This week in the intermediate-level language class I am taking, each student has done an oral presentation on a topic of our choice. These presentations are not supposed to be practiced talks, and we certainly can't read from notes. We are supposed to stand in front of the class and start talking -- e.g., about a book, movie, recipe, trip, friend, relative, pet etc. -- and then the presentations evolve as we are asked questions by the others in the class and by the instructor.
I decided to talk about some of my research experiences relevant to the countries where this language is spoken. In these places, being female has definitely affected my experiences, but that point wasn't central to the story I wanted to tell today. It was important for understanding the context of my experience, but mostly I just wanted to tell a story that I thought was funny.
The others in the class kept interrupting me with questions like "Why did Person X say that to you?" or "Why did you have to do that?" and in each case the simple answer was because I am female. The students asked me why that mattered. So, for a while the discussion was about gender roles and sexism, something that had not been a topic of direct discussion yet in this class. This is the second year of a class that meets 5 days/week, so we all know each other fairly well by now and have talked about a lot of things, but not this particular topic (and hence my knowledge of the relevant vocabulary was limited). The instructor had not had exactly the same experiences, but she had come to the U.S. so she could teach at a university, so some of it resonated with her as well.
Eventually I got back to telling my funny story, and by the end, everyone was laughing. Perhaps this says something about my priorities (at least for today), but I was more pleased that I was able to make people laugh in another language than that I had educated my fellow students about the international nature of sexism, though perhaps it is possible to accomplish both.
8 years ago