I spent two hours collating web images of fourteenth century pilgrims for a class of fourteen year olds to use in their word processed team presentations about Chaucer. All assiduous preparation was as nothing, however, the next day.
We finished reading the Wife of Bath's Tale somewhat early, [read by Jack (as both Amanda and the Old Witch), Jon (as the chauvinistic Arthurian knight, Sir Codsbrain), and Kieran (as the much married feisty narrator.)] I hadn't yet decided what our 'modernising activity' for this tale could be.
Breaking into a delicate, fourteenth century style sweat, I searched in vain for an animated video of the tale - one that I'd previously decided a little too risque. Chaucer's apologia for the coarseness of the Miller had convinced me, however, that we needed to see the brutality of the circumstances that surround the Tales, if we're ever to achieve our objective of deciding each narrator's hidden intentions. Fate intervened. The video, along with several other items, had been stolen, and there was nothing for it, but to think on my feet.
I asked them to analyse whether our society had grown more sexist or less sexist than the Wife of Bath's era, by devising and reporting on a survey that aimed to find out what women and men truly desire.
Disaster. Disaster. I could tell even as I spoke the words aloud.
Reporting back their anticipated answers, my heart sank. I had to interject. I tried to rein in the sarcasm, but some still showed.
"Natasha, I really don't think that when Margaret Thatcher performed economic miracles she was motivated by her eternal love of flowers, do you?"
"No, Hayley, when Benazir Bhutto led her nation to become the last nuclear power in the developing world, I hesitate about whether that was prompted by her love of chocolate."
"Okay, Jack, I can see you're responding to the story's theme, but somehow I'm not sure that Jeanne d'Arc led whole armies into battle so that she could find a faithful man."
Moving onto the issue of what do men truly desire, I was no less appalled.
"No Hugo, women who pay for the jiggy jiggy is not an appropriate answer. I suggest you rethink your words before I become annoyed with you."
"You really think a man's life is motivated by the pursuit of beer, Ricky? Is that not a teeny weeny bit superficial?"
"Okay, Will, I'll accept that men may search through the years for generosity, but I do suspect you of trying to give random non-chauvinistic answers simply because Miss is becoming exasperated."
The children's conclusion? That today we enjoy equality in our low expectations of either gender. They ended the lesson chattering good humouredly about the 'good old days of the Wife of Bath', when we were only chauvinistic, stereotyped and narrow minded about one gender.