blame myself. I shouldn’t of have taken pictures with them. I shouldn’t let people surround me like that. I shouldn’t be so casual with them. I should have been more careful. And then I start making excuses for them. That’s how it goes. Boys will be boys. They are just trying to impress their friends. It’s not that big of a deal.

But it’s not my fault, it’s theirs. And it is a big deal. Not because I’m a foreigner or because I’m a PCV. It’s not a big deal because this is Indonesia. This type of thing happens everywhere. It’s a big deal because I am a person and no one has the right to touch me inappropriately in any situation, in any place, whether it be a bar, bus terminal, street or classroom. Because women all over the world are conditioned to absorb situations like these, we do blame ourselves and then excuse the behavior of those that sexually harass us. This has to stop.

So even though it goes against my own conditioned desire to just stay quiet and take it, it’s a sad, but rare opportunity to have the offenders be students. I can actually try to teach them that this is wrong, just as I try to teach them verb tenses. So with this as my sole encouragement, I approached my vice principle and now, write this post.

I tried restraining tears as I shared the incident with my female vice principle and failed miserably. Horrified, she promised she would talk to my counterpart who’s the head of that class and make sure those boys were lectured. She said she’d try her best to find who did it and have him apologize. While I care little for the apology, I do hope at least some of these kids understand that sexual harassment is wrong. Women are not objects nor are they to be used for amusement or entertainment. This seems so obvious, but based on the incidents I hear and read about on a daily basis—and even experience from time to time— it’s clear that we still have a long way to go in educating boys to respect women, just as we have a long way to go in empowering women to stop absorbing and quietly tolerating these incidents; I cannot waste the opportunity to try.

*Thanks, Emily, for writing about your incidents. You’ve empowered me to speak out and not silently take my own.

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