Monday, December 12, 2005

Sexism is Alive and Well in the Academy

Since I really should be writing a term paper I thought I would reflect on sexism instead. This September I enrolled in a large undergraduate class called "Environmental Awareness." This is the only class at my university that covers "environmental psychology," one of my academic interests.

Unfortunately, the professor was very strange. The class was large; perhaps 250 people and he clearly had the lectures down to a science. I was immediately bothered by his tendency to use slides of children's picture books of dinosaurs from the 60's while lecturing on evolution. This was not irony on his part.

He frequently made all sorts of unsubstantiated claims related to the evolutionary differences between the sexes. For example, he claimed that girls should be more interested in climbing trees than boys because women are lighter and so more likely to take shelter in trees. Never mind the fact that women have less upper body strength than men and need extra body fat to support reproduction. But the last straw for me was when he mentioned that female graduate students were "dumbing down" the species by delaying reproduction in favor of education. He made this comment casually, in the middle of a lecture on human evolution.

I was very upset, but sitting on the far edge of the room, hidden behind a podium, so I didn't feel I could interrupt him at that moment. So I emailed him very politely mentioning that while I thought his comment might be appropriate speculation for a casual conversion, I didn't think that his unfounded speculations were appropriate to be presented to a class of 200 impressionable young adults.

He responded to my email, claiming that he was actually very concerned about this issue and the fact that female grad students frequently had children while in grad school and then decided to quit their programs. He also mentioned that this theory about "dumbing down" the species didn't originate with him, in fact a famous evolutionary biologist had first made this observation in his book "........." (I have now forgotten the title of the book.) This is a psychology professor at a major university. What is wrong with academia?

1 comment:

Anastasia said...

wtf? I've heard male profs worry out loud about women selling out their potential by deciding to have kids and then quitting--irritating in its own right. For one, is raising kids just for stupid people and for two, since when are my reproductive choices your business?? The whole dumbing down the species angle is new to me. I'm not even sure I get it. but what a serious jackass.