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Teaching naked
September 4, 2013 4:22 AM   Subscribe

I had my students fill out mid-semester evaluations last fall. No big deal, just answer these four questions: 1) What am I doing to help you learn? 2) What could I be doing better to help you learn? 3) What are you doing to help yourself learn? and 4) What could you be doing better to help yourself learn? I had them turn the evaluations in anonymously to allow more genuine feedback. Later that afternoon, I started going through the responses. It was encouraging to see that, in general, responses to the first two questions indicated I was getting better, which was gratifying given the amount of time and energy I spent re-developing the class. For the most part, students were surprisingly honest when responding to questions 3 and 4, showing they understood their responsibility in their progress, or lack thereof. Somewhere towards the end of the ~160 evaluations, I came across one that answered question #2 with: “Teach naked.”

Part 2 concerns the response and inevitable academic fallout to the interview she gave for the school paper

and the blog itself, Tenure She Wrote, is also just a pretty awesome resource.
posted by Blasdelb (531 comments total) 79 users marked this as a favorite

 
On my most recent shift, I was sexually harassed (assaulted, even?) when a coworker "bumped" into me to try to touch my breasts. (He was making comments about my breasts as he did so, so it wasn't an accident.)

Did I complain? No. What could my supervisors do but write him up then everyone at work would hate me. I would always be the bitch that complained.

It was brave of her to do this, and I am not that brave.
posted by Monday at 4:40 AM on September 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


Even if the initial incident was somewhat minor, the dean's behavior seems fairly appalling.
posted by empath at 4:40 AM on September 4, 2013 [46 favorites]


["Maybe it was a horrible misunderstanding" derail deleted; carry on.]
posted by taz at 4:41 AM on September 4, 2013 [19 favorites]


This professor is great. What clear and positive writing and actions.
posted by alasdair at 4:45 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is fitting as I was literally just groped by one of my students (sixteen years old) about an hour ago. He was the last one to leave the room; I was holding the door open.

On one of the induction evaluation forms yesterday, one student wrote that we could improve the induction by having 'good looking' female staff giving it, and one of the eval forms from today said the class rule was 'no blowjobs.'
posted by toerinishuman at 4:46 AM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


The dean demonstrates how many women who aren't conventionally attractive need to realize that if a guy treats his hot instructor like she only exists for that purpose, he is not taking any woman seriously. The rest just get dismissed as less valuable because we aren't even fuckable. Women cannot solve this by just wearing more sensible shoes.
posted by Sequence at 4:47 AM on September 4, 2013 [95 favorites]


“Now, I’m going to give you the benefit of doubt and assume this was not a malicious comment."

Yet her reaction and entire screed assumes that it was.
posted by three blind mice at 4:48 AM on September 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Is there an arsehole gene?
posted by sneebler at 4:48 AM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Good on her for standing up and doing this - it takes a lot of courage when the institutional (and social, cultural, political) tide is against you.
posted by smoke at 4:49 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


A difficult dilemma to face, and I do admire her for trying to do the right thing. Would it have been better to try to ensure the issue was addressed in general terms, without a specific link to the particular incident? I'm not sure. But students are idiots and deserve to be cut a (small) amount of slack for juvenile comments. Also, there is a small risk that the perpetrator of the comment was actually gratified to get a public reaction.
posted by Segundus at 4:50 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Instead of acknowledging this, she instead offered up the following analogy.  “I grew up in Chicago, and I used to get comments like that on the bus all the time.  I just learned to ignore it.  A few times, I got felt up, but then I yelled at the person.” 

And that's how sexism sticks around, generation after generation. No one should have to deal with this-- not on the bus, and not in a classroom. Not ever.* Good for Gracie.

*seriously though student eval forms seem to be prone to the same bend towards horrible that anonymous comments anywhere take.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:01 AM on September 4, 2013 [35 favorites]


Yet her reaction and entire screed assumes that it was.

Literally none of her "entire screed" is based on attacking the conscious intentions of whoever wrote the words. This is what makes her response so excellent; it focuses on the effects alone, and actually stands a real chance of enlightening the original writer as to the effects of their words.
posted by oliverburkeman at 5:01 AM on September 4, 2013 [101 favorites]


“Now, I’m going to give you the benefit of doubt and assume this was not a malicious comment."

Yet her reaction and entire screed assumes that it was.


I can't see anything that assumes that. She specifically says: "Now, I know in the grand scheme of things, the student’s comment probably wasn’t meant to be offensive. It may have been partially a compliment and partially juvenile behavior, but that doesn’t make it OK." The comment may or may not have been intended to be harmful but it still was harmful, and telling people that they're doing harm to people is not the same as saying they're doing it on purpose.
posted by eykal at 5:01 AM on September 4, 2013 [59 favorites]


But students are idiots and deserve to be cut a (small) amount of slack for juvenile comments.

Hence her decision to use the incident as a teachable moment. Yeah, a lot of students at that age are still jackasses, but if no one ever calls them on it, they're likely to stay that way their entire lives.
posted by Ickster at 5:04 AM on September 4, 2013 [68 favorites]


"A difficult dilemma to face, and I do admire her for trying to do the right thing. Would it have been better to try to ensure the issue was addressed in general terms, without a specific link to the particular incident? I'm not sure. But students are idiots and deserve to be cut a (small) amount of slack for juvenile comments. Also, there is a small risk that the perpetrator of the comment was actually gratified to get a public reaction."

The student was not named, has faced zero consequences for harassing their professor and contributing to a work environment that is hostile to women, and no one knows who he is but him. In all of her discussions on this the professor has not once even assumed the obvious bad faith on the part of the dipshit student, instead opting to assume that he is just an idiot carrying around a lot of examined baggage that he should maybe address, you know, a lot of what college is for. There is nothing she could have possibly given him more slack for, are you worried that she might have hurt his feelings?

Undergrads are adults, vulnerable and stupid adults, but they are grownups who are perfectly capable of taking responsibility for their dipshit actions.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:05 AM on September 4, 2013 [221 favorites]


Hear, hear, Blasdelb.
posted by smoke at 5:07 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was expecting something much more depressing; that was a great, inspiring story. Thanks for this post.
posted by odinsdream at 5:11 AM on September 4, 2013


>Yet her reaction and entire screed assumes that it was.

Let's give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you didn't actually read Part 2. First, her reaction is measured. Calling the comment "not malicious" does not imply that it is benign or non-harmful. She explains why. Carefully, as a teachable moment, not as a "screed". Then, in Part 2, she is subjected by her superiors to exactly the kind of questioning you are doing here. Do yourself a favor and read it. Twice.
posted by beagle at 5:11 AM on September 4, 2013 [23 favorites]


Yet her reaction and entire screed assumes that it was.

That characterization says quite a bit about you and nothing about the piece.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:14 AM on September 4, 2013 [88 favorites]


Re Part 2: That dean shouldn't be one. Except that she is doing a good job of CYA.

I've been in a department where twice female part-time faculty complained of sexual harassment by male students. Both times essentially she-said/he-said. You chose to hire the teacher; you start by offering them a minimum of trust. At a minimum. In my experience, neither case resolved cleanly or well, but treating a teacher you have responsibility for as a trustworthy individual is the right place to start.

And, thanks for the link to the blog, Blasdelb.
posted by Gotanda at 5:19 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


“Now, I’m going to give you the benefit of doubt and assume this was not a malicious comment."

Yet her reaction and entire screed assumes that it was.


She is saying that it's a product of a sexist environment where women are not treated with respect and are subject to harassment. Whatever brainless undergrad wrote 'teach naked' did probably think they were being clever, but never in a thousand years would they have written that on an evaluation for a male instructor. I knew a male professor who got comments about his appearance in his teaching evaluations and was a bit hurt by them. What did he get told? That he shouldn't always wear the same colour T-shirt. Probably motivated by a similar sort of attempt to be clever, but notably not sexual. A couple of semesters back, I had a student who felt the need to stand way too close to me while remonstrating about his grade. It sucked and it was uncomfortable. I cringed every time he approached the front of the room. But at least he never threatened me with violence, which is what happened to a female friend. Sure, it's possible that my friend's student was an order of magnitude more aggressive than mine, but I'm guessing our genders have something to do with it.
posted by hoyland at 5:27 AM on September 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


It's funny. Guys are supposed to be taught that this kind of behavior isn't okay, and then when they are, well OBVIOUSLY whoever has the gall the teach them and then write about it is doing it wrong - teaching it the wrong way, using the wrong words, using the wrong examples, using the wrong tone, blah blah blah.
posted by rtha at 5:47 AM on September 4, 2013 [87 favorites]


Man, that dean is a piece of work. There's a big part of me that feels sorry for her on a personal level; I'm sure she had to endure the same sort of thing at some point, and was given the same bitter blend of victim-blaming and suck-it-up-buttercup from the higher-ups in her life. But there's got to come a time when we break that cycle of nonsense in the workplace, and she doesn't belong in that position in a 21st century college, especially one trying to improve its image in the gender issues area.

It wasn't until partway through the second article that I realized this was even at a postsecondary institution, the whole thing sounds so high school.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:47 AM on September 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


The student was not named...etc

How could she have named him?

are you worried that she might have hurt his feelings?

No, but I'd never be ashamed of feeling that kind of concern.

It may be that she did exactly the right thing; I simply wonder whether linking it to the specific incident made it seem less of a teachable moment and more of a personal grievance. And, to repeat, I think there's a small risk that the perpetrator was gratified by having his offence publicised.

No offence, but if you think it's all as clear as daylight I think you're missing the main and most interesting point.
posted by Segundus at 5:50 AM on September 4, 2013


The dean demonstrates how many women who aren't conventionally attractive need to realize that if a guy treats his hot instructor like she only exists for that purpose, he is not taking any woman seriously.

Please, PLEASE stop with this assumption that "many women who aren't conventionally attractive" are also totally clueless. It didn't go well the last time we were here, either.
posted by gnomeloaf at 5:54 AM on September 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


1. How anonymous is this blog? Are there enough details to nail down the institution?

2. Following up on 1. Is this the kind of incident that, ig widely known, would hurt her in looking for a tenure track gig? E.g. Being labeled a 'troublemaker'?

(not agreeing with this assessment, mind you)
posted by leotrotsky at 5:54 AM on September 4, 2013


Huh. I am pretty sure that if I had gotten such a comment among my student evaluations, I would have just rolled my eyes at it and let it go. Then as I read through the account, I became more and more convinced that this instructor's reaction was the correct one. I've been letting too much slide. Drawing the line early on is wiser and much more effective than letting things get out of hand and letting one's frustrations and anger build up.
posted by orange swan at 6:00 AM on September 4, 2013 [47 favorites]


> I simply wonder whether linking it to the specific incident made it seem less of a teachable moment and more of a personal grievance. And, to repeat, I think there's a small risk that the perpetrator was gratified by having his offence publicised.

Dude, what is a teachable moment if it's not a specific incident which ties into a wider concern? And for that matter, she was under no obligation to turn in into a teachable moment, although good for her that she happened to do so.

And I think the "risk that the perpetrator was gratified" is kind of sideline to why she bothered speaking up in her workplace and on the internet.
posted by postcommunism at 6:01 AM on September 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


It may be that she did exactly the right thing; I simply wonder whether linking it to the specific incident made it seem less of a teachable moment and more of a personal grievance.

Maybe she linked it to this specific incidence because she knew that leaving it open would lead to the usual parade of "maybe she misunderstood" or "it was just a joke" comments. Someone wrote something that crossed the line in her teaching evaluations so she had a discussion about it. That wouldn't even be remarkable if it weren't for the sexual harassment component--something many students and professors are still putting up with, every day, on college campuses. What's noteworthy is that she took the risk of saying anything at all.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:04 AM on September 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Well, whoever made that juvenile crack must be pretty pleased by the extent to which his trolling the teacher succeeded. This takes me right back to my own school days. Those who wanted to wind up the teachers were always looking for the soft spot, the Achilles' heel, the thing that would get a real reaction, a palpable hit. Most of my teachers were smart enough to realise it, and the smartest ones responded by doing exactly the same thing back to the jerk in question. That usually got the point across in a way that showing you'd been rattled never would.

If they see they've got to you, they've won. Kids are jerks to teachers. It was ever thus and it ever will be.
posted by Decani at 6:06 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Decani: "Well, whoever made that juvenile crack must be pretty pleased by the extent to which his trolling the teacher succeeded. This takes me right back to my own school days. Those who wanted to wind up the teachers were always looking for the soft spot, the Achilles' heel, the thing that would get a real reaction, a palpable hit. Most of my teachers were smart enough to realise it, and the smartest ones responded by doing exactly the same thing back to the jerk in question. That usually got the point across in a way that showing you'd been rattled never would.

If they see they've got to you, they've won. Kids are jerks to teachers. It was ever thus and it ever will be.
"

So she.. should have... what, sexually harassed the student back?
posted by ShawnStruck at 6:07 AM on September 4, 2013 [20 favorites]


Oh, please, enough with the "haters gonna hate" concern trolling. You're completely missing the point that she made crystal-clear in the 2nd post. Even if the one guy got satisfaction, there's an entire class of women and non-misogynist men who got the message that you don't have to put up with that kind of shit.

That guy may have got his minute of troll on, but he's far less likely to get away with it in the future.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:09 AM on September 4, 2013 [75 favorites]


"No offence, but if you think it's all as clear as daylight I think you're missing the main and most interesting point."

What I've been seeing as the main and most interesting point is how clear an example this is of how in almost any dispute related to gender men are more likely to be believed by most people who hear about it at the expense of women, men's feelings will more likely to be validated by the people who hear about them while women's would be more likely to be dismissed, people who know those involved and people who know nothing about those involved will work hard to imagine bizarre and convoluted scenarios in order to see men as not in the wrong even when they are plainly acting like an asshole while they will do the same to see women as somehow in the wrong even when their actions are transcendentally perfect.

If this professor had declined to specify exactly how she had been harassed the teachable moment would have similarly failed to reach the bizarre slippery standard that gender related concerns are always held to by making her seem cagey and like she had something to hide, people would wonder if maybe she was just making it up or if it was all in her head until a male voice validated it, and it would fail to bring up a specific concern. The student himself doesn't matter, how hurt his feelings might be by what any reasonable person would call education doesn't matter, the ubiquitous patterns of sexual harassment and violence that this exposes along with the ubiquitous instinct to enable and protect it matter a great fucking deal.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:11 AM on September 4, 2013 [46 favorites]


It may be that she did exactly the right thing; I simply wonder whether linking it to the specific incident made it seem less of a teachable moment and more of a personal grievance.

Teachable moments have to be moments; if you take away the specific event, there's no moment at all, just a lesson that could be taught at any time. The entire point of the concept is that you connect it to a specific incident.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:11 AM on September 4, 2013 [22 favorites]


Those who wanted to wind up the teachers were always looking for the soft spot, the Achilles' heel, the thing that would get a real reaction, a palpable hit

I assume you aren't talking about college, where the students presumably paid to be there and are there to learn and prepare themselves for the professional world. Hell, even when I was going to a shitty community college in the middle of nowhere, people treated the teachers with more respect than that.
posted by empath at 6:13 AM on September 4, 2013 [25 favorites]


Well, whoever made that juvenile crack must be pretty pleased by the extent to which his trolling the teacher succeeded.

Right. A sexist comment can only ever be trolling and not, you know, an actual sexist comment, and trolling should always be ignored, because Rules of the Internet. Or something.

(I really like how some people can tell every time and without question when something is trolling. You're so awesome.)

Her "reaction" was to talk about it in class and to use it as a teaching moment. The horror! Such an overreaction!

Such bullshit. If we talk about it, we're just giving attention to trolls, and if we don't then we get "but how are guys [who might be awkward!] supposed to know this isn't okay?"
posted by rtha at 6:13 AM on September 4, 2013 [88 favorites]


If they see they've got to you, they've won. Kids are jerks to teachers. It was ever thus and it ever will be.

These are college students, which means that they are no longer "kids".

I know you're looking for an excuse to preserve sexism, but you're going to have to try harder in this particular instance.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:13 AM on September 4, 2013 [41 favorites]


It may be that she did exactly the right thing

It's amazing that no matter how inappropriate the harassing behavior, it is always the person who reports the harassment that gets judged on her response.
posted by empath at 6:16 AM on September 4, 2013 [69 favorites]


Even assuming an absence of bad faith on the part of her harasser, it might be the case that Grace wanted to create a teachable moment that was not for him or even not about him at all. The teachable moment might have been about modeling good behavior in the presence of sexual harassment for the benefit of all the female students in the room, supporting the women who might have wanted to stand up against this kind of harassment in the past and might feel more empowered to do so in the future, and about helping male students to understand what women know by experience -- that this kind of harassment is really pervasive and ubiquitous. The harasser is only one person in the audience, and it doesn't make sense to define success in terms of changing that one guy's mind, particularly when in all likelihood he's the guy least likely to learn from the thing.
posted by gauche at 6:18 AM on September 4, 2013 [30 favorites]


As a TA in graduate school, one of my students asked me to his fraternity semi-formal during class, and was surprised when I told him that not only was I not interested in going (because I was old enough to be his mother and I was seeing someone, for starters), but that technically I couldn't go. His friend piped up, "They have rules against that?" Yeah, dipshit, they do. It undermined my credibility for the rest of the semester with all my students. That same student came to my office hours at the end of the semester to beg up his B+ to an A-, presenting no justification whatsoever for why he deserved a better grade. I said to him, "You thought if you came to my hours and asked, I'd do it because you're cute?" He just smiled widely and nodded. I replied, "Welcome to the real world, and enjoy your B."

It's not even remotely on the same level as advising a professor to teach naked, but it's the same inherent problem. I wasn't seen as an authority figure or a person of power; in part because I was merely a TA, but I was in my mid-thirties, and I was responsible for grading 100% of 50 students' exams and papers. Yet this 18 year old saw me as a fuckable (or at least dateable) object first and a teacher second. Just that one small incident was exhausting, and I decided I couldn't do it for the rest of my life. I have a lot of respect for this woman for standing up to it, and continuing to teach. She's stronger than I was.
posted by jennaratrix at 6:19 AM on September 4, 2013 [40 favorites]


I just tried googling for "sexual harassment mid-term evaluation" to see if the student paper had a web presence. Instead I got a lot of people posting linkbacks on their own blogs - and unfortunately, one of those such linkbacks was this.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:24 AM on September 4, 2013


The small minority of comments here suggesting that she "let this get to her" or "assumed malice" on the part of the student, etc, are only serving to underline for me how exceptionally well judged the original blog posts actually are. Acting wound up or making angry accusations about the student's state of mind might have been forgivable, in the circumstances – but there's none of it in those posts. If you think hers is a bad response, you are pretty much revealing that you think any response would have been bad.
posted by oliverburkeman at 6:25 AM on September 4, 2013 [17 favorites]


What seemed like overreaction and counterproductive was her long, martyr-like schpiel on how this was harassment and bullying. A single line kid-in-the-back-of-the-class snicker in an anonymous teaching evaluation is not "bullying." Please.

She should simply have addressed the incident, said "Class, this was inappropriate. Not cool." and moved on.
posted by shivohum at 6:25 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


it is always the person who reports the harassment that gets judged on her response.

'Judged' is rather censorious, isn't it? The first thing I said, after all, was that I admired her. What I'm trying to do is enter imaginatively and empathetically into the difficult decisions she faced about the handling of the issue, difficulties she has chosen to share, surely in order that people could do just that.
posted by Segundus at 6:26 AM on September 4, 2013


I really like this comment, left under Part 2:
Unfortunately, the reality of most management structures is that they have one cognitive box marked “trouble” and in it goes anything that generates phone calls and work for them. An employee that is not doing their job. An employee that goes above and beyond to do what’s right. An employee who is a harasser and/or a bully. An employee who confronts a harasser or a bully.

It took me longer than it should to realize that they simply don’t care who’s wrong or right, who generated the problem and who confronted the problem. They don’t like it. They dream of having a bunch of employees they never hear about from one year to the next.
posted by v21 at 6:27 AM on September 4, 2013 [57 favorites]



Her "reaction" was to talk about it in class and to use it as a teaching moment.


No, her reaction was to do that, then give an interview about it, then publicly and privately attack her institution for being the 'most sexist' , and then write and promote a blog post about it.

Outside the sheltered world of academia, she might well have been rightfully fired for doing so. The problem of course, not being the 'teachable moment' which was appropriate, but the subsequent actions. To a certain point, sexual politics, dominance games, and even harassment are a fact of life and nature, and to rail about them is a bit childish. She asked for anonymous feedback and got it. Once she gets public and gets the institution involved them administrators are paid to preserve the public image yada yada yada.

What does she expect them to do anyway? Do even university presidents have the ability to decree 'sexism' extinct in that environment?
posted by sfts2 at 6:27 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


She should simply have addressed the incident, said "Class, this was inappropriate. Not cool." and moved on.

That's what she did. Her speech was eight sentences. Not once did she talk about how hard it made her job, not once did she complain about how it affected her. She stated the fact that it was harassment, that it was not cool, and then moved on. Hardly a "martyr like schpiel."
posted by Gygesringtone at 6:31 AM on September 4, 2013 [31 favorites]


To a certain point, sexual politics, dominance games, and even harassment are a fact of life and nature, and to rail about them is a bit childish.

I say instead of asking women to put up with being treated like objects, we ask those who would do it to grow the fuck up already. These things don't have to be a fact of life and/or nature, and accepting them as same is part of the damn problem.
posted by jennaratrix at 6:31 AM on September 4, 2013 [73 favorites]


Its easy to second guess what she did and said and never having been in her shoes its impossible for me to know how I would respond. So instead I'll just offer something up to the general conversation and to those of you who might find yourself needing to address the topic.

The most important thing anyone ever said to me about sexual harassment is that intent doesn't matter - it's perception. I'm sure the entitled little muppet who wrote "teach naked" on that card thought he was being funny, and I'm sure he chuckled to himself as he wrote it, not possibly thinking it could be perceived as harassment. What needs to be drilled in his head isn't that he's a bully and a coward, but rather words have meanings and once you put them out there you can't be sure of how they'll be interpreted, and down the road saying things like this will have repercussions - even if they were originally said in a good natured humorous intent. I think that's a good approach to getting people to actually think about their behavior.

BTW - I personally on this website have said things that I thought were funny and gotten my head taken off (rightly) by people were offended. I apologized and marked it down as another learning experience. So I speak from my own experiences here as well.

I will say - she should have recognized that the conversation with the dean was straight CYA from the university. I'd be almost surprised if that entire conversation wasn't gamed out in advance between the dean and one of the lawyers.
posted by JPD at 6:31 AM on September 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


What does she expect them to do anyway? Do even university presidents have the ability to decree 'sexism' extinct in that environment?

To set standards and teach people what the standards are and why they should be adhered to. How is this difficult? It's an institution of higher learning, where people pay money to be taught.

a certain point, sexual politics, dominance games, and even harassment are a fact of life and nature, and to rail about them is a bit childish.


You know what this sounds like to me? It sounds like you're saying men can't help themselves they're just in thrall to their loins and their hormones, and everyone should just suck it up because they can't be expected to behave when sex is involved in some way.

It sounds appalling. (And, you know, completely untrue.)
posted by rtha at 6:32 AM on September 4, 2013 [51 favorites]


The problem of course, not being the 'teachable moment' which was appropriate, but the subsequent actions. To a certain point, sexual politics, dominance games, and even harassment are a fact of life and nature, and to rail about them is a bit childish.

I'm really glad the institutions I've worked at and worked with have agreed with literally none of this sentence.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:33 AM on September 4, 2013 [25 favorites]


"Outside the sheltered world of academia, she might well have been rightfully fired for doing so."

The sheltered world of academia exists for a reason, the whole point is the generation and communication of new and valuable ideas, which are inherently 'troublesome'. None of it works or makes any sense unless 'troublemakers' are protected from the inherent stupidity of bureaucratic inertia and counter-productive 'image-maintenance,' and its something companies with more interest in making money than protecting egos could learn from.

"What does she expect them to do anyway?"

She didn't ask administrators to do anything. All she did was give them an opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to addressing sexism on campus in a mature way, decry how shitty this specific thing was, and move on having made themselves look good. That they are clearly too stupid to not piss on it is, among other things, not her fault.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:35 AM on September 4, 2013 [23 favorites]


No, her reaction was to do that, then give an interview about it, then publicly and privately attack her institution for being the 'most sexist'

Aside from how ridiculous it is to pretend that this sole incident is the basis of her entire opinion about the campus, she publicly called the institution the most sexist campus [she'd] been on, which is an important distinction, since it is explicitly about her experience, not the blanket statement you are representing it as.
posted by solotoro at 6:37 AM on September 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


She should simply have addressed the incident, said "Class, this was inappropriate. Not cool." and moved on.

Why? Why not say, "sexual harassment is wrong"? What is the problem in doing this?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:38 AM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


sfts2: " What does she expect them to do anyway? Do even university presidents have the ability to decree 'sexism' extinct in that environment?"

At the very least, they can take a stand against it:

1) Publicly acknowlege that this is harassment of a teacher by a student and unacceptable.
2) Make a public statement that any student caught harassing a teacher would receive administrative discipline. All colleges already have enforceable rules about acceptable student behavior.
3) Reiterate that the purpose of an academic environment is education of students, and teachers deserve respect from them, not harassment.

That would be a reasonable, easily achievable response.
posted by zarq at 6:38 AM on September 4, 2013 [15 favorites]


She should simply have addressed the incident, said "Class, this was inappropriate. Not cool." and moved on.

There's this time Rebecca Watson said about hitting on people late at night on elevators "guys, don't do that". And won't you believe what happened.
posted by sukeban at 6:40 AM on September 4, 2013 [62 favorites]


What seemed like overreaction and counterproductive was her long, martyr-like schpiel on how this was harassment and bullying. A single line kid-in-the-back-of-the-class snicker in an anonymous teaching evaluation is not "bullying." Please.

Even if that was the case, the problem isn't that it happened once, it's that it happens billions of times a day.

She should simply have addressed the incident, said "Class, this was inappropriate. Not cool." and moved on.

Well, she did it with only a couple more sentences, but I guess one sentence is where you draw the line?

No, her reaction was to do that, then give an interview about it, then publicly and privately attack her institution for being the 'most sexist' , and then write and promote a blog post about it.

Well, except for the part where no actual person or institution is identified. You know, the whole thing?

To a certain point, sexual politics, dominance games, and even harassment are a fact of life and nature, and to rail about them is a bit childish.

Hat trick!
posted by zombieflanders at 6:40 AM on September 4, 2013 [18 favorites]


rtha,

I know its easy to have a conversation with someone when you are putting words into their mouths. It has nothing to do with men, it has to do with men AND women, and how they are wired, and socialized to interact. Feel free to continue to rail about such things, and how the ought not to be true. Your comments relate more to the particular axe you came here to grind than to anything I said.

jetlagaddict

How do institutions agree with anything? What are you saying? Sexual politics and males games of dominance do not exist? You don't think the teachable moment was appropriate?
posted by sfts2 at 6:40 AM on September 4, 2013


To a certain point, sexual politics, dominance games, and even harassment are a fact of life and nature, and to rail about them is a bit childish.

I just wanted to highlight this to show how vile a comment this is. Its effectively telling women who are harassed to shut up and suck it up.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:41 AM on September 4, 2013 [116 favorites]


One of the things I always loved about the The Wire is that the first season's story began because one dickish, asshole cop decided he wasn't going to let the bad guys win on a particular case. He was just fed up and feeling high and mighty, so he said "fuck no, not this time."

Nobody really wanted to deal with the issue. Many people asked him "Who the fuck cares, it's just this one case, so what? We've got bigger fish to fry." Yet he went ahead and pursued the issue anyway, for a mixture of good and bad reasons.

Life ain't perfect, confrontation is often messy and sometimes toes need to be stepped on in order to bring attention to issue.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:41 AM on September 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'd really appreciate it it if people wouldn't put words into my mouth, I know its hard but seriously...
posted by sfts2 at 6:44 AM on September 4, 2013


Why? Why not say, "sexual harassment is wrong"? What is the problem in doing this?

Because calling it harassment is a stretch. It brings in the cold specter of the law, expulsion, and so on. Inappropriate is the right word.

Another unfortunate thing about this kind of discussion is that it effectively subjected the entire class to an awkward, uncomfortable moment, even though the offender was only one person. There's something about that kind of collective lecture for one person's offense that tends to make the lecturer seem like she's overreacting and is a bit unhinged... probably because most of the class doesn't need the lecture and feels unfairly harangued and patronized.

That's why a very brief, very controlled comment without any hyperbole about bullies and cowards would have been best.
posted by shivohum at 6:44 AM on September 4, 2013


sfts2: " To a certain point, sexual politics, dominance games, and even harassment are a fact of life and nature, and to rail about them is a bit childish. "

Change happens in small increments.

People like Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks were catalysts for the American civil rights movement. But their actions didn't exist in a vacuum.

Millions of people had to decide over many decades that they would treat each other with respect and dignity rather than as second class citizens.

All equality movements have that in common. They require a "sea change" which to be long lasting in our democratic society really can't be imposed from outside. It needs to happen slowly, over time from within, in small increments.

Railing about inequities is how we foment change. If you have ever engaged in any sort of grassroots activism, you will recognize that.
posted by zarq at 6:46 AM on September 4, 2013 [15 favorites]


Please, PLEASE stop with this assumption that "many women who aren't conventionally attractive" are also totally clueless.

Er, gnomeloaf? I'm not conventionally attractive myself. There are just a number of women I know personally who seem to drift towards that 'sexual harassment would happen less if certain women were less sexy in the workplace' kind of thing. Meaning well, but wrong. If you're not that person, great. I'm clearly not that person, either. That doesn't mean it isn't an attitude that exists.
posted by Sequence at 6:47 AM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


seem like she's overreacting and is a bit unhinged.

And hysterical!

Please, this wasn't an isolated incident. This was a pattern of objectification that all women experience, and many women in academia experience unimaginable amounts of objectification.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:48 AM on September 4, 2013 [13 favorites]


I'd really appreciate it it if people wouldn't put words into my mouth, I know its hard but seriously...

You are being directly quoted, bro.

Because calling it harassment is a stretch. It brings in the cold specter of the law, expulsion, and so on. Inappropriate is the right word.

How's your back feeling? Moving the goalposts must be awful hard on it.

Another unfortunate thing about this kind of discussion is that it effectively subjected the entire class to an awkward, uncomfortable moment, even though the offender was only one person. There's something about that kind of collective lecture for one person's offense that tends to make the lecturer seem like she's overreacting and is a bit unhinged... probably because most of the class doesn't need the lecture and feels unfairly harangued and patronized.

That's why a very brief, very controlled comment without any hyperbole about bullies and cowards would have been best.


What, was "bitchy" and "hysterical" too on-the-nose for you to type out?
posted by zombieflanders at 6:49 AM on September 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


Because calling it harassment is a stretch. It brings in the cold specter of the law, expulsion, and so on. Inappropriate is the right word.

It is harassment. Any workplace would bring "the cold specter of the law, expulsion, and so on" on someone who told a co-worker to work naked, too. Better to let the students get acquainted with professional standards of conduct.
posted by sukeban at 6:49 AM on September 4, 2013 [32 favorites]


I don't get the hate for the teacher. She's trying to be professional and wants to be respected in her profession. Her client decides that he finds her attractive and he'll treat her like a bar pick-up target. To deal with her own emotional reaction, she decides to channel that into educating her class on the impact of such comments and how they fit into the general pattern of gender bias.
posted by Mental Wimp at 6:50 AM on September 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


She didn't ask administrators to do anything. All she did was give them an opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to addressing sexism on campus in a mature way, decry how shitty this specific thing was, and move on having made themselves look good.

Even worse - she didn't ask the administrators to do anything. She didn't even consult with the administrators. It was the administrators who went after her after she spoke to a student for the school paper. And the only reason she spoke to a student for the school paper was that the student came to her.

The only thing she initiated was a conversation with her class about "guys, this really isn't cool and here's why." If it had ended there, she would have been totally happy. It was the administrators who punished her for speaking out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:50 AM on September 4, 2013 [29 favorites]


zarq

Fair enough and I agree. Like I said, the teachable moment was appropriate and well-measured. The subsequent response, less so.

and to MisantropicPainforest

You know, I have stopped two women from being raped in my life, and was stabbed in the side for doing so. I get along with every ex-wife/gf famously. I am VERY happy with my relationships with women and generally they are with me. Thank you VERY MUCH. You calling my comment vile and by association me the same is just you being an judgemental asshole.

ZombieFlanders

I WAS NOT being quoted. Two people paraphrased what I said - poorly and while being judgmental assholes. I am not feeling the most articulate this morning but I wrote what I wrote, don't fucking interpret it and present it as what I said.
posted by sfts2 at 6:51 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It has nothing to do with men, it has to do with men AND women, and how they are wired, and socialized to interact.

You're apparently comfortable ignoring history entirely, I guess? Because once upon a time behavior that is much worse than this was brushed off as "hey nature" and over the centuries many people have stood up and said "the hell it is" and this is how we get to a world where (for instance) marital rape is not legal anymore and it's understood that its really not okay for (again, for example) a male executive to chase his female secretary around the desk.

And your casting of this incident as something that happens "between" men and women rather than a thing that a male student imposed upon his female teachers without her consent is telling. What exactly did she do that made this an interaction? Besides be female, I mean.
posted by rtha at 6:52 AM on September 4, 2013 [40 favorites]


Oh man I can't even
posted by agregoli at 6:52 AM on September 4, 2013 [13 favorites]



How do institutions agree with anything? What are you saying? Sexual politics and males games of dominance do not exist? You don't think the teachable moment was appropriate?


What I am saying is that I work in a college, and charmingly, it is almost entirely free of sexual politics and "males games of dominance." (No place is perfect, but our HR department is pretty great.) That you consider sexual politics a standard part of your work environment probably says more about where you work than anything else. When a female friend had similar comments made to her face by a student at her job, she had recourse, because that was harassment and it was 100% not acceptable.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:52 AM on September 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


I don't get the hate for the teacher

Any sort of harassment or assault short of forceful, penetrative rape of a sober and virginal 12 year old will get someone to say she over-reacted or did something to deserve it. It is one of the immutable laws of the Internet.
posted by empath at 6:52 AM on September 4, 2013 [20 favorites]


Any sort of harassment or assault short of forceful, penetrative rape of a sober and virginal 12 year old will get someone to say she over-reacted or did something to deserve it.

You think that people stop at that?
posted by zombieflanders at 6:55 AM on September 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


Any sort of harassment or assault short of forceful, penetrative rape of a sober and virginal 12 year old will get someone to say she over-reacted or did something to deserve it. It is one of the immutable laws of the Internet.
posted by empath at 6:52 AM on September 4 [+] [!]


In the words of a former elected official, that would be "A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life."
posted by c'mon sea legs at 6:55 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos: " It was the administrators who punished her for speaking out."

They scheduled a meeting with her, expressed dismay that she had spoken publicly about that happened and in print, and then dismissed her concerns and said she had overreacted.

But, unless I missed a reference, she wasn't formally disciplined or punished. Did they take further action against her?
posted by zarq at 6:56 AM on September 4, 2013


a certain point, sexual politics, dominance games, and even harassment are a fact of life and nature, and to rail about them is a bit childish.

My parents, who like many people had and continue to have some patriarchial ideas about gender roles, nevertheless always taught me and my brother that part of our job as able-bodied men (being stronger &c) was to make things better and easier for people who were at a disadvantage (women, children, the elderly, the differently-abled, anyone struggling with life in a way that we were not, &c &c). Carry grocery bags for people, hold doors, &c. Look out for the little guy, so to say. Certainly not to make excuses for why it was natural for them to be at a disadvantage, and certainly never to actively make things worse for them.

I know that there are a lot of problems with that as a worldview, insofar as it's pretty patronizing about the people it purports to help. But nevertheless, it seems to me that even if you reject feminism as a way of thinking, and even if you subscribe to old-fashioned and deeply problematic beliefs about men as protectors and women as protected the above statement is still pretty damn ugly. It's not looking out for the little guy (or woman, in this case). It's making excuses for their struggle rather than working to help them overcome it.
posted by gauche at 6:57 AM on September 4, 2013 [13 favorites]


"Any sort of harassment or assault short of forceful, penetrative rape of a sober and virginal 12 year old will get someone to say she over-reacted or did something to deserve it. It is one of the immutable laws of the Internet."

No no, they are tempestuous vixens who seduced their rapists to get them in trouble with prudes.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:57 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Although I suppose the meeting itself and the way they acted (not supporting her) could be considered a form of punishment, too.
posted by zarq at 6:57 AM on September 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


I don't get the hate for the teacher. She's trying to be professional and wants to be respected in her profession.

A small issue has become a large issue due to her actions. That's going to bring a certain amount of grief with it. I'm not saying it's right, however it's not surprising that this has blown up.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:58 AM on September 4, 2013


You calling my comment vile and by association me the same is just you being an judgemental asshole.

Telling women that harassment is a 'fact of life' and complaining is about it is 'a bit childish' is a vile thing to do. The proper response is not to call me an asshole but to apologize for a vile comment. I made no judgment about you.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:58 AM on September 4, 2013 [77 favorites]


Oh man I can't even

I know what you mean. I've typed and deleted more comments here today than I usually do in months. I think I'll head over to the Syria thread for relief.
posted by jennaratrix at 6:58 AM on September 4, 2013 [16 favorites]


A small issue has become a large issue due to her actions.

This wasn't a small issue. It was a single brick in a wall of objectification.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:59 AM on September 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


> You calling my comment vile and by association me the same is just you being an judgemental asshole.

I think MP was calling the worldview expressed in that comment vile, not you. I personally read it as the sort of "reality is bleak, get used to it" sentiment that presents as hard-nosed honesty but which actually excuses an imbalanced status quo.
posted by postcommunism at 6:59 AM on September 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


jetlagaddict

How do you know what you say is true? About it being free of sexual politics...really? And yeah, worked on Wall Street for almost 30 years. Its definitely a locker room environment, and believe me I work against that as the opportunity presents. Anyone who thinks these kinds of attitudes are perpetrated by men only is kidding themselves. I hang out with almost exclusively women, and I hear what they say....YMMV The problem of course, is the patriarchy and positions of power than generally make the impact of the male aspect outsized.
posted by sfts2 at 7:00 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Do not call people assholes here; do not attack each other personally. Please don't pull in grotesque imaginary rape scenarios to make a point. Everybody, please try to keep heads attached to bodies and have a decent discussion.]
posted by taz at 7:00 AM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I WAS NOT being quoted. Two people paraphrased what I said - poorly and while being judgmental assholes. I am not feeling the most articulate this morning but I wrote what I wrote, don't fucking interpret it and present it as what I said.

I must be missing something, because everyone here has responded with a direct quote of what you typed. Perhaps it didn't come out like you meant it, but the way it came out doesn't really leave any other interpretation than what was stated. The fact that you responded with a complete mischaracterization of what MisantropicPainforest said doesn't help.

Also, editing your comment to add content or an additional response is Not Cool. Don't do that.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:01 AM on September 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


I hang out with almost exclusively women, and I hear what they say.

Listen, I think you have a point to make here, but could you please stop with the "Hey, I know a few women so..."? It doesn't make anything you're saying more valid.
posted by bfranklin at 7:02 AM on September 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


Teacher evaluations suck and are terrible. I hated doing them. Hell if I know how you could be teaching this class better. If I did, I'd be teaching it. You're the teacher; you figure it out. I had enough of a mental workload when I was in college; I didn't need to wrack my brain trying to come up with constructive criticism of how you should do your job. What ended up happening? I gave glowing evaluations to the teachers I liked and dismal ones to the teachers I didn't like. I don't know what the correlation was between my personal feelings and the teachers' actual performance, but I'm guessing it wasn't a strong one.

Categorically, the comment the student made was not OK and I applaud and support the actions this teacher took in response. Looking back, I made some comments on evaluations that I wouldn't be proud to have associated with my name. I didn't make sexual or sexist comments, but I may have written things like "this is the most pointless class I've ever taken" or "you are the worst teacher I've ever had." I definitely set out to make deliberately hurtful comments toward teachers whose class I was miserable in, because I was a little pissant jerk who didn't want to examine his own role in that misery.

Prof. A, I'm sorry. I've wanted to tell you that for a long time.
posted by kjh at 7:02 AM on September 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


bfranklin

Its no difference to anyone else bringing up their own personal experiences is it?

zf - So sorry, not meaning to do anything other than to limit my comments.

I'm out, thought this would be the arc and and thats why I rarely participate anymore.
posted by sfts2 at 7:06 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


How do you know what you say is true? About it being free of sexual politics...really?


Let's maybe just trust me to understand my workplaces and their cultures. If you want a concrete example, construction workers on campus [small campus; next to dorms] who catcalled groups of students got called out for it. Workers who could not abide by that did not continue to work on campus. Not every place is a "locker room," and she absolutely had the right to speak up.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:06 AM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Its no difference to anyone else bringing up their own personal experiences is it?

Compare: How do you know what you say is true? About it being free of sexual politics...really? And yeah, worked on Wall Street for almost 30 years. Its definitely a locker room environment, and believe me I work against that as the opportunity presents. Anyone who thinks these kinds of attitudes are perpetrated by men only is kidding themselves. I hang out with almost exclusively women, and I hear what they say....YMMV The problem of course, is the patriarchy and positions of power than generally make the impact of the male aspect outsized.

With: How do you know what you say is true? About it being free of sexual politics...really? And yeah, worked on Wall Street for almost 30 years. Its definitely a locker room environment, and believe me I work against that as the opportunity presents. Anyone who thinks these kinds of attitudes are perpetrated by men only is kidding themselves. The problem of course, is the patriarchy and positions of power than generally make the impact of the male aspect outsized.

The latter has less of an undertone of "I'm an expert on the attitude of women because I know three."
posted by bfranklin at 7:10 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


This wasn't a small issue. It was a single brick in a wall of objectification

A lot of people will view it as both or either.

The comment could have been ignored, but the professor choose not to, which resulted in a chain of events that has created certain headaches for the administrators. Higher ups tend to hate surprises and/or negative attention.

This doesn't mean the professor was wrong to what she did, but the blowback isn't surprising. But sometimes you just have to say "fuck it" and take action.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:12 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because calling it harassment is a stretch. It brings in the cold specter of the law, expulsion, and so on. Inappropriate is the right word.

As a previous poster pointed out, harassment is about perception. One person's harassment can be another person's inappropriate but not concerning comment.* I think the outrage that is bleeding out of both ends here is due to the fact that not all women would find this sexual harassment. Personally, if I had received that comment, I would be annoyed but I wouldn't be angry or humiliated. I would not have considered it harassment.

But - and here's the important thing - I am not her and she is not me. Her reaction is her reaction and if she feels that it is harassment then it was harassing to her and she had every right to handle the matter as she saw fit.

*Necessary caveat: this applies to the gray area of harassment and not the blatant shit.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 7:13 AM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm out, thought this would be the arc and and thats why I rarely participate anymore.

Yes, of course, everyone else is the problem.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:16 AM on September 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


Another unfortunate thing about this kind of discussion is that it effectively subjected the entire class to an awkward, uncomfortable moment, even though the offender was only one person. There's something about that kind of collective lecture for one person's offense that tends to make the lecturer seem like she's overreacting and is a bit unhinged... probably because most of the class doesn't need the lecture and feels unfairly harangued and patronized.

That's a really interesting take. When you read this story, you're relating to the people feeling awkward -- is that right? If you were in this situation, you'd feel like you didn't need the lecture and it was unfair that you had to listen to it.

When I read this story, I'm relating to the women in the class, who sat up a little straighter, because after years of dealing with bullshit like this, someone finally said it wasn't appropriate and wouldn't be tolerated.

I was one of those women, for about as long as I could tolerate it. (Different school, different department.) I got changed departments because I could no longer tolerate hearing legitimately well-meaning men in the department discuss how to make it friendlier to women with things like "Maybe women would like [department] better if we had fuzzy pink electrons?", or guys telling the one girl in the problem set that they weren't pulling their weight but "it's OK because you're cute", or dealing with a department chair who refused to see an 80% female drop-out rate as a problem. I switched to, and still am in, a male-dominated field, but it's one where bullshit like this isn't acceptable.

I think I'm fine with some people feeling awkward for eight sentences, if that's the price to pay to have someone up in front of the class saying this shit won't be tolerated.
posted by pie ninja at 7:17 AM on September 4, 2013 [71 favorites]


Jesus, this thread. Just to take things in order:

Yet her reaction and entire screed assumes that it was.

Blaming the victim.

Would it have been better to try to ensure the issue was addressed in general terms, without a specific link to the particular incident? I'm not sure.

Concern trolling. Arguing that the description of the issue should be vaguer.

No offence, but if you think it's all as clear as daylight I think you're missing the main and most interesting point.

Mansplaining.

Well, whoever made that juvenile crack must be pretty pleased by the extent to which his trolling the teacher succeeded.

Concern trolling. Rhetorical assumption that sexist behavior probably wasn't "really" motivated by sexism.

What seemed like overreaction and counterproductive was her long, martyr-like schpiel on how this was harassment and bullying. A single line kid-in-the-back-of-the-class snicker in an anonymous teaching evaluation is not "bullying." Please.

Implications of weakness and exaggeration on the part of the victim.

Outside the sheltered world of academia, she might well have been rightfully fired for doing so. The problem of course, not being the 'teachable moment' which was appropriate, but the subsequent actions. To a certain point, sexual politics, dominance games, and even harassment are a fact of life and nature, and to rail about them is a bit childish. She asked for anonymous feedback and got it. Once she gets public and gets the institution involved them administrators are paid to preserve the public image yada yada yada.

What does she expect them to do anyway? Do even university presidents have the ability to decree 'sexism' extinct in that environment?


Declarations that the problem is unsolvable, a fact of human nature. And anyway, it's not a problem, and the victim should be fired for describing it as such.

Because calling it harassment is a stretch. It brings in the cold specter of the law, expulsion, and so on. Inappropriate is the right word.

Another unfortunate thing about this kind of discussion is that it effectively subjected the entire class to an awkward, uncomfortable moment, even though the offender was only one person. There's something about that kind of collective lecture for one person's offense that tends to make the lecturer seem like she's overreacting and is a bit unhinged... probably because most of the class doesn't need the lecture and feels unfairly harangued and patronized.


Straight up worrying that someone guilty of harrassment might potentially end up subject to the punishment appropriate to harrassment. Implications of hysteria. Arguing that the description of the issue should be more specific.

?You know, I have stopped two women from being raped in my life, and was stabbed in the side for doing so. I get along with every ex-wife/gf famously. I am VERY happy with my relationships with women and generally they are with me. Thank you VERY MUCH. You calling my comment vile and by association me the same is just you being an judgemental asshole.

The irritation of someone who's privilege has just been threatened. The some-of-my-best-friends-are defense. Name-calling when all else has failed.
posted by Ipsifendus at 7:19 AM on September 4, 2013 [154 favorites]


stfs2, you're getting mad because people took exception to a poorly-worded comment and don't agree with what you said. You kind of can't really do that here. Obviously you have a different interpretation of the events and the socio-political environment surrounding them, and that interpretation is valid and valued if you articulate it well. If you DON'T articulate it well and you're called out on it, there are a couple of things you can do to avoid the shitstorm that has ensued here. One, you can back away for a while. Two, you can acknowledge you made your point badly and try to explain what you meant in non-confrontational language. To double down and start calling people names - ugh. These issues are so sticky because they are so immensely personal to all of us. We're all trying really hard to point out why what you said is so problematic, not in an attempt to shame you, but in an attempt to break through your wall a little so you can try to understand other perspectives. We've all done that with your comments before calling you out, I'm sure.

The goal is not to have the bestest comment ever or to convince everyone of the rightness of your own view; the goal is to take an event or a website or an article and talk about it from all perspectives so we all learn a little something. You think the teacher's approach was heavy-handed and that she over-reacted? That's a valid opinion. Explain why you think that. Tell us what you think she should have done without relying on old tropes like "harassment [is] a fact of life and nature, and to rail about [it] is a bit childish." Because women and people being harassed have heard that shit all our lives, used as a way to shut us down and maintain the status quo, and we aren't having it here today.
posted by jennaratrix at 7:23 AM on September 4, 2013 [19 favorites]


If I gave out 168 surveys to college students, and only one came back with a response like: "Yur a fag" I would consider it to be a massive positive demonstration of my student's opinion of me.

Assholes gonna asshole.

I too have let the comments of one out of many consume me, control my emotions and waking thoughts. Until I realized that I was just as much to blame for that as they were.
posted by Debaser626 at 7:26 AM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh FFS...

fuck this.

Now people are claiming that victims of sexism are to blame if they become hurt by sexism?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:29 AM on September 4, 2013 [37 favorites]


Um no, they would be the ones to blame. There's nothing wrong with being against hateful, homophobic, or sexist comments and speaking out against them.
posted by agregoli at 7:29 AM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


No, her reaction was to do that, then give an interview about it, then publicly and privately attack her institution for being the 'most sexist' , and then write and promote a blog post about it.

Outside the sheltered world of academia, she might well have been rightfully fired for doing so


Really?!?
posted by dhens at 7:29 AM on September 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


I process teaching assistant (MS and PhD students) evaluations at the end of each semester and I see a fair amount of these kinds of comments. The comments range from mildly inappropriate/flirty to very inappropriate like the "Teach naked" comment from the blog posts.

The women TAs get the most comments, but our male TAs get them as well - "Bob is hott!"

I've always rolled my eyes, hard, when reading these comments, but have not felt in the position to do much about them. I've told myself, "Well, I'm not in the classroom and only see the feedback after the fact." But now I feel a little ashamed and I want to think of ways this kind of inappropriate feedback could be curtailed.

We're involving the students by asking for their feedback, for their evaluation of a professional's teaching, and anything regarding the individual's appearance is not relevant. I need to think of ways the TAs could make that clear before the evaluations are handed out.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:30 AM on September 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


- The dean demonstrates how many women who aren't conventionally attractive need to realize that if a guy treats his hot instructor like she only exists for that purpose, he is not taking any woman seriously.

- Please, PLEASE stop with this assumption that "many women who aren't conventionally attractive" are also totally clueless.


I think the first comment was in reference to the part where the dean said, "Well, I don’t look like you do, so I’m sure I don’t get this as frequently. Again, this is a juvenile comment and you should just learn to ignore it."
posted by naoko at 7:31 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


[sfts2, I think the stepping-away-from-the-thread impulse was the right one, please follow through on that instead of continuing to argue with everybody else about your comments or spinning up What If hypotheticals.

Everybody else, maybe just go back to discussing the subject at large instead of perpetuating this sort of take-on-all-comers dynamic.]

posted by cortex at 7:34 AM on September 4, 2013


Huh? I don't follow.
posted by agregoli at 7:34 AM on September 4, 2013


That's a really interesting take. When you read this story, you're relating to the people feeling awkward -- is that right? If you were in this situation, you'd feel like you didn't need the lecture and it was unfair that you had to listen to it.

When I read this story, I'm relating to the women in the class, who sat up a little straighter, because after years of dealing with bullshit like this, someone finally said it wasn't appropriate and wouldn't be tolerated.


Interesting. The problem is, I wonder if she's actually helping things, or is just marking herself off as someone who's strange. Whose minds exactly is she changing? The offender's? Maybe, but I doubt it. Calling him a bully and a coward is likely just to make him defensive.

On the other hand, is it possible that she's making some of these students think, "if this is what feminists are like, then I don't like feminism" or just "this teacher is super uptight and weird, discount what she says"? This is why tact is necessary.

But maybe some of the girls got their morale boosted and felt good. That is something.

--

Jesus, this thread. Just to take things in order:

Is this a parody?
posted by shivohum at 7:36 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


thought this would be the arc and and thats why I rarely participate anymore

Oh I'm so sorry that Metafilter's rejection of casual misogyny makes you uncomfortable, that must be so upsetting for you!
posted by elizardbits at 7:37 AM on September 4, 2013 [78 favorites]


Why is she "strange?" And no, not a parody, that was a great summation of what the comments where doing.
posted by agregoli at 7:38 AM on September 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


Is this a parody?

If only.
posted by Ipsifendus at 7:40 AM on September 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


And tact?! She had it in spades. So her DELIVERY was wrong! I get it. If feminists would just be nicer about how they object (which she was?), people might listen. A tone argument is no argument.
posted by agregoli at 7:40 AM on September 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


Why on earth would that comment be a parody. Parody of what exactly.
posted by sweetkid at 7:41 AM on September 4, 2013 [15 favorites]


> The problem is, I wonder if she's actually helping things, or is just marking herself off as someone who's strange. Whose minds exactly is she changing? The offender's? Maybe, but I doubt it.

She just decided not to let a particular sexist incident which occurred within the context of her job stand unchallenged. No idea if she meant to change the offender's mind.

As for whether or not she's actually helping things, she says her experience isn't unique, just not addressed:
This was confirmed by the countless responses I received after the article ran from both faculty and staff, who confided in me that things like this have happened to them. Many wished they had the courage to do what I had, which made me feel a lot better and stronger about my decision to speak out. It also makes me sad that as professionals we still have to deal with gender discrimination and that a culture of victim blaming still controls decisions to come forward and talk about these issues openly.
So she probably is.
posted by postcommunism at 7:41 AM on September 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


The problem is, I wonder if she's actually helping things, or is just marking herself off as someone who's strange.

I would have found it very helpful if a professor had said something like that after receiving that evaluation in my college days. I hope none of my profs got that kind of evaluation, but it was the 80s, so I imagine they did. But no, there's nothing strange about calling out bullshit and not tolerating it, and "teach naked" is bullshit.

Also, I really wish that they told you what to evaluate professors on/what to be looking for/etc. at the beginning of the class/in the syllabus/etc. because hell if I knew what I was supposed to say on student evaluations. It's not obvious when you're 18 and in college for the first time.
posted by immlass at 7:41 AM on September 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


The problem is, I wonder if she's actually helping things, or is just marking herself off as someone who's strange.

And then the sharks smell the blood in the water, yes, we all know. Bullies are just "defensive" and it's all the bullied person's fault for acknowledging the bullying which only gets more bullying piled on them.

Are you aware of the message you're sending?
posted by sukeban at 7:41 AM on September 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


On the other hand, is it possible that she's making some of these students think, "if this is what feminists are like, then I don't like feminism" or just "this teacher is super uptight and weird, discount what she says"? This is why tact is necessary.

Can you clarify what you felt was "tactless" about what she said? And cite specific examples, please?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:42 AM on September 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


What world do people live in where suggesting people get naked is something adults do to other adults in a 'let's be having sex' environment? The pushback for this is astounding to me. I'm certainly a liberally minded member of the P.C. brigade, but this is so far over the line of something that would be considered appropriate that it would have been cause for outrage when I was in school.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:42 AM on September 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


The problem is, I wonder if she's actually helping things, or is just marking herself off as someone who's strange.

She probably is helping things, and I don't think many people would find her behavior strange. It is safe to say that nearly all the women in her classroom would not find it strange, but a relief. So that is, probably, most of the students in the class. Surely they count for something. Plus you add in all the non-misogynist men in the classroom, especially those favorably inclined to feminism, and there you have it: a significant majority of her students probably thought she was standing up for what is right and doing the right thing.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:44 AM on September 4, 2013 [18 favorites]


> On the other hand, is it possible that she's making some of these students think, "if this is what feminists are like, then I don't like feminism"

Also, dude, feminists are not the ones giving feminism a bad name in the popular imagination. I really doubt any of her students sat up and thought: "man, I was all about that gender equality thing, but now that my eyes have been opened by this tactless harangue..."
posted by postcommunism at 7:46 AM on September 4, 2013 [20 favorites]


This is why tact is necessary.
posted by solotoro at 7:46 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe she should have just taught naked instead of confronting her harassment. Her tone was totally unconvincing anyway.

Well, I don’t look like you do, so I’m sure I don’t get this as frequently.

Maybe she doesn't look like a fucking jerk?
posted by oceanjesse at 7:47 AM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Interesting. The problem is, I wonder if she's actually helping things, or is just marking herself off as someone who's strange. Whose minds exactly is she changing? The offender's? Maybe, but I doubt it. Calling him a bully and a coward is likely just to make him defensive.

On the other hand, is it possible that she's making some of these students think, "if this is what feminists are like, then I don't like feminism" or just "this teacher is super uptight and weird, discount what she says"? This is why tact is necessary.

But maybe some of the girls got their morale boosted and felt good. That is something.


You know, if you can't be bothered to read all the links in the OP, where this hypothetical is definitively answered for you, perhaps you should do so in order to not come off as a sexist troll. It would also help if you didn't engage in the same old tired stereotypes of shrill feminists and the need to calm them down just to be contrarian.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:47 AM on September 4, 2013 [19 favorites]



I have started and stopped so many comments as I'm finding that this thread is making me quite angry. Just have to respond to this.

Whose minds exactly is she changing? The offender's? Maybe, but I doubt it. Calling him a bully and a coward is likely just to make him defensive.

Let him be defensive if he feels like it. And no she may not change the offenders mind, she may as others have said even made him feel happy that he got a rise. The point isn't just to change one guys mind. The point is to state that in this social situation this type of thing is unacceptable, which makes it more socially unacceptable. The more unacceptable socially that something is lessens it happening by those (in this case) men who decide women are objects first and people second. This is one of the mechanisms of social change. It not just about the individual.
posted by Jalliah at 7:47 AM on September 4, 2013 [19 favorites]


I am honestly wondering why anything she did would make her look "strange."
posted by agregoli at 7:48 AM on September 4, 2013


Can you clarify what you felt was "tactless" about what she said? And cite specific examples, please?

I think taking the entire class to mat for a single person's two-word immature and inappropriate but not particularly horrific remark in an anonymous evaluation, and then calling it bullying, cowardly, and harassment -- it seems over-the-top to me. It seems to show a disproportion.
posted by shivohum at 7:48 AM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


And that says more about you than it does about her.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:49 AM on September 4, 2013 [40 favorites]


It WAS bullying. It WAS cowardly. It WAS harassment.
posted by agregoli at 7:50 AM on September 4, 2013 [24 favorites]


I think taking the entire class to mat for a single person's two-word immature and inappropriate but not particularly horrific remark in an anonymous evaluation, and then calling it bullying, cowardly, and harassment -- it seems over-the-top to me. It seems to show a disproportion.

I want to quote an excellent comment from up above addressing the first time you said this:
She should simply have addressed the incident, said "Class, this was inappropriate. Not cool." and moved on.

There's this time Rebecca Watson said about hitting on people late at night on elevators "guys, don't do that". And won't you believe what happened.
This encapsulates your argument perfectly.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:50 AM on September 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


She didn't take the whole class to mat; she shared with them an incident that happened and explained why it was unacceptable. No one was punished or shamed; she explained why what may have seemed like a clever remark is actually a thoughtlessly demeaning statement. Some people in the class, who may have thought it was funny at first, may have had their eyes opened to a new interpretation, and may in the future change their own or other people's actions because of it. She taught them something, potentially.

The fact that you, personally, would not have found that statement demeaning or bullying or cowardly or harassing doesn't mean it wasn't, and doesn't discount this teacher's experience. That's the point of this entire discussion.
posted by jennaratrix at 7:52 AM on September 4, 2013 [38 favorites]


The problem is, I wonder if she's actually helping things, or is just marking herself off as someone who's strange.

I doubt she was trying to change minds, she was saying "knock this crap off, it's not what either of us is here for. You may not be an adult, but at least act like one, in this adult environment, alright?"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:54 AM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


jennaratrix: "She didn't take the whole class to mat; she shared with them an incident that happened and explained why it was unacceptable. No one was punished or shamed; she explained why what may have seemed like a clever remark is actually a thoughtlessly demeaning statement. "

This is also why the tone arguments raised upthread are invalid. This is not in any way a tone issue.
posted by zarq at 7:55 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's this time Rebecca Watson said about hitting on people late at night on elevators "guys, don't do that". And won't you believe what happened.

You don't see a difference between a potential threat to physical safety and a snarky, immature remark?

It was bullying. It was cowardly. It was harassment.

I don't agree. I think that's hyperbole, and the idea of trying to criminalize and police every inappropriate piece of speech by calling it "harassment" and "bullying," which are often terms with extreme disciplinary and legal repercussions, chills expression and is a bad thing.
posted by shivohum at 7:57 AM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Back long ago, I trained as a teacher. I trained in a particularly difficult age group - junior high. My supervising instructor was a fabulous teacher, warm, funny, creative, and she had been working with hormonal little shits for many years.

We had an incident where a small weak student's work was vandalized - a clear example of the sort of bullying that happens at all levels in schools. My supervisor was disgusted and she sat down with me and explained that sometimes, as teachers, we do need to get angry, we do need to show something other than a smiling face to our class. We do need to draw a line and make it very, very clear that bullying in unacceptable and will not be tolerated in our classroom.

She called the class together and obviously furious, but also very calm, she explained what had happened, she explained it made her furious, she explained how unacceptable it was. I was in awe - her fierceness and control were inspiring and so much more genuine than the fake happy face I always tried to put on as a teacher. That lesson has always stuck with me.

So, were there students in the class that hadn't vandalized someone's work? Sure. Was everyone there feeling uncomfortable and awkward? Yes. Was single best moment of teaching I saw all year in that school? Yes.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:58 AM on September 4, 2013 [57 favorites]


is it possible that she's making some of these students think, "if this is what feminists are like, then I don't like feminism"

You know what helps people accept feminism and view it as normal and appropriate? MORE FEMINISM. The more often people speak up and call out dumb sexist shit, the less importance people will place on how so-and-so handled such-and-such incident and how their response is totally ruining feminism for everyone.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:58 AM on September 4, 2013 [36 favorites]


If it chills the expression of juvenile students telling their teachers to get naked, I'm totally okay with that.

[Edited to be gender neutral; no one should tell their teachers to get naked, male or female.]
posted by jennaratrix at 7:58 AM on September 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


She's helping. She's talking about stuff that needs to be talked about, and she did it pretty well. I'll bet those students remember that class for a long time. Sunlight is the answer to this sort of crap. Anonymity is great for reviews, but when it's abused, that needs to be pointed out. Anonymous sexism and shitcockery is still sexism and shitcockery.

The reaction from the university admin is appalling though. Not surprising, but still appalling. Blame and shame in full swing.
posted by bonehead at 7:59 AM on September 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


You don't see a difference between a potential threat to physical safety and a snarky, immature remark?

What? We thought Elevator Guy was only inviting Watson for coffee. It's not as if he had told her to get naked. And, anyway, it's the perfect example of why "not cool" is not the magical word that you think it is.
posted by sukeban at 8:00 AM on September 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


the idea of trying to criminalize and police every inappropriate piece of speech by calling it "harassment" and "bullying," which are often terms with extreme disciplinary and legal repercussions, chills expression and is a bad thing.

But she's not doing that. She's not trying to criminalize and police every inappropriate anything. She's calling this one event what it is.

If you punch me, and I say, "That's assault," the mere act of calling it what it is is not the same as pressing charges. Still less is it "criminalizing and policing every" inappropriate touching.
posted by gauche at 8:03 AM on September 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


Whose minds exactly is she changing? The offender's? Maybe, but I doubt it. Calling him a bully and a coward is likely just to make him defensive.

Sometimes when you're feeling defensive it's good to stop and think about what it is you're defending.
posted by rtha at 8:05 AM on September 4, 2013 [52 favorites]


MetaFilter: Sometimes when you're feeling defensive it's good to stop and think about what it is you're defending.

And on that note, I'm out. At least in the Syria thread I'm learning something.
posted by jennaratrix at 8:06 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


The reaction from the university admin is appalling though. Not surprising, but still appalling. Blame and shame in full swing.

Which is why I've got zero problem with the blog post and the attempt to publicize the incident, which was pointed out upthread as some sort of problem. The students got a measured teaching moment because they're students. The university is a place of business treating an employee like shit, and deserves no kid gloves.

Overly sensitive professor gets all hot and bothered. MetaFilter does the same.

"Privilege is when you think that something's not a problem because it's not a problem for you personally."
posted by jason_steakums at 8:06 AM on September 4, 2013 [45 favorites]


shivohum: " I don't agree. I think that's hyperbole, and the idea of trying to criminalize and police every inappropriate piece of speech by calling it "harassment" and "bullying," which are often terms with extreme disciplinary and legal repercussions, chills expression and is a bad thing."

Are you seriously saying that she shouldn't fucking stand up for herself because it might deny people their god-given right to say vile shit to her? Seriously?
posted by zarq at 8:12 AM on September 4, 2013 [48 favorites]


rtha: " Sometimes when you're feeling defensive it's good to stop and think about what it is you're defending."

Seconding this.
posted by zarq at 8:13 AM on September 4, 2013


I think that's hyperbole, and the idea of trying to criminalize and police every inappropriate piece of speech

Also: Her talking to the class about inappropriate comments is hyperbole, but calling what she did "criminalizing" the comments is not. Okay.
posted by rtha at 8:13 AM on September 4, 2013 [23 favorites]


If you punch me, and I say, "That's assault," the mere act of calling it what it is is not the same as pressing charges.

But while a punch is indisputably assault, not every inappropriate comment is harassment.

Are you seriously saying that she shouldn't fucking stand up for herself because it might deny people their god-given right to say vile shit to her? Seriously?

I don't think I said that anywhere. I think she should have made her comments briefer and used the term "inappropriate" rather than "bullying" or "harassment" which seemed to me too extreme.

Her talking to the class about inappropriate comments is hyperbole, but calling what she did "criminalizing" the comments is not. Okay.

Do you disagree that bullying and harassment are disciplinary/legal terms? The dean certainly understood them that way.
posted by shivohum at 8:20 AM on September 4, 2013


That an undergrad wrote an amazingly dopey remark on an anonymous evaluation form is not surprising. What I did find shocking about this story was the female dean's incredibly unsupportive reaction to the professor in response.

When I was in a fraternity, it was generally always the most recently initiated members who behaved the harshest towards the newest round of pledges. From my own experience and also watching my stepsons go through the same thing, I've noticed that frequently it is the high school sophomores who most gleefully harass freshman. In both of these situations there seems to be an attitude of, "I went through this shit, so now, rather than try to make things better moving forward, I want to insure you have to go through an equally bad time too". I got the same feeling when I read the dean's, "“I grew up in Chicago, and I used to get comments like that on the bus all the time. I just learned to ignore it." comment.
posted by The Gooch at 8:21 AM on September 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Despite the dickering doubt-casters' opinions, sexual harassment does not need to be legally actionable to be called sexual harassment. There are specific workplace categories that are legally actionable, but that does not magically make all the other kinds vanish from the world.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:21 AM on September 4, 2013 [25 favorites]


I've been toying around with the idea of bringing up a completely different topic close to my heart to my freshman students this semester (how to access mental health resources on campus, because my university has way too many student suicides and an intimidating amount of bureaucracy between students and counseling), but I was hesitant because I thought the students who think they'll never need those resources might think it was "strange." Thanks to this thread I'm definitely going to bring it up when I go over class policies for absences. There are things more important than whether or not a hypothetical 18-year-old might roll his eyes.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:22 AM on September 4, 2013 [26 favorites]


shivohum: "Do you disagree that bullying and harassment are disciplinary/legal terms? "

Both are descriptions of behavior. They may or may not be legally actionable depending on the environment in which they happen, the policies of the institution or group running said environment, and the degree to which individual or grouped incidents are considered problematic.

But no, they are not only disciplinary or legal terms.
posted by zarq at 8:23 AM on September 4, 2013 [13 favorites]


But while a punch is indisputably assault, not every inappropriate comment is harassment.

Not all punches are assault (consented-to punches, for instance, are not.) And not every inappropriate comment is harassment.

But we're not talking about every inappropriate comment. I don't understand why you see the need to keep expanding the discussion to include all of these hypothetical not-harassing-but-still-inappropriate comments. It seems like you don't really want to discuss the events that actually transpired, in favor of other, imaginary events that support your own position. You might want to think about why you keep doing that, and what it says about the strength of your position as applied to this particular set of facts.
posted by gauche at 8:26 AM on September 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


shivohum: " I don't think I said that anywhere. I think she should have made her comments briefer and used the term "inappropriate" rather than "bullying" or "harassment" which seemed to me too extreme."

You also said that the terms she used "chills expression." In other words, by being "too extreme" (a characterization I don't agree with) you feel she's inappropriate preventing the person who anonymously, verbally harassed her from doing so.
posted by zarq at 8:26 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


But while a punch is indisputably assault, not every inappropriate comment is harassment.

Can you clarify why you do not find a piece of feedback reading that a professor should "teach naked" to be an instance of harassment?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:27 AM on September 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


Considering the normal level of discussion at Metafilter, it is astonishing to see so many bald-faced apologizers for this kind of behavior.

What do you want us to do, guys? If we say nothing and then more bad stuff happens, it's our fault. If we say something the wrong way (which is always, because your Platonic ideal of how you, as a perfect person, would handle the exact situation is never achievable) we're wrong. If we go in guns a'blazin to take down a jerk, oh my god, we are so unprofessional and hysterical and wrong. We should probably be fired and publicly scolded.

It's just not right to keep moving the goalposts in every discussion of What A Woman Should Do in Response to Harassment, till you get to "Nothing bad happened and women should shut up already," but it is really educational just how hard so many of you will work to do just that.
posted by emjaybee at 8:27 AM on September 4, 2013 [59 favorites]


Considering the normal level of discussion at Metafilter, it is astonishing to see so many bald-faced apologizers for this kind of behavior.

Actually, considering the normal level of discussion in threads of this nature, I'm not astonished at all to see so many apologizers - because that is the normal level of discussion in threads of this nature.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:28 AM on September 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


emjaybee: "Considering the normal level of discussion at Metafilter, it is astonishing to see so many bald-faced apologizers for this kind of behavior."

It's really not. The apologizers have actually been kinda subdued.
posted by zarq at 8:29 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do you disagree that bullying and harassment are disciplinary/legal terms?

Words can have more than one usage. Drag is a fishing term, but I don't think that every time some one talks about it they're talking about how much force is necessary to pull line off the reel.
posted by Gygesringtone at 8:32 AM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, fuck the idea of chilling expression when the expression in question chills the idea of a woman pursuing teaching.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:33 AM on September 4, 2013 [25 favorites]


At least in the Syria thread I'm learning something.

Consider this: in this thread, we are all learning valuable things about which mefites support misogyny, either overtly or covertly,
posted by elizardbits at 8:33 AM on September 4, 2013 [43 favorites]


elizardbits: " Consider this: in this thread, we are all learning valuable things about which mefites support misogyny, either overtly or covertly,"

Or consciously or unconsciously. Or who may have preconceptions that are biasing their perspective. All of which can change if they keep an open mind.

You're making it sound like people are Going on a List. Which is fine, I guess. But between us I'd hate to think that it's a static one. And that once you've judged them to be Misogynists they can never, ever get off it.

I've raised questions or said asinine things in Metatalk that have rightfully, justifiably pissed people off because I made stupid assumptions or thought I knew something was true when I didn't. I hope that people wouldn't condemn me for them permanently.
posted by zarq at 8:39 AM on September 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


You're making it sound like people are Going on a List. Which is fine, I guess. But between us I'd hate to think that it's a static one. And that once you've judged them to be Misogynists they can never, ever get off it.

Zarq - in our experience, they rarely do change. I have seen precisely one instance of someone having that kind of road-to-Damascus epiphany that "oh my God....I've been sexist and that's not cool," and he was so horrified that he posted a lengthy apology in the open MeTa thread which prompted that realization. It was notable not only for its length, and the depth of his regret - but for its rarity.

So, I mean, if something like that happened, yeah, someone would get off of my personal CheeseDick list, but the odds are very long that once a CheeseDick, always a CheeseDick.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:44 AM on September 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


Chills expression? Chills expression? What's the endgame here, that students are quaking in their boots with such terror at writing potentially inappropriate comments on the anonymous evaluation that they meekly turn in evaluations that only discuss the class and what they learned, staying far away from personal comments about the teacher?
posted by Copronymus at 8:44 AM on September 4, 2013 [46 favorites]


Since everyone here is capable of judging for themselves what they do or do not consider to be misogyny-supporting comments, I'm not really concerned. Further, everyone else is also capable of reading back through other people's comment histories to see that these attitudes are long held despite many chances given and many patient explanations made of privilege and harmful beliefs.
posted by elizardbits at 8:45 AM on September 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


"This X is Y!"
"Not every X is Y, you know."
"Yeah, but this one is."
"Let's talk about all the X's that are not Y."
"I'm upset about this X."
"It's just one X. Plenty of X's are not Y. And Y happens all the time. You should just get used to it."
"I know. I have to deal with things that are Y a lot and it's getting on my nerves. Far from getting used to it, I'm being worn down instead. And also, my life is full of plenty of X's that, while not technically Y, are nevertheless annoying and degrading."
"Also, you can't say that an X is Y! You want to police every instance of X? Trust me, that's a big can of worms you don't want to open."
"No, but I want to talk about a way that this one person turned this particular X into a way to talk about why Y is inappropriate."
"But how do you know the X is Y? Plenty of X's aren't, you know. Besides, I bet it made people who do X uncomfortable. You can't reach hearts and minds by making people uncomfortable."
"She also encouraged people who have to deal with X and Y to stand up for themselves. And people who observe other X's that are Y to be better bystanders. At least some of those people felt empowered by the lesson."
"That assumes that all X's are Y."
"No, it really doesn't."
posted by gauche at 8:46 AM on September 4, 2013 [30 favorites]


But we're not talking about every inappropriate comment.

And neither am I. I don't think the inappropriate comment in this set of facts rises to the level of harassment.
--
Can you clarify why you do not find a piece of feedback reading that a professor should "teach naked" to be an instance of harassment?

For one thing, as the dean pointed out, the student doesn't have authority over the teacher (in fact the opposite is true), and that's often a prerequisite for harassment. Second, I just don't think a one-off junior high school remark in an anonymous evaluation rises to the level of harassment.
--
Words can have more than one usage. Drag is a fishing term, but I don't think that every time some one talks about it they're talking about how much force is necessary to pull line off the reel.

That's not the right analogy. Words have more than one usage, but a colloquial and a legal usage with overlapping terrain are different. When you use the word in the colloquial sense, particularly in an environment where it also has a sharp legal sense -- you have to be cognizant of that. You cannot separate the two.
posted by shivohum at 8:46 AM on September 4, 2013


EmpressCallipygos, That's... really sad. And very depressing. :(

elizardbits, True. :(
posted by zarq at 8:46 AM on September 4, 2013


toerinishuman: "On one of the induction evaluation forms yesterday, one student wrote that we could improve the induction by having 'good looking' female staff giving it, and one of the eval forms from today said the class rule was 'no blowjobs.'"

it'd be interesting to turn that into your own "teachable moments", assuming the class you're involved with is still around to talk about that eval form.
posted by boo_radley at 8:47 AM on September 4, 2013


EmpressCallipygos, That's... really sad. And very depressing. :(

Yes, I agree that it's sad that other people have so frequently let me down that I have had to adopt that policy so as to protect myself.

That's the bit you thought was sad, yes?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:49 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think I said that anywhere. I think she should have made her comments briefer and used the term "inappropriate" rather than "bullying" or "harassment" which seemed to me too extreme.

Unwanted advances in the workplace are harassment. Doubly so when they are couched in crudely sexual terms.

Interestingly, even if there were some doubt as to whether the student's review constituted harassment -- and there cannot be any reasonable doubt as to that -- the dean's reported behavior would have generated a hostile work environment even if it had not previously existed.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:49 AM on September 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


Second, I just don't think a one-off junior high school remark in an anonymous evaluation rises to the level of harassment.

I invite you to educate yourself on the existence of microaggressions directed towards minority people, specifically female human beings in this case.
posted by elizardbits at 8:50 AM on September 4, 2013 [27 favorites]


A random sexist remark from an asshole on the street is harassment, even though he has no authority over me. Also, you don't get to decide what is harassment for women. And this is obviously harassment. You are defending, "teach naked" as not harassment. I am embarrassed for you.
posted by agregoli at 8:51 AM on September 4, 2013 [33 favorites]


"You're making it sound like people are Going on a List. Which is fine, I guess. But between us I'd hate to think that it's a static one. And that once you've judged them to be Misogynists they can never, ever get off it."

zarq, you know I love you but men who clearly demonstrate misogyny maybe having a hard time being given a second chance is a pretty crazy and tone deaf fear to present in a thread about yet another of the many things women actually do need to deal with on a daily basis
posted by Blasdelb at 8:52 AM on September 4, 2013 [18 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: " That's the bit you thought was sad, yes?"

I wasn't thinking in those terms, but yes, I think that's sad and depressing too.

I was referring to your explanation that people changing their minds on this topic is such a rarity. On mefi especially when so many people have put so much friggin' effort into explaining why harassment of any kind is a serious problem for women and shouldn't be dismissed or taken lightly. It's depressing for several reasons, including that it makes me feel like all that effort is unfortunately for naught.
posted by zarq at 8:53 AM on September 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Zarq - in our experience, they rarely do change.

I changed, between age 17 and my mid-30s, largely because girlfriends, female friends, and women in authority positions pointed out inappropriate behavior like this. How else does one change, barring some sudden enlightened epiphany, without patient external feedback and correction?
posted by Mapes at 8:55 AM on September 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


Fair enough, zarq. (In all seriousness - I was afraid that you thought it sad that I was a meanie who wouldn't give people second chances, but that's not what you were saying and you kind of said what I said anyway, so we're cool.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:56 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Blasdelb: "men who clearly demonstrate misogyny maybe having a hard time being given a second chance is a pretty crazy and tone deaf fear to present in a thread about yet another of the many things women actually do need to deal with on a daily basis"

Ugh. REALLY NOT what I was trying to do. I apologize to everyone if what I said came across that way.

I was trying to say that people can change their minds. And maybe, just maybe by talking about it we can help them do so. I was not trying to defend them or what they're saying.
posted by zarq at 8:57 AM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I changed, between age 17 and my mid-30s, largely because girlfriends, female friends, and women in authority positions pointed out inappropriate behavior like this. How else does one change, barring some sudden enlightened epiphany, without patient external feedback and correction?

If that patient external feedback and correction doesn't work, what else would you suggest people do?

And are you saying that every woman in the world is responsible for correcting mens' misbehavior, and that no man in the world is responsible for policing their own selves?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:59 AM on September 4, 2013


If that patient external feedback and correction doesn't work, what else would you suggest people do?

hard labor and reeducation camps
posted by elizardbits at 9:00 AM on September 4, 2013 [28 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: "Fair enough, zarq. (In all seriousness - I was afraid that you thought it sad that I was a meanie who wouldn't give people second chances

Oh good lord, no.

but that's not what you were saying and you kind of said what I said anyway, so we're cool.)"

Thanks. :)
posted by zarq at 9:00 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


the student doesn't have authority over the teacher (in fact the opposite is true), and that's often a prerequisite for harassment.

Are you making that claim about the dictionary definition, or the legal one? You're wrong either way, of course.
posted by solotoro at 9:03 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


And are you saying that every woman in the world is responsible for correcting mens' misbehavior, and that no man in the world is responsible for policing their own selves?

I think Mapes is just saying that "they rarely change" is maybe overstating the case and it's worth not getting overly doomy about the prospect of things getting better as people do broach this stuff and talk about it and point out when something inappropriate.
posted by cortex at 9:03 AM on September 4, 2013


Yep!
posted by Mapes at 9:04 AM on September 4, 2013


While I agree with the "maybe not worth getting overly doomy" bit, Cortex, mapes did say "How else does one change, barring some sudden enlightened epiphany, without patient external feedback and correction?" which does sound awfully like the old "tone argument" thing which we've heard ad infinitum.

So mapes, if that's not in fact how you meant to take it, that may explain the reaction you got. If it is indeed meant as I took it, then....yeah, I'm gonna go back to being doomy for a while, thanks.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:06 AM on September 4, 2013


In general I think it is suboptimal for members of traditionally oppressed groups to constantly have to defend their right to be treated as human beings. It's exhausting and dehumanizing and it never, ever stops.
posted by elizardbits at 9:09 AM on September 4, 2013 [35 favorites]


It was intended as a grateful credit to my colleagues, not some type of mandate.
posted by Mapes at 9:10 AM on September 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


shivohum: "the student doesn't have authority over the teacher"

Student evaluations are usually big part of teacher performance evaluations. So yes, they can affect the way a teacher is judged by their peers and bosses. Specifically whether they are thought of as a competent professional.

One bad evaluation probably wouldn't carry that much weight. Several could. But just one bad evaluation could still trigger administrative scrutiny. If a student seems to be more interested in a teacher's physical attributes than what they have to teach, the administration might investigate. If a student thinks it's okay to be sexist and harassing towards a teacher, the administration might consider that a count against her -- a sign she's not managing her classroom properly. Etc.
posted by zarq at 9:11 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ugh.

I've never gotten "teach naked" on an evaluation, but I'm still mortified---as in, makes me kind of sick to my stomach thinking about it mortified---by the comment I got one year saying "wear a bra".

(In fairness, I hadn't been, because I'd stopped nursing, so the nursing bras were no good, and I didn't have any others that fit anymore...and I'm a definitely-less-than-A, so I didn't think it mattered...)

And comments on how my teaching must have been affected by my pregnancy. Those were good too.

Still not as bad as the poor undergraduate TA who had an office next to mine when I was in grad school who had an unusual sense of personal style, and who received several uncomplimentary comments regarding appearance and dress on her evaluations. Yep, she was a woman too.

Students can be pretty frustrating.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:13 AM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


The problem is, I wonder if she's actually helping things, or is just marking herself off as someone who's strange.

Of course she's helping things, as was obvious from her posts. The women she taught got confirmation that this shit isn't tolerated, the men in her class got an eye opener that a) this sort of thing occurs b) that's not funny but hurtful and c) that actions have consequences, if only that your teacher/professor thinks less of you for having done that, even if she doesn't know it was you.

Furthermore, because she spoke out in class the school paper gave her an interview on the subject of harassment on campus, an interview the journalist had already tried to get people for but couldn't, hence bringing the subject of harassment under the attention again.

All wins, except for the interaction with the dean, who totally fucked up here. There had been an opportunity to let higher management take the lead on reducing harassment, to show support for the grassroots attention to it, but instead she tried to cover up; not surprising, still disgusting.

Note btw, that she mentions that all the men she spoke too were surprised that this happened, with the exception of the police chief, just in case there's any doubt that this isn't important. Ask yourself, why would the police chief be the only one to know about this already?
posted by MartinWisse at 9:18 AM on September 4, 2013 [21 favorites]


shivohum: " the student doesn't have authority over the teacher (in fact the opposite is true), and that's often a prerequisite for harassment"

Oh, I wanted to mention something on this line of thinking as well. I worked at a university in Denver, CO, and there was never a prerequisite like this. The threshold is that a person only had to be made uncomfortable to a certain point. An absence of power imbalance was never a criterion when considering reports.
posted by boo_radley at 9:21 AM on September 4, 2013


I am going to tell this story here again because it seems especially pertinent to the conversation.

I give talks about this topic to college freshman (ok, my talk is more geared toward cat calling, but it includes these more "private" exchanges). Here's how it goes down.

Like this.

It goes well. Many of the men in the room usually say they learned something and will stop doing this, and better still, will tell their friends to knock it off. The women in the room usually say they learned that this is not their fault. They also report relief that someone has spelled out for the men why it's not pleasant to encounter these behaviors.

The men genuinely did not realize that this type of speech feels threatening, that it's not complimentary, and that it is largely unwelcome. Or they're really good bullshitters. And seriously, either way, they need to hear this. Adults need to know what is expected of them, and what the consequences of their action are. If they don't see a consequence, then it doesn't exist. We need to show peeople the consequences.

Of course, I get people who tell me that I should use a different tone, or that college isn't the place for this, or that they have free speech rights that I can't infringe on (which....they're right. And it makes me cringe internally because the government didn't send me to censor their gendered speech and expectations.)

I also say this all the time, for men, the equivalence of this behavior is "what if a woman said this to me?" And that's the wrong question. The question is, "what if someone who is muscular and believed by everyone, who also outweighs you by your entire body weight said this to you? How would you feel?" The answer to the first question is not "threatened" but the second is.

Why is that? There's a lot of baggage in the contrast between those questions, and I'm going to straight up say that when women raise concerns about these issues we're told (among other things) We didn't understand, we can't take a joke, we're hysterical/emotional and/or we're sluts. When this happens to men, they're told they must be weak, they misunderstood and it says something about them that they read that into it, or they're obviously gay so why should they be upset about attention from men?

These messages are inappropriate responses to real problems. But teaching that words like "teach naked" are not innocent or innocuous has real and lasting effects on the people in the room for the lesson. I'm proud of her for standing up and doing this. When I give these talks, I get to leave the room and not deal with the men who leave the rare comment cards that talk about my backside or my fuckability. But I hear about them from the teachers of the courses. But I get to hang onto the hope that I planted a seed in the minds of those men, and watered the seeds in the minds of everyone else that this is not ok, and they can do something to help prevent/stop it.

An interesting thing to note, which I haven't seen here, is that the things we DO have an impact on the things we feel. The more someone makes shitty insensitve gendered remarks, the more they believe those remarks. The more one curbs the impulse to make such remarks, the less strongly they are felt. (The pencil/smile experiment is sort of related to this.)
posted by bilabial at 9:22 AM on September 4, 2013 [72 favorites]


A lot of people are working very hard to imagine a circumstance in which anonymously telling a woman to should "teach naked" for their sexual gratification doesn't rise to the disciplinary or legal standard of harassment, in which it is not a gross, gendered assault on the dignity of another person, in which it shouldn't bother anyone except as a little breach of etiquette. How is it anything other than an attempt to take away someone's power and authority at its root, their power and authority over their own body and mind?

So they're quite comfortable calling the woman's response part of a "cold spectre" of authoritarianism or an example of her failure to know her place in her own professional setting , remarks that make sense only if their writers assume that women should be "warm," solicitous, not too willing to exercise their authority or their own speech, and so forth. (The claim that the teacher has the "real power" here becomes rather suspect given all the limitations and boundaries her critics seem happy to impose on that supposed power.)

In short, the criticisms come from the same place as the anonymous remark: "she" is here for your pleasure and comfort, tolerated so long as "she" never troubles either and performs on command, to specifications, within the boundaries prescribed by those who know and are better, because they just *are*, you know. What do you mean by "privilege?", they ask. Isn't that just another word meaning "nature?"
posted by kewb at 9:23 AM on September 4, 2013 [27 favorites]


For those who might have missed it, sexual assault on college campuses and how those institutions handle it (hint: they mostly do it badly) has been in the news lately, with the Dept. of Education being called on to investigate. I wonder if the dean in this story is aware of that?
posted by rtha at 9:23 AM on September 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


I can easily see my college-age self writing something smart-ass on a prof-mandated evaluation form, esp. if I wasn't likely to get caught. (And I'm female, and I'd write it about a male teacher.) Evaluation forms are boring and most of the time, the prof doesn't want any negative opinion. "What I'm doing to help myself learn?" Coffee and drugs maybe. Questions like these just beg to be answered with snark.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:23 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Still not as bad as the poor undergraduate TA who had an office next to mine when I was in grad school who had an unusual sense of personal style, and who received several uncomplimentary comments regarding appearance and dress on her evaluations.

It's not just the students in these cases letting the side down; it's also the school as a whole for not providing evaluation guidelines that outright ban this sort of comment. I'm not under the illusion that this would stop these comments, but it would make it clear that it is unacceptable behaviour and that sort of public shaming does have an effect.

How else does one change, barring some sudden enlightened epiphany, without patient external feedback and correction?

Naming and shaming are also powerful forces for changing behaviour. Not so much trying to change minds, but stop shitty behaviour. If everybody, including authority figures tell you your harassment is "not cool" (ugh), it becomes harder to continue with it.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:24 AM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I can easily see my college-age self writing something smart-ass on a prof-mandated evaluation form, esp. if I wasn't likely to get caught.

Your failure or unwillingness to think fully about what you do in relation to other people doesn't mean they go away or that you're not really hurting anyone.
posted by kewb at 9:28 AM on September 4, 2013 [26 favorites]


I have no idea if I'm just at my limit on this topic, or if this thread is particularly infuriating, but holy cow. It is really mind-boggling that long-time members of Metafilter can still throw down and snark with such baseless authority about topics about which they personally know nothing, in this case, gender-based harrassment and bullying. I know we're supposed to rise above, but Learn. Something. Finally.
posted by thinkpiece at 9:28 AM on September 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


Questions like these just beg to be answered with snark.

There is a vast, winds-howling-in-the-cavern difference between "snark" and telling someone they should teach naked. And your being a woman with male teachers doesn't excuse you for not knowing that - it's not like one gender can get away with this and the other can't.

It is disrespectful to all people. Period.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:34 AM on September 4, 2013 [16 favorites]


To the people who are only "Oh, you sheltered academics. Here in the Real World [which is always implicitly BigCorp] blahblahblah."

BS. I just quit BigCorp job. And while that place had issues, anything like a female employee being told to "work naked" would get the hammer brought down. There would be Meetings and Conversations. It would not just be a funny workplace joke.

I'm not claiming that's universal or even the majority. But to claim everywhere is like Goldman and the trading pit is quite blinkered. And wrong. Factually.
posted by PMdixon at 9:34 AM on September 4, 2013 [23 favorites]


Part 2 is horrifying.
posted by yeolcoatl at 9:34 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's so interesting to me that every time a woman responds to sexual harassment, the same voices -- here and elsewhere -- speak up to tell her that she did it wrong. I have not yet ever seen any of those voices say "This time? This time you got it right. Congratulations!" I mean, I know that the actual answer is that those people don't want women to respond to harassment at all, they just want her to lower her eyes and feel demeaned and powerless, but it's still so enraging.
posted by KathrynT at 9:36 AM on September 4, 2013 [45 favorites]


A single sentence (from Part 2) succinctly sums up the underlying inspiration for all of these comments: "speaking out against sexual harassment has a chilling effect on free speech," "she's just overreacting/immature/thin-skinned/exaggerating for effect," "this isn't real harassment, and you're out of line if you talk about it as though it were," "if you acknowledge it in any way, you're letting them win," "some of my best friends are women and they wouldn't have a problem with this," "just shut up and get over it already," "this sort of thing happens to men and women in equal numbers," "sexism isn't real; I know this because I've never personally experienced it," and "it isn't harassment if the harasser has less institutional power than the harassed." I'm sure I missed a few. Anyway, here it is:
With the exception of the police chief, the male responses also seemed to imply, or explicitly state, that this was an isolated incidence. The female responses, however, were supportive from a solidarity standpoint.

It is utterly exhausting to try to keep up with these threads, and they are just a sliver of a microcosm of what it is like to have the audacity to live as a woman on and offline. As it turns out, having men repeatedly and loudly insist that women must forever let any/all instances of gendered harassment slide because "that's just how it is" tends to have a -- hm, what's the term for it? oh, right -- a chilling effect.

Endlessly responding to the stubborn whining of unrepentant sexists kind of makes me want to jump off of a cliff into a canyon of barbed wire and splintered Nickelback CDs, so I'll just leave a few links here for anyone who is interested in exploring the obviously minuscule possibility that academia may not be entirely immune to sexism. All papers are PDFs unless otherwise noted.

Gender and Student Evaluations: An Annotated Bibliography

Women in Academia: An Analysis of Their Expectations, Performance and Pay

Gender and Student Evaluations of Teaching

Student Ratings of Professors are not Gender Blind [HTML]
The ratings of male professors are unaffected by student gender, but female professors frequently receive lower ratings from their male students and higher ratings from their female students. Female professors also appear to be evaluated according to a heavier set of expectations than are male professors, and these expectations affect student ratings.
These last two require JSTOR access, sorry:

Women Are Teachers, Men Are Professors: A Study of Student Perceptions

Gender Matters Most: The Interaction of Gendered Expectations, Feminist Course Content, and Pregnancy in Student Course Evaluations (shout out to leahwrenn)
posted by divined by radio at 9:37 AM on September 4, 2013 [54 favorites]


shivohum: "For one thing, as the dean pointed out, the student doesn't have authority over the teacher (in fact the opposite is true), and that's often a prerequisite for harassment. "

This is one of the things that can easily seem true on the surface; we have this image of the predatory wolf or misogynistic (or misandrist) jerk as the image of The Harasser, but in reality, harassers pop up in all ranks at work - peers, clients and customers, representatives of business partners, people with less experience, status, or rank also employed there, and/or delivery/service workers.

A worker who suggests this meeting would go better if Jane Doe got naked is harassing Jane Doe regardless of whether he is her boss or her peer or her direct report. The fact that her peer or direct report can't fire/transfer/punish her directly doesn't earn him a pass or even an XX% reduction in impact of his words or actions.
posted by julen at 9:38 AM on September 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


All this talk about sexism yet everyone here, including the teacher , assumes it was a male student who wrote the comment. It was anonymous.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 9:38 AM on September 4, 2013


BS. I just quit BigCorp job. And while that place had issues, anything like a female employee being told to "work naked" would get the hammer brought down.

Indeed. The Very Big Bank I'm currently stationed at is very, very clear in its support for a harassment free workplace for all people, its inclusive policies for women, people of colour and /orLGBT people (quite chuffed recently to see the corporate propaganda posters all over the office with the "Holland is a tolerant country and [BigBank] welcomes all gay, lesbian and transgender people" message on them). It's not just because it's the law, though that plays a huge part, but also because they realise a professional organisation doesn't resemble a frat house.

In my experience actually, it's usually the less professional, smaller employers who are bad at this sort of thing.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:39 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


All of this just makes me very sad.
posted by michellenoel at 9:40 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


All this talk about sexism yet everyone here, including the teacher , assumes it was a male student who wrote the comment.

A woman writing it doesn't make it not be sexist.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:40 AM on September 4, 2013 [24 favorites]


All this talk about sexism yet everyone here, including the teacher , assumes it was a male student who wrote the comment. It was anonymous.

Doesn't matter; still harassment.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:40 AM on September 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Today, I'm working my way through my biannual, state-mandated harassment training, and I'm really wishing that I could make a couple of posters here sit through it as well.
posted by malocchio at 9:41 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


But yes, it could've been that one lesbian female student in the class who is slightly too agressive in her courtship; but that's not the way to bet.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:41 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can easily see my college-age self writing something smart-ass on a prof-mandated evaluation form, esp. if I wasn't likely to get caught.

Me too. That's why I'm grateful for the times someone's pointed out to me that a knee-jerk comment of mine was hurtful, even and especially if I didn't intend it to be.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:43 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


BlerpityBloop: "All this talk about sexism yet everyone here, including the teacher , assumes it was a male student who wrote the comment. It was anonymous."

I think people are focusing on the act and not the actor.
posted by boo_radley at 9:43 AM on September 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


Also, shining a light on these things, as gets mentioned frequently, helps a lot. Shining a light on the frequency, but also the infrequency.

One of the things that harassers have in common with each other is they believe it's normal. They believe that everybody does it.

For the one guy who wrote that crappy remark to learn that he was ALONE in that behavior might have been the biggest eye opener available to him.

Because when he told that story (if he ever did) around the lunch table, there might have been some uncomfortable chuckling, or an immature high five. But it is unlikely that anyone told him "I've never done that."

And now he knows, that out of (however many) men in a class, he was the only person who thought this was an acceptable way to get a private laugh.
posted by bilabial at 9:47 AM on September 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


I don’t think that the fact that one asshat probably won’t change their mind is enough reason to not have the conversation about inappropriate workplace/academic behavior toward people of other genders. If the asshat goes unchallenged, they start to have influence over non-asshats, and asshatty behavior starts to become generally accepted.

I remember a conversation between my mother and her older brother, in which she said she wished he wouldn’t use casually racist language when she knew he didn’t really feel that way about other races. He said that he did try, and that when his kids were young and at home he tried especially hard around them, but that he heard a lot of it during his formative years and it was hard not to slip into it even when he didn’t want to.

So, if one asshat writes sexually inappropriate material on evaluations, and somebody in a position of authority says, “This is not OK; this is sexual harassment,” some of the people who aren’t really asshats think twice before trying it themselves because they know “Well, the asshat did it” isn’t an excuse.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:48 AM on September 4, 2013


One day I'm going to make a discussion forum where it's taken for granted that we all understand basic notions of sexism, like what it is and when it occurs. And if somebody doesn't understand this, we put them in a little box and hit them with foam mallets.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:59 AM on September 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


No, I like the little plastic ones that squeak.
posted by elizardbits at 9:59 AM on September 4, 2013 [15 favorites]


Why do they have to be foam again?
posted by thinkpiece at 10:02 AM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah but then they will try yelling to get heard over all the loud squeaking. You need to be considerate.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:02 AM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


One common aspect in negative responses to this sort of situation is catastrophiziing the effects of the woman's actions and minimizing what occurred to the woman. If I were wearing my pretend-analyst hat, I might find this fascinating! It's a reversal of reality: everyday sexism is a real catastrophe that real people really experience, whereas the woman's actions are almost always saying some small thing about their personal experience or reporting an incident to an authority specifically charged with resolving that sort of incident.

Why is that?

I think the general reason, or one common reason, is that the person responding negatively to the story most readily identifies with everyone involved but the woman. The responder may also often have a general sense that sexual harassment, like racism, is a powerful charge to levy. For such a "small event" to generate such a "huge response," there must be an overreaction somewhere. Furthermore, the people who go along with the woman's "huge response" without challenging it must be engaging in some sort of mob-mentality group-think.

By responding negatively to this woman's story, by maximizing her actions and minimizing the instigating action, the responder is attempting to demonstrate:
  1. Their clear-eyed, fresh, and original perspective on the action, which is a better perspective than that of the woman embedded in the situation
  2. Their individualism, which allows them to avoid falling in with the group-think PC mob unwilling or unable to challenge the woman
  3. The clarity of their thinking, which is best expressed by talking about very different hypothetical situations or by explaining how the woman in the situation misinterpreted what happened and reacted wrongly
This is terribly ironic.
  1. Generally speaking, the negative responder is inexperienced with sexism, with unwanted and threatening sexual advances, with feminist theory, with the relevant laws, rules, and regulations, with the relevant statistics, and most importantly, with the actual situation in question. (They weren't there, and they tend not to have the tools necessary to really listen to the woman's description of what happened--assuming they actually read the post in the first place.)
  2. Their response is the living embodiment of the status quo. Minimizing the event and over-scrutinizing the woman's actions is exactly what you would expect from a culture that is generally dismissive of and disrespectful towards women's ability to be competent, reliable witnesses to their own experiences. There could be nothing less critical and individualistic than this sort of response, time after time.
  3. A lack of empathy totally undermines any ability to say something relevant, original, clear, or surprising about the situation. Women, like all people, are prone to messing up. This is particularly so when under pressure. But attempting to criticize a woman's response to a situation like this from your outside perspective alone makes most of the responder's remarks doomed to irrelevance. Any criticism that is actually helpful has to come from a place of empathy and understanding first.
Just some general thoughts I have about general things that may or may not be happening in this thread and every thread like it.

Apologies for the length.
posted by jsturgill at 10:06 AM on September 4, 2013 [53 favorites]


Yeah but then they will try yelling to get heard over all the loud squeaking.

No, see, that's when we break out the vuvuzelas.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:15 AM on September 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


[A few comments removed. shivohum, cut it the fuck out.]
posted by cortex at 10:20 AM on September 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


As it turns out, having men repeatedly and loudly insist that women must forever let any/all instances of gendered harassment slide because "that's just how it is" tends to have a -- hm, what's the term for it? oh, right -- a chilling effect.

That's because some chilling effects are really really bad, see. But a woman who objects to harassment is never going to be the one who gets to say that the chilling effects of harassment are (yes) even worse than calling out that harassment.

Exhausting, yeah.
posted by rtha at 10:27 AM on September 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


PMdixon: BS. I just quit BigCorp job. And while that place had issues, anything like a female employee being told to "work naked" would get the hammer brought down. There would be Meetings and Conversations. It would not just be a funny workplace joke.

I'm not sure a BigCorp would have done anything about this. Remember, it was anonymous feedback from a student (which a BigCorp would consider a customer.) I'm willing to bet they would not have done anything. Hell, they'd have been even more likely to retaliate against the instructor for making the other customers feel bad.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:28 AM on September 4, 2013


I wish it wasn't always the same passel of assholes that deny, minimize and justify harassment of women every single time it comes up on MeFi. If you find yourself always arguing against people who believe they have been harassed, stands to reason you're more likely a harasser who is looking to mitigate your behavior. That's the overwhelming impressing I get from some commenters here.
posted by klangklangston at 10:31 AM on September 4, 2013 [15 favorites]


I...don't think you quite get how BigCorps work internally. (Another BigCorp vet here, and...yeah, they take harassment pretty seriously.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:31 AM on September 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


You guys write too fast for me, so these comments are general and not directed at anyone here.

Things like this are one of the major things that makes me love the face off of the internet. These are the kinds of experiences that a lot of women have been having in isolation, and in small segregated groups, forever and ever. Women talk about this stuff. Women have been individually gotten fed up and taken small stands in their own lives, and we've been being demonized for it on small scales since as long as I remember.

I know a lot of men who have been enlightened by seeing how things like this play out. Anita Sarkeesian, Rebecca Watson, and all the others like them who've been painted as shrill, hysterical harpies for making calm, measured, and totally rational arguments or requests or observations about the way women are treated in our culture. (And it's almost murderously ironic when the chief complaint of the men going off the rails is that women are 'overreacting' and blowing things out of proportion.)

This is how a lot of men respond to women who share their perspectives and experiences. And reasonable men who see these behaviors can see that, and learn from it.

So it's valuable in that sense.

The other really big benefit of having stories like this in public fora is that it helps women feel less isolated. Way back in the 90s, I walked out of my workplace one day when I hit my limit. My male dominated workplace had always been a sort of fratty environment with a lot of sexually inappropriate behavior. But I'd logged into the development machine, only to find someone had (I assume carelessly, not maliciously) left a bunch of soft core porn in one of my working directories, and it was the last straw. I emailed my supervisors and the C levels and told them I was going home and that they were welcome to call me if and when it was gone. (Porn use was VERY open there--it was part of the culture.)

It wasn't a legal threat, even. I was just going to quit. But I think they took it as one, so they held a company meeting, told everyone to get rid of all their porn, then they called me in to assure me it was gone and blah blah blah. I was at the time the only woman working in the development side of the company, so everyone knew it was me. I was absolutely ostracized to some extent, and I have no doubt that it affected my ability to advance in my career to some extent as well.

Worse, though, until pretty recently, I held onto this nagging idea that I was just a big fat buzzkill and maybe I should have just let it slide instead of causing a stink about it. I do not and never have consciously believed that, but I couldn't get rid of that uncomfortable feeling that I was somehow being self-centered and prudish or something.

Slowly, though, as I've watched other women's stories play out on the internet, I've not only gotten rid of that nagging doubt, but I now really want to give myself a high five back in time.

And you know what? That is so much more valuable and important than preserving the feelings of some sexist prick. I don't care about those guys. They'll figure shit out or they won't.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:35 AM on September 4, 2013 [40 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: I...don't think you quite get how BigCorps work internally. (Another BigCorp vet here, and...yeah, they take harassment pretty seriously.)

Harassment delivered via anonymous customer feedback? What would they do? I'm honestly curious.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:35 AM on September 4, 2013


Students aren't customers.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:37 AM on September 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


A student in a classroom is not the same thing as an anonymous faceless customer. This would be more like going to a client site and being harassed there.

There would be consequences.
posted by RainyJay at 10:39 AM on September 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Harassment delivered via anonymous customer feedback? What would they do?

Ohhhh, I see the disconnect. You're assuming the students are like customers. In reality, they are more like employees or colleagues. And even if one of the big bosses overheard two guys snarking around to each other about one of their women colleagues, they'd get a talking to.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:40 AM on September 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Harassment delivered via anonymous customer feedback? What would they do? I'm honestly curious.

I'm not really sure what your scenario is, to be honest. Could you flesh it out some more? What's the name of the corporation? What do they make or sell? What job does the woman have there? Who tells her to do her job naked, and what is their relationship to the woman? Who is her manager? What is her salary? Does she have benefits? Is she still a woman in this scenario, or did it happen to a man? Was the comment written down, faxed, emailed, or spoken? In what language? What state or country is this set in?

I think a one-act play laying the foundation of the situation out for us would help us decide how the BigCorp would respond.
posted by jsturgill at 10:41 AM on September 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


I have a good friend who delivers executive sales training for a large software company in Redmond. If she got feedback from one of her classes that she should teach the class naked, I can only imagine the degree to which heads would roll -- and her "students" are C-level executives. I would expect a mass email to go out to everyone in the class reminding everyone in the strongest possible terms that that sort of behavior is unacceptable, actionable, and ultimately fireable, as well as a concerted effort to find out just who had written the feedback in question so that they could be talked to privately.
posted by KathrynT at 10:43 AM on September 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


It seems strange to me to pack a comment thread with pre-refutations, largely in the form of ad hominems, of anyone who might disagree with the orthodoxy. I mean, at first it seemed strange to me that virtually no one here has even seriously questioned whether the response was proportionate to the offense--because there is typically a lot of disagreement about such questions of proportionality. But then I saw, above, that anyone who did raise such a question would be a living embodiment of the status quo, lacking in empathy, morally obtuse, just plain stupid, and probably a sexual harasser himself... So...that makes it all less surprising.

Right. I'll show myself out.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 10:45 AM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Slight derail:

The thing I've observed about BigCorp and the structures within them is that they are really really really conflict averse (not avoidant). So causing conflict is Bad and must be Discussed so that we can Set Everyone Up For Success. It was actually literally policy (observed utterly in the breach) that *nothing negative* should be said about anyone in any written communication. Like, some variant of "X is lazy" was actually the example given.

Fear of lawsuits + super negative PR these days are what lead to the instigator being the person causing conflict instead of the person reporting it, presumably.
posted by PMdixon at 10:45 AM on September 4, 2013


Harassment delivered via anonymous customer feedback? What would they do? I'm honestly curious.

I've worked at two different places where colleagues had stalkers. In one case, the stalker was unknown to the colleague; in the other, the stalker was known.

In both instances, we got periodic all-staff reminders about what kind of messages (email, voicemail) should be forwarded on to HR - not just limited to "possibly from colleague's stalker", but also anything else that was threatening or inappropriate. We got regular trainings on harassment and what the company's policies were. IT would get looped in if it seemed like some of the email stuff was coming in a pattern that could be blocked.

Also, at one place we had a small sales group. They also got regular, client-interaction-specific training about how to not harass people, and what to do if they were harassed by a client.

In other words, even if the company couldn't make it stop, they were very good about letting people know that this kind of shit was not okay even coming from outside anonymous asshats and we didn't have to just suck it up and suffer in silence. They tried to make it clear that our concerns were heard and were being addressed in the best way possible.
posted by rtha at 10:46 AM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


You know, threads like this can be really depressing.

We read all sorts of things that make us sad or angry. We read accounts of the victims of this sort of stuff, and despair that people have to put up with both these kinds of actions and have to bear the reaction that talking about these kinds of events inevitably brings. And we read these loud voices expressing all varieties of opinions that are kind of heart-breaking to hear, these voices perpetually saying, "It's not a big deal," no matter how many people on the other end say, "Yeah, it kinda is."

And I just wanted to add a note that was maybe a bit less shitty to this conversation. I wanted to remind everyone hear who is championing the oppressed voice that as shitty as these conversations might feel to participate in them, the cumulative experience of reading them over the years has really and truly changed how I think about things.

To be fair, I don't think I was ever on the wrong side - I would never have been decrying her actions (which, seriously, how the fuck can anyone be critical of how she handled it?). But --- this place and these discussions have made me aware of so much stuff that privilege used to allow me to ignore. And I think about it a lot, and I talk to people about it, about their experience and perceptions. I think about who at work might be actually just favouring me because I'm a man, and not because I'm super awesome at everything, about what advantages I've gained, and what that implies about what other people around me might have lost.

I don't know, I guess my point is maybe we don't see a lot of turnaround in individual viewpoints in these threads, but 1) I think there's a cumulative effect that's maybe harder to see and 2) there are lots more people reading than speaking in all these discussions and some of us are really, really listening.

So thanks to all the people still trying. It might feel like it accomplishes nothing, sometimes. It might feel like you're saying the same thing over and over. And I know it feels shitty to have to say it at all. But I don't think it's for nothing.

(I'm vaguely troubled by the awareness that this post might accumulate a lot of favorites. I feel like you could parse this as some sort of favorite-baiting feel-good thing and it's not that - I'm not looking to endear myself to anyone. I feel weird about this awareness but not really sure what to do about that, except that acknowledging it seems like it might help. I'm not looking to make myself fucking popular with this - this has nothing at all to do with me.)
posted by neuromodulator at 10:50 AM on September 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Don't see why anyone would object to what she did. Hopefully the author of the comment had a shred of maturity to be embarassed, rather than gratified by the attention. It was probably helpful for the women in the class, though.

EmpressCallipygos:: I know you're looking for an excuse to preserve sexism, but you're going to have to try harder in this particular instance.

Jesus, are you realling going to stand behind that remark? Decani's post missed the point, but this is a staggeringly dishonest characterization. He was obviously not trying to "preserve sexism".
posted by spaltavian at 10:50 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


> You're assuming the students are like customers. In reality, they are more like employees or colleagues.

The students generate income for their institution, like a corporation's customers (and unlike their employees, who cost the corporation money.) Seems predictable that student and customer jackasses will be cut a lot more slack by their respective organizations.
posted by jfuller at 10:56 AM on September 4, 2013


Fists O'Fury: "I mean, at first it seemed strange to me that virtually no one here has even seriously questioned whether the response was proportionate to the offense--because there is typically a lot of disagreement about such questions of proportionality. "

It's been raised repeatedly and answered by more than one person. If you disagree with their assessment, that doesn't mean they were not responding 'seriously.'
posted by zarq at 10:58 AM on September 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


I work in management at a school which depends totally on enrollments and student happiness for money, and let me tell you how much less slack the students get cut compared to the teachers (by far the biggest single expense).
posted by jeather at 10:59 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Decani's post missed the point, but this is a staggeringly dishonest characterization. He was obviously not trying to "preserve sexism".

I have only the evidence of my eyes. And my eyes show me someone trying to excuse that comment as "kids being kids". The only reason I could possibly think that someone wouldn't want to decry such a comment is if they have no problem with it being the way it was, and the only reason I could possibly think that someone would want to write off such a comment was if they wanted to keep things the way they were.

If Decani didn't mean things that way I'm sure he will come in to clarify what he meant.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:00 AM on September 4, 2013


virtually no one here has even seriously questioned whether the response was proportionate to the offense

I can't speak for anyone else, but the reason I didn't seriously question whether the response was proportionate to the offense is because I read the article that told us what the offense and the response were.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:01 AM on September 4, 2013 [27 favorites]


It seems strange to me to pack a comment thread with pre-refutations, largely in the form of ad hominems, of anyone who might disagree with the orthodoxy. I mean, at first it seemed strange to me that virtually no one here has even seriously questioned whether the response was proportionate to the offense--because there is typically a lot of disagreement about such questions of proportionality. But then I saw, above, that anyone who did raise such a question would be a living embodiment of the status quo, lacking in empathy, morally obtuse, just plain stupid, and probably a sexual harasser himself... So...that makes it all less surprising.

Right. I'll show myself out.


Gosh, this seems like an extreme response to a post that was deliberately and systematically hedged on all points, leaving plenty of room for one to disagree with it, challenge it, or exist outside of the space it described.

I think a better response than the one you chose would have been to roll your eyes and say, "Whatever." Why post such a long comment on something that isn't a big deal anyway?

There are a lot of people in the thread that had nothing to do with what I posted, and you're making them all uncomfortable by bringing it up. Don't you realize that the best way to challenge orthodoxy is to do so as privately as possible? And without bothering people who weren't directly involved in the orthodic act? Which wasn't that big of a deal in the first place.
posted by jsturgill at 11:01 AM on September 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


BlerpityBloop: "All this talk about sexism yet everyone here, including the teacher , assumes it was a male student who wrote the comment. It was anonymous."

I think people are focusing on the act and not the actor.
posted by boo_radley

Relatively certain if a female student claimed to be the author we would be having an entirely different conversation.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 11:10 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


BlerpityBloop: "Relatively certain if a female student claimed to be the author we would be having an entirely different conversation.
"

that's entirely possible, yes. It would be remarkable for somebody to own that evaluation, don't you think?
posted by boo_radley at 11:13 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Relatively certain if a female student claimed to be the author we would be having an entirely different conversation.

Well, and if that turns out to be the case, we can see if you're right or not, can't we? In the meantime, what on earth do you hope to accomplish by smugly bringing up the but what if it was a WOMAN?! canard?
posted by KathrynT at 11:13 AM on September 4, 2013 [17 favorites]


Relatively certain if a female student claimed to be the author we would be having an entirely different conversation.

And I'm relatively certain that I should be married to David Tennant.

However, a person's certainty isn't always sufficient to make them correct (as Georgia Moffet and David Tennant and their lawyers would no doubt be informing me if I tried to act upon that belief).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:14 AM on September 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


I am an academic, but I've only ever been a TA, not a prof. I've still gotten stupid comments on evaluations; the worst I got was "What can you do to be a better teacher? Date me!". Mostly got these kind of comments on end-of-term evaluations, so I never got to speak out about it directly to the student in question.

I have, however, occasionally mentioned it when the topic of harassment and student evaluations comes up. Why? Because people should know these incidents aren't rare, and are a problem. In my experience, both men and women have mostly responded with "what a stupid thing to say" as well as "yeah, I've received some harassing/stupid comments too. It'd be great if it would stop."

Cheers to this woman for standing up and saying something in the class; for those of you doubting it was a good idea or did anything useful, go read Part 2, particularly the note from a student in the final class evaluation.
posted by nat at 11:19 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


"These last two require JSTOR access, sorry:"

Incidentally if any of y'all would like access to any of the plentiful and rigorous research on pretty much every aspect of this that please feel free to memail me with an email address I can send a PDF to, a promise not to distribute it further, and either a link to the abstract or the title and first author. It would then make me unbelievably happy if you were to then report back to the thread.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:20 AM on September 4, 2013 [18 favorites]


aargh it would still be wrong and sexist for a woman to write that sort of comment about their instructor, and still a teachable moment for the entire class about how to behave re behavior toward women people in our culture, and the actions of the dean and institution would still be wrong, sexist, tone deaf and crappy.
posted by sweetkid at 11:22 AM on September 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


How else does one change, barring some sudden enlightened epiphany, without patient external feedback and correction?

Trial and error? It's easy, I even saw a 5-year-old do it.

"Hey, when I hit people in the playground they stop talking to me and run away. This sucks. But I can't figure out how to change, without patient external feedback and correction. I'll just keep hitting people" is not how it went, either.
posted by bonaldi at 11:22 AM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Relatively certain if a female student claimed to be the author we would be having an entirely different conversation.

How would a woman writing "Teach naked" as a suggestion on a teacher evaluation form somehow be less offensive and harassing than a man doing it? Oh, you're assuming we all would be less offended if it was a woman, or would not consider it harassment. I can't speak for anyone else, but I would be offended either way, and still consider it harassment.

I do agree, however, that a few of us have referred to the writer as "he" and are maybe assuming that the person who made that comment was male; I am guilty of that myself and edited a comment (with editorial notes) to fix that assumption. You're right; we don't know if a male or female student wrote that evaluation. It doesn't matter.
posted by jennaratrix at 11:25 AM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I wish it wasn't always the same passel of assholes that deny, minimize and justify harassment of women every single time it comes up on MeFi.

To be honest, I actually find the comparably limited size of the Constellation of Ignorance to be rather comforting. It's like a little carousel of noxiousness, ever-circling the drain. For sanity's sake, I've started bracing myself for comments from all the members of the passionately sexist peanut gallery as soon as any related thread opens. This has had the questionable benefit of making their nonsense feel much more boring than enraging.

It certainly rankles when someone I had previously considered to be progressive-minded or otherwise perfectly respectable outs with something offensive or ignorant, but most of the time, the usual suspects' egregiousness makes it easy to either dismiss it entirely ("Oh, it's just that guy") or make a dim and distantly recalled lightbulb burn a little brighter ("Oh, it's THAT guy"). In fact, I sort of wish it could be more like this in real life, like any given person's history of outspoken support for terrible and offensive behavior was never more than a mouse click away.

virtually no one here has even seriously questioned whether the response was proportionate to the offense

What do you think a "proportionate" reaction would have entailed? The evaluations were anonymous; she could not readily identify exactly who left the comment, so it's not as though she could sit them down for a one-on-one conversation.

She took a few moments out of one (1) class to identify the behavior as inappropriate, agreed to an interview that was requested by a student journalist, spoke to her dean and mentor when they requested a meeting with her, and wrote about the experience anonymously on a blog. She did not name or even assign a gender to the harasser, nor did she file an official report with the school or the police; all actions taken after her in-class aside were at the behest of other people. Indeed, here is how she described her approach, verbatim:
• Confronting the class using as gender-neutral language so as to address the whole class not just a portion of it
• Using strong, but not accusatory, language so as to not make anyone feel defensive
• Stressing that parties aware of the transgression who fail to condemn this behavior publicly participate in condoning it
• Framing it as a teachable moment rather than a scolding session
She couldn't have been much more even-handed, but she's still fielding accusations of having responded disproportionately to the offense. I wonder why that might be! (Spoiler alert: It's sexism.) Do you think she was lying about the measured nature of her response? Or the behavior itself? Or do you think she should have just ignored it? All of the above?

Right. I'll show myself out.

This is like the internet equivalent to a mic drop. People only seem to write things like this when they are convinced that their preceding comment has opened the door to some kind of brutal truth that the PC brigade stubbornly refuses to accept.

It's not that you've uncovered some sort of mind-blowing revelation, it's that the ideas you're espousing are tired and trite; we've heard them (and responded to them with varying degrees of patience) a thousand times before. I'm pretty much all out of fucks to give when it comes to being asked to mourn the notion that concern trolls and sexists might feel as though their opinions are simply not welcome in discussions of this nature. When you find yourself feeling slighted by the rejection or othering of prejudiced opinions, and when you identify more with those who are moved to deny the existence of sexual harassment than those who are moved to speak out against it, it would behoove you to explore why that might be.
Believe me, I know it is easier to brush these kinds of situations that seem somewhat benign under the rug—I almost did so myself—but it is crucial to deal with them in the open.
posted by divined by radio at 11:26 AM on September 4, 2013 [38 favorites]


BlerpityBloop: "All this talk about sexism yet everyone here, including the teacher , assumes it was a male student who wrote the comment. It was anonymous."

You thought the teacher assumed that? Huh, I didn't get that at all. I couldn't find any reference to the teacher assuming that the writer of the comment was male. Just a few examples of how she does NOT say that the writer of the comment was male:

"Do I try to find the culprit and punish him/her? I have 168 students—probably not." -- this seems to assume that it could have been any of the 168 students.

“I want to take the first couple minutes to call out the person who used the anonymity of the mid-semester evaluations as an opportunity to sexually harass me.”

So, the only place that I can find that maybe implies that in reality she thinks a male wrote the comment is this bulletpoint on how she dealt with the situation:

"Confronting the class using as gender-neutral language so as to address the whole class not just a portion of it"

The fact that she took care to be gender neutral might imply that in her mind, she was not neutral? Is that it? I guess I'm unclear on where the author assumed that this was written by a male.
posted by freezer cake at 11:33 AM on September 4, 2013 [18 favorites]


I have not yet ever seen any of those voices say "This time? This time you got it right. Congratulations!" I mean, I know that the actual answer is that those people don't want women to respond to harassment at all, they just want her to lower her eyes and feel demeaned and powerless, but it's still so enraging.

There's a couple of reasons that why you probably won't ever see that. Obviously people rarely admit that they're wrong, especially publicly.

Two, this thread is a one off instance so it may not change any minds. Four days, or months or years or even decades may pass before a person learns from anything from this particular post. Humans are just strange and often if they have their minds set on not learning, then they won't.

Three, the last part of your comment and many others here presupposes a lot about those who don't see this specific incident as harassment. It casts them in the lowest form and it doesn't give any sort of room for conversation.

Now maybe conversation isn't desired, especially at this point in a heated thread and that's fine. But the general feeling I get from this thread is that anything other than total agreement with the professor and her methods for dealing with that will brand a person as a love level scum who eats babies, kicks children and thinks 50 Shades of Grey is great literature.

Which is a shame in my opinion, because I think there are interesting questions to ask about how the professor went about doing this and the particular wording and tactics she used. But I feel like bringing it up will get branded as what I described above and really, I'm having a great day and don't feel like dealing with what I perceive will be blowback. Hell, I'm sort of expecting some just for having mentioned it.

None of the above should be taken to mean that I think Kathryn T, the writer of the comment I'm responding to, or anyone else is objectively wrong or an evil feminist who wishes to destroy all men, etc. Nor does it meant that it's incumbent on one set of people to change everyone else's mind and always behave like the adults in the room. Rather, I see a lot anger being flung back and forth and a lot of people getting dis-spirited when they feel their fights for an egalitarian society aren't getting any traction, so maybe a different way of looking at these threads and the tense interactions will offer a respite from that suffering.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:34 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


FWIW I feel like the writer of the OP (the professor) went out of her way not to say she thought a man wrote the comment. She wrote "Do I try to find the culprit and punish him/her?"
and kept referring to the anonymous comment writer as "the student" or "person."

Yea people have been assuming it's a man in the comments here but I don't see it in the article and if it's there, it's pretty minimal/an oversight - not to mention the fact that no, it wouldn't matter if it were a woman.
posted by sweetkid at 11:38 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


on lack of preview yea what freezercake said.
posted by sweetkid at 11:41 AM on September 4, 2013


this thread is a one off instance so it may not change any minds. Four days, or months or years or even decades may pass before a person learns from anything from this particular post. Humans are just strange and often if they have their minds set on not learning, then they won't.

Except that this thread isn't a one-off instance by any stretch of the imagination, and many of those dismissing harassment have a long and storied history of doing it in other threads about this or similar topics.

the last part of your comment and many others here presupposes a lot about those who don't see this specific incident as harassment. It casts them in the lowest form and it doesn't give any sort of room for conversation.

It's been explained as to why it's harassment many times. Hunkering down and throwing out the "nuh uh!" argument isn't having a conversation, even though there's plenty of people attempting to do so with them.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:46 AM on September 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


Virtually every person commenting in this thread assumed the comment was made by a male student. The teacher never hinted either way (though leaned towards male).

My point in pointing this out is mefi's outrage filter was fully engaged and 200 comments later I'd imagine most folks upon learning it was a girl making the comment would chalk it up to 'lulz' and this wouldn't even be a headline.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 11:48 AM on September 4, 2013


My point in pointing this out is mefi's outrage filter was fully engaged and 200 comments later I'd imagine most folks upon learning it was a girl making the comment would chalk it up to 'lulz' and this wouldn't even be a headline.

You've got a wonderful imagination, but no, sexual harassment like this is a disproportionate problem for women- and a woman-on-woman activity would not improve it. I mean, your imagination includes the possibility that women can harass, right?
posted by Phalene at 11:50 AM on September 4, 2013 [19 favorites]


If the offender was a woman, nothing would change. Why would it?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:50 AM on September 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'd imagine most folks upon learning it was a girl making the comment would chalk it up to 'lulz' and this wouldn't even be a headline.

Several people in the thread have pointed out that the remark remains harassment regardless of the writer's gender.
posted by mmmbacon at 11:51 AM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


BlerpityBloop: "All this talk about sexism yet everyone here, including the teacher , assumes it was a male student who wrote the comment. It was anonymous."

I think people are focusing on the act and not the actor.
posted by boo_radley

Relatively certain if a female student claimed to be the author we would be having an entirely different conversation.


I am an old-fashioned writer. I've been using masculine pronouns as neutral since the War of 1812, seriously believe we'd be better off reviving "thou," and have been known to diagram sentences just for kicks.

And, in this thread, I forced myself into the longest use of the newfangled singular "they" I've ever attempted, in order to make it perfectly clear that I was not trying to guess the miscreant's gender. It's good to know my effort was appreciated.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:51 AM on September 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


Well, we don't know if the commenter was male or female. And I don't know how the teacher "leaned male."

Recently a woman was telling me how I should take street harassment as a "compliment." I disagreed with her and thought she was making a sexist comment that reinforced patriarchal power structures.

Even though she was a woman! Comment still sexist.
posted by sweetkid at 11:52 AM on September 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


BlerpityBloop: "My point in pointing this out is mefi's outrage filter was fully engaged and 200 comments later I'd imagine most folks upon learning it was a girl making the comment would chalk it up to 'lulz' and this wouldn't even be a headline."

Suppose we carry this thought exercise to a bit more: a woman came out after the fact and said "professor, I'm sorry my comment made you feel bad". What bearing should this have on the teacher's response? Should she feel less harrassed? More? Would the dean's response have changed?

If you're just pointing out metafilter's biases, then sure, that's a valid observation. What are you going to do with it?
posted by boo_radley at 11:53 AM on September 4, 2013


I really don't think the teacher leaned towards male.

I really don't think that people who find it not funny for a male to make this type of comment would think it was funny if a female wrote that comment.

Not sure how I can convince you of that, though.
posted by freezer cake at 11:54 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


But the general feeling I get from this thread is that anything other than total agreement with the professor and her methods for dealing with that will brand a person as a love level scum who eats babies, kicks children and thinks 50 Shades of Grey is great literature.

But what you see when you actually read the thread is that mostly, the people disagreeing with her who take flak for it are actually taking flak for the language in which they're couching their disagreement, and the people who disagree with her who don't frame it in that way get civil responses.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:55 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


"And, in this thread, I forced myself into the longest use of the newfangled singular "they" I've ever attempted, in order to make it perfectly clear that I was not trying to guess the miscreant's gender. It's good to know my effort was appreciated."

It's got attested use at least back to 1489, and it was in the 19th Century in England that the general "he" was substituted in parliament for the singular "they."

It's more spasms of prescriptivist Victorians giving you agita than a legitimate history of usage. :)

(And "thou" will never come back because it's the informal yet people associate it with the archaic, formal use in Biblical language, which is a bit of theological irony.)
posted by klangklangston at 12:03 PM on September 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Gang. Seriously. If a female student had asked her male proffessor to 'teach naked' the 140+ comments of sexism inherent in academia would not exist.

I know we all want to be gender neutral here..... But come on. You read the story and though male vs female teacher.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 12:04 PM on September 4, 2013


I see few people here saying, "Yeah, it was harassment, but she over-reacted. It would have been much more effective if she had done X, Y, or Z." What I see is, "Wow, she over-reacted, that wasn't even harassment!"

So. If we can all agree that telling a professor to "teach naked" on a mid-semester evaluation is sexual harassment regardless of who wrote the damn thing, in what way do people feel it was mishandled? In what way could it have been handled better?

This is not a rhetorical question, and in fact, I asked it earlier in this thread. Honestly, I wouldn't mind steering this conversation in that direction. I personally feel she handled it very well, and better than I would have. However, I am happy to hear and talk about other possible resolutions.
posted by jennaratrix at 12:05 PM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Gang. Seriously. If a female student had asked her male proffessor to 'teach naked' the 140+ comments of sexism inherent in academia would not exist.

Seriously, it is clear that you believe that. A bunch of people in here don't agree with you. That's okay, you can disagree, but asserting that it is so repeatedly is not getting us anywhere and does not constitute a meaningful rebuttal.
posted by cortex at 12:05 PM on September 4, 2013 [23 favorites]


It's cause other people don't get to decide for the victim whether it's harassment or not. And since this so clearly is, it's pointless to try to have a conversation about that. It reframes the discussion in a ridiculous way and in many instances shows the arguers intent is to reframe the discussion out of existence.
posted by agregoli at 12:06 PM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


If a female student had asked her male proffessor to 'teach naked' the 140+ comments of sexism inherent in academia would not exist.

The entire thread would not have existed because most male teachers are sexist enough to have been flattered and just showed it around to his bros.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:06 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gang. Seriously. If a female student had asked her male proffessor to 'teach naked' the 140+ comments of sexism inherent in academia would not exist.

A good portion of this thread consists of people commenting on the appallingly sexist behavior of the dean (part 2, if you skipped it), and the dean is . . . A WOMAN!
posted by gladly at 12:08 PM on September 4, 2013 [18 favorites]


The entire thread would not have existed because most male teachers are sexist enough to have been flattered and just showed it around to his bros.

Not necessarily. Actually, also not a fair thing to say (sexism goes both ways).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:10 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not necessarily. Actually, also not a fair thing to say (sexism goes both ways).

Amen. We can't have it both ways.
posted by jennaratrix at 12:11 PM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


That dean should be made an ex-dean a.s.a.p. Nothing about this story struck me as shocking or surprising (dopey, offensive comments in anonymous fora really shouldn't surprise anyone aware of "the internet" and they're pretty easy to find in student evals) except the dean's astonishingly offensive response to it all. Yeesh.
posted by yoink at 12:11 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nothing about this story struck me as shocking or surprising

Respectfully, this comes up whenever we have these types of threads -- the "I don't understand why people are surprised/I personally am not surprised" as though we should only discuss sexism or racism or transphobia when we are surprised or shocked by the behavior.

I think most of us discuss it not because it is shocking but because it is exhaustingly familiar. Every time these threads come up I always think about how I have a very fresh memory of harassment that happened within hours of the thread opening. Just this morning someone started in the minute I walked out of my apartment "you look so sweet, the outfit you chose is just right, that color, OMG so beautiful, my eyes are so pleased, also by the way I live right over there so I'll be seeing you every day, God Bless USA."

Treated like an object. Like everything I do is designed for the male gaze. Before my front door had even finished closing.
posted by sweetkid at 12:19 PM on September 4, 2013 [24 favorites]


Most likely the comment was not intended as harassment.

The comment was a joke. It was humor. The fact that the teacher got so riled up about it will just egg on people to continue with this sort of humor. The fact that the comment and its response has gone viral will ensure that people will compete to see if they can top the comment with one even worse.

While it is a shame that the teacher was offended, humor nearly always offends someone. If we punish any humor that someone finds offensive, then the epitome of humor will be:

Q: What's brown and sticky?

A: A stick.



I would venture to say that 99% of the people posting here has laughed at jokes that were offensive to someone - many of you make such jokes right here on MeFi. Many times the jokes are harsher than the one in this example.

Now yes there is a time and place for humor. Yes, the humor here was childish. Yes, it was inappropriate. I am not defending the the comment. In fact I'll say it was flat out wrong. It wasn't wrong because it was made at the female teacher's expense. It was wrong because it was a joke at an inappropriate time.

A joke made at a woman's expense shouldn't be treated any differently than a joke made at the expense of a red-haired foreign elderly golf-playing liberal Mexican-Jewish dentist from the country or even a white male tea party member's expense.

We are all equal. Men, women, and combinations thereof are all equal. We are equal targets for humor. We are all targets for being offended and for offending.
posted by 2manyusernames at 12:23 PM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


In fact there is a video of a male professor (Singaporean? Filipino? I can't remember, can't locate the video, and am specifying solely in case it jogs someone's memory) who made transparencies of student evaluations calling him sexy and handsome, and showed them to the class to great uproar and with clear pleasure. The video made the rounds several years ago.

It was quite shocking to see this parallel situation play out, as a female colleague of mine had just gotten back, around that time, a student evaluation that referenced her body. She reacted in a similar way that the professor here did, treating it as a teaching opportunity and speaking to the whole class in general terms about mutual respect. They knew it was about an evaluation, but didn't know what exactly had been written. She also found out who wrote it and spoke to that student privately. The student was considerably chastened (and probably won't even forget that conversation). I don't believe my colleague was fully supported by higher-ups either.
posted by Mapes at 12:24 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gang. Seriously. If a female student had asked her male proffessor to 'teach naked' the 140+ comments of sexism inherent in academia would not exist.

What exactly are you driving at here? Are you trying to get everyone to admit some kind of reverse sexism? That if it had been a male professor it wouldn't have been harassment, and therefore fairness demands that we just laugh this off as hypothetically some student's wacky hijink? That isn't going to happen, because A) nothing about the potentially different perception of some hypothetical gender-reversed scenario has the least bearing on the reality of THIS instance of harassment, and B) even if reaction to a gender-reversed case of harassment were different, IT WOULD STILL BE HARASSMENT. You are looking to dismiss this whole story by casting it as all in the minds of the victim and the sympathetic readers.

As for me, I know that my first reaction to receiving that kind of comment from a student would be to ignore it, and say to myself "what a douche," and go on. But now I think I would be wrong to let such a thing go without saying something about it, as she did.
posted by daisystomper at 12:27 PM on September 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


If this was a female student and a male teacher and the male teacher felt harassed and used it as an inspiring teaching moment and was treated awfully by the university in response then yeah, absolutely this thread would still be big. Are you serious? The situation is compelling and relatable and inspiring and infuriating and a great example of the issues around casual, overt, intentional, ignorant and systemic sexism no matter who is involved.

But I've got a suspicion there would be far less victim blaming in that version of the thread because a man taking any stand against sexism gets a pat on the back for being so enlightened no matter how flawed his approach while a woman doing the same gets a bunch of nitpicky shit no matter how well she handles it.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:27 PM on September 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


I'm too tired to respond to 2manyusernames. If someone else wants to, fine, but I'd rather ignore such...ignorance in the face of the intelligent commentary Metafilter routinely provides.
posted by agregoli at 12:28 PM on September 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


> If a female student had asked her male proffessor to 'teach naked' the 140+ comments of sexism inherent in academia would not exist.

I've grumbled before about how these counterfactuals don't actually get us anywhere, but perhaps it's time to elaborate.

You're claiming to know something about how a bunch of humans (who are, generally speaking, complex individuals) would react if some detail of this situation were changed. This is not only unprovable, it's unknowable. It's rude, in terms of both etiquette and the norms of debate, to make this the beginning and end of your argument, this insistence that you know better than I do about how I would react.

The other thing that fascinates me about these counterfactuals is that they tend to reveal more about the person who poses them than the people that are being accused of hypocrisy. Why do you find it so hard to believe that we'd oppose sexual harassment in all forms, regardless of the genders of the involved parties?
posted by savetheclocktower at 12:29 PM on September 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


2manyusernames "Most likely the comment was not intended as harassment. "

To quote JPD above: intent doesn't matter.
posted by mfu at 12:29 PM on September 4, 2013


Damn it agregoli, I was hoping someone else would step up. This has been all day and I'm exhausted.
posted by jennaratrix at 12:29 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


> if we punish any humor that someone finds offensive, then the epitome of humor will be:

Q: What's brown and sticky?

A: A stick.


Really? I know a few jokes where the assumptions and punchline don't rely on knocking someone in a group I don't belong to, and which especially don't rely on making a specific person's day that much shittier.

(The snake in the desert one is the best.)
posted by postcommunism at 12:30 PM on September 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Most likely the comment was not intended as harassment.

That might be likely, but we don't know if it's true. It was taken as harassment, and we're proceeding forward with that assumption.

Now yes there is a time and place for humor. Yes, the humor here was childish. Yes, it was inappropriate. I am not defending the the comment. In fact I'll say it was flat out wrong. It wasn't wrong because it was made at the female teacher's expense. It was wrong because it was a joke at an inappropriate time.

And that type of inappropriate joke is known as harassment, and in this case was used as a teachable moment of why that sort of inappropriate humor would not be tolerated in this setting, due to its being inappropriate.
posted by RainyJay at 12:32 PM on September 4, 2013 [13 favorites]


Damn it agregoli, I was hoping someone else would step up. This has been all day and I'm exhausted.

The best I can come up with is "Congratulations on ignoring the entire idea of power imbalances in society," but I fear that that's a point of pride.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:33 PM on September 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


(And "thou" will never come back because it's the informal yet people associate it with the archaic, formal use in Biblical language, which is a bit of theological irony.)

Oh, I never said I was holding out any hope it actually WOULD come back! Just that it would make a tidy answer to a real need if it somehow magically did.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:34 PM on September 4, 2013


A joke made at a woman's expense shouldn't be treated any differently than a joke made at the expense of a red-haired foreign elderly golf-playing liberal Mexican-Jewish dentist from the country or even a white male tea party member's expense.

We agree, then. Jokes made at the expense of others are rarely funny and often hurtful, which is to say that, the intention of the speaker notwithstanding, they fail as jokes and succeed merely at objectifying others, whether those others may be women, Jewish dentists, or whoever.

We also agree, I hope, that it's often useful for a person who feels hurt by the actions of another to stand up for themselves and to explain how those actions are ugly and hurtful and demeaning. I hope we can agree about that.

We might even agree that a person can do this even if they are a woman.
posted by gauche at 12:34 PM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also you can be a woman and a Jewish dentist so I don't even get that one.
posted by sweetkid at 12:38 PM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


We are all equal. Men, women, and combinations thereof are all equal.

The majority of the human race has not yet gotten the memo on this point. And as proof, I submit all of these threads.

And besides, if we were truly equal, you wouldn't find that "teach naked" comment to be a joke at all in the first place, because you would have innately understood that it wasn't "a joke," it was tasteless. And yet here we are explaining to you that it isn't a joke at all. (See, jokes are usually funny.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:38 PM on September 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


A couple of points:

Ratemyprofessor.com has a 'hotness' rating. Take that for what it's worth.

As a (relatively) new university professor, it is clear to me that my female colleagues have a harder time their first few years teaching than their male colleagues. Sexist behaviour by students, male and female, is common. It is our job, as university teachers, to work on that, especially for those of us who teach in the social sciences and liberal arts. How much it should be the focus depends on the class, but you can be damned sure I'm not tolerating any such crap in my Charter course. I think she did a fine job of dealing with it.

Support from deans is never certain and the gender of a university administrator is irrelevant when trying to guess whether they'll be helpful or not.
posted by sfred at 12:39 PM on September 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


We are all equal. Men, women, and combinations thereof are all equal. We are equal targets for humor. We are all targets for being offended and for offending.

I keep thinking of that DFW anecdote about fish not knowing what water is.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:40 PM on September 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


Respectfully, this comes up whenever we have these types of threads -- the "I don't understand why people are surprised/I personally am not surprised" as though we should only discuss sexism or racism or transphobia when we are surprised or shocked by the behavior.

I wasn't arguing that it shouldn't be discussed. I was, in fact, participating in the discussion of it. You're reading a subtext into my comments which wasn't there.
posted by yoink at 12:41 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: have been known to diagram sentences just for kicks.
posted by emjaybee at 12:43 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


the gender of a university administrator is irrelevant when trying to guess whether they'll be helpful or not.

I'll bet that, statistically speaking, female deans are more supportive in these kinds of situations than male deans, so I doubt it's "irrelevant." It's certainly not a perfect correlation, though.
posted by yoink at 12:43 PM on September 4, 2013



I wasn't arguing that it shouldn't be discussed. I was, in fact, participating in the discussion of it. You're reading a subtext into my comments which wasn't there.


It might not have been the subtext of your comment but it is a very common argument in threads like this - "are you surprised?" and I'm saying it's not that people are surprised, it's that the behavior is common.

I didn't intend to call you out on anything though and agree you're participating in the conversation.
posted by sweetkid at 12:44 PM on September 4, 2013


"We are all equal. Men, women, and combinations thereof are all equal. We are equal targets for humor. We are all targets for being offended and for offending."

Really? Did you, while writing this, think at all, "Hey, this is kinda simplistic and reductive, and counter-examples abound. Maybe a vague statement of principle that ignores the reality of harassment really isn't needed here?"
posted by klangklangston at 12:47 PM on September 4, 2013 [20 favorites]


And my favorite joke:

What do you call a black man who can fly a plane?

A pilot, you fucking racist.
posted by klangklangston at 12:48 PM on September 4, 2013 [33 favorites]


it's not that people are surprised, it's that the behavior is common.

My point, though, was that the dean's behavior really isn't common. That's egregiously awful behavior that ought to be sanctioned in some way. Everything else here is familiar territory (perhaps not the teacher's decision to make public an anonymous feedback comment, but that seems reasonable in the circumstances and she made it a useful 'teachable moment'), but the dean's behavior seems to me to be truly and profoundly shocking. If that was my school I'd be petitioning the Vice Chancellor's office to have that dean removed--especially when you consider that this bullying behavior was directed at a young Assistant Professor whose tenure case will be directly impacted by the dean's assessment.
posted by yoink at 12:50 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know much about sexism in academia beyond having been a student myself and dating several complainy male grad students so I'll take your word for it that the dean's behavior was shocking. It certainly is appalling though.
posted by sweetkid at 12:52 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


but the dean's behavior seems to me to be truly and profoundly shocking

Me too, and yet it is not uncommon. If the various recent news reports about how college administrations make a total hash out of responding to incidents of actual sexual assault, let alone harassment, are even halfway accurate, then it is enragingly common, and is engaged in by deans and administrators of both sexes.
posted by rtha at 12:54 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yep, academia has a sexism problem. Even little Swarthmore College in my (new) hometown has trouble coping with sexual harassment complaints. There's this weird sense of 'boys will be boys' tolerance for things that would get you in hot water anywhere else, and it has got to stop.
posted by Mister_A at 1:12 PM on September 4, 2013


OK, but what if the offender was a trans woman? Wait, sorry, I'm also reading a lot of this same tired bullshit over in the Chelsea Manning Wikipedia thread. The sex of the person who suggested that the professor "teach naked" is utterly and completely irrelevant.

Honestly, if it were a woman who sexually harassed the professor it wouldn't be any better and the argument that it just might possibly have been a woman detracts from the fact that this professor was sexually harassed by a student and reacted to it in an extremely gracious manner, all things considered, and administration did not back her up and anyone defending this is defending sexual harassment and rape culture and tough shit if you think it's poor "tone" to point that out.
posted by Cookiebastard at 1:23 PM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


get tenure...with it, who cares what students say?
posted by Postroad at 1:27 PM on September 4, 2013


virtually no one here has even seriously questioned whether the response was proportionate to the offense

The response was not proportionate to the offense. The appropriate response would have been to have the student expelled for sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment for a professor. But, due to the offender's anonymity, the appropriate response was not possible.
posted by Cookiebastard at 1:36 PM on September 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


get tenure...with it, who cares what students say?

I don't think this prof was worrying about getting fired, I think she just was sick and tired of the misogyny and sexism she experiences as a woman in academia.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:38 PM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


It is always really surprising to me, and I guess revealing?, when people assert that humor relies upon causing offense to someone, particularly offense based on some characteristic. For example, to me that was one of the things that really stuck out about the whole Paula Deen thing, her assertion that humor needs to be directed at a vulnerable target. It's really makes me realize that there's this really angry aggressive chip-on-shoulder weltanschauung that I really don't comprehend.

(I know a really good knock knock joke, but you have to start.)
posted by PMdixon at 1:39 PM on September 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


The appropriate response would have been to have the student expelled for sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment for a professor.

I disagree, I think this would be a disproportionate response. I also think it backs up the (incorrect) assertion that confronting or denouncing harassment must also include legal action. It usually should mean social pressure with the intention of creating a more just society for everyone to live in.
posted by sweetkid at 1:40 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


get tenure...with it, who cares what students say?

It's still not okay to sexually harass someone or be some other kind of douchebag to them even if they have perfect job security. Many people apparently need this to be explicitly taught.
posted by rtha at 1:41 PM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Sequence, I'm quite pleased we're both enlightened. I would just ask that people use care in making generalizations. Just as I would never say that "many" attractive women are harassed because they're asking for it, I'd appreciate it if others wouldn't say that "many" unconventional looking women don't understand the problem.
posted by gnomeloaf at 1:44 PM on September 4, 2013


Knock knock.
posted by Iridic at 1:45 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd really like to see the college newspaper article that got the dean in such a tizz, and I'd like to know what gracieabd teaches. I'd like to see what the university's harassment policy says.

A student replied to a survey with a juvenile, disrespectful, sexist comment. She responded by addressing the class, and calling the commenter a bully and a coward. She spoke to the university newspaper. Her dean was unhappy about that.

Armchair Quarterbacking: I think she'd have made more of an impact if she talked about what sexism is, why it matters, how it affects women economically, how it affects women's ability to make the same choices men can make, etc. I think she should have told her mentor and/or the dean, that she spoke with a reporter for the paper - universities are intensely political, and the dean was likely pissed about being caught off guard.

Gracieabd did the right thing. She used a comment submitted by a student to address an issue. I sure do wish she's done it perfectly, just as I wish we had world peace, and end to hunger, and pockets in women's clothing. It took courage, because getting tenure is critical to success as an academic, and she may have jeopardized her opportunity to get tenure. Academia can be a very small world. In my experience of universities, sexism is rife.
posted by theora55 at 1:45 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, man, people who think that humor is the same as giving offense are a stitch, let me tell you.

Their friends are all terrified that they are going to tell another joke. Polite and decent people everywhere are embarrassed for them. Their boss cringes every time they open their mouth. So does their spouse. They are basically the David Brent of people.
posted by gauche at 1:47 PM on September 4, 2013 [13 favorites]



The appropriate response would have been to have the student expelled for sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment for a professor.

I disagree, I think this would be a disproportionate response. I also think it backs up the (incorrect) assertion that confronting or denouncing harassment must also include legal action. It usually should mean social pressure with the intention of creating a more just society for everyone to live in.


Dittoing sweetkid: The law is a really blunt tool. Powerful, but blunt. And messy and expensive. Social norms are the things that are actually, long-term, effective. The law can merely provide a curbing of the most egregious breaches of those norms.

(Who's there?)
posted by PMdixon at 1:47 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm too tired to respond to 2manyusernames. If someone else wants to, fine, but I'd rather ignore such...ignorance in the face of the intelligent commentary Metafilter routinely provides.

Now that I've had to think about it, I do have an expanded response about power imbalance, so here goes:

A joke made at a woman's expense shouldn't be treated any differently than a joke made at the expense of a red-haired foreign elderly golf-playing liberal Mexican-Jewish dentist from the country or even a white male tea party member's expense.

We are all equal. Men, women, and combinations thereof are all equal.


The problem is that we are not all equal. To use your examples, a white male tea party member has an absolutely enormous amount of power compared to a woman or (deep breath) a red-haired foreign elderly golf-playing liberal Mexican-Jewish dentist from the country, often far outsized to their demographic representation. They currently control the ability to restrict the rights--either through action or obstruction--of women to control much of the attacks on their lives and livelihoods. They're more likely to believe in the concept of "legitimate rape" or slut-shaming or in the case of harassment, that it doesn't exist or is wildly overblown. They believe that women's health care and access to control their bodies should be controlled merely because who they are, even separate from the issue of abortion. And the fact of the matter is that the institutions he shares with women will take his side almost every time.

So when a white male tea party member makes an offensive joke about a woman, he's almost certainly doing it precisely because he doesn't see her as an equal, and that he can get away with it. He knows he has the power to affect that life and not be challenged on it, and even if he is, he'll end up winning the fight in the eyes of the law and his peers. So when you say "we are all equal," the most charitable explanation is that you're ignoring the entire historical and political framework to make a naive point about "equality" that's based on a flawed view of how equal the world really is. At worst, it sounds like you're trying to paint women and non-misogynist men as the real cause of the problem and therefore hypocrites because they don't see the equality that they talk so much about, regardless of the fact that the equality you're talking about doesn't exist and likely never has.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:51 PM on September 4, 2013 [13 favorites]


[A couple comments removed. BlerpityBloop, I'm trying to be gentle here but you need to drop this pronto.]
posted by cortex at 1:51 PM on September 4, 2013


...
posted by Iridic at 1:53 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


...
posted by boo_radley at 1:54 PM on September 4, 2013


Done. Backing off. Apologies to all for the derail.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 1:54 PM on September 4, 2013


sweetkid and PMdixon, you make interesting points.

I've worked in workplaces where sexual and racial harassment, and other forms of bullying, were responded to with the offender having to go to some kind of "sensitivity training" and came out of it the same jackass as before, only being more quiet and careful about it. These are the more enlightened workplaces, mind you. The ones where bigotry and homophobia and misogyny weren't pretty much openly condoned and practiced at high levels. So I tend to get impatient and a bit GRAR sometimes about it.
posted by Cookiebastard at 1:59 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


theora55, I think it is at least implied in the second post that she teaches earth science.

It's actually interesting to me, the gender role reversal idea, and how much I think all the same arguments apply. I'm sure this is telling about me, but when I do the thought experiment, my gut reaction is to be mad at the [assumed] female writer of the comment for really messing up advances women have made. In the thought experiment, if I assume that the writer was male, I feel the exact same way -- that the comment writer is really messing up advances women have made. I don't know, I find that kind of thought-provoking. Mods, please delete if this is continuing a derail.
posted by freezer cake at 1:59 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just want to step in real quick to say that, though these long drawn-out arguments about sexual harassment seem trivial and frustrating, all of you that stepped up and made it known that this behavior is not okay are really getting something done. My own personal thoughts on this kind of thing have changed a lot since my youth, bringing me out of a serious "there must be something wrong with me for me to be repeatedly treated like this" depression (aggravated at the time by all of my female friends wondering aloud why I was "letting it get to me" and essentially blaming me for being an "easy target") into a sense of self-love and self-confidence. Hearing your voices chime in on this helps me a lot when reading stuff that otherwise would trigger those self-loathing loops that can rot inside you for days. You make me proud to be a woman instead of desperately sad to have not been born with a +5 Phallus of Power. I count that as a tangible victory for vigorous intellectual discussion, no matter how small. Thank you.

Those of you who think that this kind of stuff doesn't hurt -- well, I can only assume you've never been forced into a similar position of feeling vulnerable. Or perhaps, like former me, you feel so vulnerable that you believe deep-down that there's something wrong with you and that it's your fault that you are being bullied. Come talk to me. I'd be happy to help you.
posted by Mooseli at 2:04 PM on September 4, 2013 [23 favorites]


The comment was a joke. It was humor.

I am asking a genuine question here -- what's funny about telling someone to teach naked? I don't get it. If you think this is funny, can you please explain the joke to me?
posted by palomar at 2:18 PM on September 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


Please don't. This thread doesn't need another pointless derail.
posted by Squeak Attack at 2:19 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think palomar's comment is a derail. I'd like to know why it's funny.

If mods disagree and want to delete though that's OK with me.
posted by sweetkid at 2:21 PM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not a derail, or at least it's not intended as such. As I said, I'm asking a genuine question. People have been defending the "teach naked" statement as a joke, and I'd like to try to understand where they're coming from. Since I don't get the joke, I need it explained to me, and no, I'm not being disingenuous in saying that. If someone thinks that's funny, I'd really appreciate it if they could lay out why it's funny, so that I can get a better grip on their view of things.
posted by palomar at 2:24 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


People have been defending the "teach naked" statement as a joke, and I'd like to try to understand where they're coming from.

The question is "what could I, as teacher, do to make the class better." The answer is "teach naked." The "joke" is "ha ha, you were expecting me to make a comment on your pedagogy, but instead I am suggesting that you are so sexy that the real way to make the class better is for you to teach naked."

So, yeah, it's a joke and it's also sexist, objectifying and offensive when it comes from a university student to his/her instructor. This is "both/and" not "either/or."
posted by yoink at 2:30 PM on September 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


That dean should be made an ex-dean a.s.a.p. Nothing about this story struck me as shocking or surprising (dopey, offensive comments in anonymous fora really shouldn't surprise anyone aware of "the internet" and they're pretty easy to find in student evals) except the dean's astonishingly offensive response to it all. Yeesh.

Now that you've pointed it out, yoink, the dean's behavior does startle me-- do you suppose she could have been hired as dean specifically because the school knows it has a sexual harassment problem and thought (probably correctly) that a female dean would help it deflect criticism without forcing it to address the issue?

That might explain the immediacy and vehemence of the dean's response as well as the apparently practiced and almost systematic way she trotted out all the usual lame defenses.
posted by jamjam at 2:48 PM on September 4, 2013


You know, there was probably a time in my life that I would have found it funny. I don't now, I've grown a lot since then, which is all I'll say about that - the story of my journey to feminism is long and surprisingly boring.

But I think that people find it funny is pretty indicative of the exact problem that comes up when discussing this sort of thing. Humor is not about giving offense, despite that being the tired defense. It is about inverting expectations.

To a guy with a lot of privilege (and maybe other groups, perhaps particularly unaware young women, since apparently to some in this thread it is terrible to assume male authorship, but the category of priveleged male is the only one I can speak with any knowledge of) and little awareness of what women face in our society, this little bon mot DOES invert expectations, because hey, you can't say that to a professor! But oh, I just did, ha ha, see that was a total surprise because you meant the question one way but then I made it sexual instead, which is clever and surprising.

Now, as an adult and a feminist, I recognize that for a woman, this does not invert expectations AT ALL because they face it all the time. And that's why it is really shitty and not clever and not surprising. No expectation has been inverted for the female teacher; the student author has just provided one more little jab that reminds her that a large portion of society only sees value in her as an object, a sex object.

Btw, thanks Metafilter for being a part of the process of me growing into someone aware of that sort of thing. Schmoop etc.
posted by solotoro at 2:48 PM on September 4, 2013 [22 favorites]


I read the articles and thought "wow, imagine being a woman in that class and having an authority figure so clearly and reasonably address microaggressions in class. that must've been great."
posted by rmd1023 at 2:50 PM on September 4, 2013 [26 favorites]


And on yoink's point, this would be true of a female student saying it to a male teacher, too.
posted by frecklefaerie at 2:50 PM on September 4, 2013


This cracked me up in the comments to the second post:

"Deansplaining sexual harassment for the loss."
posted by spitbull at 2:51 PM on September 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Which is a shame in my opinion, because I think there are interesting questions to ask about how the professor went about doing this and the particular wording and tactics she used. But I feel like bringing it up will get branded as what I described above and really, I'm having a great day and don't feel like dealing with what I perceive will be blowback. Hell, I'm sort of expecting some just for having mentioned it.

Yeah, it is a pity that the usual gang of apologists showed up to poison the discussion with the usual reasons as to why this wasn't sexism, the poster was a hysterical b*tch and such; without this we might have had the discussion you wanted, though to be honest I find it difficult to image that somebody really could have a honest critique of her actions. For me she handled the situation perfectly. She took a sordid incident and turned it around into a lesson on why it was harassment, not funny and disgusting. She did it without malice, calmly and sensibly.

The followup to this was partially out of her control, but again, good on her for not refusing the interview with the school paper and having the courage to make her opinion about the climate on the campus known. From her own reports, she also handled her interrogation by the dean well.

So, what could you criticise her for that isn't based on the dismissal of this as harassment or sexism?
posted by MartinWisse at 2:51 PM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


As a person making an offensive joke that punches down or a person laughing at the joke, the bullshit "you can't tag me, I was touching home base!" thing is just gutless. 1) There's no point in offensive jokes if they try to weasel out of being offensive. 2) Own your interactions with the world.
posted by jason_steakums at 2:53 PM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


If the mechanic of the joke is "you expected something other than this shitty sexism, but here's a sexism instead," it's not a joke at all, just your regular every fucking day sexism.
posted by dougmoon at 2:54 PM on September 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


humor relies upon causing offense to someone

It can, but you better make sure it is fucking funny and it's worth offending people about. Dutch cartoonist Willem showing the then queen Juliana in a window in the Red Light district after parliament raised her living expenses allowance? Shocking, lese majeste (literally), arguably sexist, but funny and a satirical comment on the politics of the day. Also not without consequences for the artist who was arrested for it.

Writing "teach naked" anonymously on a evaluation paper? Not very funny, not very interesting, offensive and the easiest thing in the world.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:01 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


If the mechanic of the joke is "you expected something other than this shitty sexism, but here's a sexism instead," it's not a joke at all

No, the mechanism of the humor is pretty clear and it's actually perfectly witty; it's just grossly inappropriate in the context. If you were talking with your sweetheart (male or female) about, say, some new dish you'd just cooked and you said "what do you think I could do to make this better" and s/he said "make it naked!" that would be entirely non-harassing and funny. You expect culinary advice and instead you get an answer that fits the question but breaks the expectations of the asker. That's how lots of humor works.

So I can see how the student could, in all good faith, have thought "I am making a compliment in the form of a funny witticism, oh ho ho, how she will laff!" without thinking, at all, of what the actual effect of reading a comment like that in a pile of anonymous comments would be like. I hope that the effect of the teacher's little lesson was that the student who wrote the comment felt utterly mortified and became a somewhat more thoughtful person. The odds, alas, are that they told themselves some little story about how the prof is a "humorless, stuck up bitch" and joked about it with their friends.
posted by yoink at 3:03 PM on September 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh, I never said I was holding out any hope it actually WOULD come back! Just that it would make a tidy answer to a real need if it somehow magically did.

Would it? Thou/Thee/Thine were just the now-lost informal variants of the formal second person singular ye/you/yours (now you/yours), no?

What some people want is a non-gendered third person singular that isn't "it". I think "they/them/their" does fine here, but don't see that thou and pals can help.
posted by bonaldi at 3:03 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of the interesting things that strikes me about the debate over exactly how bad the comment may or may not have been is that there seems to be some incredulity over two little words, "teach naked," and whether or not anything so small and seemingly innocuous to an outsider could really be offensive or an act of aggression.

I grew up in the American South, which you may have heard of. Coming from that background, it seems blindingly obvious to me that the answer is yes. Little things, short things, off the cuff things, can cause great offense and be said with aggression. They can even be implied with aggression--the negative space itself can wound, if the right person wants it to. Things like calling someone "boy."

And that's just one little word!

Telling an adult woman, who has been going to school for longer than some of her students have been alive, who is an accredited expert in her field of study, who is part of a class of people who could not legally own property or wear pants a few hundred years go, that the practice of her calling, her career, and her profession would be improved were she to "teach naked?"

I don't think it's my place to dispute her moral right to be irritated by that and express her frustration in plain language. But maybe that's just the Southern in me.
posted by jsturgill at 3:04 PM on September 4, 2013 [25 favorites]


My point in pointing this out is mefi's outrage filter was fully engaged and 200 comments later I'd imagine most folks upon learning it was a girl making the comment would chalk it up to 'lulz' and this wouldn't even be a headline.

The only time a student has made an inappropriate comment to me in public, the student in question was...another woman. I was more baffled than angry, but still--nope, not lulzy!

Not incidentally, those of us who are at regional comprehensives or otherwise teaching-oriented colleges (which would be most institutions in the USA) can't discount our teaching evals after tenure. And adjuncts, who are already at an extreme disadvantage in the academic power structure, can lose their jobs if the students take them to the evaluative woodshed (even though adjuncts are frequently stuck in classes that garner disproportionately poor evaluations across the board, like lower-division prereqs or GE requirements).
posted by thomas j wise at 3:23 PM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, the mechanism of the humor is pretty clear and it's actually perfectly witty; it's just grossly inappropriate in the context.

This is perfectly witty?

What could I [your teacher] be doing better to help you [anonymous student] learn? Teach naked.

Because this is the "joke," not some couple in the kitchen making salad or whatever the hell. And this joke works exactly like this: sexism. Did it mean to work another way? Who cares. Sexism and misogyny are not perfectly witty jokes in the wrong time, place, or company in which they, by some cosmic accident, suddenly appear in some odd light kinda sexist.

alas

All this soaked-through boys will be boys, jokes will be jokes, some people are always offended, that's just the way it is in the clubhouse fatalism garbage makes no sense to me.
posted by dougmoon at 3:24 PM on September 4, 2013 [6 favorites]



On the whole would I think differently if I knew the commentor was a woman thing, likely not. I'm a women and have been harassed by another woman. It wasn't different then being harassed by a man. It was uncomfortable, unwanted and just generally shitty to have to deal with because of the politics of the workplace I was in. It was a unique experience though and did seem odd at considering the multitude of harassment type situations I've experienced from men. It's oddness wore off pretty quick. Sexual harassment is sexual harassment no matter who it comes from.
posted by Jalliah at 3:31 PM on September 4, 2013


I have started and stopped so many comments as I'm finding that this thread is making me quite angry.

I'm having the opposite reaction, it's making me so genuinely happy that I almost want to cry with relief.

A handful of guys saying the same old stuff like "What a hysterical overreacting harpy and what a shrill screed she wrote! It was a JOKE, and it's unfair to invoke harassment for a JOKE, that's like bringing in the specter of THE LAW! Anyway let me explain how harassment is natural and she's childish to go against it. If anything, she should have been more specific and less specific and said less and said more. And it was her fault if she let it bother her. And what about the FEELINGS of the guy who said it? Anyway she should have been fired for this."

And then, dozens of other men, absolutely taking those things apart with total familiarity, fluency, and speed.

You guys actually heard us. You guys totally understood. And you are helping us in the way that we asked for help.

Thank you so much, you guys made me so happy today.
posted by cairdeas at 3:35 PM on September 4, 2013 [47 favorites]


No, the mechanism of the humor is pretty clear and it's actually perfectly witty; it's just grossly inappropriate in the context.

This is perfectly witty?

What could I [your teacher] be doing better to help you [anonymous student] learn? Teach naked.


Gee, thanks for pointing out to me that the joke is grossly inappropriate in the context in which it was used. I never would have realized that.
posted by yoink at 3:51 PM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


All this soaked-through boys will be boys, jokes will be jokes, some people are always offended, that's just the way it is

Given that I've said that the professor was right to respond as she did and that the dean should be fired for failing to support her, that's a pretty offensively tendentious misreading of my point.
posted by yoink at 3:53 PM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


So perhaps you could clarify what your point actually was? Because if you think that the professor was right to respond as she did, then to what purpose does it serve to remind us that the kid just thought he was joking?

That's a sincere question because I honestly don't know what you're getting at. I'm not sure whether you said "oh, the kid is just gonna think his teacher is stuck-up" as a cynical comment, or you're giving him a verbal noogie and thinking he's a cute li'l scamp, or what.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:55 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


then to what purpose does it serve to remind us that the kid just thought he was joking?

Several people expressed genuine puzzlement that anyone could possibly imagine that the comment was meant as a joke. They said they couldn't see how it could be seen as a joke at all. I explained how it does, in fact, function as a joke and, indeed, a joke of a perfectly ordinary type. I did that by providing a context in which almost exactly the same joke would be utterly inoffensive and also genuinely amusing. I will also point out that my opinion that it is quite possible that the kid genuinely thought it was a harmless joke is the opinion expressed by the professor herself.

I'm not sure whether you said "oh, the kid is just gonna think his teacher is stuck-up" as a cynical comment, or you're giving him a verbal noogie and thinking he's a cute li'l scamp, or what.


I'm saying that while it is possible that the kid meant it entirely harmlessly, it's, alas, far more probable that he's a gross little frat-boy shithead.
posted by yoink at 4:01 PM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


All this soaked-through boys will be boys, jokes will be jokes, some people are always offended, that's just the way it is in the clubhouse fatalism garbage makes no sense to me.

Me too, and yet if you expand it a little, to cover anything that anybody is every upset by - well I'm surprised you're surprised, it's not so bad, it was ever thus, be reasonable please- you have the entire basis for several of the personae who regularly post here. I've never been sure why 'voice of the status quo, patronizing you for your own good' is such a popular rhetorical stance, but it sure seems to be.
posted by hap_hazard at 4:02 PM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


it's not so bad,

People seem very keen to discover this opinion in statements which do not assert it written by people who are right here in this thread explaining that this is NOT WHAT THEY THINK. This comment was bad (I have called it "grossly inappropriate" and "sexist, objectifying and offensive" right here in this thread) and I've suggested quite seriously that the Dean should be fired from her position for her treatment of this professor. Perhaps you need to recalibrate your "voice of the status quo" detectors.
posted by yoink at 4:13 PM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Perhaps you need to recalibrate your "voice of the status quo" detectors.

Or, perhaps you could realize that a lot of the other people in this thread are justifiably pissed about yet another in a long long string of people who don't get it, and acknowledge that the way you said what you said could have been phrased more clearly and apologize you weren't clear earlier?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:19 PM on September 4, 2013


> So perhaps you could clarify what your point actually was?

If I might give my interpretation of yoink's point:

If I say that the response ("teach naked") qualifies as a joke, that does not mean that I think it was funny. All that means is that I think it abides by the mechanics of a joke.

To analogize, I can write out four lines of nonsense that just happen to rhyme with one another and call them a poem. That does not mean that the poem is any good.

We can talk about whether it's a good idea to depict the Virgin Mary with elephant dung, but we need not say "that's not art" to declare it valueless. The word "art" does not imbue the item with magical characteristics.

The derail "C'mon, guys, this was JUST A JOKE" is flawed because of the word "just," not the word "joke." The implication is that jokes should always be OK simply because they're jokes. That is not true. It was a bad joke, and had the student said it out loud instead of writing it down, it would've been a joke that got them expelled.
posted by savetheclocktower at 4:21 PM on September 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


Harassment delivered via anonymous customer feedback? What would they do? I'm honestly curious.

I can't imagine a scenario where feedback from a client would be anonymous unless there was a crime involved or something but:

As per the mandatory training at my job we are responsible for preventing harassment from both other employees and clients.

I obviously can't drop clients on my own volition but I'd have to keep clients away from the employee while it worked its way through HR and management.

Harassment by clients or customers is equally insidious we take this kind of stuff seriously in the corporate world I work in. We aren't doing college kids any favors by letting people skate for things they would be fired for.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:31 PM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Apologies to the taxonomy of humor. Holotype specimen "a woman? haha sexism!" will stay on display in the jokes wing should any of our patrons seek out a classic and find it vexingly missing.
posted by dougmoon at 4:40 PM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but see, jokes are supposed to be funny. This was far from it. It was belligerent, offensive, and can easily be interpreted as a means to demean or degrade the target of said "joke".

If your sense of humor is calibrated that demeaning any other human being for something which they have no control over (i.e. the color of their skin, their gender, their sexual orientation, etc, etc), then you are not engaging in humor. You are engaging in a power dynamic. You are attempting to make yourself higher than your target. This is not just an attempt at humor. It is an attack upon a person. It is also within the context of western society that (sadly) the amount of clothing a person is wearing, or the style is a symbol of their power. Judges wear robes, police wear uniforms, and serious "business" people where suits. By asking anyone to disrobe, you are telling them that they should expose themselves to you and make themselves more vulnerable. This is not how our society works. And it would be offensive to ask ANYONE, regardless of gender or status to do their job naked (of course, caveat for sex workers, but look at their perceived status in society and tell me that most people look down or condescend to strippers, pornstars, and swimsuit models).

I am not trying to be prudish or say that anything regarding sex or sex work is bad or anti-feminist, either. I am simply stating the current zeitgeist of our western society, with all it's horrible puritanical bullshit.

So if you think that telling someone that they should do their job naked in order to get a laugh, I hope you understand when I quote zoidberg; "your jokes are bad and you should feel bad."

This is about the 50th attempt at making a comment on here, and I have to make it about a derail. Yuck.
posted by daq at 4:42 PM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Some non-sexist "joking" but still totally shit answers I have seen on TA questionnaires:

Bring more cookies!
SMOKE A BOWL
give us more answers ha ha
wear shorter skirts

Oops, no wait. That last one was sexist.

I also have one here with little hearts drawn on it but I think it's platonic love?
posted by Squeak Attack at 5:00 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not understanding the pushback against yoink here, who is making the perfectly valid point that it is the given context of the 'teach naked' comment that makes it so offensive.
posted by glasseyes at 5:02 PM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but see, jokes are supposed to be funny. This was far from it.

There are far too many people on this thread making the silly implication that jokes have some sort of objective humor value.
posted by amorphatist at 5:05 PM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


This was a great teaching moment. As someone waaaay upthread mentioned, students are not often actually taught how to give good feedback on evaluations. I mean, for most of them in high school they get no chance to comment on a course, and suddenly we turn them loose in college with these forms we shove at them and/or force them to fill out if they want their final grade, and tell them to have at it. (The entire topic of the kinds of terrible and useless questions asked on eval forms could be a whole other post, I swear).

Anecdata: I taught at a school where student evaluations were taken seriously, but you could opt out of submitting all evaluations from one entire class each year. One semester, my students, naturally, wanted to know why this was, and assumed that professors would suppress evals from the course they bombed. While this was sometimes the case, more often it was because of errant and wildly inappropriate comments about the (usually female) prof's appearance or (any gender) prof's sexuality--that is to say, things that were not only inappropriate for prof to have to read, but also then inappropriate for, say, the review, promotion, and tenure to committee to be reading. It benefits no one--and probably wanders into legally actionable territory--for the review committee to even have, unintentially, a question of how nice a prof's "rack" is (several of my female colleagues got comments about how distracting their chests were) or about a prof's "ethnic" hair, or about whether someone is or is not gay.

My students, bless them, were absolutely aghast at the notion that someone's appearance would be subject to comment on the evaluation form, but we then had a great discussion about the way students see and judge their professors: how clothing is judged, the sociological work that has proven strong correllation between race, rank, gender, and scores on evaluations, etc. It's not something they think of, but it has real-world consequences for them, too. But overall, it was the first time someone had really explained what kind of feedback is helpful and appropriate: "not cool" or "cut it out" doesn't nearly go far enough to actually help students be more complicit in improving the quality of their courses.
posted by TwoStride at 5:06 PM on September 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


I think the joke is "hahahah I acted like an asshole and you believed I was an asshole! Jokes on you!"

I think the administration handled it very poorly as well. There seems to be an organizational failure in that the dean did not have the proper training or ignored that training. Saying, "deal with it" is not an appropriate course of action really.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:06 PM on September 4, 2013


“Well, I don’t look like you do, so I’m sure I don’t get this as frequently. Again, this is a juvenile comment and you should just learn to ignore it.” At this point, I was mad and dismayed. As if my looks justify this sort of behavior.

swing and a miss. she wasn't trying to justify the behavior, instead, she was speculating about what caused them to have different experiences.

the fact that she jumped right to that AND it got into what she posted online about the situation, says a lot about her and her disposition.
posted by cupcake1337 at 5:08 PM on September 4, 2013


Every individual has different experiences, and my experiences do not negate anyone else's experiences. The dean's experiences, or lack thereof, really don't have anything to do with what happened to the professor. That the dean attempted to deny the professor's own lived experience just added salt to the wound.
posted by ambrosia at 5:15 PM on September 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yoink has repeatedly and unambiguously:

1. Supported the professor's actions
2. Decried the Dean's actions forcefully
3. Castigated the student for being, at best, clueless and inept (in a way that is not charming) and, in the most likely case, a total jerk

Any failure in getting those points from what Yoink has written is a failure on the part of the reader. It's aggressive, rude, and just in general pretty shitty to ask someone to apologize because you're not being careful with their words.
posted by jsturgill at 5:18 PM on September 4, 2013 [20 favorites]


If that patient external feedback and correction doesn't work, what else would you suggest people do?

Yeah, the only real answer to that is "change the rules" and "change the social norms"; you make it so that this sort of behavior gets you castigated by your peers, stink-eye from strangers. You call people who do it assholes. You sexists unwelcome in your space. That's why I often respond with a lot of anger in these sort of threads on metafilter and elsewhere, because I want people to know that I'm not gonna patiently correct them (that's not my job, and it wouldn't work if I decided it was), I'm gonna call them on their shitty behavior and bite their head off if I need to, because this should be a better space than it is and if the best way to do that is to alienate misogynists so they go away or scare them so they shut up I'm okay with that. I'd rather change people's minds and turn them into allies, but when that isn't welcome, I'm willing to work to get them to shut the fuck up.

It's what society's done with a lot of racist behaviors, and it's totally not a complete fix, but it at least forces people to use new dogwhistles and find websites like reddit and stormfront to confine their shitty opinions to because they aren't welcome in public.

I've never gotten "teach naked" on an evaluation, but I'm still mortified---as in, makes me kind of sick to my stomach thinking about it mortified---by the comment I got one year saying "wear a bra".

A professor in a women studies 101 type class once told us about receiving the exact same comment. She was pretty sure it was from a woman based on the handwriting, and so she brought it up in a discussion about women being sexist. One (female) student responded with "But you did wear a bra, right?" and she rightly asked why that would matter.
posted by NoraReed at 5:25 PM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


the fact that she jumped right to that AND it got into what she posted online about the situation, says a lot about her and her disposition.

Oh, don't be coy. What exactly does it say about her and her disposition?
posted by KathrynT at 5:28 PM on September 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


[good faith participation or keep moving, folks, those are the choices.]
posted by jessamyn at 5:46 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Along with the personal humiliation factor, many of us don’t want to be seen as trouble-makers, especially those seeking tenure. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.
And after you get tenure you can say any batshit crazy thing you like. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.

The only problems I have is anonymity. That asshole wouldn't have written that had he needed to sign his name. She would have been a lot more circumspect if her name was on the blog.

I get to read the evaluations a female friend gets. I also get to read the ones a male friend gets (both are university instructors). I can promise you the ones the female gets are way more often offensive and objectifying than the one the male gets. Both get asshole comments.

Now they wouldn't see these if they were official evaluations, since these are no bubble scanned and the written comments are typed up and only relevant comments get included. The office drone would still get to se these, but my friends weekends are no longer ruined by some dumb ass kid.

Even as an undergrad I always signed my "anonymous" evaluations. If you want my opinion I'll give it to you, but if it's my opinion I should get to put my name on it.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:47 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


While I haven't questioned any of those aspects of yoink's comments, I did address the following:

No, the mechanism of the humor is pretty clear and it's actually perfectly witty; it's just grossly inappropriate in the context.

I did read this as jokes will be jokes. I do not see the casualty in firmly saying in these cases, sorry, if that was even intended as a joke, it is not. It is sexism. To take out the teacher, the student, the anonymity, the sum of women's worth as sexual commodity--or the context as people have said--you don't have a good joke just waiting for rehabilitation or the right setting. You only have a different joke.

The odds, alas, are that they told themselves some little story about how the prof is a "humorless, stuck up bitch" and joked about it with their friends.

Odds are they and their friends are sexist despite her well-executed response to that class on the subject. So I did read this as boys will be boys in that respect--although I did not intend to assign to you the additional connotation that for that reason, it's dismissively acceptable. I know that is not your position, and apologies if that was your reading of my hasty comments.

I ascribed to you only this sad fatalism, which I do think is garbage: that you don't like the way it is, but see it likely in perpetuity. And that to me is a real casualty. No offense intended despite my strident tone, yoink. Apologies.
posted by dougmoon at 5:54 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Would it? Thou/Thee/Thine were just the now-lost informal variants of the formal second person singular ye/you/yours (now you/yours), no?

What some people want is a non-gendered third person singular that isn't "it". I think "they/them/their" does fine here, but don't see that thou and pals can help.


Right, it's the answer to a different question, not to the non-gendered third-person question at all. It only came up because I was listing ways in which I found old-fashioned language more efficient.

So, discussing it further is a bit of a derail, but people really seem to need both singular and plural forms of second-person address. "Thou" and "You" used to fit the bill. Technically, "you" is both now. But people tend to make shift for plurals, even when they really don't have to. It's like they instinctively know there ought to be two forms. Regionalisms like "y'all" and "youse" aren't always welcomed outside their home regions; "you people" is seen as pejorative; "you folks" is is often seen as cutesy and "you guys" not neutral. And most of them are phrases or contractions rather than single words, which seems far more complicated than it needs to be.

So, even though I understand that a return to singular and plural second person pronouns isn't likely, just like that dusty old tool isn't coming up from the box in the basement even when it's more dependable than the shiny new one, it's one of those handy old-fashioned things I'll keep appreciating, like my vintage sewing machine.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:22 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


i think most of the outrage is not that the comment was harassment, but that it fits into the sexism! patriarchy! narrative so many people want to talk about.

if the comment was "learn to teach," and then she made a speech in her class about how it's harassment, i doubt there would be such a reaction. note that that comment is also inappropriate, not funny, not helpful, and harassment.

so, i think most people don't care that the professor thought it was harassment, they care because grrar! sexism!
posted by cupcake1337 at 6:29 PM on September 4, 2013


What you just said doesn't make any sense.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:32 PM on September 4, 2013 [22 favorites]


so, i think most people don't care that the professor thought it was harassment, they care because grrar! sexism!

what if there was like this kind of harassment distinct in its sexual nature? what would we even call it?
posted by dougmoon at 6:34 PM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Learn to teach" is unconstructive criticism, not harassment.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:34 PM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I can't imagine anyone here thinking that a comment of "learn to teach" qualifies as sexual harassment. Or harassment at all. It's dismissive and not useful as constructive criticism but it's not harassing.

Also, I am so so so so so so so so tired of these hypothetical "what if it had actually been blah?! gotcha!" comments. So tired. If you have arguments to make about the actual situation or actual comments, make them. Don't cook up some hypothetical you think catches everyone else out, because that's just a fantasy in your head.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:37 PM on September 4, 2013 [18 favorites]


> i think most of the outrage is not that the comment was harassment, but that it fits into the sexism! patriarchy! narrative so many people want to talk about.

If you're saying that it's one small but representative moment in a larger, ongoing history of gender imbalance which is maintained in part by little "I'm just joking" incidents (even if the joker is literally, yes, just joking/flirting/whathaveyou) then yeah, that's what people are saying. I think the institutional reaction vs. the reaction of the teacher's colleagues backs that up.

At least, that's what I get out of it. Some folks are reading it differently.
posted by postcommunism at 6:42 PM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Learn to teach" is unconstructive criticism, not harassment.

Yeah, harassment is actually something specific and sexual harassment is more specific than that. I know people have a difficult time with this sometimes but both teachers and students have levels of professional conduct that are required from them. The objectifying comments like "I want to see you naked" are a very particular form of unacceptable non-professional behavior that women often experience (and men sometimes experience) that are then exacerbated by not being taken seriously as outlined in the "part II" section of this post. I'm not sure if you read that, I found it the most interesting part of the article in which her (female) dean basically minimizes the teacher's experiences and the teacher's (male) mentor backs her up and supports her.
At some point, my mentor interjected that we should talk about one of my quotes in the paper, “This is the most sexist campus I’ve been on.” The dean said that she was unaware that sexism was a problem on campus and in the community because she had never experienced it. She went on to explain: “Well, I don’t look like you do, so I’m sure I don’t get this as frequently. Again, this is a juvenile comment and you should just learn to ignore it.” At this point, I was mad and dismayed. As if my looks justify this sort of behavior. Where, then, is the line that constitutes harassment? My mentor pointed out that her line of reasoning was flawed because she’s the dean and people act differently around her because she holds a position of power, and also that she’s not exposed to the same experiences as teachers. Instead of acknowledging this, she instead offered up the following analogy. “I grew up in Chicago, and I used to get comments like that on the bus all the time. I just learned to ignore it. A few times, I got felt up, but then I yelled at the person.” Again, I feel like her message is basically so as long as you don’t get assaulted, stop being a baby.
So as far as being a slamdunk for some "grar sexism" discussion it's actually not great because some of the bad guys are women and some of the good guys are men. It's more like "gee how do we deal with this stuff at an institutional level and can what happened to me become a teachable moment about these sort os problematic interactions moving forward in academia?"

From a personal perspective, we had a weird incident recently where someone got given the night off after some overcommenting and hassling other users. He wrote to complain using some grumpy but okay language. Once he realized that the mod he was talking to was female, however, he started ramping up his harassment, asking her about her body and being otherwise totally inappropriate in a way he wasn't when he was just emailing the contact form. She emailed his gross emails to all of us. He's permabanned. This happens to nearly every professional woman in a situation where people can privately or semi-privately or anonymously communicate with them. I'd personally love it if this was as easy as "grar troglodyte sexism!" but it's worse and more pernicious than that. And this FPPs story is more nuanced than your comments seem to indicate or even understand.
posted by jessamyn at 6:46 PM on September 4, 2013 [38 favorites]


they care because grrar! sexism!

Okay, let's say that many commenters care about this particular instance of harassment because it is part of a broad pattern of sexually based harassment against women. What's the point you're making about that?
posted by heyforfour at 6:50 PM on September 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Seriously, "read part II" addresses the hypotheticals, what-ifs, concerns, nomenclature confusion, timeline fuzziness, and pretty much everything else that the various naysayers have been putting forth in this thread. Not reading it or choosing to ignore it is way more "grrar! sexism!" than any other comment, just in the other direction.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:55 PM on September 4, 2013


Personally, I think the teacher handled this quite well. I mean... she's there to teach. The students are there to learn. She was doing her job when she used this as a teachable moment.

I could go on and on but that's pretty much the main thing I want to say. Well, that and to thank the people in this thread who stood up (on preview: are still standing up) for her. So, thanks for fighting the good fight.
posted by Zimboe Metamonkey at 7:11 PM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, I am so so so so so so so so tired of these hypothetical "what if it had actually been blah?! gotcha!" comments. So tired.

Preach it. But it's always revealing, I find - whether it's sexism, racism, climate change denialism, anything at all, really - who the people are that want to discuss anything but the actual thing that happened. Hypotheticals, I find, are generally the mordant prelude to a weak argument that cannot stand in relation to the facts.

This has been rigorously confirmed in this thread. Props to everyone fighting the good fight.
posted by smoke at 7:17 PM on September 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


I hope it's not too insignificant to say that I personally found these two posts surprisingly valuable. This is a difficult and sensitive subject, and I can only hope that I can deal with similar situations with as much aplomb and poise if I ever have the misfortune to have to deal with them. There's a lot to learn from here.

Thanks for the post.
posted by Llama-Lime at 7:31 PM on September 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


As an academic, I've always asserted anonymous teaching evaluations themselves are unfair, highly selective for extreme opinions and perspectives, and ultimately cowardly and offensive in the way they presume faculty would retaliate and the way they infantilize adult students.

This is but one of many ways they can be abusive.
posted by spitbull at 7:40 PM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Yeah, but see, jokes are supposed to be funny. This was far from it. It was belligerent, offensive, and can easily be interpreted as a means to demean or degrade the target of said "joke".

If your sense of humor is calibrated that demeaning any other human being for something which they have no control over (i.e. the color of their skin, their gender, their sexual orientation, etc, etc), then you are not engaging in humor.
"

Defining "humor" as excluding everything demeaning leads to arguing from bad definitions, in part because you're asserting a moral state to position what's "not humor."

Example from my own experience: I broke my arm and leg in a pretty nasty crash. For quite a while afterward, a lot of slapstick and Jackass-esque youtoubery was impossible for me to watch; I'd just wince whenever it came on. That doesn't mean that a guy getting hit in the face with a rake wasn't funny; it still functioned as humor for everyone around me, and had the same mechanics.

Some humor is malicious. Some is sexist. Some is offensive for other reasons, and we may even disagree in the particular over whether a joke is offensive, or funny, or both. (There's even whole schools of thought that hold that all humor comes from violence or hatred.) Recognizing something as humor does not mean endorsing it.
posted by klangklangston at 7:45 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


spitbull: Trying not to derail too badly, but thought I'd address your comment. I totally agree anonymous evals are problematic, but I guess I don't immediately see an alternative. Being a recent undergrad, I would have been happy to submit about 95% of my evals with my name signed on them. And not just because I only had positive things to say; it's just that I was quite sure, knowing the professor, that it wouldn't even occur to them to do anything other than either consider trying to address my comments or just shrug them off.

But a couple of courses were legitimately poorly taught, and I don't think it was clear to me that there wasn't the possibility a professor would potentially hold it against a student for giving a negative eval. Particularly in cases where there's only one professor that teaches a course, and you need that course for your major, you're kind of in a bind between giving anonymous negative comments, not saying anything (and tacitly endorsing the professor), and saying something publicly, and risking it affecting your ability to graduate, and all that entails.

I know that that's a tiny minority of cases, but I'm not sure how other than anonymous evals you would be able to deal with that situation. All of that said, there is no excuse for the student's coments, and everything the professor did is awesome. Please don't take my comments to mean otherwise.

TL;DR: Anonymous evals for teachers suck, but might be necessary?
posted by thegears at 7:55 PM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]



Gender Matters Most: The Interaction of Gendered Expectations, Feminist Course Content, and Pregnancy in Student Course Evaluations (shout out to leahwrenn)
posted by divined by radio at 8:37 AM on September 4 [37 favorites +] [!]


I probably hosed the re-linking; sorry!

Wow---This is a really, really interesting article. I, too, will be happy to shoot someone a PDF of it.

If you're a female academic---especially if you've been pregnant while teaching---you should read it.

My favorite quote:
...we will show that when students' gendered expectations of their professor were fulfilled, they rated her teaching highly.
I'd never thought about "gendered expectations" in terms of students' perceptions of teaching. But it's so there, in my evaluations and in those of my colleagues.

Brief summary: a professor taught the same course (which happened to be on feminisim, in a sociology course) the same way, in a spring and in a fall. During the fall, she was very pregnant. Significantly more students wrote negative evaluations during the semester she was pregnant.

Including such gems as
"I feel Dr. Baker was very rude and negative to all of her students. I feel you had
PMS during your pregnancy"and "When I had interactions with Dr. Baker she was rude.
She yelled at me for answering the way I did on a test. I don't think she should have been
teaching while pregnant because she was moody and crabby.
Oh man. That's so familiar.

Really. It's worth a read. It's very accessible, and very eye-opening.
posted by leahwrenn at 7:58 PM on September 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


On preview...

But a couple of courses were legitimately poorly taught, and I don't think it was clear to me that there wasn't the possibility a professor would potentially hold it against a student for giving a negative eval. Particularly in cases where there's only one professor that teaches a course, and you need that course for your major, you're kind of in a bind between giving anonymous negative comments, not saying anything (and tacitly endorsing the professor), and saying something publicly, and risking it affecting your ability to graduate, and all that entails.

At least in the courses I teach, where I'm likely to (a) care and (b) have the students in another required course, I can usually tell from their handwriting who is who.

But I don't hold it against them. The only one I really resent is the student who took it upon himself to write me a two-page diatribe listing all the ways he thought I was a bad teacher and doing my job poorly and how he thought I should be doing it better and how he really thought he didn't need to come to class any more (fine by me!) ( the email was totally inappropriate in form and content---and off-base, if you ask me, but then of course I'd say that, wouldn't I), and then came the next morning and wanted to discuss the contents of the email for the better part of an hour. (Beginning with "did you have a chance to read the email I sent you?" I replied that yes, I had, but that I was not prepared to discuss it (I was furious about the whole thing)...and somehow we had a conversation for 45 minutes. Ugh.

Conveniently, I won't have that student again. It's better all around.
posted by leahwrenn at 8:04 PM on September 4, 2013


[comment removed - we're at that "if you are not trolling you need to make more effort to make that clear" point.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:28 PM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


What's the point you're making about that?

no one cares that a professor was harassed, but they care that she was sexually harassed.
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:30 PM on September 4, 2013


and then came the next morning and wanted to discuss the contents of the email for the better part of an hour. (Beginning with "did you have a chance to read the email I sent you?...)

Oh man. I'm approaching fireball of rage levels when even men a generation older than me aggressively mansplain to me. If it were an undergrad who was one of my students, I shudder to think of the mental explosion I would have, it might take out all the windows in the building. I'm impressed that you seem to be taking it in so much stride.
posted by cairdeas at 8:32 PM on September 4, 2013


Honestly anonymous comments going directly to a professor surprises me and seems kind of flawed. If they are truly worried about professors retaliating for negative comments, they should go to the professor's superior. The fact that they are anonymous ensures that nobody can ever follow up with specific students. This is adverse to the concept that students are valued customers.

Really, anonymous comments the professor gets to see unfiltered seems like the worst case scenario. Nobody to filter out the bullshit and nobody to stand by what they said.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:34 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


no one cares that a professor was harassed

The professor we're talking about here was sexually harassed. If you want to talk about some other actual incident, perhaps that deserves its own FPP. However, I think this thread is already full of straw hypothetical made-up situations that aren't the situation at hand.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:34 PM on September 4, 2013 [13 favorites]


no one cares that a professor was harassed, but they care that she was sexually harassed.

If you split hairs any thinner you would split the atom. The sexism-patriarchy narrative that you so dislike applies to this story. Accept this.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:35 PM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


no one cares that a professor was harassed, but they care that she was sexually harassed.

Huh? What are you talking about? Who is this professor you were talking about who was harassed and nobody cared?
posted by cairdeas at 8:36 PM on September 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


The sexism-patriarchy narrative that you so dislike applies to this story. Accept this.

what makes you think i don't accept that it's part of this story? my point is that it seems to be the only part of the story people are up in arms about.
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:45 PM on September 4, 2013


cupcake1337, take a look at this Ask question from today. It was written by an adult man saying he was being harassed by a bunch of teen girls. He specifically let us know that it was not sexual (saying the photos they sent were "non-explicit). Yet, nobody disputed that he was being harassed. Many people who replied used the word harassment in their answers. Nobody said to him, "well it must be your fault because men are always to blame and PATRIARCHY!" Many of the people who replied in that thread are the very same people who are participating in this thread and its MeTa.

There is no conspiracy to define harassment as something that only happens to women, that it only counts or is worthy of serious attention and consequences if it is sexual harassment, and we have to treat any action as being harassment if anyone says they feel harassed, even if they are only trolling to make a reach of a point.
posted by cairdeas at 8:47 PM on September 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


How is it possible that people who only get "up in arms" about the sexism-patriarchy aspect of harassment could give the answers that I gave in the question I just linked, cupcake1337? Please show me where we were getting up in arms about how the OP was a tool of the patriarchy and perpetuator of sexism, there.
posted by cairdeas at 8:50 PM on September 4, 2013


no one cares that a professor was harassed, but they care that she was sexually harassed.

That is just an internet arguing technique. "something bad happened you didn't object to, therefore you shouldn't object to anything". It does double or triple duty because it derails the conversation about whatever other bad thing that happened is and it casts us as the villains " oh no, I am against harassment of all kinds"
posted by Ad hominem at 8:50 PM on September 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


What? Ok, I'll play along with other commenters who have already offered gender-neutral examples. Actual comments I and my colleagues have gotten that are not sexually harrassing:
"Course would be better if Prof were dead"
"Prof should juggle fire and jump through hoops"
"This subject sucks"
"Professor is not funny"
"Professor is a wannabe actor/writer"

These comments are useless. In this thread, while dodging all kinds of strawpeople, we have actually managed to have a really good discussion about how to make inappropriate comments--sexual or otherwise--a teaching moments for students to learn how to give reasonable, and effective, feedback. I wish that I and my colleagues took more time to explain to the students, as the blogger did, why comments like this are a waste of time.
posted by TwoStride at 8:58 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


leahwrenn: Wow, I...don't even really understand what would possess a student to do that. I feel like we've all had a teacher/professor we didn't get along with, but we just dealt with it and complained to a few friends, and life went on. Maybe it's just my personality, but I don't understand wanting to escalate the issue into that kind of drama.

Ad hom: If there was a clear supervisor to get sent to, that might make sense, but at a small school you often have tiny departments with rotating heads, so professors don't always have a really clear supervisor who would have the time to read through student evals, especially given that most of them are just going to be completely unremarkable. They probably get looked at by tenure committees in most cases, but they wouldn't really be equipped to make sure there wasn't any retaliation.

Anyway, it might just be that my school didn't have the best systems in place for dealing with professors who were really having some difficulty teaching their courses well, and that might be addressed in a way other than anonymous evaluations.

In terms of getting useful feedback, I've often wondered if it would be possible for the professor to sit down for just a couple minutes with each student and get a bit of dialogue going of how the course went. Might be massively awkward, IDK, but I often feel like I want to say "the way x was structured in the course was not as useful as if you had done y instead" but I might not understand that y wouldn't have worked for most of the students for a whole bunch of other reasons. But, if might be that it would still be a useful conversation to have for both parties, seeing if there are ways to improve over time. (Of course, if you have a lecture with 200 students, this won't work at all.) But I think it's sometimes hard to clearly explain in about fifty words what you thought of a course, and so I think you tend to end up with pithy but useless comments when you do brief written evals.
posted by thegears at 9:04 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ad hom: If there was a clear supervisor to get sent to, that might make sense, but at a small school you often have tiny departments with rotating heads

That is interesting, and totally antithetical to corporate America. Nobody would ever rotate out of a director title. Thanks for the perspective on that. Corporate America does not always have the answer as much as we think we do.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:23 PM on September 4, 2013


Corporate America is not the only paradigm that exists, despite America's obsession with it as an organizational structure.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:46 PM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


First, the administration did not do a great job. Period. I have some empathy for them because the Department of Justice/OCR is not shy about launching investigations when smoke or fire about inequity show up in media.

Colleges work hard to educate faculty, staff and students about their harassment response processes and protocols, especially for Title IX matters that deter academic success. The cited incident is called out well within the classroom. The newspaper article leaves the impression that there is no infrastructure for addressing these complaints, when many campuses have at least a Title IX coordinator to partner with to improve the climate.
posted by childofTethys at 9:47 PM on September 4, 2013


my point is that it seems to be the only part of the story people are up in arms about.

What other part of the story should we be up in arms about? Was there a separate incident?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:43 PM on September 4, 2013


I am a professor and have received one "teach naked" anonymous comment. I shared the comment with friends and our general sentiment was "what kind of fucking moron writes that as a piece of feedback?"

I did not write a blogpost about it nor did I confront the entire class about it. I did not feel that I was the victim of sexual harassment. However, I am male and I suspect that greatly colours the reception of such a comment. It is relatively easy for me to dismiss comments about my looks and youth as an academic because they don't really occur to me in any other venue (ie I don't get cat-calls on the street). They provoke only eye-rolling on my part since I assume they will end as I age, and they don't appear to be detrimentally impacting my professional success whatsoever.

I never would respond in the manner this professor did, but that's because we come at it with an entirely different set of experiences and expectations. It therefore doesn't strike me as unreasonable that this particular professor would interpret such a comment as harassment if she has a different set of life experiences to my own.
posted by modernnomad at 10:44 PM on September 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


I should have brought my derailment bingo card to this thread, it would have been filed up by the time CupcakeLee7 joined in with his two cents.

But really, the fact that these days the derailers practically seem to be reading from a script is a sign that we need a lot more people with the courage to speak out when harassment occurs, enough that they can't be drowned out by the defenders of sexism. I hope that other professors at that university are inspired to also create teaching moments, because informing young people that harassment isn't OK is vitally important.
posted by happyroach at 11:34 PM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


modernnomad: It is relatively easy for me to dismiss comments about my looks and youth as an academic because they don't really occur to me in any other venue (ie I don't get cat-calls on the street).

I really respect that you're willing to say this. A while ago, in another thread, a guy asked why it doesn't bother him when men at parties grope him. I tried to explain why, so I'm going to link it here in case it is relevant for anyone else.
posted by cairdeas at 11:43 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


What some people want is a non-gendered third person singular that isn't "it". I think "they/them/their" does fine here, but don't see that thou and pals can help.

I have seen members of some commenting communities adopt gender-neutral pronouns. (he/she = ze, him/her = hir) It never fully caught on even within those confines, but those pronouns were used often enough that they stopped sounding entirely artificial. Remember when people used to work the word fracking into ordinary conversation half as a BSG reference and half because they had something to swear about? That level of semi-normality.

It has an air of sci-fi utopianism about it, but I like sci-fi utopianism.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:15 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had figured it wasn't really appropriate for the thread, which is about the distinctly gendered female experience of harassment in teacher evals, but I would also get similar kinds of evaluations anonymously as a male presenting TA. They made me pretty uncomfortable, even as a male instructor, and initially I really beanplated the fuck out of them and the weirdness they represented as part of the stupendously easy yet sometimes subtle task of not being a creepy TA - particularly since smitten students of all sorts of genders really really aren't anywhere near as subtle or mysterious as they think they are. Just starting out with teaching, dealing with it really was just that much more deep end to be thrust into all at once. As a male presenting TA though, I didn't really have to worry about stalkers in anything like the same way female TAs did, creepy evals had a distinctly less violent tone than the ones female TAs got (less "Teach naked" and more "My only quarrel with this TA is that I oft times found it hard to concentrate because I always lost myself in his eyes"), and unlike those that female TAs got they generally also came with other nice things to say about me as an instructor.

Teaching undergrads as a man with both male and female colleagues I got to see first hand how dude TAs could just wear a button down collared shirt with pants that arn't jeans as well as shoes that arn't sneakers, act like we knew what we were doing and suddenly we were tapping into all of the convenient operant conditioning they've been put through since they were toddlers without really needing to think about it. How dramatically this just works, even if you're just a first year grad student who is one year older than them, was consistently shocking to new male instructors. For the women I worked with though, this easy magic just didn't exist, particularly with male students. Where not only do those operant conditioning buttons not really exist in the same way but the closer you get to them the more of a 'bitch' you come across as. While for men there is a correct and simple answer that is relatively easy to arrive at and near 100% effective, for women it was like a pick your own adventure of how, mostly male, students will challenge them.

A la rumposinc's awesome answer here, I found that I could just see student crushes are much more a function of stuff going on in students' lives, the really hyper-specific kind of teacher charisma that is valuable to cultivate as an instructor (but really does not translate outside of a classroom), and particularly the awesome feeling of learning about something cool with an expert who guides you into the wonder of it than anything related to who I was or even what I looked like. With the benefit of male privilege I didn't really need to worry about the huge amount of baggage and danger associated with unsocialized male attraction to to women and honestly the only thing I really had to do about it was be mindful of making sure that creeper minded students did start generating weird classroom dynamics. I could really just keep on being enthusiastic about microbiology and consciously ignore it without fear. No one was going to follow me home, no one was going to ask me on dates, no one was going to come to my office hours without any questions and start asking me questions about whether I had a partner, and they were clearly at least looking me in the eye.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:46 AM on September 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


thegears, in 20 years of teaching I've never seen evaluations done before the end of a class. Kind of hard to retaliate when it's over anyway. But in any case, if evaluations were non-anonymous, then they'd be taken more seriously, and maybe students wouldn't pull shit like that described in this thread. And maybe the more secure amongst us faculty members might give a flying fuck what students think about our teaching.

I have *never* read my own evaluations, and I didn't before I got tenure either (after? I could not possibly care less).

I've been lucky to work where they didn't really matter (R1 ivy). I realize others who teach in public institutions or teaching-centric settings may not have the luxury of laughing at the ritual, but many of us are utterly cynical that evaluations exist for any reason other than to make students think their opinions matter since they're paying so damn much, and to give academic bureaucrats (most of whom are failed and mediocre scholars and teachers themselves, and thus resentful of more talented colleagues with less power over money but more over students' minds) some numbers to crunch to prove they aren't useless and overpaid middle managers who couldn't cut it as actual professors.

I advise my junior colleagues to make their best effort as teachers, listen to quality feedback (mostly from good students but also from colleagues who observe your teaching, which happens a lot before tenure), and NEVER to read the comments on their student evals. It will only make you crazy.

Also, reach out to struggling students. Most bad evals come from students who feel anonymous and ignored. Don't let that happen if you can help it.

Fact is, at many top research institutions, no one else will ever read or give a fuck about the student comments anyway. We have all learned anonymous comments are to be deprecated, just like YouTube comments. The lip service paid to evaluations at other more teaching-focused institutions is cynical and disingenuous and everyone involved knows it but has to pretend otherwise. Just go along with the joke.

The joke, in anycase, is on the students who think their anonymous snark means anything to anyone but them (my most charitable assumption is that Mr. Teach Naked probably figured no one was going to read his moronic snark anyway.)

We hope you are satisfied with your purchase, taxpayer/consumer. We don't give refunds, however. (I once gave a student who was going on about being a taxpayer who paid my salary -- back in my early days at Big State Mediocre U --fifty cents as a refund. That shut him right the fuck up.)

Anonymous student evaluations do nothing to improve teaching quality. Everyone involved knows that. They are a waste of time, effort, and money that could be used in ways that actually did improve teaching if we were serious about that goal.
posted by spitbull at 4:12 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


if the comment was "learn to teach," and then she made a speech in her class about how it's harassment, i doubt there would be such a reaction.

There also wouldn't have been such a reaction if the comment was "you're doing a great job". There also wouldn't have been such a reaction if the teacher was discovered to actually be a bandicoot.

But since we're talking about what actually did happen, as opposed to other hypothetical situations, how about sticking to that?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:19 AM on September 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


So she.. should have... what, sexually harassed the student back?
posted by ShawnStruck at 2:07 PM on September 4


Oh for... no, of course not. Firstly I was questioning the wisdom of the extent of her reaction. Secondly, I was questioning the effectiveness of it. I then made the observation that many people, especially schoolkids, are seeking precisely the sort of " your behaviour is unacceptable and offensive" reaction this incident elicited. My anecdotal remark about teachers who used the same tactics back referred to saying something that went for the student's vulnerabilities. "Yeah, how do you like it?" Can be a more effective teaching moment for a kid than telling them how offensive they've been.

As for the person who suggested this was somehow defending sexual harassment, I'm going to treat that with the withering contempt it deserves. Because the way I really want to treat it would get me banned in a heartbeat.
posted by Decani at 5:33 AM on September 5, 2013


oh hey look who's back

I don't think her reaction was esp. extensive, and people told her they were glad she said what she did, so I don't see what's to question there

going after the harasser's weaknesses is fairly futile when the only thing you know about them is that they studied in your class

also, trolls are pretty happy to get any reaction, whether it's moral condemnation or turnabout

for that reason, I recommend that no one react to your second paragraph
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:45 AM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


teachers who used the same tactics back referred to saying something that went for the student's vulnerabilities. "Yeah, how do you like it?" Can be a more effective teaching moment for a kid than telling them how offensive they've been.

Except that that strategy implicitly teaches a different lesson, which is the lesson that it's okay to offend or harass someone if they did it to you first or they need to be put in their place / learn a lesson. That's a lesson that perpetuates the power dynamic by which harassment is allowed to flourish, even if it curtails this particular form of harassment.
posted by gauche at 5:47 AM on September 5, 2013 [12 favorites]


And, I should add, it's by no means a foregone conclusion that it does curtail this particular form of harassment.
posted by gauche at 5:47 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Firstly I was questioning the wisdom of the extent of her reaction. Secondly, I was questioning the effectiveness of it. I then made the observation that many people, especially schoolkids, are seeking precisely the sort of " your behaviour is unacceptable and offensive" reaction this incident elicited. My anecdotal remark about teachers who used the same tactics back referred to saying something that went for the student's vulnerabilities. "Yeah, how do you like it?" Can be a more effective teaching moment for a kid than telling them how offensive they've been.

So she was wildly overreacting by having a 15-second conversation in class and talking about harassment publicly, yet engaging in the exact action her boss stated would be a punishable (possibly fireable) offense by abusing her position of power to bully/harass a student who would love even more attention than the former garnered...would be a measured and effective response?
posted by zombieflanders at 6:00 AM on September 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


But in any case, if evaluations were non-anonymous, then they'd be taken more seriously, and maybe students wouldn't pull shit like that described in this thread.

As an undergrad, my German class evaluations were effectively non-anonymous because you were asked for your major and what year you were, which was always enough to identify me. (The math department actually had someone type up the comments from the evaluations, thus stripping the demographic information.) Knowing my purported anonymity was a farce always made me feel really self-conscious and awkward, to be honest. My best friend now teaches in that German department. I should ask her about the quality of their evaluations, given the quasi-anonymity. (They also asked what grade you expected to get and why, which has always struck me as either a brilliant or useless question. I don't think the classes were big enough for matching the distribution of expected grades against the actual distribution to be particularly meaningful.)
posted by hoyland at 6:09 AM on September 5, 2013


I really have a hard time believing that Decani's protestations that her 15 second "lecture" would be ineffective is made in good faith or that he genuinely laments the ineffectiveness of her approach.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:16 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


My anecdotal remark about teachers who used the same tactics back referred to saying something that went for the student's vulnerabilities. "Yeah, how do you like it?" Can be a more effective teaching moment for a kid than telling them how offensive they've been.

Except that these comments were submitted anonymously, so the teacher didn't know who'd said it and couldn't tailor her audience accordingly. And most likely if she had, the student very well may have complained to the dean and the teacher very well may have been fired.

So as this woman was neither clairvoyant enough to know who actually did it, nor prestigious enough for such actions as you describe to escape reprimand, her choices were either addressing the class as a whole, or doing nothing. So apparently...you would advocate she do nothing?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:28 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sorry if I missed it upthread, but does anybody have a hate on for Rate My Professor because it suggests the students rate the professor's hotness? I hate that shit so much. I heard about a male professor who likes to come into class and brag about his hotness rankings on RMP, but the hotness thing is probably the biggest reason why I never check my RMP page. I'm a woman and disabled, and sometimes that can lead to weird shit. It's too bad, because I would like to see the comments there and would gird my loins to do so but for the fear there will be a statement about my physicality.
posted by angrycat at 6:29 AM on September 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


Also, bravo for the subject of the FPP. It must have been hard as hell to do that. But I bet it was effective. If students see that instructors care, it can really make a difference. Nothing like a quavery voice to communicate that *i have to say this hard thing because it will help you* thing.
posted by angrycat at 6:32 AM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


spitbull: At my undergrad, evals were typically done on the last day of class, but that meant before finals and possibly before final projects were done. That being said, I'm about 99% sure they stayed in a sealed envelope until after the professor turned grades in, so it's not an obvious problem there.

I also don't think the evals ever got looked at by non-professors, and they were obviously taken with a huge grain of salt. My understanding from talking to faculty there is that quite a bit of the information was probably worthless, but that getting some comments in did give them some useful feedback on where students were having trouble with the course, which they weren't always willing to share non-anonymously, particularly if they were likely to have the professor again, which, at my school, was pretty common given the small size.
posted by thegears at 7:00 AM on September 5, 2013


angrycat, a quick CTRL+F indicates sfred mentioned it upthread but it got lost in the noise. It's a great example of how something that was probably just intended to be kind of funny nevertheless ends up degrading and objectifying the actual humans who are the subject of these comments. I can't imagine reading such comments about myself, no matter what I looked like. It would give me the willies.

If you like, I'd be willing to look at your Rate My Professor page and give you some kind of a digest of the non-gross comments that may be on there. Feel free to memail me if that's something you would find useful.
posted by gauche at 7:08 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Should add, the Rate My Professor hotness category is a perfect example of how the intention of someone who makes a degrading or objectifying thing is almost totally irrelevant to whether the thing is degrading or objectifying.

Talking about their intention, which is what defenders of sexism, racism, &c. always seem to want to do, is all about moving the conversation from the world, in which other people also exist and have feelings, to the mind of the person who did the racist or sexist thing, which is a place where only that person matters.
posted by gauche at 7:18 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Firstly I was questioning the wisdom of the extent of her reaction. Secondly, I was questioning the effectiveness of it. I then made the observation that many people, especially schoolkids, are seeking precisely the sort of " your behaviour is unacceptable and offensive" reaction this incident elicited. My anecdotal remark about teachers who used the same tactics back referred to saying something that went for the student's vulnerabilities. "Yeah, how do you like it?" Can be a more effective teaching moment for a kid than telling them how offensive they've been.


This is a college. The student population is over the age of majority. Can we stop calling these students "kids" and treating them with a "boys will be boys" mentality? Or is that too much to ask, of them and of those of us that keep excusing shitty behaviour?
posted by palomar at 7:29 AM on September 5, 2013 [21 favorites]


I bet the student who wrote that comment wasn't expecting her to actually teach something while emotionally naked.
posted by gauche at 7:42 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


I then made the observation that many people, especially schoolkids

This is a college. The student population is over the age of majority. Can we stop calling these students "kids" and treating them with a "boys will be boys" mentality? Or is that too much to ask, of them and of those of us that keep excusing shitty behaviour?

Especially because in the UK, where some people are writing from, "school" is pretty decidedly a term used only for pre-university students, where in the US it's used for higher education as well.

So it adds an extra stripe of either not willful paying attention or willful boyswillbeboysness if people are writing from that view.
posted by sweetkid at 7:47 AM on September 5, 2013


I too find the use of "kid" and "school kid" disingenuous when you mean "young adult student voluntarily paying to be in school."

Yeah, standard practice is that evals are done on the last day (wasting the most important class time of the semester) before grades, but that results don't get released until after grades are submitted.

I too could easily identify the writers of substantive comments by voice alone for most of my small, writing focused classes.

And finally, department chairs often rotate, but they are still the direct superior of any faculty member.
posted by spitbull at 7:54 AM on September 5, 2013


By the way, a propos department chairs, it seems entirely strange to me that when the author was called to a meeting with the dean (itself appalling, it should at most have been a polite request addressed directly to her, and explicitly declinable) it was through (and with) her "mentor." Now, mentor appears to have been a strong and effective senior advocate. But only her Chair is formally empowered to represent her in that situation and in any university I know, the dean broke protocol if she went around the junior faculty member's chair in demanding a meeting with a third party present.

Managerial incompetence in a dean's office, you say?
posted by spitbull at 8:06 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Rate my professor's hotness rating is more about maintaining the operant conditioning that subtly supports harassment and creepy, threatening and unwanted behavior.

Similarly, the lyrics for "Hot for Teacher" and porn plot tropes can just.go.away...
posted by childofTethys at 8:24 AM on September 5, 2013


I too find the use of "kid" and "school kid" disingenuous when you mean "young adult student voluntarily paying to be in school."

I call undergrads kids sometimes. This is because I believe the majority of freshman students possess one or more of the following traits:
  1. They are living away from home, and/or their hometown, for the first time in their lives
  2. They have never held down more than a part time job that they didn't need anyway
  3. They have brains that are literally, in a biological sense, still undergoing major development
  4. They have never previously held any real, serious responsibility nor experienced any actual repercussions for their poor behavior
  5. They have never experienced a long-term, serious romantic relationship
  6. They have never experimented with or even experienced sex and/or drugs and/or alcohol, depending on their background
  7. They do not have children
  8. They have never had anyone depend on them financially, including themselves
Just because they can sign legally binding contracts, smoke cigarettes, and be drafted doesn't mean they aren't immature, untested, and still rapidly growing in terms of physiology, emotional intelligence, and life experiences.

Not every 18- or 19-year-old person is a "kid," but many are. Delayed adulthood is a thing.

This does not in any way excuse their behavior when they do something stupid, or malicious, or stupid and malicious.

But it does explain why I might use the term "kid" when talking about undergrads. They are both adults and not adults at the same time. Adults in an apartment building don't need an RA on every floor and monthly talks about date rape. Kids on their own for the first time? They do need that, and how.
posted by jsturgill at 8:25 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Is the dean charged with investigating harassment as the Title IX coordinator? Some matters are handled directly and confidentially by the office charged with that obligation.
posted by childofTethys at 8:29 AM on September 5, 2013


Not every 18- or 19-year-old person is a "kid," but many are. Delayed adulthood is a thing. This does not in any way excuse their behavior when they do something stupid, or malicious, or stupid and malicious.

Agreed. However, I think the people taking umbrage with the use of "kid" in this case are focusing on how the use of "kid" seems to be part and parcel of someone trying to excuse their behavior, so that's why we may be seeing this pushback.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:31 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Obviously I meant the minimizing use of "kids" to equate an asshole college student with an amusing 9th grader.

Hell, I refer to my junior colleagues as kids sometimes.
posted by spitbull at 8:45 AM on September 5, 2013


I got to thinking about this thread, which highlighted the Chief of the Australian Army saying basically "Here are the standards we expect. Meet them or GTFO." (And in a quick re-read of the thread, I see that no one accuses him of overreacting, or giving attention to trolls, or whatever.)

I'm guessing that many of Australia's soldiers are 18- and 19-year-olds, like the college students in this fpp. Instead of shrugging his shoulders and saying "Well, they're just asshole kids, whaddya gonna do," General Morrison lays out what is and is not okay, and he sets expectations. Pretty awesome.
posted by rtha at 8:48 AM on September 5, 2013 [22 favorites]


It's too bad, because I would like to see the comments there and would gird my loins to do so but for the fear there will be a statement about my physicality.

Ask a friend to check for you?
posted by nooneyouknow at 9:42 AM on September 5, 2013


So late to this thread, but wanted to note that I think it was so great this teacher brought this up to the class. Far better to have the discussion in class today than in the larger public forum tomorrow. It's not such an enormous leap to think that today's "teach naked" beavis & butthead quipster could morph into tomorrow's could you come to work without panties serial harasser. Kids and young adults can be inexperienced, clueless and sometimes mean - we do them or society at large no favors to let unacceptable behaviors pass unremarked. Too bad some smart college prof didn't school Filner sooner.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:44 AM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


Is the dean charged with investigating harassment as the Title IX coordinator? Some matters are handled directly and confidentially by the office charged with that obligation.

I thought of that too. And in my experience, yes, the Dean (or in some schools, Vice President) is usually so charged (some places have a separate officer for this function). But that makes it even more surprising that this faculty member would be contacted for an urgent (not apparently declinable) audience with the Dean *through* her "mentor." Now maybe her mentor is also her Department Chair, but otherwise it would be even stranger if this was a Title IX investigation. I wouldn't necessarily want my "mentor" in place of my Chair in such a situation either.

And besides, this doesn't fit the framework for such an investigation. There is no formal complaint of harassment (unless the student who wrote the comment complained about her lecture to the class, would that be crazy?). If anyone has such a complaint, it's the faculty member, and she's already made it public. The Dean's actions belie her concern with the reputation of the institution and perhaps a concern to head off any formal harassment charges by the faculty member (but if so she handled it awfully), not any sort of concern with investigating the situation as a possible Title IX violation (which I am not sure would even apply in a case where the instructor was alleging harassment *by* a student -- doesn't that only apply to students alleging gendered discrimination or harassment or violence?)

With over 20 years in the profession, I can attest that comments like "Teach Naked" are a common experience among female colleagues even in the most hoity toity of schools, and I have often counseled colleagues who have received such remarks. (And grad student TAs too.) This experience is one reason I think anonymous teaching evaluations are a solution in search of a problem. Accountability for instructional quality is really important to me. I am in favor of objective measures of outcome and of taking student opinions seriously. But anyone who knows the inner workings of the teaching evaluation racket (and the tenure and promotion process) knows what we mostly do now in most universities is about as good a measure of teaching quality as reading tea leaves scattered over the instructor's CV.

( I know it's a nitpick and don't mean to derail, sorry. )
posted by spitbull at 9:57 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


(And that said, I've been a bit careless in not noticing that this case wasn't a formal teaching evaluation exercise, as far as I can tell, but apparently one administered by the instructor for her own purposes? I'm not entirely clear on the status of the exercise itself, not that it matters for the purposes of deciding if she was sexually harassed, which is evident.)
posted by spitbull at 10:02 AM on September 5, 2013


Saying, "deal with it" is not an appropriate course of action really.

That's what really dismays me. No action was required at all of the dean. No dog in that fight at all. She clearly wanted to make sure the instructor ever discussed the topic in her class again. It was another case of attempted bullying.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:20 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Regarding reporting protocol - there was an article in the student paper on campus. It doesn't make for a linear progression. There are meetings and committees...it's not an exercise in reporting lines and dotted lines with public information, and the uneven readership of student newspapers. Sexual harassment that affects access to education is part of TitleIX. The prof is on the positive part of respect, dignity and inclusion. The administration likely wants to be, but got surprised and were defensive, or that's my hunch. One comment in a vacuum is rarely concluded as severe and pervasive. The faculty was great to call out the comment because people reach a tipping or breaking point when the accumulated comments poison daily living. Who wants that?
posted by childofTethys at 11:13 AM on September 5, 2013


That's what really dismays me. No action was required at all of the dean. No dog in that fight at all. She clearly wanted to make sure the instructor ever discussed the topic in her class again. It was another case of attempted bullying.
I think the dean was unpleasantly surprised by a junior faculty member who made a big fuss in the college newspaper about a juvenile comment that clearly does not constitute sexual harassment, and should have about the same weight as your kid telling you "I hate you!". There is some truth to the saying "all men are kids".

I could understand if somebody who has PTSD from previous harassment is so sensitive, but any normal adult who's been through some tough times in life would just shrug it off. Make it a teachable moment about immaturity and juvenile comments? Yes. (This was not bullying, by the way.) Make a big fuss about it outside of the classroom? No.

Because of people like her, I am afraid even to compliment my opposite-sex co-workers about their looks, lest it should be construed as some kind of harassment. Not to speak about hugging people I care about. We should not applaud her, for creating this atmosphere of liability, for shouting "Fire!" where there was just a spark, that would have died in a second had she not put gas on it.
posted by Ervin at 12:49 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


There is some truth to the saying "all men are kids".

That sounds, to this man, like you are saying that men are not responsible for their actions. Is that what you are saying? Do you really believe that men are not adults?
posted by gauche at 12:53 PM on September 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


Here we go again.
posted by thinkpiece at 12:54 PM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


Because of people like her, I am afraid even to compliment my opposite-sex co-workers about their looks, lest it should be construed as some kind of harassment.

You know, I bet they'd also appreciate you complimenting them on their job performance or their brains or their ideas just as much, especially since their job performance and their brains is why they're your co-workers in the first fucking place.

There is some truth to the saying "all men are kids".

So you actually wouldn't mind if people assume that you are immature, crude, and incapable of self-care and self-sufficiency, simply because you're a man? Huh.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:58 PM on September 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


There is some truth to the saying "all men are kids".

I know, love, and respect too many men to let this stand for the general case, and as for the ones who do sexually harass and perpetuate those kinds of attitudes, calling them children is letting them off too easily.
posted by heyforfour at 12:58 PM on September 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


Because of people like her, I am afraid even to compliment my opposite-sex co-workers about their looks, lest it should be construed as some kind of harassment. Not to speak about hugging people I care about. We should not applaud her, for creating this atmosphere of liability, for shouting "Fire!" where there was just a spark, that would have died in a second had she not put gas on it.

Did you ever stop to think that maybe this isn't all about you and your apparently uncontrollable need to comment on how women look or be in physical contact with them, and how maybe they don't want their looks to be commented on or to be touched, especially as opposed to their non-physical qualities? Or that the problem isn't women concerned about harassment but the overwhelming amount of harassment by your man-child compatriots that makes them justifiable leery of that shit?
posted by zombieflanders at 1:00 PM on September 5, 2013 [23 favorites]


Because of people like her, I am afraid even to compliment my opposite-sex co-workers about their looks, lest it should be construed as some kind of harassment.

It is a terrible tragedy that you are no longer able to verbally objectify women in the workplace.
posted by elizardbits at 1:01 PM on September 5, 2013 [36 favorites]


Because of people like her, I am afraid even to compliment my opposite-sex co-workers about their looks.

grumpycat_good.jpg
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:01 PM on September 5, 2013 [12 favorites]


There is some truth to the saying "all men are kids".

Actually, no. There is no truth to that at all. When I see people say that, however, what I infer is that the speaker wants license to behave badly even when they know better and then be able to shrug and say "boys will be boys."

It's 2013, that doesn't fly anymore.
posted by ambrosia at 1:02 PM on September 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


Because of people like her, I am afraid even to compliment my opposite-sex co-workers about their looks, lest it should be construed as some kind of harassment. Not to speak about hugging people I care about."

If you are my coworker, please feel free to never compliment, or really, even comment on my looks. We are fellow professionals in a professional environment, I don't see why looks ever need to enter the equation.

If you want to hug someone you care about, ask "may I hug you?" or "do you want a hug?" Easy. Asking for consent solves so many problems.
posted by coupdefoudre at 1:07 PM on September 5, 2013 [17 favorites]


I am afraid even to compliment my opposite-sex co-workers about their looks, lest it should be construed as some kind of harassment.

Honestly, if you're unable to deliver a compliment that couldn't be construed as harassment, this policy is probably for the best.
posted by KathrynT at 1:10 PM on September 5, 2013 [14 favorites]



I am afraid even to compliment my opposite-sex co-workers about their looks, lest it should be construed as some kind of harassment.


Yea this is a good practice. I personally have never complimented an opposite-sex coworker on their looks. Or same-sex coworkers really. Because it's work.
posted by sweetkid at 1:13 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Huh. I compliment my coworkers on their appearance all the time, and we regularly hug. Oh, maybe that's because I know them well enough to know their comfort levels and have talked with them about stuff like this before, and our friendships have more going on than just looks and hugging. I also make sure that they know that they can tell me if I step over any lines and not have me be mad at them, but rather contrite.

But yes, if you have boundary issues, it's probably better you be safe than sorry.
posted by klangklangston at 1:23 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I just wanted to point out that Ervin's comment was his/her only comment on Mefi, after being a member for eight years. My mind is boggled.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:30 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well you know, years of not being able to say " Hey baby, you look so sexy today" at work are bound to lead someone to snap. Because men evidently aren't responsible for themselves. Now why in that case, men are allowed to vote, is another question.
posted by happyroach at 1:50 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


All the women here have my complete respect for not loosing it every time some guy wanders by to try and turn the conversation about a woman (or women) doing\saying\feeling something towards how the situation effects men. I mean, if you ever want to show someone how women are placed in secondary roles in this society, that's a pretty clear example right there, this professor's own story doesn't get to be about her.
posted by Gygesringtone at 1:57 PM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


Because of people like her

Be an adult and lay the blame where it belongs: on assholes who sexually harass their female colleagues, subordinates, teachers, etc.
posted by rtha at 2:01 PM on September 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


[Comment deleted. This is a relatively sensitive subject, and there are a lot of Standard Arguments that read as being in bad faith whether you meant them that way or not.]
posted by restless_nomad at 2:37 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I just don't think the derail about complimenting opposite sex coworkers on their appearance or showing physical affection towards coworkers is really analogous to this story at all.

I met my wife at work. I was able to navigate the progression from co-workers to dating partners and all the awkward moments in between without being slapped with (or fearing) a sexual harassment complaint.

I'm guessing that had I sent out an email to any of my female coworkers suggesting their job performance could be improved if they would "CUT PURCHASE ORDERS NAKED", my luck may have run out.
posted by The Gooch at 2:49 PM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Because of people like her, I am afraid even to compliment my opposite-sex co-workers about their looks, lest it should be construed as some kind of harassment. Not to speak about hugging people I care about.

Poor baby.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:00 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


There is some truth to the saying "all men are kids".

"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." - Corinthians 13:11
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:10 PM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Ervin, just curious, what do you compliment your male co-workers on? Do you compliment them on their looks very often? What about complimenting your female co-workers on the same sorts of things you compliment the guys on?

It's so interesting to me how every time we hear about how horrible it is that PC paranoia means we can't give compliments anymore, it's always guys talking about how they can't "compliment" women on their looks/appearance. It's never, ever women going, "this is terrible, I wish we could go back to the days when my looks could be complimented by my male co-workers all the time." Kinda tells you something about how well-received those compliments are.
posted by cairdeas at 3:43 PM on September 5, 2013 [15 favorites]


It's also interesting to me how the people who say "boys will be boys" and "men are just kids" never actually want to go all the way with that. I mean they want to take it to the extent that men should be excused for certain behaviors. But I don't see them touting the inescapable flip side, that if you're so mentally/emotionally stunted that you're like a child, you should not have adult responsibilities and privileges, you should not be permitted in adult-only spaces that require maturity and judgment, and you should defer, in your opinions, to adults. It's "we're mentally stunted!" when it's time to evade responsibility --- but when it comes time to determine who "knows better" on any given topic? I don't see these guys going, "well, obviously men are like children and women are like adults, so men should probably try to listen and learn here."
posted by cairdeas at 3:48 PM on September 5, 2013 [27 favorites]


[Folks, if you want to discuss moderation, please take it to the contact form or MetaTalk. This isn't new. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 4:03 PM on September 5, 2013


It's so interesting to me how every time we hear about how horrible it is that PC paranoia means we can't give compliments anymore, it's always guys talking about how they can't "compliment" women on their looks/appearance. It's never, ever women going, "this is terrible, I wish we could go back to the days when my looks could be complimented by my male co-workers all the time." Kinda tells you something about how well-received those compliments are.

I have been told on occasion that I should have remarked how good the female co-worker was looking (especially if multiple people have already complimented her during the day). If that's the case, I happily oblige.

We should say nice things to each other more often. And we should be less suspicious and more forgiving of each other, as a society. That's the point I was trying to make.
posted by Ervin at 4:29 PM on September 5, 2013


I have been told on occasion that I should have remarked how good the female co-worker was looking (especially if multiple people have already complimented her during the day). If that's the case, I happily oblige.

Did she tell you that directly? If not, then you're making an assumption. Yes, even if other female co-workers told you that, it's better to err on the side of caution.

We should say nice things to each other more often. And we should be less suspicious and more forgiving of each other, as a society. That's the point I was trying to make.

And what other people, mainly women, have told you is basically "that's easy for you to say." Women have a million valid reasons to be suspicious of men who do this, and for you to dismiss that by telling them to chill out is way out of line.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:36 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Of course she told me directly. :-)

You know, I have been hugged by female co-workers of my age, without being asked, and not once. I don't think it's a big fuss when people are genuinely trying to be nice to me.

Just because a compliment could have sexual connotations, doesn't mean that it does. Nothing should cause knee-jerk reactions; everything should be interpreted in the context.
posted by Ervin at 4:45 PM on September 5, 2013


"Ervin, just curious, what do you compliment your male co-workers on? Do you compliment them on their looks very often? What about complimenting your female co-workers on the same sorts of things you compliment the guys on?"

Heh, my office actually has more male-on-male appearance appreciation than male-on-female, which has actually been a nice way for me to feel more comfortable giving dudes compliments.
posted by klangklangston at 4:45 PM on September 5, 2013


"Heh, my office actually has more male-on-male appearance appreciation than male-on-female, which has actually been a nice way for me to feel more comfortable giving dudes compliments."

We do the same. And the funny thing is that our female co-workers join in on the male-on-male appreciation all the time.
posted by Ervin at 4:50 PM on September 5, 2013


Nothing should cause knee-jerk reactions; everything should be interpreted in the context.

And what are you claiming the appropriate context for an anonymous note saying "Teach naked" should be? Since that's what actually happened?
posted by jaguar at 4:51 PM on September 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


Of course she told me directly.

Then your first comment makes no sense whatsoever and has nothing to do with the subject at hand.

You know, I have been hugged by female co-workers of my age, without being asked, and not once. I don't think it's a big fuss when people are genuinely trying to be nice to me.

Again: that's easy for you to say. For women that have an extremely high probability of having their personal space or even physical boundaries involuntarily violated at work or in public by complete strangers, it's a very big fuss. How hard is that to understand?

Just because a compliment could have sexual connotations, doesn't mean that it does. Nothing should cause knee-jerk reactions; everything should be interpreted in the context.

When people spend your whole life judging on you your looks and sexual availability and using it to exert power over you, maybe that takes more precedence in the "context" argument. It certainly does in the professor's case.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:55 PM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Of course she told me directly.

Then if your co-worker said that it was okay for you to tell her that you could compliment her, then why are you saying that you CAN'T?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:56 PM on September 5, 2013 [12 favorites]


It's almost like the argument is not in good faith.
posted by elizardbits at 4:59 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am not a machine. I don't hug on command. I don't compliment on command. I do it because that's how I feel. And I can't stand when people associate malicious connotations to things that are benign.

"Again: that's easy for you to say. For women that have an extremely high probability of having their personal space or even physical boundaries involuntarily violated at work or in public by complete strangers, it's a very big fuss. How hard is that to understand?"

I am very sorry for any person who goes through life like this, with permanent suspicion and fear. I grew up as a minority, so I know how that feels, and the solution is to educate people about it, but not through suspicion and knee-jerk reactions. (I am not referring to the professor.)
posted by Ervin at 5:07 PM on September 5, 2013


I am very sorry for any person who goes through life like this, with permanent suspicion and fear.

OK, but the thing is: that suspicion and fear is warranted. Feel sorry if you like, but for the world that is so unfair to women that they live in suspicion and fear -- not for the fact that women react perfectly rationally to an unfair and hostile world.

And I can't stand when people associate malicious connotations to things that are benign.

Why not? Why is their experience less valid than your intent?
posted by KathrynT at 5:12 PM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


(I am not referring to the professor.)

Yes, but that's actually what the thread is about. Talking about your workplace and how you like to compliment people is actually a huge derail, and one that many men often make as a way, conscious or not, of making people focus on men's feelings instead of on women's experience.
posted by jaguar at 5:15 PM on September 5, 2013 [16 favorites]


I am not a machine. I don't hug on command. I don't compliment on command. I do it because that's how I feel. And I can't stand when people associate malicious connotations to things that are benign.

How are they to know that when they have been subject to so many instances of malice, often violently? I mean, are you even aware of the percentage of women who have been assaulted, raped, and murdered because of malicious intentions? And that doesn't even begin to get into the institutional attacks or obstacles.

I am very sorry for any person who goes through life like this, with permanent suspicion and fear.

Since it obviously hasn't been earned, apparently.

I grew up as a minority, so I know how that feels, and the solution is to educate people about it, but not through suspicion and knee-jerk reactions.

Education? Why, I do believe you've come upon a solution that literally no one has thought of before. BTW if you are aware of the suspicion and fear, then it's an informed reaction, not a knee-jerk one.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:17 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am not a machine. I don't hug on command. I don't compliment on command. I do it because that's how I feel.

But you are in a workplace environment, where sometimes you need to curtail how you feel because there are right and wrong places for every kind of behavior. So if maybe you feel like you're being constrained from hugging someone just because you "feel like it," consider - isn't it also a good thing that you also can't punch a co-worker in the nose because you "feel like it"? This is the same damn thing.

the solution is to educate people about it, but not through suspicion and knee-jerk reactions. (I am not referring to the professor.)

Well, the professor did indeed try educating people about it, and she's the person we're talking about, so how does your feeling like you can't unleash your id at work tie into this?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:18 PM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Nothing should cause knee-jerk reactions

Yes we are all robots and our emotion subroutines only activate after we have logically processed your input and decided how to react.
posted by Zimboe Metamonkey at 5:27 PM on September 5, 2013


We should say nice things to each other more often. And we should be less suspicious and more forgiving of each other, as a society. That's the point I was trying to make.

I agree, and I wish you'd made it without blaming your inability to compliment female coworkers on the author of the posts linked here. I still don't understand why you did that.
posted by rtha at 5:47 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


[Can we try getting this discussion back to the original post instead of random stories of workplaces?]
posted by mathowie at 5:48 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


OK, but the thing is: that suspicion and fear is warranted. Feel sorry if you like, but for the world that is so unfair to women that they live in suspicion and fear -- not for the fact that women react perfectly rationally to an unfair and hostile world.

The PhD student's reaction was not rational. One just doesn't go to the college newspaper and scream sexual harassment, in this world, just because a 20 year-old kid (who has more reasons to be afraid of her than she of him/her) made a one-time anonymous private stupid joke. Not without first going to the dean, to the department chair, or to the specialized office for this.

It was good that she made a teachable moment out of it, but to call this bullying and sexual harassment requires quite some imagination. And the fact that she teaches women's studies suggests a biased mind.

I am not trying to blame the victim, I am just trying to figure out whether the reaction was proportional or not.
posted by Ervin at 6:10 PM on September 5, 2013


but to call this bullying and sexual harassment requires quite some imagination

A male student wrote "Teach Naked" to a female teacher. It's basically saying "I want to see you naked." That is pretty much the standard definition of sexual harassment (unwanted sexual remarks), and you bringing up again makes me believe you're just trolling everyone at this point.
posted by mathowie at 6:16 PM on September 5, 2013 [20 favorites]


One just doesn't go to the college newspaper and scream sexual harassment, in this world, just because a 20 year-old kid (who has more reasons to be afraid of her than she of him/her) made a one-time anonymous private stupid joke.

She didn't do that -- did you read the article? She spoke about it in class for about 20 seconds. Then she was CALLED by the school newspaper to do a story about it. Then the dean called her in for a meeting and was completely awful. To the best of my knowledge, nobody ever screamed anything at all.
posted by KathrynT at 6:17 PM on September 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


And she doesn't teach Women's Studies; I have no idea where you got that from.

Your assumption that she does, and that it shows she's biased, suggests a biased mind on your part.
posted by jaguar at 6:18 PM on September 5, 2013 [15 favorites]


From the blog:
GracieABD is a Midwestern PhD student with a few years teaching under her belt. Current interests: curriculum, pedagogy, science outreach, women in STEM, women in academia, oh, and her trained field – paleolandscapes and soils. In her free time, she loves to cook, bake, eat cookies, and explore her creative side. She also walks. A lot.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:23 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


"GracieABD is a Midwestern PhD student with a few years teaching under her belt. Current interests: curriculum, pedagogy, science outreach, women in STEM, women in academia, oh, and her trained field – paleolandscapes and soils. In her free time, she loves to cook, bake, eat cookies, and explore her creative side. She also walks. A lot."

You're right. She does not teach women's studies, she's just interested.
posted by Ervin at 6:24 PM on September 5, 2013


And therefore suspect! AHA!
posted by rtha at 6:26 PM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Women's Studies is an actual field. Being interested in women in STEM or women in academia, or even both, is not the same thing as being in, or even interested in, Women's Studies.
posted by jaguar at 6:26 PM on September 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


I mean, would you better believe her rationale for handling this if she'd done the same without being "interested" in Women's Studies?
posted by rtha at 6:27 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think it's pretty suspicious that she's interested in paleolandscapes and cookies. Let's totally dismiss her experience!
posted by lalex at 6:28 PM on September 5, 2013 [14 favorites]


Mmm landscape cookies
posted by sweetkid at 6:29 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


That is pretty much the standard definition of sexual harassment (unwanted sexual remarks), and you bringing up again makes me believe you're just trolling everyone at this point.

I guess that depends on what is meant by harassment. Certainly the legal definitions differ. In many people's minds, harassment is a very serious charge, and thus should require an appropriately serious standard, where a distinction is made between acts that are merely inappropriate and juvenile and acts that pose more serious harm.

Harassment, in other words, by this light, should not be a term that covers both behavior like this throwaway comment and much nastier situations, like, for instance, an advisor hitting on a graduate student.
posted by shivohum at 6:29 PM on September 5, 2013


She was probably all hopped up on sugar and estrogen! No wonder she was hysterical!
posted by jaguar at 6:30 PM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


I prefer my cookies in portrait.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:30 PM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


In many people's minds, harassment is a very serious charge, and thus should require an appropriately serious standard, where a distinction is made between acts that are merely inappropriate and juvenile and acts that pose more serious harm.

Those people are wrong. Inappropriate is inappropriate. And if you actually listened to what people are saying, you might find that what you're dismissing as "merely inappropriate and juvenile" sexual comments can feel deeply threatening to women, thus posing "more serious harm" than you are assigning them.
posted by jaguar at 6:33 PM on September 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


"I think it's pretty suspicious that she's interested in paleolandscapes and cookies. "

dinosaurs didn't even have cookies
dinosaurs didn't even have sexual harassment

FALSE FLAG, OBAMA
posted by klangklangston at 6:50 PM on September 5, 2013 [14 favorites]


You're right. She does not teach women's studies, she's just interested.

You know who you sound like right now? Michael Savage. I can just hear this remark being spoken in the mean-spirited shithead's voice:

You're right. She does not teach women's studies. She just iiiiiiinteresssssted.

Isn't that strange?
posted by Ipsifendus at 7:07 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]



"GracieABD is a Midwestern PhD student with a few years teaching under her belt. Current interests: curriculum, pedagogy, science outreach, women in STEM, women in academia, oh, and her trained field – paleolandscapes and soils. In her free time, she loves to cook, bake, eat cookies, and explore her creative side. She also walks. A lot."


You're right. She does not teach women's studies, she's just interested.

posted by Ervin at 5:24 PM on September 5
Hunh?

"Curriculum and pedagogy"= women's studies?

"Outreach"=women's studies?

"Women in academia" & "women in STEM" = woman's studies?

Because she's interested in the role of women in various places in academia, you dismiss her as being...interested in Women's Studies? Is that code for being an eevil feminist or something?

Seriously?
posted by leahwrenn at 7:24 PM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


All my bingo card squares are full. Can anybody give me a blank one? I think it's going to be needed.
posted by Lexica at 7:24 PM on September 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


[Just a FYI: I was tired of the Ervin vs. everyone fight and gave him the night off]
posted by mathowie at 7:28 PM on September 5, 2013 [16 favorites]


I don't understand this thing where "standing up for yourself calmly and firmly" is "being a victim" and "suffering in silence" is somehow heroic.

I mean, I understand that "woman=martyr who does all the scut work and doesn't bother any men while they're off having boyish fun and never ever ever does anything that might damage their frail male ego" is the Official Patriarchy-Approved Female Gender Role (tm), but I'm constantly amazed that anyone who is no longer an infant or toddler expects all women to be their perfect mommies.
posted by jaguar at 7:30 PM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm constantly amazed that anyone who is no longer an infant or toddler expects all women to be their perfect mommies.

Oh, but haven't you heard? All men are kids!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:43 PM on September 5, 2013


Edwina the dinosaur makes cookies
posted by brujita at 7:57 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]



A male student wrote "Teach Naked" to a female teacher. It's basically saying "I want to see you naked."


nah, based on the context of an anonymous feedback form, it clearly means "here is something intentionally not expected." does anyone actually think she/he wanted her to teach naked?
posted by cupcake1337 at 9:23 PM on September 5, 2013


does anyone actually think she/he wanted her to teach naked?

Have you ever met a teenage boy?
posted by restless_nomad at 9:25 PM on September 5, 2013


i've been one.
posted by cupcake1337 at 9:25 PM on September 5, 2013


Regardless of your personal ascetic bent, it's pretty reasonable to assume that someone likely to write a note like, "Teach naked," would actually be interested in seeing their female teacher naked; it is more likely than not.
posted by klangklangston at 9:44 PM on September 5, 2013


Why does it matter if he wanted her to teach naked or not? Sexual harassment is sexual harassment, no matter how "genuine" it is. I mean, I'm pretty sure that the dudes who try to be dismissive of me while being patronizing and flirty and saying shit like "ooh, she's fiesty" are still sexually harassing me even though they don't know what I look like and might not actually be interested fucking me. It's a behavior that's frequently used to bully and intimidate and that's what matters.
posted by NoraReed at 9:53 PM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


i disagree. maybe in their own fantasy world without any consequences, but if someone said "she's in the other room, go ahead," then no, i think most people would would not be interested, even if they were at some level attracted to their (why would it matter if they are male or female?) teacher.
posted by cupcake1337 at 9:53 PM on September 5, 2013


Sexual harassment is not about whether the harasser actually wants to have sex with the harassee. It's about using sexualized words, images, or actions to harass another person. Hence the "harassment" part.
posted by jaguar at 10:00 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


you can't have it both ways: either context matters or it doesn't. i've argued that the context does matter, and then others say it doesn't, the only thing that matters is that the person feels harassed, bullied, intimidated. then i argue that the only thing that matters is how someone interprets it: it's harassment (sexual or otherwise) if they perceive it to be. then people argue that, no, the context does matter, because some people, essentially, are crazy and live in different "worlds."

so, NoraReed, maybe it would be more efficient if you hashed it out with cjorgensen, instead of going through me.
posted by cupcake1337 at 10:02 PM on September 5, 2013


Cupcake, I'm not really sure what you're on about with context here, what it has to do with cjorgensen, or why you perceive a response to a conversation that involved multiple other people to be "going through you".
posted by NoraReed at 10:11 PM on September 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


Ignoring the actual meaning of "Teach naked" is not contextualizing it, it's handwaving away the actual meaning in favor of some meaning you've divined by magically reading the mind of the anonymous student.

"Putting something in context" generally means looking at the relationship between the people involved and the setting in which it happened to determine whether a reasonable person would find the action appropriate or not. It does not mean ignoring the actual content of what was said.
posted by jaguar at 10:25 PM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


"Why does it matter if he wanted her to teach naked or not? Sexual harassment is sexual harassment, no matter how "genuine" it is. I mean, I'm pretty sure that the dudes who try to be dismissive of me while being patronizing and flirty and saying shit like "ooh, she's fiesty" are still sexually harassing me even though they don't know what I look like and might not actually be interested fucking me. It's a behavior that's frequently used to bully and intimidate and that's what matters."

That's a really good point and something I'm sorry that I sort of blundered over. The "sexual" generally refers to mode or means, not intent. Which is why my arguing over whether it's reasonable to conclude anything about whether this note was written by someone with actual sexual desire is irrelevant.
posted by klangklangston at 10:37 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


If I worked my ass off teaching a college level class for a semester, and someone left me an anonymous comment on my review sheet suggesting that I get naked as a teaching improvement, why wouldn't I be able to have an opinion about that? Why wouldn't I be able to share that opinion with supervisors or the very same students that gave me feedback? Why would it be stupid for me to have an opinion about that? How would it be overreacting to have an opinion about that? Why would it be preferred that I shut up about my opinion? Why would my gender be an important aspect of the conflict resolution process?
posted by oceanjesse at 11:23 PM on September 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


teaching is also sort of perilous when it comes to inappropriate reactions:

You're on a stage, and everybody is watching how you handle things. I had a male instructor friend who had a student do basically the Raiders of the Lost Arc thing of writing I love you on her eyelids. It was very unpleasant for him.

Women, who are usually carrying with them a history of some sort of sexual harassment, have a bit of a bigger job, I reckon: You have to deal with the fact that like many in this thread, some folks will see flirty comments as innocent/boys will be boys. Plus you have to monitor your own internal weather carefully to minimize signs of embarrassment/discomfort. Unless you are gonna do an awesome takedown like the subject of this FPP.

I had one male student ask me (outside of the classroom) if I planned to have kids. This triggered my *ha ha get away* response. Because it felt like a sexual intrusion/prelude to seduction. His intention wasn't that, as far as I know, but even so -- his question stuck like a log in the river of my mind teaching -- because, of course, you have to shut down the *ha ha get away* response and go be in front of him and twenty other students the next day.
posted by angrycat at 4:30 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes. What Angrycat said, cupcake, is the difference between situations you were seeking in another comment. I told you that there was a difference between a woman saying "that's harrassment" based on her context of lived experience as a woman, and your saying "that's harrassment" based on you simply feeling like that's harrassment.

Angrycat is explaining that the first experience is based on a history of similar harassing experiences, many of which ended very badly, and a history of societal and social behavior towards her which has legitimately and seriously shaped her life, and continues to shape it.

The second experience, though, would be you in the moment deciding that your fee-fee's have been hurt.

And despite what you told me elsewhere - that is a distinction with a difference.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:39 AM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


[As a note: Some topics are harder than others for whatever reason, and people get frustrated, but avoiding tossing in stuff like "fee-fee's" and similar can help things go a little smoother.]
posted by taz at 6:18 AM on September 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


for anyone who takes issue with how GracieABD reacted to the comment, which many on here (including myself) believe to be entirely appropriate, can you point to an actually existing event that was an appropriate reaction by a woman to an inappropriate sexual comment? Like, something that happened, that wasn't a hypothetical.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:47 AM on September 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


How are we still having the conversation about whether or not telling someone to teach naked is sexual harassment? How is this even possible? Has it really been two days and not one but SEVERAL people coming in here reading (or not reading) hundreds of comments and putting forth same tired old "Boys will be boys, and she was a hysterical over-reacting bitch" argument? How can you possibly be so dense as to not see, and then continue to defend your inability or unwillingness to see, that telling your professor to get naked is wrong, inappropriately sexual, bullying, and harassing? Is it fun? Does it make you feel happy? I just don't get it. I don't. It hurts, literally makes me feel pain, that there are people in the world who excuse, over and over and over, this kind of behavior on the basis that the perpetrators just don't know any better, and shouldn't have to. Well, I don't have to quietly put up with shitty behavior, because I do know better. And if it takes me the rest of my life, I'm going to keep screaming about it until those who don't want to listen are either forced to finally hear, or forced underground. I used to be the one underground; I disappeared from MetaFilter and all other forums for years because I got tired of it, but not anymore. I won't be silenced. Women will be women; deal with it.
posted by jennaratrix at 7:04 AM on September 6, 2013 [17 favorites]


My feelings are not hurt by latecomers swooping in to lesson us ladies on how we need to just ignore sexual harassment and how it doesn't rise to the high standard that should actually require men/boys to actually consider their actions and/or change their conduct, but I am bewilidered by the worldview that thinks telling a woman to do anything in public naked is not sexual harassment. That's the sort of pronouncement that provokes the "what color is the sky on your planet?" response in my head even though it usually doesn't make it to the e-page.
posted by immlass at 9:00 AM on September 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


cupcake1337: "i disagree. maybe in their own fantasy world without any consequences, but if someone said "she's in the other room, go ahead," then no, i think most people would would not be interested, even if they were at some level attracted to their (why would it matter if they are male or female?) teacher."

This is a really, really gross way of putting it. I mean, I read this a few hours ago and have been unable to get it out of my mind because it feels so icky.

Part of why it's so gross is that it's clear you don't think the teacher has any volition or is in any way the subject of her own story. You could have written "if the teacher had said 'come in the other room and let's get it on right now if that's what you want'" but instead you wrote if someone said "she's in the other room, go ahead," as though she's some inanimate thing waiting to be used.

You may have heard the term "objectification" before. That's what you've done in this quote: instead of being a subject who acts, to you the teacher is an object to be acted upon.
posted by Lexica at 10:08 AM on September 6, 2013 [31 favorites]



This is a really, really gross way of putting it. I mean, I read this a few hours ago and have been unable to get it out of my mind because it feels so icky.


I just want to point out that I had the same feeling. It's a terrible phrasing...

if someone said "she's in the other room, go ahead," as though she's some inanimate thing waiting to be used.


exactly.
posted by sweetkid at 10:59 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


if someone said "she's in the other room, go ahead," as though she's some inanimate thing waiting to be used.

Agreed, super creepy phrasing and totally out of place in this conversation.
posted by jessamyn at 11:59 AM on September 6, 2013 [10 favorites]


Although it was inspired by an unrelated incident, I thought this article from yesterday's NYT, Academia's Fog of Male Anxiety, was a good read that bears an uncanny resemblance to some of the discussion here, predictable derails and all.
I'm always hearing from stressed-out men, worrying aloud what "all this fuss about sexual harassment means for them. I've heard it at training sessions on university sexual harassment policy: "Does this mean I can't even tell a woman that she looks nice?" I've heard it in coffee lounges: "Make sure you keep your door open when you're talking to a woman student — you never know what she might say later." And I've had it confided to me, with a sigh of regret, at conference happy hours: "I'm afraid now to form any relationships with female students — they might take it the wrong way."

In fact, there are very, very few cases in which academic men have even been brought up on formal charges, much less fired, for sexual harassment. [...] And I would venture that almost any woman in the profession can give you four or five examples of egregious misbehavior by male professors that has gone completely unsanctioned.

So what's the worry? The real worry, I think, for men is that they will have to change their ways. They will have to monitor what they say to female students and colleagues. They will have to think twice before chatting up that attractive graduate student they see at a conference. They'll have to stop relying on smutty double entendres to get laughs in their seminars.

And all this would all be bad because...?
posted by divined by radio at 12:10 PM on September 6, 2013 [16 favorites]


As a man, I used to worry about the amount of effort it might take to not harass women. But then I thought, "Think of the time I'll save!"

So really, it's been a win-win.
posted by klangklangston at 6:44 PM on September 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


divined: One thing I wonder is how many of said male academics have never really been on the wrong side of privilege. If you're a white man from a decently well-off family, in a good school district, in a reasonably affluent part of the country (all of which are at least somewhat likely for an academic), you might not have ever had to come to terms with the feeling of vulnerability, of powerlessness that can come from being in an unprivileged position.

To someone who's not from such a privileged background, being careful about what you say on matters of gender, for instance, can be a daily necessity, so not saying asinine things that are likely to offend is all but second nature. But if you've never been in that position, where it really matters, then, yes, it probably is going to require some major changes to the way you think, which are likely to be painful at some point.

But that's the (really very small) price you pay for having privilege: you occasionally have to think carefully before opening your mouth.
posted by thegears at 9:55 PM on September 6, 2013


> How can you possibly be so dense as to not see, and then continue to defend your inability or
> unwillingness to see, that telling your professor to get naked is wrong, inappropriately sexual,
> bullying, and harassing?

I suppose everybody has an opinion and thinks they have a vote, so here's mine. N.b. I am well over on the conservative side of things (for metafilter.) Not Tea Party conservative, but about as conservative an Obama voter as you're likely to find.

I absolutely agree with the quoted text. A stunt like this didn't even have an entry on my life list of Things Gentlemen Do Not Do because I had never heard of an instance--or imagined one. But, bloody Hell, it's got an entry now, and it's way high up there.

As for whether young people who do such things are kids, if someone described the incident to me starting with "Listen to what some kid did" without mentioning the actual age of the "kid" I would have guessed seven or eight. An identifiable college-age "kid" who did the same thing would get an instant involuntary vacation from the school if it were up to me. For a second offence the vacation would be permanent. Do.not.want.

Just my overreaction.
posted by jfuller at 10:08 AM on September 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


To follow up jfuller, college students are adults and should be expected to act as adults. The fact that "kids" are allowed I an extended adolescence through their 20s is a sad flaw in our society.

One of the functions of college now is to teach post-adolescents to take on the responsibilities of full adults. As such, the professor turning this incident of harassment into a learning moment is brilliant and very needed. Whether the "kid" meant it as a prank or as silly harassment is irrelevant; it was inappropriate, and people needed to be taught how to behave appropriately.
posted by happyroach at 10:59 AM on September 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


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