Category Archives: sexism

Neddy on Feminist icons.

This started out as another driveby, but then I had a bit of a feminist digression.

In class yesterday we were talking about body image and messages for girls in children’s books and tv, and we talked a lot about Dora. (I must admit to being surprised to learn that there are people who complained that Dora was a lesbian, possibly because of her hair? or is it her sensible shoes?) Our discussion was focussed on how it was a shame that Dora, who was a positive role model for girls, seems to be being made more stereotypically feminine.

First, she had to have Diego help her, because obviously, girls can’t really solve problems by themselves without a boy to help them. There was also the old, tired mansplanation that boys wouldn’t watch a show about a female character (despite the fact that they manifestly did watch the show.

Then there was that brief abomination of tween Dora, with her better-coordinated outfit, more feminine silhouette and less sensible shoes. Tween Dora got a lot of pushback at the time she was announced, and she seems to have quietly disappeared. However, the efforts to feminize Dora are continuing. Lately, she’s all about ballet and being a princess instead of being an explorer. Ballet Dora has much nicer hair, and properly girly clothes.

So we talked quite a lot about images of girls (cartoon and real), and what kind of pressures they might put on real girls.

That was all by way of giving you context for the Neddyism. I asked if there were other shows that did present good examples of strong girls (in the context of us having talked for about half an hour about unrealistic body image), and Neddy’s hand shot up. “Sailor Moon,” he said.

Sailor Moon.

Are you shitting me? At least 10 heads snapped towards him with expressions of incredulity and outrage on them. “How is that a positive example of body image?” one of them asked, quite mildly. Neddy’s response, which was about how Sailor Moon has girl heroes in it, made it clear he had really no idea about what body image was, or that it had never occurred to him to think about the pressures women might experience with regard to their appearance.

Now, granted, he’s a young man in the 18-22 age range, and some of them can be pretty damn sexist, as any of you who spend time on the internet may have discovered. In my experience, though, guys of that age KNOW about issues like body image. The ones who choose to argue against media pressure on women tend to counter with “it’s just as bad for men,” or “you can choose to ignore media stereotypes”. Neddy’s response was an example of complete obliviousness.

Naturally, he wanted to talk to me about it in that brief 2-minute window between classes. “I got the impression I said something wrong,” he said, apparently because he noticed a bunch of people “looking at him weird”. Oh, good god. Yes, Neddy, you are about to have an existential crisis, but I really, honestly only have 2 minutes.

Cowardly, me?

As Promised: The Tale of Sexual Harrassment Colleague.

Hey, I lost my voice. So I called the Department Secretary this morning to cancel my 10am class, thinking a bit more time to sleep and have coffee, and buy some throat lozenges, and I could probably make it to the noon class. Her reaction to my barely-audible squawkings on the phone was to say “Oh my God! I am cancelling all your classes.” Sweet. This leaves some unexpected free time, so let me lay on you the tale of Sexual Harrassment Colleague.

One semester, after Sarcastic Bastard and I had got rid of Professor Crybaby from our office, and her desk was briefly occupied by Dr We-Won’t-Speak-Ill-of-the-Dead, we were graced by the presence of Sexual Harrassment Colleague (hereinafter referred to as SHC).

SHC is an older guy, who used to be a High School teacher; he’s a published author, and father of adult twins (both female). The final point is probably important in understanding his treatment of me. Gratuitously snarky detail: his hair looks like steel wool that was once on top of his head, but has now slipped down several inches towards his back.

It was SHC’s first semester teaching at our institution, but clearly, as an experienced High School teacher, he thought there was nothing he needed to learn about teaching an upgrading course at a college. Generally, when new colleagues move into our shared space, we give them a couple of weeks’ grace before we hate them and hang them out to dry (although we made an exception for the annoying one we already pre-hated who moved into our office when some of our other colleagues turfed her out of their shared space, but I digress). So when I saw SHC doing some stupid-ass shit, I kindly offered him some pointers.

For instance, on one occasion I happened to be in the room while he was having a chat with a student who was doing badly and needed to get some extra help. Instead of just making some suggestions, he actually phoned the relevant offices and made appointments for the student. Dude. That is not cool. These guys are in college, and need to be treated as adults. When I suggested that SHC was maybe going above and beyond the call of duty – and not in a good way – he gave me a talk about how he had loads more experience than I did, blah blah blah. Full disclosure: I probably look a bit younger than I am, and yes, I am short and blonde, but there I was, his colleague, and I had been doing the job for fully 3 years at that point. But that’s no excuse.

He never called me by my name. Often, he called me “my girl” or similar.¬† I certainly never heard him call Sarcastic Bastard or Professor Darwin (our other, male office mates) by anything but their names.

The other issue we were having was over the shared computer. This was a semester when my teaching and parenting schedules were pretty tight, so I was doing a lot of work from home. I had 2 hours a week in the office, and needed to be able to use the computer I was sharing with him during that time. I explained this to him during the first week of semester, and said, “You can use the computer any other time, but on these two days, I need the computer for this hour.” That was fine, he said. Except it wasn’t.

Every single day, I would come in, and he would be there, using the computer, and I would have to ask him if I could use it. He never offered to get off the computer, or asked if I needed it. He put me in the position of female supplicant. To me, sharing a resource means understanding that the other person has a right to use the resource. Previous computer-sharers (and this includes people I had made cry, I’ll have you know) had understood this. We had negotiated sharing when our schedules overlapped. None of them made me ask, every single time, if I could please have my hour of agreed-upon computer time. As the semester went on, I got angrier and angrier about his not-so-subtle power-game, and my requests got snippier. He wrote me a note chiding me about my “attitude” and telling me I ought to be more polite. I ground my teeth.

The final straw came one day when a Snowflake Student who hadn’t been to class all semester turned up in my office wanting to know what she had missed. This was, you know, like week 8 of semester. “You’ve missed about half the course,” I said. “The good news is you haven’t missed the withdrawal deadline. I’m going to recommend that you drop the class.” Oh noes! How could I? Of course Snowflake was going to make up the work. I stuck to my guns and convinced her to drop.

After she left, SHC, who had been in the room, leaned over, patted me on the shoulder and said, “That was difficult for you, but you did the right thing.” Excuse me? How dare you a) touch me and b) suggest that doing my job is something my weak female mind can barely cope with? I was so furious, I left the room so that I wouldn’t punch him, and stood fuming in the corridor until Professor Hobbit came by and said “You seem upset. Let me buy you a coffee.”

That day really made me appreciate my colleagues. Well, apart from SHC. Professor Hobbit calmed me down and talked to me about my options. Did I want to make a formal complaint, or did I want to do something more low-key? He suggested I talk to Dr Militant Feminist, who gave me absolutely brilliant advice about how to write a letter to SHC which would be a solid first step in case I wanted to take further action down the road. Professor Hufflepuff let me rant and rave for as long as I needed. Sarcastic Bastard was hugely supportive. Professor Birkenstock pointed out that SHC tended to be a patronising jerk, giving his behaviour some context. I left the note for SHC when I left that afternoon.

I didn’t have class the next day, and when I arrived at work the following day, Professor Hufflepuff (an older woman, who is very proper), pulled me in to her office. “SHC was very upset when he got you note,” she said. Apparently, he had gone to her to complain about the outrageousness of me calling him a sexist. He was not a sexist. He had grown-up daughters, for goodness sake. Prof Hufflepuff had given him short shrift. “You can’t act like this,” she had said, “cut it out. You owe her an apology.”

Miracle of miracles, an apology was forthcoming. After that, he was never in the office during the hour I was there, and at the next time he came back to teach, a couple of semesters later, he was in another office. He doesn’t talk to me, and I don’t talk to him. I don’t know if the experience taught him not to be such an ass, or if he just thinks I am difficult. He now shares an office with 3 women, all of whom are tough, mature and don’t take crap. Apparently, his behaviour is impeccable, so I guess the whole incident goes in the “win” column.