Friday, October 19, 2012

Please, Sir

It happens with increased frequency. In fact, I like to tell myself that I must have been knighted. That's the only explanation for being called "sir" so many times these days. I know it's a sign of respect. It's also a sign of age or experience or even good home training. I'm not complaining, just taking note. Occasionally I'll get called "young man." A bit condescending since I'm retired. Guess it depends on the age of the person doing the calling. Sir comes with age. It's a constant reminder, but not the only one.
There is a real phenomena called the male gaze. Men look at women. Sometimes appropriately, sometimes not. With age, it can be a real troublemaker whether you care or not. I like to look at people; all people. I also have a long history of talking to young people. In 33 years in the classroom, and another 6 years supervising student teachers, I talk to lots of young people. It's natural for me. It's what I have always done and they reciprocate without question. But lately I've noticed that I can't do that out of context any more. I am no longer the friendly teacher, the comforting, nurturing role model, the mentor to just anyone. I've noticed how my gaze or interest can bring quick judgments or an uncomfortable reaction. In most ways, that's probably a good thing. But in some ways, just a few, it's disappointing, if not saddening. But, I get it. The male gaze makes a fascinating discussion. It's been a lively topic at my writing group on more than one occasion. Yes, men need to be aware and take responsibility for their behavior. They need to be aware of the difference between a gaze and a leer. They need to look at all people, not just women in the eyes, and they need to be especially aware when interacting with young people. But sometimes it's complicated. Sometimes it's much easier to talk to people of all ages and let them sort it out. Aging is subtle, even in this culture. Some of my former students look much the same as they always did 20 or even 30 years later. Some are unrecognizable for various reasons ranging from experience to gender identity, to health issues. A few look older than I really they do. I've noticed that many of my friends who are my age or close to it seem to relate the impact of technology quite differently. Most (especially the educators) adapt and learn from students and peers and make remarkable progress. Others simply retreat into the past for anything that is either comfortable or uncomplicated. They seem to have made decisions about books not E-readers, writing checks as opposed to online bill paying, and having telephones that simply make calls and nothing more. Not I. I'm just taking my time. One thing I do know is that when I talk to young people today, kids in the schools I visit, or my friends children, or the younger generations of my family, I always learn something.

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