Sexist gibes impede progress


Julie Chotivatanapong, Editor-in-Chief

It’s one thing to personally witness a teacher make an unfitting remark that targets gender, but it’s another to lose track of the number of times you hear about it happening throughout the school.

Cue the eye rolls. Before I continue, let me begin by making one thing clear. No, this isn’t going to be some radical feminist letter where I complain about my victimized feelings—and no, I’m not a radical feminist.

I’m a woman who respects other women, so naturally, I think it’s justified to feel angry if I overheard a male teacher make borderline snide remarks on a female student’s appearance, personal life or academic potential.

Over the past four months, I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of female students throughout all grade levels who have approached me, expressing their frustration over these exact types of comments being made to them by several of their male teachers.

Now before any emotionally fragile readers blow a fuse and call me out for targeting all male teachers, let me iterate that I am well aware that the ones instigating these remarks are few in number.

The instances I’ve cited aren’t even restricted to male teachers alone.

More importantly, I recognize that the vast majority of male teachers here are respectful, morally conscious and don’t need to be treated like a school of sharks.

But as of now, it’s not the remarks themselves that continue to be a blight on the educational system—it’s the impact that comes with them.

When women become the target of seemingly trivial remarks, there’s eventually going to be a tipping point when they ask themselves, “Remind me why I even care about this class?” The lack of interest in a class due to the perpetuation of this language, whether intentional or not, could cause students to lose interest in the subject all together.

In other words, you’ve just potentially lost a future engineer, doctor, historian, musician or artist.

This pattern is further highlighted in the book “Whistling Vivaldi,” in which author Claude M. Steele cites an experiment with a clear correlation between gendered language and academic achievement. A test was conducted on two groups of women, each having been exposed to different questionnaires before a national math exam. One group of women was asked questions that consistently reminded them of their gender identity and inferiority, while the other was not. The groups scored 43 percent and 49 percent respectively on the test.

Of course different levels of math skill could have played a role in this discrepancy, but the reality is, while words build confidence, they also have the power to obstruct determination. If women continuously have to prove that they are capable of succeeding in the same fields as their male counterparts, well, why wouldn’t they feel discouraged?

Again, this doesn’t solely apply to careers in the STEM field and in fact, this is bigger than just STEM. We are beyond a time when sexism alone should be obsolete, yet we’ve become so conditioned to hearing gendered language that nothing seems to faze us anymore.

It’s easy to forget that our choice of words impacts the contingencies in someone else’s life. So speak up against ignorance—whether it be from a student, teacher, administrator, friend, parent or relative.

Sweeping these types of remarks under the rug isn’t going to solve the living and breathing beast known as sexism. It’s only going to perpetuate the problem.