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November 07, 2005



Right. College students are experimenting with a public personae. It has nothing to do with our jobs as teachers. It would be profoundly unprofessional to do otherwise.

But why 50 year olds? Is the implication that we're able to behave in a professional manner with our students at the age of 30 or 40, but it'll eventually slip? Bizarre. The older professors have seen it all before, they'll, if anything, be more unflappable.


I liked that Jack and Jill post a lot. It drew a great parallel. To clarify what I said, I emphatically don't believe that students should accept inappropriate reactions (sexual advances or intellectual dismissiveness) from their teachers, but they should take into account the likelihood that this kind of complication may arise.


Hugo, I admire the high standards that you set for yourself and other men. Yes, a woman's personhood is non-negotiable. However, how we choose to dress is an act of communication as well as self-expression. Men have no right to disrespect a woman no matter how she dresses. On the other hand, you often seem to absolve women of all responsibility for avoiding unwanted sexual attention regardless of dress. If we dress in a provocative manner, is it so unreasonable for some men to assume that we want to attract that kind of attention? Men have a duty not to give into temptation, but don't women have an independent duty to reasonably avoid creating occasions of sin? At what point does my right to self-expression become selfish? If I walk into a monastery in a bikini, I have the right not to be sexually harassed, but I have also behaved uncharitably toward men who were trying to be chaste.


We've had this discussion over and over lately. Could we assume this time that it's legitimate for Hugo to discuss his own (and his peers') responsibility without trying to blame the other side as well?

It seems unhelpful to meet every attempt to be reflective and responsible towards other people with a "don't forget they're partially to blame!"


Jendi, I've written about dress and communal responsibility in my "Sisterhood is Easier in Winter" post; link is on the sidebar.

If women do have a responsibility for the signals their clothing sends, then it is to their peers -- not to their professors. In an asymmetrical relationship like teacher/student, the responsiblity to keep the atmosphere professional and safe is exclusively with the one who has all the power.


Jendi, this may seem overly semantic, but in terms of modest dress with an eye towards avoiding unwanted and inappropriate attention from those with power over the woman in question, I don't think responsibility is the right term (except perhaps as Hugo mentions: toward one's peers). Rather, I think what you're referring to is prudence--a coping mechanism to deal with an imperfect world where we might encounter a host of characters whose behavior is appropriate. Getting an alarm system for my house isn't a matter of responsibility toward the potential burglars who might otherwise be tempted, it's an act of prudence. Prudence may well be a virtue and perhaps even a duty, and it's almost certainly a central feature of wisdom, but it's not the same thing as (moral) responsibility.


By Gum, Hugo, when you define it that clearly...

The only thing I can quibble with is that in any hierarchy, I think ANY fraternization between a superior and a subordinate is, or should be, forbidden, and that the onus is always on the superior to set the limits.


My point isn't that the professors have any right to dismiss these girls; it's simply that they often do. In a perfect world, women could walk around naked and go through life unmolested.

But we do not live in a perfect world and people do judge one another on appearance. It doesn't make it right, by any stretch of the imagination, and I commend you for seeking not to fall into the temptation to judge on first impressions. My point still stands, though: If these girls do not want to be dismissed as immature and unintelligent, then they shouldn't act immature and unintelligent.

In a functional sense, in how we interact with the world around us, what we are, or at least what we are seen as by others, is primarily a function of what we do, including how we choose to dress ourselves in the morning. If you want to be taken seriously, act serious. If you don't mind people judging you a fool, by all means, act foolish, but there's no point in crying foul if people see the costume of a fool and assume the wearer is a fool.


I disagree, Breadfish. I think a college campus needs to be recognized as a place where young people have the right to experiment freely with different costumes; they need to be able to do so without risking the judgment of those who teach them. As long as the students can do the work, we who teach must see them as worthy of our interest and respect, regardless of what they wear.


Hugo just provided me with an excellent example of what I've been talking about all along: a female student with a "GIRLS RULE; BOYS DROOL" shirt, except that the direction he takes is whether he has the right to drool at her.

Folks, the aforementioned T-shirt is anti-male sexism. I don't care how "hot" the person is; she will not receive my "drool" or "stare" but rather my GLARE. I don't see why Hugo is worried about comments made about HER "intellectual potential" when she's making a very public statement about her perceived female superiority and the idiocy of boys.

Is her shirt really an acceptable "costume"? If so, are the male students in your class allowed to wear shirts that read, "Girls can't drive," or "So many chicks, so few with brains"?



BG, students in my class can wear anything they want. Boys wear Playboy bunny caps to class, Hustler t-shirts, and those damned Kappa soccer shirts/hats with the naked women sitting back to back in profile. That's every bit as sexist. And I don't respond to it.


Hugo, I never said you're wrong. I agree, College campuses should be a lot of things, including what you envision. The problem is, they aren't. And they aren't likely to be any time soon. People are prejudiced. They will always be prejudiced. It's wrong, very wrong, but it's basic human nature. These girls are shortchanging themselves with their Clueless-inspired behavior and dress, and nothing is likely to change that any time soon.

I'm glad you can so clearly see what should be, and try to get others to see that as well, but you might also advise them to be mindful of the great gaping chasm between "what ought to be" and "what is" lest they fall headlong into it.


Breadfish, you and I agree that the prejudice is real. But as to "basic human nature", I won't accept that. I've seen too many conversions, both spiritual and secular, to believe that.


Well, if you think you can convert the entirety of the human species, by all means give it a shot. I'll be the first to congradulate you when you accept your first nobel peace prize.

That said, I think I shall continue to look out for myself and survive in the world as it is rather than to blunder along and expect the universe to accomodate my whims.


This is a first, I actually find myself in agreement with Gonzman. Someone call the Guiness Book of Records!
"The only thing I can quibble with is that in any hierarchy, I think ANY fraternization between a superior and a subordinate is, or should be, forbidden, and that the onus is always on the superior to set the limits."
Yep. The person who has the power is the one responsible for setting the limits. There's really no other practical way to go about it. This is particularly true when we're talking about young people, whose judgement may not be entirely well developed yet. Young people do stupid things (I know I did), but that doesn't mean that those of us who are older and presumably wiser have a right to take advantage of their lack of wisdom and/or experience.


I don't think Hugo's making the statement that shirt's message is okay, either. I certainly do consider it sexism, and rather repulsive. But the thing is: even though I disagree with a person's expression of freedom of speech, I wouldn't say they CANNOT wear it.

And, it's my responsibility to get over what someone is wearing...for instance, UND has both AFROTC and AROTC on campus. Not only is there the initial prejudice towards the military (I'm still working through my views of wars and the military), but because I find men in uniform exceedingly attractive. So, 4 days a week, there are a lot of men and women in uniform. I have to get passed that when I'm talking to them, and get passed that when I'm tutoring students.


Hugo: "BG, students in my class can wear anything they want."

Antigone: "But the thing is: even though I disagree with a person's expression of freedom of speech, I wouldn't say they CANNOT wear it."

I realize now that I showed poor choice of words, and I apologize. I didn't mean to suggest that a person doesn't have the right to wear a certain message, or that someone here holds that view. I rather meant the reception that a male wearing a "stupid girl" shirt would probably be more intense than one that a female wearing a "stupid boy" shirt would, and I say this because there are just SO MANY "stupid boy" shirts and other things for females to wear/post/use. But I'm happy to see I'm not the only one upset by them.

Hugo: "Boys wear Playboy bunny caps to class, Hustler t-shirts, and those damned Kappa soccer shirts/hats with the naked women sitting back to back in profile. That's every bit as sexist. And I don't respond to it."

Well, it gets worse, Hugo. When I was a theme editor (anyone know what that is?), I saw a GIRL wearing a Playboy-bunny shirt. (Glad I wasn't there for career day.)

And I DO think shirts objectifying females are sexist, just in another way from those that plainly insult people. My example are the picture calendars they sell at kiosks in the mall. You have the calendars with women in their underwear, and you have the calendars with men in their underwear, so I just about consider that a wash. But what you also have are the "men are worthless/stupid/expendable/pathetic/a waste of time" calendars, whereas there are no such calendars about women. (The kicker was the one that wanted to keep its cake and eat it to: the one with the "hot studs" on each page AND a hateful comment about men being necessary because the sex toy can't mow the lawn, and so forth.)

Not that I would buy a similar calendar about women if they existed, by the way. It's just REALLY noticeable that there aren't any, whereas others have carte blanche for what they want to say about men.



Hugo, if a student came in wearing a "Whites Rule, Muds Drool" shirt, would you be equally nonchalant?

There is a difference between ignoring students who are deliberately trying to be rebellious, or who are dressing in a revealing manner, and going blank while students insult and put down their fellow students. A message on a T-shirt is speech in a way that a plain T-shirt isn't.

It's just REALLY noticeable that there aren't any

Please. It's not THAT hard to find a "Why beer is better than women" or "Thank your girlfriend for me" T-shirt.


It's wrong, very wrong, but it's basic human nature.

Breadfish, if prejudice is so ingrained in our nature, why do we see such a variance in it? Why is it that one side of human behavior is "our basic nature" and the other side is our suppression of it? Maybe fairness and decency are "basic human nature" but we're trained by society to be prejudiced? I actually think that's just as silly as your position; they're mirror images of each other, though. Looking at one side of human behavior and declaring it "natural" while the other side somehow doesn't make sense.

I'll never understand what makes so many people so profoundly confident they have a thorough and concrete understanding of what basic human nature is.


To be clear, I share your view that we'll probably never eliminate prejudice from human interactions, although this has more to do with my views on society than on human nature per se. Of course, a sideways glance at human history tells us the *amount* of this sort of behavior is extremely variable, which is more relevant anyway.


You don't know me (wonders of the internet!), but I wanted to chime in. As a new college professor and part-time tutor, I agree completely. The offensive t-shirt thing aside, I've had some students who were extremely attractive, knew it, and knew how to accentuate it.

It is still my responsibility as a teacher to think of them as non-sexual beings, however difficult that might be, at times. If I think of them as anything but asexual, or give in to their attempts to push buttons or tweak "authority," then I jeopardize my ability to engage them on a pedagogical level. This is especially risky for someone like me; I'm less than a decade older than most of my college students. I walk a fine line, in terms of maintaining respect, as it is. If I start acting as fashion consultant, or give in to the temptation to interact with my students as I would someone at a party dressed in the same clothes, I lose them completely. My job is to make them better writers, anything that jeopardizes that is a failure on my part. The rhetorical argument of whether or not they should be dressed like that best left to someone else - we have a job to do.


Amen, Quinn -- thanks for sharing. It took me until I was a good deal further into my career than you are now to come to the same conclusion that you've already arrived at. We do indeed, my friend, have jobs to do.


DJW - can you site examples of this "variance" you speak of? I've never actually encountered a human being, in face or in the history books, who was not prejudiced, unless they made a specific point of NOT being prejudiced and worked hard toward that end.

If you can cite a good argument as to why making value judgements (not only on other people, but on just about everything in life) is NOT instinctual in human beings, I'd love to read it.

I think it's fairly well ingrained in the human brain to lump similar objects into groups and make stereotypes based on experience, including other people. That's just how the mind works. We'd probably have died out ages ago if we didn't make such judgements in everyday life.


"It's not THAT hard to find a 'Why beer is better than women' or 'Thank your girlfriend for me' T-shirt."

Okay. Change "there aren't any" to "they aren't nearly as prevalent as the anti-male shirts."



I have to admit, Hugo and Quinn, I admire your ability to recognize this issue. I'm curious, though, if you think that this is an issue that really only applies to college students, i.e. adults. I taught at a summer program for gifted junior high and high school students. One of my 13-year-old students showed up for class one day in an outfit she could not sit down in (or lean forward) without flashing other students. When I explained that her outfit was inappropriate for class (this was a residential program, so a change of clothes was simply a matter of walking back to the dorm), she got defensive and snapped "I've got it, why shouldn't I flaunt it?" I was really taken aback but replied that it was a class and a certain level of respect for her classmates was in order. Eventually, it deteriorated to "You're just going to make me change because you're jealous that I can look this good wearing this and you couldn't."

I am still annoyed that I let the discussion go on like that, but I wonder if it would have been better not to say anything to begin with...

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