Saturday, September 29, 2007

I don't need this.

I just read a short paper by one of my students, and it's appallingly misogynistic. Appallingly. He actually says that women are inferior and that men don't need them; that all they're good for is child-bearing.

I believe that this student is serious, because he said some similar things (and other crazy sexist stuff) in class the other day, and in an earlier paper he referred to his ex-girlfriend as a whore, going into quite a bit of detail about how awful she was.

I just sent my department chair a lengthy email describing the paper and asking her what I should do--whether there's someone on campus I can go to with this, or what.

The thing is, I don't want to teach him. I just don't. I'm pretty sure that I'm not going to be able to change his views on women this semester (and how would I do that?), but by continuing to teach him--and possibly passing him--I feel that I'd be endorsing, or at least permitting, his view. I'm on the verge of tears writing this; his paper was so hateful and insane that I'm not sure how to cope with him. (He's always decently polite in class, by the way, so it's not as though I've had problems with him in the past.)

I just feel shocked and appalled and--attacked, frankly. And I'm afraid that, even if he stops writing this kind of horrible garbage, he'll still be thinking it, and I don't know what to do about that.

And with that, I just might stop working for the night. Where's that beer?


Hilaire said...

Oh, that's terrible. I'm so sorry. I would expect that a Human Rights/Equity office would be able to deal with such things. As far as I can see, that constitutes sexual harassment. End of story. He's creating a hostile climate for you in the workplace; it's a no-brainer that you shouldn't have to teach him. I'd also think that, given what you describe as insane and bordering on violent pronouncements, the university would perhaps deem him a risk, in general. They need to be very, very careful about such cases.

Oh, heu mihi, I so hope your Chair is going to back you up on this. If, for some reason, she doesn't, I hope you will feel able to go to the appropriate office anyway. I hope there is such an office!

This post really dovetails with adjunct whore's, from last night, about the prevalence of sexual harassment of female students and faculty.

Enjoy your beer. Hugs to you.

heu mihi said...

Thank you, Hilaire! That's very heartening. I was wondering (after I posted this) if I wasn't just overreacting, and whether it wouldn't be wimping out to try to get him out of my class. Thinking about it in terms of sexual harassment--and possible risk--makes the whole issue much clearer.

I'm going to go read a.w.'s post right now. Thanks again for the support! (And I've been having a very deliberately relaxing evening since then: beer, ice cream, and netflix TV shows. Yay!)

squadratomagico said...

It's good that you are bringing other people into the loop on this. I had something similar happen to me once, and I kept a copy of the paper in case it became a problem. However, the student ended up dropping my class on his own after I failed his paper.

It was a women's history class (??!! -- why was he enrolled in the first place?) and the assignment was about Gregory of Tours. The paper was a Biblical critique of the queens in Greg/T: he wrote that, since the Bible forbade women to exert public leadership, the women described by Gregory were sinful. My favorite bit was his unpacking of a quotation from 1 Timothy that "I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men" -- a section of the paper that clearly was attacking me, his female prof., as much as Fredegund.

Since the paper demonstrated no historical understanding or critical engagement, I failed it after making a copy for my records. I also suggested in the comments that he speak to me in person, but he dropped the class instead.

Fretful Porpentine said...

Ouch. That's a pretty awful situation, but I'd like to offer a counterargument. I don't think "permitting his view" is necessarily a bad thing. After all, the only alternative is forbidding his view, and you probably don't want to go there in a college classroom even if it were possible to do so, which -- as you've already acknowledged -- it isn't. He'll believe what he believes, regardless of whether his instructors give him permission to believe it.

The best-case scenario is that he's trying to get a rise out of you, in which case I wouldn't want to give him the satisfaction. The worst case is that he actually believes all this stuff, in which case he's liable to go into a fit of self-dramatization and declare himself a Martyr Being Persecuted For His Ideas By Evil Politically-Correct Feminists. And again, I think it's better not to give him the satisfaction.

Were I in that situation, I'd mark the paper on its merits as a piece of writing and avoid engaging the student's opinions at all. (I assume it's probably got beaucoup unsupported assertions and glaring holes in logic -- go to town pointing those out, just don't let him know the content of the paper is getting to you.)

Obviously, none of this applies if you think there's ANY chance you're in physical danger from this student -- in that case, you do what you have to do to stay safe.

heu mihi said...

Yeah. I don't think I'm in any physical danger--but given that, on my count, this is the third time he's made openly sexist/misogynistic remarks in the context of this class, I'm pretty sure that he's not just going for effect (which was my optimistic interpretation after incident no. 2). He also said some weird things about race earlier in the semester, seeming to relish cataloging a list of stereotypes that (he claims) everyone secretly believes in.

My second impulse was to just let this go (with scathing comments on the paper, obviously), but I don't think that I can do that in good conscience. On the other hand, it seems clear that I (as a man-hating feminist) am not going to change his mind. One thing that I'll probably do is go to his coach (he's on an athletic team); this is something that we're strongly encouraged to do if any of our student athletes have (or give us) trouble in the classroom. I hate to say it, but since the coach is a man, he might have more success at pointing out to this student what's abhorrent about his perspective.

FP--I didn't mean that I want to *forbid* his views, exactly; clearly, I want my classroom to be a place where multiple perspectives can be acknowledged and discussed on their own merits. But there's something else here, I think--he seems to have a tremendous amount of anger as well as a pretty unflappable belief in masculine superiority. He wrote in his paper (an informal response paper, to be fair) that the (feminist) article we had read made him laugh until he cried. I just--I don't know how to address this. I'm deeply not okay with what he thinks. And I'm not sure that I can be a good teacher to him, given that.

Ugh. Might call my chair this afternoon, since I don't think she reads email on the weekend. The one thing I'm sure of is that I don't want to deal with this on my own; whatever I end up doing, I want the administration to know about it and I want them behind me.

Hilaire said...

I thought about this a lot. I worried that my response would endanger the development of multiple perspectives in the classroom. But I think it's clear that in a case like this, you have to worry about HIM shutting down multiple perspectives in the classroom, since he's been vocalizing his misogyny in class. I don't know what the answer is - "not teaching him" is a tricky one - but it does seem clear that he's creating a hostile environment ("chilly climate" doesn't seem to capture it) for women, including his professor, and that is something that *needs* to be dealt with. Equity types might have good solutions they use in such situations.

kermitthefrog said...

I second hilaire's most recent comment: if he's making these comments in the classroom, as well as in written work, he's the one shutting down discussion. As to what to do, getting authority figures--whether the coach or your dept. chair--to back you up seems like absolutely the right idea. Let him get the message from all sides, and from (other) authority figures, that this crap is unacceptable.

Good luck with this-let us know how it turns out.

heu mihi said...

Thanks. And you're all probably aware of this, but just to clarify--when I say things about not wanting to teach him, etc., I'm not expressing a pedagogical position, but more just vocalizing my own visceral reaction to the situation. Which is not the reaction that should always be privileged. As is probably obvious, however, I'm using this forum to work through my response on a variety of levels, and not everything that I say here would make it into, say, a meeting with the student or an administrator. Or even into my reasoned reflections on the issue.

(--just making sure that I'm not misrepresenting myself.)

medieval woman said...

Oh my god, Heu, this is awful! I can completely understand your visceral reaction to this - and I'm so glad that you've gotten your chair involved - this needs to be handles by the village and not just you!

I'm sending you a big bloggy hug:


Notorious Ph.D. said...

This is really awful. I don't think it meets the criteria for actionable sexual harassment (he's not in a position of power or authority over you), but I would construe it as an attack in any case: he resents that you're in a position of power over him, so he's trying to cut your legs out from under you. Make no mistake: these posts are about *you* in particular as much as they are about women in general.

That said, you can't really grade him down for being a jackass (oh, would that we could!). You can, however, start mentally cataloguing whether his classroom "contributions" constitute disruption of the learning environment for other students, both male and female. Insert "blacks," "Jews," or "gays" into any of his remarks, and ask yourself whether you would be justified in having him administratively dropped from the roster. Actually doing this would involve reams of paperwork and a very, very supportive chair, but it allows you to reframe the whole situation for when you approach him (and you MUST approach him) and tell him in no uncertain terms that you (and the university policies!) tolerate sexism no more than racism, antisemitism, or homophobia, and that it will. stop. now.

I'll be sending good vibes your way.

(And I'd be curious as to the context for these expressions of raging sexism -- how on earth does he work them into medieval classes?)

Notorious Ph.D. said...

(Alternatively, you could tell him that, since he doesn't need women, he should stop wasting your time and get the holy f*ck out of your class, and the classes of all other female faculty at the university. Wouldn't that be much better for everyone?)

Belle said...

This is awful; I'd go further w/Notorious' comment. I'd actually catalog the times, dates, nature of his comments. Doing it mentally isn't going to be enough when the time comes. And face it, it just might. Having it clearly documented can only help. You might also consider the impact it's having on the class; having their input can bolster your case.

All that said, I too wouldn't want him in my class. I'd feel attacked too; don't wait for it to become physical; words do hurt.

Ancrene Wiseass said...

Belle is right. Document EVERYTHING.

You are absolutely right to feel attacked: you are being attacked, as is every single student in the classroom who doesn't meet this guy's criteria for being worthy of respect. Seems to me that you could approach it from the angle of university policies, which I'd assume specify that students are not allowed to behave in such a way as to keep their fellow students from learning and/or from feeling safe and respected in their learning environments.

And yeah, other people need to be involved. Dean of Students, maybe?

And--I am so sorry that you had to deal with this. So sorry.

This kind of thing is why I get very, very angry when people tell me that feminism isn't needed any longer, that our culture is "too PC," etc.