Friday, May 23, 2008

Oh, I just love your top!

There's one thing I don't know how to handle: when a student comes up to me and says "I just wanted to say I love your top/dress/ skirt/ shoes/ bag!"

Picture this: a line of students asking about the finals, the grades, the other assignments. One of them is bound to make a comment on my dressing style.
I'm not the only female instructor being complimented on the way I dress.

But I bet you male instructors do not get those compliments! You are not up there to be assessed for how you look, but to teach. Yet, at the same time, those paying the compliments have good intentions (the road to hell is paved with good intentions); it makes no sense to be harsh on them....

...or maybe, you should be harsh on them, contradict their expectations that paying a compliment is supposed to make the other person feel better and maybe nicer to you.

I remember a similar situation in a Nordic country, when some of my female colleagues would feel insulted if a man would sit up and offer them the chair, or open the door for them. Where to draw this line between being reminded that you are first and foremost a woman, and feeling OK to break down the communication lines, to vex the others by being 'rude' and not caring about it? Or is my dilemma precisely part of being a woman, of being raised to care about not offending the others? Simply say what's on your mind? Or simply choose to ignore it, and make this an act of resistance? If it was only that simple!

Epilogue: the other day, I came across an email from a faculty member publicly congratulating a student for her intellectual achievements. After inviting everyone to check out an online story on that student, the email concluded: "And she looks absolutely fabulous!". Hm, is it me, or would other people take this as yet another complicated discussion around gender?

Photo credits: spoon


Owen said...

I would say such compliments are a kind of flirting - and I promise you that in my very short time as a TA, I have had plenty of 'flirty' comments - and yes even as a man!

Mostly, I would get comments about my long hair - which I have since cut.

I always wondered, if I'm a TA, can I flirt back? lol.

thinking about difference said...

so i was wrong, male instructors do get such comments as well! thanks!

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