Monday, October 10, 2016

The Gold-Digger Conundrum

Perhaps my first real cultural conundrum came this Friday, the students with some free time on the computer decided to play several “gold-digger prank” videos. I had never seen these videos before and I was intrigued by them in very much the same manner that one is intrigued by the arguments of trump supporters on Facebook: how can someone live in the same world as me and see it so differently?

To save you from googling this and to save these videos from getting any more views I'll describe the premise of these videos. In these “prank” videos a man goes up to a woman and attempts to get her number. The woman, obviously, does not respond positively to street harassment and rejects him. The man then finds a contrived way to show the woman that he has a lot of money and she, for some reason, then decides to give him her number. (There are many of these videos with minimal variation, it seems odd to me that students who seem to find everything boring could watch so many of these predictable, dull and contrived videos.)

I like to think that most of my readership can see what's bad about these videos without much outside guidance, but to my students, it is perhaps a different matter. Most of my students have very limit experience with large cities. Most have been to Montreal once or twice, but I don't believe that any of them have spent more than 2 weeks there. I think this makes understanding street harassment more difficult for them. Inukjuak has 1600 permanent residence and about 300 temporaries (like me!) – it is not quite so small that everybody knows everybody, but it is small enough that if you don't know somebody it would not be weird to get to know somebody. There is also a distinct shortage of outdoor public space that one uses to be alone. My students do not understand the anonymity of city spaces, so they do not recognise when its being violated. To my students the woman is being quite rude when she refuses to speak with the man.

The other difficulty when dealing with situations such as these is the complexity of gender relations here. Inuit culture is distinctly gendered. There are “Culture Classes” that are a large part of the curriculum at all levels, which are separated into two genders. The IPL classes are separated into two all boys classes and one all girls class. This is not meant as a criticism of this practice. Their culture is their right and has been proven to be an essential aspect of their education for other aspects to flourish—and their culture, like many cultures, create different roles for men and women (this is further complicated by the fact that boys learn to use power tools in their culture class, which is obviously not part of their traditional cultural roles, but an import from the cultural rolls of the south). Nor is this meant as a judgement on how sexist their society is—in many ways they respect women's work more here than they do in the south. I am simply outlining differences in gender roles that make this more complicated.

While the circumstances of the videos are not likely to be recreated in the lives of these boys, what these videos imply about the character of women can have very detrimental effects. The misogyny represented in the context of the culture south can manifest itself differently in the culture of the north.

How do I explain the immorality of an act without coming off as judgemental? How do I teach critical thought when they have so little context to understand the situation? How do I start a discussion with a group that's so reluctant to engage intellectually and so tied to the opinions of the group?

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