Thursday, March 12, 2015

Beyond “Bossy” or “Brilliant”?: Gender Bias in Student Evaluations

By: Tristan Bridges, Kjerstin Gruys, Christin Munsch and C.J. Pascoe

Originally posted at Girl W/ Pen!

Not surprisingly, the new interactive chart Gendered Language in Teacher Reviews, drawn from (produced by Ben Schmidt—a history professor at Northeastern), has been the subject of a lot of conversation among sociologists, especially those of us who study gender. For example, it reminded C.J. of an ongoing conversation she and a former Colorado College colleague repeatedly had about teaching evaluations. Comparing his evaluations to C.J.’s, he noted that students would criticize C.J. for the same teaching practices and behaviors that seemed to earn him praise: being tough, while caring about learning.

We’ve long known that student evaluations of teaching are biased. A recent experiment made headlines when Adam Driscoll and Andrea Hunt found that professors teaching online received dramatically different evaluation scores depending upon whether students thought the professor was a man or a woman; students rated male-identified instructors significantly higher than female identified instructors, regardless of the instructor’s actual gender. Schmidt’s interactive chart provides a bit more information about exactly whatstudents are saying when evaluating their professors in gendered ways. Thus far, most commentaries have focused on the fact that men are more likely to be seen as “geniuses,” “brilliant,” and “funny,” while women, as C.J. discovered, are more likely to be seen as “bossy,” “mean,” “pushy.” These discrepancies are important, but in this post, we’ve used the tool to shed light on some forms of gendered workplace inequality that have received less attention: (1) comments concerning physical appearance, (2) comments related to messiness and organization, and (3) comments related to emotional (as opposed to intellectual) work performed by professors.
Physical Appearance
The results from Schmidt’s chart are not universally “bad” or “worse” for women. For instance, the results for students referring to professors as “hot” and “attractive” are actually mixed. Further, in some fields of study, women are more likely to receive “positive” appearance-based evaluations while, in other fields, men are more likely to receive these evaluations. A closer examination, however, reveals an interesting pattern. Here is a list of the fields in which womenare more likely to be referred to as “hot” or “attractive”: Criminal Justice, Engineering, Political Science, Business, Computer Science, Physics, Economics, and Accounting. And here is a list of fields in which men are more likely to receive these evaluations: Philosophy, English, Anthropology, Fine Arts, Languages, and Sociology.
Notice anything suspicious? Men are sexualized when they teach in fields culturally associated with “femininity” and women are sexualized when they teach in fields culturally associated with “masculinity.” Part of this is certainly due to gender segregation in fields of study. There are simply more men in engineering and physics courses. Assuming most students are heterosexual, women teaching in these fields might be more likely to be objectified. Similarly, men teaching in female-dominated fields have a higher likelihood of being evaluated as “hot” because there are more women there to evaluate them. (For more on this, see Philip Cohen’s breakdown of gender segregation in college majors.)
Nonetheless, it is important to note that sexual objectification works differently when it’s aimed at men versus women. Women, but not men, are systematically sexualized in ways that work to symbolically undermine their authority. (This is why “mothers,” “mature,” “boss,” and “teacher” are among men’s top category searches on many online pornography sites.) And, women are more harshly criticized for failing to meet normative appearance expectations. Schmidt’s chart lends support to this interpretation as women professors are also almost universally more likely to be referred to as “ugly,” “hideous,” and “nasty.”
Level of (Dis)Organization
Christin and Kjerstin are beginning a new research project designed to evaluate whether students assess disorganized or “absent-minded” professors (e.g., messy offices, chalk on their clothing, disheveled appearances) differently depending on gender. Schmidt’s interactive chart foreshadows what they might find. Consider the following: women are more likely to be described as “unprepared,” “late,” and “scattered.” These are characteristics we teach little girls to avoid, while urging them to be prepared, organized, and neat. (Case in point: Karin Martin’s research on gender and bodies in preschool shows that boys’ bodies are less disciplined than girls’.) In short, we hold men and women to different organizational and self-presentation standards. Consequently, women, but not men, are held accountable when they are perceived to be unprepared or messy. Emphasizing this greater scrutiny of women’s organization and professionalism is the finding that women are more likely than men to be described as eitherprofessional” or “unprofessional,” and either “organized” or “disorganized.”
Emotional Labor
Finally, emotional (rather than intellectual) terms are used more often in women’s evaluations than men’s. Whether meankindcaring or rude, students are more likely to comment on these qualities when women are the ones doing the teaching. When women professors receive praise for being “caring,” “compassionate,” “nice,” and “understanding,” this is also a not-so-subtle way of telling them that they should exhibit these qualities. Thus, men may receive fewer comments related to this type of emotion work because students do not expect them to be doing it in the first place. But this emotional work isn’t just “more” work, it’s impossible work because of the competence/likeability tradeoff women face.
There are all sorts of things that are left out of this quick and dirty analysis (race, class, course topic, type of institution, etc.), but it does suggest we begin to question the ways teaching evaluations may systematically advantage some over others. Moreover, if certain groups—for instance, women and scholars of color (and female scholars of color)—are more likely to be in jobs at which teaching evaluations matter more for tenure and promotion, then unfair and biased evaluations may exacerbate inequality within the academy.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Body Image Inspiration from Home Renovations & Artist Carol Rossetti.

Badass inspiring artwork above, by Brazilian graphic artist Carol Rossetti
Good morning everyone! I can't help but be joyful today because (1) Autumn - my favorite season - is finally in full swing here in San Francisco (I wore TIGHTS last week and ate OATMEAL for breakfast this morning!), and (2) I just spent an entire 3-day weekend sweating through home renovations. Yes, I realize "scrape off popcorn crap from ceiling" isn't at the top of most people's "super fun" list, but I LOVE sprucing things up and making them more functional and beautiful. Feathering the nest turns a house (or apartment) into a home.

There's a meditative quality to the way that the physical work of renovating distracts my mind from its usual to-do list cycling; in an uncrowded mind, new ideas and thoughts have space to emerge and be noticed. This happened yesterday. I contemplated my love for "home improvement" last night while sweatily tearing up base-boards with a crowbar, and it suddenly occurred to me that I used to reserve this kind of time, energy, and passion for various "self-improvement" projects, instead.

Before: My house, yesterday afternoon. Beloved chaos with "potential."
After?: Still TBD
The creative energy I now put toward home renovations used to be fully spent by my body and beauty obsessions. Two hours spent putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls used to be two hours researching, sampling, and buy "miracle" makeup or anti-aging treatments. Thirty minutes of rearranging furniture used to be thirty minutes of trying on different outfits each day, until I found something I liked "enough."  Hours spent pulling up old carpet used to be hours spent each month tweezing, plucking, waxing, and shaving various part of my body; I now put "shave legs and pits" on my calendar for the 1st of each month, and I haven't been arrested by the fashion police yet! (The Carol Rossetti artwork I posted at the top of this post is gorgeously inspiring to my newfound razor-minimalism.)

Anyway... these days I still enjoy my makeup/fashion/beauty routines, but I've changed them so that they take up a lot less time and so that they feel more like creativity and self-care, than "required-before-I-can-leave-the-house." Speaking of leaving the house, once I'm done with all of these renovation projects - including a TBD fabulous home-office revamp - I'm not sure I"ll ever want to!

So now I'll ask you: where do you spend most of your creative energy?  Is this where you want to be spending it? 

PS - ONE MORE Rossetti image because it makes me happy!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Inspired by Yoko Ono's "Mirror Piece" Poem

I'm no expert in poetry, but I do know what it feels like when writing resonates in the soul, when I consider a creative work and somehow feel more known, more centered, and more connected to the world.

Yoko Ono's 1964 poem "Mirror Piece" has that effect on me. It will forever be pinned on my inspiration board! I hope it inspires you too.

Does anyone know more about the context or history of this poem? I'm hungry for some knowledge!
PS - Thanks, Tessa, for sending this to me!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall Book Reading @ Books Inc. Opera Plaza - July 10th, 7pm

Looking for something to do tonight (7/10/14)? Join me at Books Inc., Opera Plaza, for a book reading of Mirror Mirror, Off the Wall. Sponsored by About-Face, 15% of ALL book sales (not just MMOTW) will benefit their programs to help girls build healthy body image and self-esteem. Hope to see you there! Here's the scoop:

Kjerstin Gruys, author of Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body by Not Looking at It for a Year

Book title Mirror Mirror Off the Wall and photo of Kjerstin
Thursday, July 10, 2014
7pm to 9pm
Books Inc. Opera Plaza,
601 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
About-Face is proud to co-sponsor a special book reading and benefit with Books Inc. Opera Plaza featuring author Kjerstin Gruys. A former market researcher and merchant in the fashion industry plus recent Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Sociology at UCLA, Kjerstin shares Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body by Not Looking at It for a Year. Part memoir, part women’s studies, Kjerstin’s observations offer an important look at body image and how women view themselves with society’s standards in mind.
Please join us for the chance to meet the author, hear a wonderful book reading, and enjoy the opportunity to have your copy of Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall signed! Copies of the book will be available for sale during the event, so please consider purchasing your copy and gift copies at the event (amongst other book shopping) to support your local Books Inc. store and About-Face.
During the event, Books Inc. will donate 15% of ALL book sales (not just sales of Mirror Mirror Off the Wall) to About-Face.
Admission is free for this event, and parking is available in the building.
Note for parents: This event is appropriate for adults, pre-teens, and teens, too!
RSVPs appreciated but not necessary. Click here to RSVP.

Map of event location:
For further information, call our office at (415) 839-6779 or e-mail About-Face.