Teaching Sports and Gender in the Classroom, Part II (PG-13 rating)

14 Sep

Today was the first day that I actually taught for the Sport in the Modern World class I am TAing this semester.  Although lecture met last week, the discussion sections were delayed to ease students into the semester and to give them something to talk about once we actually got into the section.

We focused on Clifford Geertz’s famous piece, “Notes on a Balinese Cockfight.”  In the article Geertz plays on the sexual innuendo present in the word “cock” in both Balinese and English.  According to Geertz, cocks “are viewed as detachable, self-operating penises, ambulant genitals with a life of their own” (417).  In Balinese, the work for cock can also mean warrior or soldier, a political candidate, or bachelor.  The multiplicity of the meanings of the word cock led to an interesting discussion in which people shouted “Why you would bet on your uncle’s cock if his cock sucks?”  and “I don’t understand why they cared so much about their cocks!”

What was most interesting about the discussion, however, was the dynamics of the discussion between me and the students.  The male students, for the most part, were mature about the discussion and were able to discuss the sexual connotations of the word with humor but also with maturity.  I, on the other hand, found myself blushing every time I said the word cock nor did I find it easy to say the word “penis.”  For some reason, it still feels like a dirty word.  I also have a hard time saying the word “vagina.”  I still want to call them “private parts.”

I’m not sure where this reticence comes from.  I study gender.  I study sex.  I read about castration, berdaches, and menstruation.  I don’t blush when I read about these things, but for some reason, when I get up in front of a class full of students, I can’t bring myself to say “vagina,” “penis,” or the word “cock” without giggling.  Someone suggested it might because of my conservative background and general uncomfortableness with human sexuality.   It may also just be a general insecurity about my own sexuality, or perhaps I’m just immature.

The question remains, though, why can’t I just say the word “cock?”

*All references to Geertz come from Clifford Geertz, “Notes on a Balinese Cockfight,” The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973)

4 Responses to “Teaching Sports and Gender in the Classroom, Part II (PG-13 rating)”

  1. ep September 15, 2010 at 12:17 am #

    Oh, Amanda. I read the Vagina Monologues secretly in a bookstore over Christmas a couple of years ago, and I’m what, in my twenties? That is to say, I am possibly equally, if not more, sexually repressed than you are. I find it slightly easier to talk about sex in private with people who aren’t mostly strangers. So, just being in a classroom teaching might have something to do with it. And in my Renaissance English class, when we were talking about pejoration and amelioration of certain words–verge, for instance–I couldn’t help but squirm.

    • amanda5245 September 15, 2010 at 2:34 pm #

      I do wonder, though, if it’s a gendered response. Are men more comfortable than women when it comes to talking about genitalia and sexuality? If so, what does it mean that men are more comfortable when it comes to sex than women are? I know a few girls who cried or felt dirty when they lost virginity. Do men feel the same way?

      I also think that it’s interesting that we both identify as feminists, but don’t feel comfortable talking about sex (aloud, for some reason, writing about it seems much less awful). Why are some women able to identify patriarchy and the construction of gender, but aren’t able to jettison their uncomfortableness with their own bodies?

      • ep September 16, 2010 at 1:34 am #

        Hmm. You’re definitely getting at something. Women have a much more fraught relationship with their bodies than men do. It can certainly be attributed to the culture wars over women’s bodies, but I think it might just be part of being female…. I can trace my hatred of my body (much mitigated these days) to being thirteen and looking in the mirror. And I am the daughter of a mother who would not let her children watch Disney’s Pocahontas because her portrayal was too sexy and not historically correct…. But perhaps I did just pick it up from watching TV or something.

  2. Angie September 18, 2010 at 1:42 pm #

    I think comfort with certain terms comes from our upbringing – what words were used in our families? My parents raised us to say “penis,” and I’m completely comfortable saying the word. My husband’s parents said “pee-pee tail.” Yeah, you read that right. Anyway, he definitely has some ideas that have been hard-wired into him. Anything about sex feels vaguely base to him.

    But even though I’m very comfortable with the topic of sex, I’m still very private about it. Maybe it was the forum or the specifics of the discussion that made you uncomfortable? I feel a certain reverence for sex, and I don’t like being crass or public about it.

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