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Revisiting the Classroom

September 14, 2011

I’m enjoying reading the commentary from One Female Gaze on her math classes in her series “Mathocism”. She reflects in her first entry:

When I started this experiment to find out whether I truly suck at math or not, I figured the biggest obstacle would be my brain. But that has not been the case. Rather, class dynamics, teacher performance, my physical state — whether I was dealing with chronic pain or utter exhaustion — have been far more challenging.

It makes me nostalgic for my own days of feeling frustrated in the classroom. This project started while we were in college, and the specific topic of gender in the classroom is one we have explored extensively in the past. I’m working on a post about the job I’m holding currently, and how gender relations seem to operate in my workplace. I thought we did a pretty good job of covering the subject in the past, so I thought I’d revisit it and created a little round-up:

Because when you’re talking about women, you’re talking about me. When it’s Ladies’ Day on the syllabus, and all the men sit back in their chairs and keep their heads down. When I draw attention to a gender problem in a text and become the next contestant on Stump the Feminist! When two lines out of five thousand mention a non-male and no one seems bothered in the least. You’re talking about me.

I’m an intelligent woman, fairly well-versed in a number of subjects. I can argue, I can be aggressive, I can debate. I can take being told that I’m wrong. I cannot take being told that I’m nothing.

These classroom dynamics reinforce my feelings that International Relations is an old white man’s field. A field that might not have room for me. I do believe in my intelligence and ability to navigate this field and this classroom as a woman, but I’m not always sure I have the energy.

[I]n this “academics as blood sport” model, the goal is not to grow. The goal is not to reach a consensus, or to get to the bottom of a thorny problem in the text, or to hash out a controversial point. The goal is to make the other person look as stupid as possible. The goal is to, as a friend once put it, “whip it out and measure it.” Women play at it sometimes, but this is a game for men.

Women need to work hard at getting heard. Not just because our voices are higher, our shouting is quieter. But because we get overlooked. We get overlooked in the syllabus. We get overlooked in favor of our breasts. We get overlooked when everyone is so entangled in the game of the debate.

I have things to say, I’m going to get heard, and I’m going to do it without silencing my classmates.

Other Sources:

The authority signaled by our degrees and job titles will not protect any woman-of-color from the inevitable challenges, resistance, and downright disrespect she will encounter in a college classroom. Black bodies have never been viewed as repositories of knowledge. Female bodies have never been capable of dispensing rational ideas. Taken together, Black women in the classroom walk directly into a hodgepodge of stereotypes that can literally feel suffocating.

Lately, I have been most challenged with the responses to students’ reaction and use of language. I strongly adhere to the idea that language is powerful and certain words are “loaded” in the same way that certain topics are value-laden. This is not a shared sentiment by all students. I need to check myself and remember that I am also there to facilitate discussion, engage student interest, and, oh yes, teach materials. There is usually a student or two has an “anything” goes sort of attitude and I have to balance all the students’ needs and my own politics. This presents a challenge.

To everyone still in the classroom: Do these posts still resonate with your experience of gender/race/class relations?

To those of us in the workforce: How do you feel these power dynamics operating at your workplace? What was the transition from the classroom to the workplace like for you in terms of how you experienced your identity/community. (Check back next week for my own reflections)

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