If you had asked professors across campus about the “unwritten rules of classroom fashion,” you may have been able to report on the much more important and sinister elements of gender bias in the classroom. Interestingly, the one female faculty member included in this article was only quoted about her choice of footwear (stilettos!). Here is what I, as a female faculty member who teaches large lecture classes and small seminars, would have told you:
Gender in the classroom matters. Gender bias in course evaluations is well-known, with multiple studies confirming that female professors are consistently rated lower than their male counterparts in key categories. In fact, a study published this summer highlighted a particularly problematic disparity: when commenting on a course, students mentioned qualifications and competence of male professors and personality and appearance of female professors.
Ratemyprofessors.com just recently ditched their chili pepper rating, used to measure a professor’s “hotness.” As silly as that seems, students give more positive course reviews to professors that they rate as “attractive.”
Does it matter what I wear into my classroom? Definitely! I begrudgingly stash my flip-flops away on FDOC, because wearing them into the classroom would give the impression that I’m not serious about my work. But why do my male colleagues get away with it? Why can they wear shorts or Batman costumes but I have to carefully dress each day?
Well, for 75 minutes, I have to stand in front of 80 students and try to teach them about the environment. And all the while, they are naturally observing me and my body language. They are judging, whether they want to or not, what my clothes convey about me.
Do my male colleagues scrutinize their outfits to ensure that they aren’t considered “too sexy” or distracting? Do my male colleagues worry that their casual outfits convey insincerity or immaturity?
This article highlighted an unspoken truth, not an unwritten rule, about classroom fashion: female professors are judged more harshly and scrutinized more closely for their clothing choices than their male colleagues. Highlighting the choice of high heels as the only nod to female fashion perpetuates a toxic stereotype.
I invite the Chronicle to investigate gender dynamics in the classroom, in our course evaluations, and on external websites like ratemyprofessor.com instead of writing articles that celebrate male privilege when it comes to fashion, and so much more.
Rebecca Vidra is a senior lecturer of environmental science and policy at the Nicholas School of the Environment.
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