Having just talked to a high school health teacher after I spoke to her classes over the last several days I have to address something that I’ve been meaning to for a while now:
The role of respect and authority within a classroom and how it operates very differently for a man/male teacher or speaker vs. a women/female teacher or speaker.
After speaking in her 8th grade class, she was shocked and addressed her entire class:
Class, I have to say I am extremely surprised and very proud that you gave Mr. Patel so much respect. I really appreciate you not giving him a hard time. Your respect will not go unrecognized.
As the bell rang and students flocked out, the teacher turned to me and told me that this was her most disrespectful and incorrigible class that she’s ever had in all of her years of teaching. She added that I really seemed to “grab their attention” and “demand their respect”.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time Ive heard this or even seen it first-hand.
While co-teaching college classes on gender, I saw that students would speak over my woman/female counterpart and then would remain silent when I spoke. Sure, I have a loud voice but I noticed time and time again, that I’d repeat (seconds later) exactly what my colleague would be saying and students “miraculously” fell into an enlightened sense of clarity – as if to imply that anything that she said automatically caused confusion.
No matter what I said I drew attention and an unearned authority in that classroom even though my colleague was older, wiser, and had lots of valuable experiences that I didn’t have. Oh yeah, I was still earning my grad degree while she already had 3 Masters under her belt.
So what’s the point? It’s yet another extremely valid example how very often, living (or passing) in a male body warrants more unearned privileges.
So yes, this is the way things are. However, perhaps there is something we can do. We can constantly admit and point out we may not be right all of the time as men and even encouraging students to validate women and female voices. Citing women’s work and thoughts Is extremely important as well. Otherwise, recognizing that this dynamic is operating is a great start.
Let’s remain vigalent in validating the work that women do and look to not take “undeserved” credit. The more collaboration we can do, the better.