Sexism In Class

Yesterday was the first day of my Poli Sci class’s quiz section. I walked through the door actually quite excited – my previous two classes that day had been wonderful and I was hoping that this quiz section would be just as great. Sadly, it wasn’t. During section the TA made some extremely inappropriate comments that were derogatory to women. My response was to write a letter to my professor and cc the head of the department:

Dear Professor [blank],

I am a Junior LSJ major currently enrolled in your Poli Sci 201 class trying get the pre-reqs done to be able to double major. Last Fall I took your LSJ 320 class, which is in part why I am writing you this e-mail.

I have just home from my quiz section with [name removed], and I am utterly appalled at the conduct he exhibited during section. The majority of the quiz section was devoted to informing us that we would be unable to understand any of the material without his guidance because of supposedly lacking high school educations. This assumes that everyone in the class is a freshman lacking in any understanding of political theory and moreover that those students who might have some sort of background in philosophy or political theory are too stupid to understand the coursework – assumptions made by [name removed] without him even bothering to ask our names, school years, or majors, information which would obviously prove these assumptions to be incorrect. It also seemed as if [name removed] main goal was not actually to provide further insight into the coursework; his language during the quiz section was peppered with vague sports references and a lot of swearing seemingly geared toward impressing the younger male members of the class with how ‘cool’ he is. I do not object to swearing as a general rule and often indulge in the practice myself in my private life, but I think it is extremely inappropriate when almost every sentence coming from a TA or professor’s mouth contains at least one four letter word, if not several.

The most disturbing issue that occurred during quiz section, however, was the level of misogyny exhibited by [name removed]. I have been working with Planned Parenthood since I was 16 and been called all manner of names by anti-Planned Parenthood demonstrators and even by the aides to District 4 legislators when I lobbied them in 2007, yet I have never felt so marginalized as I did in quiz section today. [Name removed] referred to multiple negative issues we may encounter during the course of this class as bitches, even telling us that we needed to “smack around the text” in order to “make it our bitch” after giving a disclaimer to the men in the class that they shouldn’t hit women because it “makes [us] angry.” He also told the class Nietzsche said that “men should go to a women with a whip in hand” and that this is what we should do to our imaginations because even though “Nietzsche never got laid except for one time with his sister,” he got published. As the daughter of a domestic abuse victim, I am offended, appalled, and extremely angry that I was subjected to this type of domestic violence marginalization, especially as it came from a person who is supposed to be helping me learn about political theories dealing with the concepts of justice and equality.

Having been in your Politics and Law of International Human Rights course, I know that you are not someone who would condone this sort of behavior from one of his TAs. Even if there is nothing else you can do, please transfer me to Section AE as it is the only other section which fits with my class schedule and I do not desire to remain in a quiz section where my opinion is not valued because of my gender and supposed lack of intelligence.

My professor responded promptly and is handling the matter in a satisfactory manner, but in his response he also informed me that my TA has been awarded a coveted teaching award which was given to him by his students. This makes me wonder. The language and references he used during lecture were clearly geared towards the younger males of the class – the more they laughed, the more vulgar and demeaning his language became. I wonder if he was like this in previous courses. I wonder if he received his award because he made the guys in his classes laugh at the expense of the women in his classes. I wonder if any woman in any of his classes has reported him before, or if they have felt too intimidated to do so. The class is an entry level pre-requisite for the Political Science major – I would not be surprised if he had done this before and freshman women in his class who were unsure of their own authority just let him slide. What would you have done?

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2 responses to “Sexism In Class

  1. That was a very well written letter, and I’m glad your professor is taking the issue seriously. I too would be really interested to see if any of the other students in your class minded the TA’s behavior. Also, do you think you would have spoken up if you had taken this class as a freshman? If I had taken that class my first year, I probably would have been one of those girls “unsure of their own authority.”

  2. I’ve exchanged a few more e-mails with the professor since I posted this entry and he is not handling as well as I thought he was. He spoke with the TA, which is good, but the difficulty now is the fact that I need out of the quiz section and into a different one that fits my schedule (which is difficult because I have 4 hours of class those days not including section). The one that fits the best with my schedule is at 11:30, but the professor has refused to give me an add code because the class is already over full, which means I’m stuck with an 8:30 class. Which isn’t really that big of a deal, I guess, but it’s not as if I’m trying to switch out for some frivolous reason – I’m trying to switch from a class where I would be marginalized and dismissed as unintelligent to a class where I wouldn’t be. I also submitted my complaint and request to be transferred before the class was overfull. It’s frustrating, but I’m hoping the TA of the 11:30 section will let me in. If not, I guess I’ll just have to live with an 8:30 class two days a week.

    As far as what I would’ve done my first year – I don’t know. I might’ve spoken up because I already had experience dealing with being dismissed and marginalized due to my gender thanks to working with Planned Parenthood, but I might also have been too intimidated by the TA’s position to say anything and just stopped going to section. Either way I’m glad that if crap like this had to happen to me it happened now and not last year. It does really say something about society and the educational system that students feel like they cannot report a teacher whose conduct is completely and utterly inappropriate.

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