Thursday, November 6, 2008

Ladies, Here's Your Knowledge -- Part Three: "Pedagogy Please?"

This entry has been long anticipated by my readers and myself alike. It was months ago that I started the "Ladies, Here's Your Knowledge" series, and it's taken me this long to get up the nerve to write this final installment. So for once, my writer's "voice" may tremble a little this evening (though I'll try my best, as usual, to hide it behind humor).

Let's start by laughing together at this Police video from 1980 -- "Don't Stand So Close To Me"

So every girl has wanted to be teacher's pet at some point, whether she was interested in the "subject" or not. In fourth grade there was Mr. Savage (what's in a name?) who danced on tabletops to songs about math, and in high school there was the incredibly young Mr. C. who taught English as dramatically as he taught theater. And after graduation came my first fateful foray into adult relationships -- an engagement to a mentor I'd known since I was fifteen. I am not the only young woman I know who has had these feelings and experiences.

Even watching that video I just posted, I don't really laugh. It actually gives me a thing for Sting. (The teacher's conventional "hotness" doesn't do it for me).

This video is about high school, but let's forget for a moment about "laws." Of course "teach" has a lot to worry about when it comes to resisting the "jailbait." But this situation doesn't just come up in the high school classroom. It continues at the university, and perhaps even intensifies there -- the age gap closes, and the law (though not university policy) no longer applies.

This is not to say that scores of university romances happen every day. But it is to say that they may be happening inside the minds of young women, and affecting their studies.

I read an article in Bitchfest magazine (an unhappily titled rag -- it really is a good read) aptly titled "Hot For Teacher -- On the Erotics of Pedagogy." In the article, Jennifer Maher compares the female attraction to male professors with the male attraction to female professors. To make a long article short, we young women channel our urges into a love of the subject. Sounds pretty good. Young men, however, act out, and in extreme cases, inflict sexual violence on the objects of their desire.

Here is a non-violent but telling video to contrast the types of desire I'm talking about here. Van Halen's 1984 song "Hot For Teacher" (the above article's name source) has no dramatic backstory like that of "Don't Stand So Close to Me." Van Halen's version is simply a bunch of boys lusting after a lingerie clad, catwalking schoolteacher. Not only is the attraction represented as one-sided (the woman does not need to reciprocate -- she has no choice), but the social taboo that haunts the Police video seems to be completely absent. Also, the boys' lust is shared publicly -- they are a grubby little group of future gang-rapers. In the video's "epilogue," one of the boys actually grows up to be a pimp.

No wonder some of the female professors I admire dress like they fell into a box of Goodwill clothes.

Although the Police's song is more realistic and deals with some issues, Sting and his Policemen seem to present the girl's crush on her teacher as if it is a source of agony only for the teacher, not for the student. But "Don't Stand So Close To Me" does show the more private and personal nature of a girl's lust. She idealizes her teacher rather than objectifying him.

Although, he does get naked at the end of the video. For whom, I'm not sure.

So the feminist in me took off with this one for awhile. Back to my point -- women's education is affected by the influence of men in positions of authority. Of course none of us are outside of influence, but I think that women may go so far as to choose the wrong subject of study, change their beliefs and attitudes to match their hero's, or even jeopardize relationships outside of school. Let's see what the experts say; hopefully Maher (of Bitchfest) and myself will be proven wrong, as exciting as her subtitle "On the Erotics of Pedagogy" may sound.

To quote a more scholarly source, Ernest T. Pascarella states in his article "Student-Faculty Informal Contact and College Outcomes" that "as faculty members occupy an increasing proportion of a particular student's interpersonal environment, the greater the likelihood of the student's being influenced by faculty attitudes and intellectual values." And I'm going to make the crazy assumption that informal contact with faculty members whom the student adores, idolizes, etc, would influence the student on an even more fundamental level than just their attitude and intellect.

The young women at my school mostly latch onto women faculty members. In my group of honors students, I am the minority in having two male advisers. Nearly the rest of the lady students report to one lady professor each. I can't help but wonder if they are afraid of working with "grown men." Or perhaps the higher number of female faculty these days allows the women more choice in their mentors. Or perhaps it's just a new "safer" version of the old university romance beast. As the Bitchfest article I mentioned earlier would tell us, this female/female situation can be just as problematic as the male/female professor/student relationship.

Another perhaps -- my university is not a member of the "liberal arts elite" which according to Pascarella is the typical backdrop for student-professor intimacy. So the perhaps is, perhaps these girls are just comfortable with women because they are like moms or older sisters, etc. The nature of their relationship is not on some transcendental immerse-myself-in-thought level. When you take the laurels and ivy leaves and book-strewn desktops out of the picture, it suddenly seems less romantic.

This is in no way a complete essay or article, and I don't think I can finish it at this point. Maybe when I am in the position of the authority figure I can look back an reevaluate my thoughts on these things.

My title "Ladies, Here's Your Knowledge" indicates that I started writing these entries because I felt we women are being handed down doctrines that we are inclined to subscribe to when they are delivered by men we admire. I'm not sure what I think today. The Pascarella article goes on to prove that students with "high-interaction" relationships with professors are more sure of their career choices, and more confident academics. That sounds like a good outcome. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, there's nothing wrong with a couple of years of professor idolatry if it leads to higher academic achievements.

Thanks to my friend L.J. for that reminder: "...speak your mind -- even if your voice shakes."


  1. Yay! The conclusion to the popular trilogy of "Ladies, Here's Your Knowledge"! The best things of life are definitely worth waiting for :)

    Sounds like you're venturing outside the comfort zone. I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but I really admire your writing this blog. I've been tempted to start one a couple times in the past, but I'd never keep it up. Besides, I'd be afraid my entries would be too shallow. You actually put thought into these entries. And the little extras, like the Sting music video, absolutely brilliant.

    You had a great observation about the teacher's pet syndrome. It's one that most people probably wouldn't think of. I didn't have a male teacher until 6th grade. I went from no male teachers to three or four during the day. It was quite new for me, but I can vividly recall warming up to them quite quickly. I have a whole theory about the psychology of this experience, but I doubt you want a ten page rambling/borderline nonsensical comment ;p

    I've always been very open to those who stimulate my intellectual side. Oddly enough, it's never blossomed into any kind of attraction. I enjoy being around intellectual men, but I'm much more comfortable with married men then with single men. I think it's because I have no interest in non-platonic relationships. Just part of the quirkiness that is me I suppose.

    I used to adore Sting. I still do like him, but it's more due to his being a very odd duck.

    Bitch is such a great magazine. The title is an attempt to reclaim the word from its negative connotations. I have mixed feelings on it. I will say this: it's a great way to threaten my little brother.

    The differences between male and female attraction are quite interesting. In my family, there's this insane belief that men are born to be aggressive and controlling. The stereotypical alpha male if you will. During the campaign, I was reading this set of articles on the body language of Obama's campaign and McCain's. One of the most interesting article dealt with the ballet-type language between Barack and Michelle vs. the cold indifference between John and Cindy. I won't put the link down because I don't think that's allowed. I think I'm a bit off topic anyway. I don't know, I guess I'm just hoping the Obama presidency helps to usher in a new, softer kind of masculinity.

    Ah the stripper. Funny story: I told you that I once had a friend accuse me of being sexist because my mentor happens to be a man. Well this same friend often argued that stripping was the ultimate job of empowerment. Because you know nothing screams equality like being objectified while in a g-string and nipple-tassels.

    I've always found it astonishing how some men can honestly suggest that sexism is the fault of the woman for being overly-sensitive. I really liked your insight about the Police music video. Does Sting ever have a reason for getting naked?

    It's a frightening thought about how women would choose the wrong subject of study simply for the teacher. In the age of Rate My Professor, which has a chili pepper next to the names of attractive professors, it's only that much easier to go with lust instead of independent interest. I really hope that made sense.

    This entry made me think of when I first "came out" as a vegan to my mentor. It was one of the first times that my philosophy differed from his and I was actually scared he'd be upset with me. I swear that he was and still is proud of my decision, even if he isn't in complete agreement with me. We occasionally talk about veganism and I'm still finding my feet as far as presenting a thought out argument, but I'm getting there. I like to go against the curve and I still can't believe that I showed even slightly doormat-like behavior towards him. It's amazing how the sway of authority effects even the most rebellious of us from time to time.

    I can't help but wonder if the problematic relationship is more then gender. Perhaps personality has a role to play as well. Those with smaller/meeker personalities will of course follow those with stronger personalities.

    Artists are known to have much deeper emotions, which would explain why these types of behaviors occur in the "liberal arts elite". Ever seen a movie called Art School Confidential. If you haven't, I highly recommend renting it. You could probably see a little of the teacher/student dilemma playing out in that film.

    I'm inclined to agree with your observation about the possibility of the women being comfortable with women professors due to a mother/sister type connection. I was always more comfortable with women because my family raises girls to only associate with girls and boys to only associate with boys (except for when it comes time to get married). Though I get along much better with men, I still feel more comfortable with women.

    It would be interesting to hear if your opinions change when you start teaching. It would be interesting to hear what the other side of the experience is like.

    I like your conclusion. Maybe this issue isn't something that needs to be fixed but rather observed for a while.

    Aw, thank you for the little nod at the bottom. I feel loved :)

    Awesome entry and thank you for giving me some reprieve from a difficult day! You're my all time favorite blogger.

  2. I have to agree a with the thought that idolizing a professor can actually help you achieve more academically. My fifth grade teacher Mr. Edmundson did it for me. It probably was mostly just the fact that he was an excellent teacher, not an uncaring indifferent like so many grade school teachers, but he really lit a fire in me not just to do work that pleased him, but to believe in it and be able to explain to him why I did something a certain way, or why I chose to write on a certain subject. I was never afraid to disappoint him, as some are, because as I said he was a truly amazing teacher who made us all feel that as long as we tried our best, we could never disappoint him. My fifth grade class was his first year as a full time teacher. I hope he knows he did us as proud as I hope that we did him. I hope you're still teaching today, Mr. E! Kids would be lucky to have you.


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