Sunday, August 12, 2007

Women, men, and the teaching of horrible classes

I had an epiphany the other day. Sometimes I teach about horrible, horrible stuff, such as WWII details, or where the nuclear arms race has led us, or babies suffering from pneumopericardium. One thing that's always amazed me is that, while talking about something like the second world war, women and men respond differently. Men tend to be much more interested and to think--or at least to react as if they thought-- that "now this class is going somewhere. This is something real, something important". Women, on the other hand, look at WWII's details and respond, sometimes verbally, that "That is so horrible! Can we move on to the next topic or to another example, please?"

Here comes my epiphany: the exact same behavior is switched if the horrible topic is a baby turning blue in a neonatal intensive care unit. The baby turns blue and is about to die within minutes. It is a real story with documented evidence, so it's not a popcorn & movie talk. But now the women are paying attention with wide eyes and asking questions while the men are clearly either not paying attention at all or missing the point entirely.

Or going:

"That's just horrible, horrible stuff! Don't you have anything better to say? Move on, dude."