Helpful Feedback

From Anonymous

I was told ask a senior male colleague (full professor, former administrator) to observe my teaching and provide some feedback during my first semester. He agreed, took copious notes, and let me know to stop by to discuss his feedback. He provided a fairly balanced (and specific) list of comments, in writing. Except for “two minor points.” One was a typo on my slide. The other was:

“You might want to think about the length of your skirt. It might be distracting for the boys in the class, especially when you’re bouncing around up there. Might be hard for them. The girls, I don’t know. Up to you, but you might want to think about it.”

My response: “Okay….”

There are MUCH better ways to handle this situation if you believe that it is a legitimate issue. Not sure why he chose to use one as demeaning (and dismissive of my teaching abilities/efforts) as this one.

5 comments

  1. If I may venture an opinion here… I doubt that a reviewer would ever tell a male professor, “Hey, your ass looks too distracting in those pants, take it up a size. The girls in the room probably can’t focus”. It would never happen and if it did it would be blatant sexual harassment. If a man cannot do math while looking at a woman’s ankles, that is emphatically not her problem.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. While he may not have addressed it the best way, professional dress is a legitimate category for feedback, and one that is very hard to express without giving offense. While I have not seen the skirt in question so I can’t judge your case, there are plenty of people who are not aware that they are dressing inappropriately, regardless of gender.

    I had a teacher in high school who worse light-colored pants through which you could see her underwear. Imagine how she and her (female) boss must have felt when that conversation came up. For a male-centric story, I had a coworker who pants fly must have been broken based on the number of times I had to tell him it was down. Still awkward, still necessary to address. And either of those stories could apply to either gender.

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  3. I think it is impolite to comment on the style of clothes that cover, but wearing revealing clothes is a problem for male or female. Shirt open to reveal hairy chest or short skirt with no pantyhose are just distractions.

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    1. Rukfjh (and Anonymous), the equivalence you draw here between men and women’s bodies in the workplace is false and ablates the systemic and often institutionalized hypersexualization and sexual harassment of women in STEM that contextualize this woman’s experience.

      Her story must be seen in that context and your refusal to do so is frustrating and gaslighting. Please notice that, instead of asking this woman more about her experience or attempting to understand how that experience was sexist, you have denied the experience (calling it “impolite” instead) and have arbitrarily drawn a line in the sand for her and all the other women on this site as to what constitutes professional dress. We do not need your guidance. We need you to listen to us, ask questions, and learn from our experience.

      Thank you for so effortlessly demonstrating why this site exists in the first place.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Of course “appropriate” clothes in a professional environment is a legitimate issue. However, the implicit assumption by the last two commenters that this story involved inappropriate clothes — as opposed to young men inappropriately lusting over every inch of skin not covered by appropriate business skirts — strikes me as a great example of why this website is needed. Thanks, fellas.

    Liked by 3 people

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