For professors, gendered language still persists

“She’s so bitter because she’s not married.”

Recently, a faculty member appearing to be widely held in low regard was the topic of conversation between two female students. Her teaching style and personality were questioned and her ratings from other students were held as an example of her unsatisfactory performance as an educator. All evaluations of her professional and personal character were flavored with subtle biases in description towards female-specific grievances. Subtle, until it wasn’t — “she’s so bitter because she’s not married.”

Female professors are evaluated more harshly than their male peers. This is not feminist propaganda; this is both qualitatively and quantitatively proven fact, demonstrated through rigorous studies and published in high profile scientific journals. Not only are they held to a higher standard, but a starkly different rhetoric is used to describe their performance.

A Northeastern University professor, Benjamin Schmidt, compared keywords in evaluations of both male and female professors using the very ubiquitous guide ratemyprofessor.com. His findings were striking: a thorough review of his study published in The Guardian narrates that “reviews of male professors are more likely to include the words ‘brilliant’, ‘intelligent’ or ‘smart’ and far more likely to contain the word ‘genius.’ Meanwhile, women are more likely to be described as ‘mean’, ‘harsh’, ‘unfair’ or ‘strict’ and a lot more likely to be called ‘annoying’… Immediately recognizable societal stereotypes emerge — the words ‘disorganized’ or ‘unorganized’ [sic] come up much more frequently in women’s evaluations.”

The validity of women’s teaching positions is stringently in question, perhaps due to the emerging acceptance of their role in schools. Perhaps the conditioned social reaction to stereotypically effeminate traits undercuts the impartial facts of the quality of instruction. Perhaps male professors do not do enough to foster a culture of respect and equity and this attitude is reflected in the impression they leave on their students, who go forward and apply the same attitude to their female professors.

Whatever its reason, this pervasive dichotomy is prohibitive to an effective teaching environment and damaging to students’ intellectual growth. We know it exists. We know it affects students and educators, so why hasn’t this changed? Universities need to proactively correct negative perceptions and behavior through a conscious, concerted effort to change the climate of the institutions as a whole.

 

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