This post contains talk of unwanted sexualized touching as well as jokes and victim blaming regarding said touching.
If I’d retained any chance of not hating gym up until this point in my ninth grade year, this unit squashed that hope like a crunchy, sticky bug.
First, it required our previously gender-segregated PE classes to become co-ed — and co-ed in ways that required touching. Additionally, it was sprung on us without warning, sort of like this:
[Clip from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, uploaded by adithyasampath100 via YouTube.]
With the notable exception that Mrs. D was nowhere near as awesome as Professor McGonagall.
Furthermore, instead of letting us pick our own partners, Mrs. D — along with the boys PE teacher, whose name I do not remember, possibly on account of I never had him for any class ever — assigned the boy-girl pairs for the unit.
“Tori, you’ll be with C.”
To this day, I view that pairing as punishment for something I’d done in a past life. Because I believe the technical term for C’s school persona was “entitled as fuck,” with an unhealthy side of “it was only a joke” deflection. Some choice vignettes from my memory:
Square Dance Caller (one of the teachers or a recording): Bow to your partner.
(I turn to C, either curtsying as I’m supposed to or — forgetting that “bow” doesn’t mean “bow” for me, on account of I am a girl — bowing.
C raises his chin, leans over toward me, and peers at the gap in the neckline of my gym shirt, either actually trying to see cleavage or pretending he is trying to see cleavage. I do not know which, nor do I care.)
Me (pulling shirt collar back): Watch it!
C: It’s okay. There’s nothing to see there anyway.
Because clearly, whether looking down my shirt is inappropriate or not is dependent on whether there are actually any boobs to see.
Square Dance Caller: Promenade left.
(I hold out my hands for C to take them. C reaches instead for my ass.)
Me: What are you doing?
C: Sorry. I thought this was the one where I hold your waist.
Me: There is no one where you hold my waist. There is definitely no one where you grab my butt.
C: I guess I still have a lot to master in the fine sport of square dancing.
Like how not to be a giant jackass? I mean, I realize that’s not spelled out in any kind of “how to square dance” instructions, but I think that if a student if a student deliberately did steps incorrectly in order to harass another student, it would not be unfair to deduct points from his grade. On a purely technical level, he has not demonstrated mastery of the skills.
Also, and I see this fully only now as a teacher myself, he was creating a situation where gym class was not safe for me. Like, even though I didn’t think he was likely to become more aggressive than he was being, he was still treating my body as though it existed for his pleasure. Defending myself against even just the humiliation was stressful, was tiring, was more than I should have had to do as a student.
About a week into the unit, I found Mrs. D in her office after class.
“I don’t want to be partners with C anymore,” I told her.
She raised an eyebrow. “We don’t always get what we want.”
I flushed. “No. I mean — He puts his hands in places –“
She cut me off. “It’s your responsibility to show him where his hands should go. Do you understand me?”
I understood perfectly: I would get no help from her.