Dan and I went to a childbirth class last week and one experience that wasn't related to birth stood out to me. At the beginning of the class, each couple was asked to introduce themselves and give some information. All of the couples were heterosexual and all of the men were attending with their partners, as requested (and as they really should). I noticed later that the men were completely silent during the introductions as the women gave their names, due date, basic information about the child(ren) they were expecting, and what they hoped to gain from the class.
A bit later, the instructor, a very experienced labor and delivery nurse who has six children and has personally experienced quite a variety of births, was going over some basic information. After some introduction, she asked us for what we knew about signs of labor and that started the exact opposite of the introductions as most of the women stayed quiet and most of the men answered questions. In all honesty, that was what we did as well (though it is rarely a surprise when Dan won't stop talking and I won't start, and that particular dynamic has nothing to do with gender). Then she moved on to preterm birth, how to know if you are in preterm birth, and how to stop it and again asked for what the class knew. This time however, she asked to hear more from the women. The response was silence, at least for a bit. Most of the women were looking at their partners as if checking to make sure it was okay or paying very close attention to the reading material all of a sudden.
Now, everyone in this class struck me as mentally and psychologically healthy with healthy relationships, I obviously do not know for sure, but it did not seem like we had any abusive relationships or relationships where the control was shifted to one member. Everyone seemed to have mutually respectful and equal relationships. Still, no one spoke when the men were asked to let the women speak. At first.
One woman answered bashfully. A second spoke up with a little more courage. The third and fourth women had no trouble answering. As it became clear that it was okay for these women to speak up about their own knowledge and no one would insult them, belittle them, or speak over them for no reason all hesitation disappeared. The third question built on what had occurred with the second. By the fourth question everyone, regardless of gender, answered as they thought of an answer and only held back when someone else was talking. Animated conversation ensued, information was shared, corrections were offered as needed, and everyone learned something.
In a birth class. If there is anywhere you would expect women to feel comfortable talking and most men not so comfortable, it's a birth class!
- Interesting place to find an example of girls being taught to stay quiet