Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Academic Sidenote: Are Female Professors Viewed As Mother Figures?

Yet again there is another good article on CrookTimber entitled 'Herr Professor Daddy? I Didn't Think So,' which raises some interesting questions about how female professors are viewed compared to male professors.

The article states:

First of all, students demand much more emotional work from female professors than they do of male profs. If the women don’t provide it, they are often viewed as cold bitchy profs that don’t care about students. Although I don’t know of any systematic studies of what types of topics students bring up during interactions with professors by gender, I have heard plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that female profs get approached much more by students wanting to talk about life issues than male profs.
I would argue that (and so does the first commenter on CrookTimber) that it all depends on the way the prof interacts with their students. If a prof portrays a personality that is more approachable I think that students will be more willing to approach them, despite their gender. I have had female professors that I have found approachable and unapproachable, and I have had male professors that were approachable and unapproachable.

If a professor answers students questions with respectability and offers themselves as a person that can relate to a student, they will be more likely to have students express 'issues' with them. While female profs can be viewed as 'mother-like figures' I believe that male professors can also be viewed in a similar way. Males and females can have personality traits that are very similar, and it is not gender so much as personality that can affect how students relate with professors.

The idea that you cannot mix caring and compassionate traits with academia is, in my opininon, an axiom that is accepted without actually being considered. I think it is just that people are very comfortable with academia being cold and uncaring, but does it really have to be that way? Can there not be a mix of the two? Educational teachers find a way to combine the both of these facets, why can't professors? (I do realize that 12 year olds are not the same as 20 year old university students) but some level of caring and compassion can be incorporated in teaching at a university level.

Update: I never realized when I was posting this article, but I made it seem like Eszter Hargittai, the author of the CrookTimber article, was arguing that female professors were seen as nurturers. Her article argues that women professors are not seen as authority figures. What I should have stated at the beginning of my article is that my posting is a response, not to Eszter's article, but to the debate that rises from the article comments. Thanks again for Eszter bringing it to my attention.


eszter said...

Thanks for engaging with this. Just a quick note to say that my post's point wasn't to take on the issue of whether professors should or should not be offering emotional support to students or mentoring of various sorts. Perhaps my follow-up comment there helps clarify this.

DC said...

Thanks for commenting. Sorry that I did not specific that I was not commenting on your article, but the discussion that resulted from your article.

I do agree with you in your article and your postings, I should have been clearer on what I was debating. Keep up the excellent posting.