Sex Ed in Higher Ed

College instructor teaching human sexuality rants about the dumbing down of America, the lost art of manners, grammar and (the perfect combination of both) the thank you note. Also includes random rants about life, pet peeves, and sometimes raves about favorite things.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Have We Come a Long Way, Baby?

I have been accused of being a "bra-burning feminist," which to me is hilarious - I would NEVER burn a perfectly good bra! They are WAY too expensive to do something so wasteful. On a similar note, a few months ago, I ran into someone (a male) I had not seen in a long time. He asked, "What's your new last name?" and I told him it was the same; I had never changed it. He actually said(!), "Oh, so you're one of those. I'm surprised you haven't cut all your hair really short. Do you not shave your legs, either?" And I couldn't believe that people still thought that about women who didn't take their husbands' last names.

To be honest, I've never been quite sure what the word "feminist" means, exactly. I think it was Gloria Steinem who said something along the lines of, "A feminist is any woman who distinguishes herself from a doormat." And some people (women and men) might find it a great insult to dish out when they think the situation warrants it, but if someone calls me a "feminist," I will always take it as a compliment (unless they're the same people who think "feminists" also want to kill your husbands and eat your babies).

My point is, perhaps I have on my "feminist-colored glasses" but two very small, very insignificant events over the past week have concerned me. Don't worry - I'm not about to start a bra bonfire - I'm just concerned enough to scratch my head and wonder about the world in which my students live.

Exhibit A: My advisor now has a student I had in class last spring. She told me he came marching into class last week, no backpack - nothing, sat down at a desk, turned to the female student next to him and "asked" for some paper and something to write with, which she immediately handed over. Apparently, this was not just a random female student - I guess this little set-up has been going on since the semester began. He shows up empty-handed; she gives him his school supplies. He is also engaged, so I know this female student is not his girlfriend (as if that was the unspoken responsibility of girlfriends, but maybe I could make sense of that a little more.)

Exhibit B: Today, I was with my freshmen orientation class. I have to incessantly say to myself during this class, "13th grade, 13th grade, they think this is the 13th grade" in order to muster up enough patience to get me through the hour and a half without killing myself or anyone else. Since the start of the semester, two of the most attractive students - who, I'm guessing based on demeanor and attitude - were DEFINITELY at the top of their high school food chains have sort of ignored every other student. They sit way in the back and Sporto constantly whispers to Princess, while she flips her long, perfect blonde hair around with her perfectly painted acrylic nails on the end of her perfectly "Mystic-tanned" hand and giggles at everything he says. Princess wears more makeup (although very skillfully applied) than I wore on my wedding day. I don't think Princess is his girlfriend; I'm guessing she has a hot football star boyfriend back at home, but I'll be damned if Sporto isn't VISIBLY determined to get into her pants by the end of the semester. Am I painting the picture?

I was so sick of their constant whispering that while the other instructor was teaching, I went to the back of the class and sat right next to them. (I was hoping my presence would sabotage Sporto's mission and get them to shut up for at least. one. class). They both stared at me, horrified and disgusted that I would invade their private little giggle nest. "I needed to sit near the window. I'm really warm today," I said. Then I watched Princess pull a small sheet of paper out of her backpack and hand it to Sporto. "Ah, it happens at last - she's handing over her phone number," I thought to myself. But no - she said to Sport, "Now don't forget to put your name on it." And he did. Then he turned to me and said, "Here's my verification that I went to my advising appointment last week." Then he turned to Princess and said, "Hey, thanks for hanging on to that for me. I would have lost it in about 5 minutes." And then he smiled his mega-watt smile and she blushed and giggled.

I realize a few things. I realize (feminist glasses removed or slightly lowered):

  • I could be looking for some sort of major "feminist" meaning, when perhaps there is none.
  • Sporto might have asked his (male) roommate to hold on to his little advising sheet and when his roommate told him to "get bent," he figured Princess would help him out instead.
  • This might just be the age group - the stage they (particularly the young women) are at in their lives. And the women are still very, very concerned about guys thinking they're the "really cool girl," in their orientation class. And they're terrified of being called a bitch, or worse. I get it. I've been there.
  • I can't make some great pronouncement based on two very small interactions (one of which I didn't even witness myself).
  • Sporto could have one of those doting moms and he truly can't manage his life by himself and rather than figure it out, when he got to campus 5 weeks ago, he just happened to find another person (who happens to be a woman) to take over the role.
  • Sporto could also be extremely organized and just used the "hang on to this for me" ruse as an excuse to interact more with Princess.
  • Insert your own, "Teacher Lady, you're CRAZY" here.

But (feminist glasses back on) - aren't these young women acting in some ways like, I don't know? Administrative assistants? Mothers? Whether these young men are just lazy, clueless, helpless or all of the above, why did they choose women to step into these roles? Or perhaps the women volunteered - I don't know. But my hunch is that the second time Johnny Student turned to the male seated next to him and said, "Dude, can you hook me up with some paper and a pen?" that "Dude" would have told him to go to hell. Or the nearest Office Max. And Sporto would not have dreamed of asking a guy to hang on to his little slip of paper so he didn't lose it. I'm guessing.

So, I'm curious - although I realize I may be "pole vaulting over mouse turds" as an old boss liked to say when we got obsessed with minuatae, what do you think? No big deal? Or sign of the "Backlash" Susan Faludi warned us about 15+ years ago? Or something in between?

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17 Comments:

Blogger susie said...

I once had a kid in my freshman comp section who had a fit because "almost half" the readings on the syllabus were by women, and that was just WRONG. He found it highly offensive.

I take "feminist" as a compliment, too. And honestly, I don't even care how they mean it.

October 04, 2006 7:58 PM  
Blogger Sue said...

I don't think either of the girls have enough self-esteem to tell the guy to get bent and buy his own stuff/hold onto his own stuff.

I can honestly say I might give someone a pen or a paper once, but only once. I am NOT the Rubberband Man.

(I lent one guy in my class a pen last week, but he's not irresponsible, hitting on me, or assuming I'm his mom or the local pen store. But you bet your ass he was prepared tonight.)

And there definitely could be a little "I think s/he likes me" bit going on there, too. The hormones are still raging, they haven't had enough life experience to know when they are being used, etc.

*sigh* Doesn't it just make you want to smack them all upside the head?

October 04, 2006 8:59 PM  
Blogger Elisha said...

There are so many men, older and younger than me (24) that treat women like their personal servants. I don't know how many times I hear guys say they dumped a girl because she wouldn't put out. I really do think that men are becoming more and more objectifying and sexist. However, for the sake of being optimistic, maybe they are like any type of difficult person, there's one in every class.

October 04, 2006 9:20 PM  
Blogger Andy said...

Current college student.

If anyone in my class asks me for supplies they'd probably get the nastiest glare imaginable. People know not to ask me for Scantrons (of which I'm more than adequately stocked). They can ask for something while I have ample supply of said item in plain view and I'll still say no, there are no extras, and they should have come prepared. People hate me. I hate them first.

Feminists would never burn bras because the price is out of control. I know people that work at Victoria's Secret. Those things are like 50 or 60 bucks! I think these events are the culmination of what they see at home and the well-supported "cool guy, know nothing" attitude floating about the campus. Mommy homemaker and Daddy work-a-holic are Johnny Student's examples and since he has this brain..."abby someone...abby normal."

So your students couldn't think their way out of an invisible box. Is this cause to panic that they are the future? In 20 years you'll find me in the forest somewhere eating bear crap (which looks similar to Clif Bars). If only to avoid a future of idiots getting dumber.

October 05, 2006 3:45 AM  
Anonymous DeAnna said...

If you choose to believe in the binary gender system (which I mostly don't) you would identify me as female. If I was the slacker sort of person who would show up without any supplies to class (and I might be), I would either A) sit there without supplies and stare at the instructor all through class and hope that I remembered some of it without having to write it down, or B) ask the person sitting next to me. If I was sitting between two people, and one person obviously identified as female and one identified as male, I would ask the person who was more likely to find me attractive based on my identified gender. It sounds like you work in a pretty hetero place, and therefore I would assume that the person who identifies as male would be more likely to give me what I want. Does this make me part of the backlash?

October 05, 2006 9:41 AM  
Anonymous Miss Britt said...

Hmmm... you know, I must admit that I subscribe to the school of thought that a lot of men need women around to kind of "take care" of them. Maybe it's because I'm married to a man who wouldn't have a freaking clue how to balance work, doctor's appointments, laundry and his mother's birthday all at the same time.

Personally, I think my ability to handle those things better than he - is just another reason that it kicks ass to be a woman.

October 05, 2006 10:36 AM  
Blogger Erika said...

DOING YOUR JOB EVERY DAY WOULD MAKE MY HEAD EXPLODE. I barely made it through 4 years of college witnessing this bullshit.

October 05, 2006 11:03 AM  
Anonymous Fraulein N said...

My gut reaction is that it's gross and alarming. I hope these girls grow out of it.

Shit, who am I kidding? I have a grown-ass sister who STILL acts like this. It's not just that that's the way the dynamic between her and her husband has worked out. This is a PATTERN of behavior I've observed.

Now my head's ready to explode.

October 05, 2006 11:58 AM  
Blogger ricki said...

Yup, I have totally seen that in my classes.

I've also had the experience of a student show up for an exam and as ME (the prof) for a pen. (I said no - I had one pen with me and I was going to be using it to take notes on the thing I was reading while I proctored).

I think it's mommy-syndrome: the cute guys or the sports stars all probably had moms who were behind them all the way, and they didn't learn how to take care of themselves. Unfortunately, there are too many young women out there who are convinced that the way to a guy's heart is through doing random stuff for him, so they're more than happy to do the college-student equivalent of hand him his lunchbox and kiss him on the top of the head.

I dunno...I probably would have given a cute guy in MY college classes paper if he smiled nice at me. But then again, I was an ugly fat chick, so none of the cute guys ever asked. And the nerdy guys who would give me the time of day, they had their own school supplies. (I was probably better off in the long run).

October 06, 2006 10:08 AM  
Anonymous Alexandrialeigh said...

I am engaged to a generally non-chauvinistic man. I am not changing my name. He is not thrilled about that. He has also, at times, said things like, "I need you to help me remember..." or "Will you make sure that I get up on time for..." or "Would you remind me of..."

The reminding I'm happy to do -- if I think of it. Because hey, I could use some help remembering things too.

But it is always an "I am not your mother, secretary, assistant, maid, etc. etc." response to the other two questions. Because I am my own damn person, in charge of my own damn self, and I do not exist to be his alarm clock or personal organizer. And I do not do his laundry. Or clean his side of the bathroom.

I think Sue is dead-on when she says those girls don't have the self-esteem. I'm 25 now, but ten years ago you wouldn't have caught me standing up for myself the way I do now -- although I did occassionally loan out a pen or pencil as a one-time favor to people. But I always, ALWAYS asked for it back, and I never gave out one I'd miss. And I did give out the not-my-fault-you're-unprepared-you-schmuck glare.

October 06, 2006 10:11 AM  
Blogger Aliecat said...

My ex liked to call me a femi-nazi, irked me to no end. I also dated another guy who's mother still balanced his checkbook at age 20 (aren't women supposed to be bad with money..haha). And yes, I think men tend to look at women as their caregivers, like their moms, or some 50's era housewife who manages the household and keeps track of the "little things" that their "big strong man" could never be bothered with.

October 06, 2006 4:56 PM  
Blogger Tense Teacher said...

Backlash, backlash! It's much cuter and easier for girls/women to get attention by being the man pleaser than actually thinking for and about herself. Can't tell you how many girls I teach who plan to go to college only to find a husband; they have no other foresight concerning their future. And, I'm seeing more high school girls who willingly allow their boyfriends to boss them around, with no questions asked.

...Blows my mind.

October 06, 2006 6:23 PM  
Blogger Mrs. T said...

I think the next time one of those sporto-prince charming types asks one of the girls for a pencil, or whatever, she should hand him a roll of toilet paper and tell him to wipe his own ass from now on. With a big smile, of course.

October 07, 2006 11:17 AM  
Blogger Kate C. said...

Watching young women act this way was, for me, one of the hardest things about starting to teach. Even from students choosing to take women's studies classes, I heard comments such as "I believe in equality, but I won't call myself a feminist because it would be harder to get a date." I have noticed in the past year or so, however, a lot of my students have been more comfortable with the term feminist and have been more political in general. I'm not sure why--it might be that the political scene is so devisive they feel compelled to take a stand on other issues and that leads them to feeling more comfortable with the term feminist. Anyway, it is welcome change, one that I hope continues.

October 08, 2006 12:54 PM  
Anonymous Christy said...

I'm not sure it's the age of the girl so much as the type. You know, the ones who've been groomed to see any male attention as flattering and necessary to their value as a person. There are still women out there who are flattered by being "chosen" for some random guy's "use".

If you said anything to her about it, she'd probably assume you're jealous. (eyeroll) It's really a shame. If she has any native intelligence at all, in several years she'll look back at this stage of her life and cringe at the memory of what a doof she was.

October 08, 2006 8:03 PM  
Anonymous New YorK Prof said...

There are two kinds of men: good men and bad men. Good men respect women and treat them accordingly.

There are two kinds of women: good women and bad women. Good women do not waste their time giggling in the back of the classroom with losers.

Never fear, good women will end up with good men and bad women will will end up with the bad men they deserve.

Men would not treat women as servants if women did not allow it. If a woman lets a man walk all over her, she deserves it when he does.

October 11, 2006 9:52 AM  
Blogger benning said...

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Isn't that a French saying? Just because Feminism wished to destroy such odd, childish behavior, it doesn't mean that human nature changed to accomodate.

And Steinem will accept you as a Feminist only up to the point where you do, or say, something she dislikes. Then you become a traitor. You have to live the way that suits you best.

October 19, 2006 1:42 PM  

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