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Climbing the gender hurdle in higher education | The Gustavian Weekly

By Emily Seppelt - Opinion Columnist | November 15, 2019 | Opinion

Professors and faculty are some of the most influential people on the rate of success for a student and a positive college experience. If you think about it, professors are one of the strongest influences on a student’s life and growth over their college years. Having a good relationship with your professors is vital towards learning the most that you can and getting a good grade.

But do students treat male and female professors differently? A multitude of studies say yes, and speaking as a student, it is in plain sight for all to see. According to a study that can be found in the academic journal “Sex Roles”, students ask for more special favors and traditionally nurturing behaviors from their female professors than they would if she were to be male. Now of course, every professor should act as a mentor to students who need it, but those expectations are different.

I would like to make it clear that I am in no way speaking on behalf of female professors here at Gustavus, but simply as a feminist and a student.

Students more often turn to female professors to vent about things and look to them to solve their issues in the class. This gives all the emotional labor onto the shoulders of the professor instead of it being shared equally. An unequal distribution of emotional labor is when most of the mental energy and mental stress of a situation or circumstance are put onto one person, and women are often the ones that get doled out insane amounts of emotional labor.

When female professors have to deal with all of this excess emotional labor, they have less energy to do all the other things they need to do–including being a fully present and engaged professor and academic scholar. Not only do female professors deal with more emotional labor, but according to Inside Higher Ed, they also shoulder more “service work” in comparison to their male counterparts.

And the inequalities don’t end there. Fellow faculty, students and administration all bring the baggage of the stereotypes of sex roles and understanding of the patriarchy to campus with them. Female professors are more likely to be asked for special favors and exceptions. “Professor gender significantly   predicted special favor requests, which significantly predicted other-directed emotional labor,” a study published by Inside Higher Ed said.

The study went on to find that not only were students and faculty more willing to ask more requests of female professors, but that they more often than not were “irritated or disappointed if the professor denied the requests, and persist[ed] in asking for favors after being denied.”

I have witnessed this phenomenon myself when observing how students talk about a female professor versus a male one. It seems to me that when denied special requests, students are more likely to dismiss a female professor as uncooperative or cruel than a male professor.

Not only does this behavior create a burden in the classroom and during the semester, but a female professor’s success in their career and teaching can be influenced and affected by student evaluation. “When students rank their experiences in a classroom on a scale from 1 to 5, male professors receive ratings that are, on average, 0.4 points higher than female professors” an article in The Boston Globe said.

While that may seem like a small difference, it’s a lot bigger than you might think.

I am not trying to make the claim that all students have a known strong hatred or bias towards all women, but the evidence is there that students are unknowingly influenced by sexist and misogynistic stereotypes that negatively skew their perceptions of their female professors.

Therefore, it is our job as students to see and understand this bias in ourselves when we have female professors. The problem also lies in the hands of administrators that hold the fate of female professors’ careers in their hands. If they are not equipped to see sexism and misogyny when it stares them in the face in student evaluations, female professors will continue to be hold back. Not only should they search for obvious signs of bias but going in with the understanding that students are influenced by the patriarchy should be part of the job description.

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