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I don't know whether I was right to have been offended by this….

(276 Posts)
DaisyHayes Mon 20-Jun-11 10:38:10

I am a teacher, and part of my role in school is to train and mentor new teachers and student teachers.

Last year, when we got the intake of student teachers, I greeted them and delivered my welcome presentation and induction as usual.

One of the students, when I introduced myself to him, refused to shake my hand when I introduced myself to him. He did not offer any explanation for this. I continued to offer my hand expectantly, and after an awkward pause, he told me that he does not shake hands with women on religious grounds.

I found this unbelievably fucking offensive.

Aside from anything else, the man was a student teacher on his first day in the school. I was (effectively) his manager who had the power to pass or fail him - I am fairly experienced and have been in my current school for eight years, so have some responsibility and superiority. He was at least ten years younger than me.

Firstly, I think that if someone in a professional environment is proffering their hand to you upon being introduced then professionalism and simple manners would take precedence over whatever religious conventions you adhere to.

Secondly, if you are going to be so rude as to not shake my female hand, then you should at the very least explain why you are not doing so, rather than let me stand there with my hand stuck out while you studiously ignore it.

Part of me worries that I am being incredibly bigoted. I am an atheist, but have never felt the need to demonstrate a Richard Dawkinesque crusade against those who have religious belief and think that it is good manners to respect others' faith.

On the other hand, part of me just thinks why on earth should I be understanding and accommodating about someone who clearly demonstrated that he thinks my possessing ovaries makes me utterly inferior to him and unworthy of simple manners?

I'd be really grateful for your thoughts on this.

Poledra Mon 20-Jun-11 10:42:42

Well, if he really does believe that women are inferior (and it's not clear from your post what his 'religious grounds' are) I sure as fuck do not want him teaching my daughters!

firemansamantha Mon 20-Jun-11 10:44:30

How on Earth is he going to deal with parents of pupils who need to come in and see him shock shock for whatever reason?

He'll shake the Father's hand and not the Mother's?

dittany Mon 20-Jun-11 10:45:00

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

mrsravelstein Mon 20-Jun-11 10:46:00

agree with Poledra that if he had religious views so strong he couldn't touch a woman's hand, he ought not to be teaching girls.

thaigreencurry Mon 20-Jun-11 10:48:30

I would be offended and angry. I agree with Dittany.

I used to work in a Hospital and recruit doctors. I must have shaken lots of Muslim Men's hands.

GrimmaTheNome Mon 20-Jun-11 10:48:49

Yes, its offensive that religions perpetuate treating women differently from men. This would have sat just as wrongly with me when I was a christian as it does now.

It may not have been that he believes you are inferior per se; it may be that he can't tell whether a woman is menstruating or not and therefore 'unclean' and so won't touch any of them. Or something like that.... anyway, nothing that belongs in the 21st century.

Respect needs to be earned. I can respect sincerely held beliefs about the nature of reality. I don't see any need to respect outmoded cultural practices.

sunshineandbooks Mon 20-Jun-11 10:49:14

I'm a bit like you. I'm an atheist but I try to be tolerant of other people's beliefs unless they infringe on equality. I am trying to give him the benefit of the doubt - and maybe someone from a religion where this is the norm can come on here and present that argument - but I am struggling TBH. Just seems bloody rude to me!

Teachers have a very important responsibility towards equality. If his religion is already affecting how he relates to staff and his superiors, then I would be questioning whether he is capable of being a teacher while following his religious culture.

greencolorpack Mon 20-Jun-11 10:49:51

It may not be about women being non-persons, second class citizens, all of the go-to paranoia on the thread so far. It might be about holiness. Perhaps in his religion it is not right to touch women unless you are married to them. Just a thought.

Been through CBT about my inability to touch people, I am offended that people are offended that some people don't feel comfortable about touching others in a handshake. Perhaps this man was sexually abused as a child, he might be very damaged. He might have said something about his religion to cover up that issue. There's any amount of reasons. It's only a handshake.

mrsravelstein Mon 20-Jun-11 10:52:01

greencolour, i understand your point, but surely as a teacher you're going to be in fairly close physical contact with a room full of kids, so it's probably not the right profession to choose if you have that issue?

GrimmaTheNome Mon 20-Jun-11 10:53:00

Oh, and yes, if someone is going to refuse to shake hands they should have the grace to explain immediately rather than leaving you with your hand stuck out. Or communicated by his body language - if he'd approached you with his hands behind his back and done something like incline his head, it'd probably been clear he was uncomfortable shaking hands.

Poledra Mon 20-Jun-11 10:54:47

Actually, Grimma, you're right- it doesn't matter what his religious views are. I cannot think of a single thing that justifies this behaviour. When my daughters reach puberty, I will not be teaching them that they are 'unclean' when they are menstruating, and I would not accept anyone considering them as 'dirty' for this.

I just cannot come up with a scenario in which it is acceptable to refuse to shake a woman's hand but OK with a man. Anyone help me here??

It is of great concern to me that he is training to be a teacher, though I suppose if he teaches only in an appropriate faith school it wouldn't be regarded in the same manner. But how likely is that?

It is not an attitude I have come across anywhere in my career, and I work people of all different religions.

iskra Mon 20-Jun-11 10:54:52

Is this a primary or secondary teacher?

greencolorpack Mon 20-Jun-11 10:56:04

Perhaps, I don't know. It would be a shame if someone who was abused as a child felt they couldn't follow their calling simply because they can't touch others. Would we all want a male teacher who was happy to touch and hug and kiss children? I think someone who cannot or will not touch children might make a great teacher. It's all just speculation anyway.

GrimmaTheNome Mon 20-Jun-11 10:57:32

Well, the scenarios green suggests would offer some explanation; but at very least this young man needs to learn to deal with whatever his issue is in a more mannerly way.

DaisyHayes Mon 20-Jun-11 10:58:23

Student teachers do not choose where they are placed. I'd imagine that when he applied for jobs, he only applied to single sex religious schools.

I do see that it is problematic for him in that he has to train wherever he is placed. Our school is single sex (boys) so I imagine that his university placed him with us for this reason. I therefore did not observe him with female pupils (and I insisted that he not be permitted to teach any A Level classes which do include girls).

I do not know what religion he is. I didn't ask (because I felt that somehow it would be rude). I presume it was Islam, but cannot be sure - I have several muslim friends and they have all been happy to shake my hand.

CrapolaDeVille Mon 20-Jun-11 10:58:33

Part of working and living in the UK includes adhering to human rights WAY before religious prejudice. Personally I'm all for banning religious expression in schools, and no person should be allowed to teach if their religion does not allow them to treat all people equally.

greencolorpack Mon 20-Jun-11 10:59:04

This thread's looking a bit "racist/anti-religious bigotry in the guise of moral indignation."

In eastern countries men wear long fronted shirts and trousers, and they consider men wearing blue jeans (western clothes) "immodest" because the package is all on show. A lot is said about women dressing modestly in those cultures, you don't hear much about the men's dress, but that's about modesty, too.

CrapolaDeVille Mon 20-Jun-11 11:00:49

I wouldn't worry about being rude to a man who refused to shake my hand on the basis that I was a woman, ask him what his religion is and then to advise you of the part that requires that he doesn't shake a woman's hand. Why are we paying for this person's education. Further more I would advising ofsted of this student teacher and recommending that he doesn't teach, I think that is the least of your 'duty of care'.,

iskra Mon 20-Jun-11 11:00:53

I think I agree with you Crapola. I feel the same about psychiatrists who refuse to work with homosexual patients, or doctors who refuse to deal with abortion (not to de-rail the thread).

Poledra Mon 20-Jun-11 11:03:02

greencolorpack, I get that some people cannot accept handshakes for reason of OCD or other disorder, but that's not the reason he gave. And if he continues to give this reason to the children he is teaching, then he is sending out the wrong messages to our girls, that is acceptable for them to be persona non grata. It is actually less acceptable to me that he gives out the religion reason rather than that he gives the true reason (assuming that there is something else behind it).

And if he's training for primary school teaching, he's really going to struggle not to be touched by the children, even if it is not a formal handshake. Little children touch their teachers to get their attention all the time (one little boy once patted my mother (his teacher) on the bottom to get her to turn round!).

DaisyHayes Mon 20-Jun-11 11:03:54

I should point out that he was very polite and keen and respectful in all other ways. He actually showed real potential as a teacher when I observed him and he was very willing to take my advice.

Poledra Mon 20-Jun-11 11:05:51

Hmmm, interesting, Daisy - so you don't feel he actually thought you were inferior as a professional, just that physical contact was the issue?

DaisyHayes Mon 20-Jun-11 11:06:06

It's difficult becuase in many respects he was a nice young man who worked hard and was polite and pleasant.

But I just cannot seem to get over the fact that he refused to touch me (or ant female in the school) and that I should be ok with this.

CrapolaDeVille Mon 20-Jun-11 11:06:42

Daisy...he refused to shake your hand because you are a woman, what more prejudice does he need to show? This, I can assure you, is the tip of the ice burg.

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