Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Lucille Clifton's "wishes for sons" & the trouble male students have saying "gynecologists"

For the last three or four years, when my students and I get to Lucille Clifton's poem "wishes for sons," I select one of the young men in the class to read. It's a strategic selection designed to prompt a now recurring sequence of events that often leads to some useful considerations.

Early on, the reading by the selected guy appears to go well. He breezes through the first stanzas and arrives at the last. "..let them think they have accepted /arrogance in the universe," he reads approaching that defining line: "then bring them to....." He pauses and repeats. "then bring them to...gyn...gy-ne..." He pauses again.

At this point, 3 or 4, and sometimes more of the young women in the class chime in, almost always in unison, to help the reader out: "gynecologists!!"

"Hunh? Say that again," goes the guy.

"Gynecologists!" some of the women say again. 

"Oh," says the guy. "then bring them to...gy-ne-cologists," he says.

Some of the women laugh. Others are amused and shake their heads.

There have been some important moments of realization as the students discover that many women in the class are familiar with the pronunciation and definition of the word "gynecologists" while at least some of the men are not. The apparent gendered disparity between those who know and those doesn't know the term serves as a notable entry into understanding the overall implications of Clifton's "wishes" for all the sons in the room.

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