Tutoring: Lessons From The Real World

Ordinarily, tutoring is pretty dry business. The tutee and I are quite absorbed in the process, so I would never say it’s boring, but as a rule, we are concerned with making sure the student’s work comes somewhere in the neighborhood of satisfying the instructor’s requirements. We consider such things as whether or not there’s a thesis, a body (with several pertinent paragraphs containing details analyzed and contextualized in a way that reveals critical thinking by the student), and a satisfactory conclusion. 

We don’t need happy endings, just endings that relate to the introduction in some comprehensible way. When we’re dealing with papers for English classes, the topics tend to be a little on the academic side. The focus is on the mechanics of the work; amusing or interesting content is considered a bonus. All this can be a little intimidating to some people and which is why it can be a little difficult for them to cope up with their teaching schedule. This is the reason why you would not see that many tutor or tuition jobs out there. 

However, last week, Wednesday morning I believe it was, a young woman who came in with an essay for her sociology class. We’ve seen quite a few from this class lately: papers detailing the students’ experiments with breaking social norms. They write a little introduction explaining which norm they decided to break, a few paragraphs about the actual experiment, and a nice little conclusion telling the reader what they’ve learned, not only about themselves but about the people they’ve exposed themselves to.

I’ve seen papers from students who have, for instance, held hands with others of the same gender in public, interrupted people “working” on their laptops in coffee shops, cut into line in the market, and that sort of thing. But in this case, the student, who was attractive enough to provoke a second or even a third look, (or, better yet, a discrete glance, if one passed her on the street) decided to test the social norm which requires appropriate attire in the workplace. She works in a state office, a place thick with lawyers, litigants, and parties concerned with the proper and efficient administration of justice.

Her experiment consisted of dressing as if she was going out to a nightclub: low-cut blouse (in her case, nearly impossible to overlook), short skirt, high heels, the works. Then, to sweeten the deal, she determined to overload herself with burdens, pushing a cart full of books, folders and papers, and carrying in her arms a load of more of the same. As a finishing touch, she pulled her panties down. I couldn’t bring myself to ask exactly how far down these delicacies were placed, but I think it’s safe to assume that they were visible. Since she’s not only attractive but tall, this meant that she was struggling down corridors on long, well-tapered legs, with her underwear somewhere in the vicinity of half-mast, highly visible, and, as it turned out, low enough to constitute an attractive nuisance, but high enough that she was able to walk.

As I read her paper, which was quite well-written and contained much relevant detail, I began to feel the need for either a nice glass of water or, perhaps, a cold shower.

But it really got interesting when she started to explain the reactions people had to her behavior. The women were either sympathetic, offering to help by relieving her of her armload of documents long enough to make the critical sartorial adjustments, or snarky, offering trenchant observations along the lines of: “It looks like you dropped your panties, girl,” or sarcastic but ostensibly helpful advice, such as, “You better pull up your drawers.”

But the men, good solid professional types, were another matter. She had expected that they would reach for her documents, offering her the chance to regain some dignity by pulling her own panties up. But, in a development I consider remarkable, they all reacted by reaching for her panties, helpfully pulling them up for her. It wasn’t just one or two perverts, but closer to 30 men, each of them apparently unable to resist her state of vulnerability.

Reading the paper, I was dumbfounded. I tried to imagine what I would have done. Obviously, I would have wanted to cop the quick feel in the name of good samaritans, but private space is private space. So I like to think I would have done the polite, rather than the expedient thing. Just because I might have wanted to get a grip on her underwear, (and, in the process, on the parts of her body the garment is meant to conceal), it obviously wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.

The conclusion to her paper was the rather obvious one: when a woman dresses seductively, she is asking for, or at least subliminally inviting, contact on a level that would ordinarily be considered out of bounds between strangers. Maybe she doesn’t mean to send that message, but it’s the one that men receive. She, and most of the women I know, and I myself, fully believe that a woman should have the implicit right to dress as she pleases without fear that men will interpret a scanty costume as an invitation to unwanted sexual contact.

But I have to consider my reaction to reading about this activity. Just the thought of her wobbling down the hallowed corridors of state business with her boobs peeking out above and her panties winking from below gave me something to think about for the rest of the day. It got my imagination going. But I’d like to think the veneer of civilization, the same social contract that prevents open warfare during the evening commute, is strong enough to ensure that we all respect one another’s personal boundaries.

Much as I might like to grab the opportunity to help a young lady up with her panties, the proper response is obviously to offer to help only by relieving her of the burden in such a way that she can pull up her own panties.

So gentlemen, be advised. When you find yourself in a situation that looks too good to be true, it probably is. Be a gentleman, not a lower primate, and act accordingly. If you can’t manage that, be warned. Unwanted sexual contact is not just impolite, it’s a crime, and rightfully so. Put yourself in her place. But keep your hands to yourself.