Sexism Makes Me Crazy
November 18, 2013
I’m sitting in my cubicle–aka, my “office”–desperately trying to grade the last few essays before class begins. As usual, the guys waiting in the hall for the seminar room are trying to one-up each other. A few classes before, one played on his guitar incessantly, trying to impress someone in the class. Another bragged about English being his second language. I’m used to it, though, distracting as it may be–the dudely posturing isn’t anything that surprises me. Undergrads do this sort of thing.
Today, the professor shows up (this is how you know I’m running really late). I hear him say hello to the students. One of the guys–the one who’s loudest and brags the most–says, “Hey, professor. Did you know that the root of the word ‘estrogen’ is the same as ‘madness’?”
“That explains why women are so crazy,” the professor says.
Insert a sarcastic rim-shot here.
Now, I have no idea who this dude is. I don’t know if he’s a tenure-track professor. I don’t know his home department. I don’t even know exactly what class he teaches. I thought it had something to do with classics, but anyone who knows Latin should be able to unpack the word “oestrus” a little better. However, I do know he thinks it’s appropriate to make a sexist, juvenile, and quite frankly obvious joke in front of his students. He’s very effectively reinforced the sexist idea that portrays masculinity as rational and femininity as irrational by means of the oldest joke in the book (I mean, really? Women are crazy? Find some new material, dude).
I’m not going to give him a lecture on Latin, since, well, it’s been years since I took it. Given that the Latin root existed before scientific knowledge of estrogen, however, I will say he should pay more attention to when words arose and in what cultural context. Especially when it comes to words that pathologize female sexuality, no one should feign ignorance. It isn’t as though language features an absence of sexism, or that problematic root words aren’t common knowledge, or that people haven’t been critiquing the associations between women and irrationality for years. In addition to the connections between the word “estrogen” and mad passion, plenty of words have sexist origins (including the very obvious “hysteria,” which basically means that your uterus is driving you to insanity).
So, why didn’t this guy say something to this effect, or anything but “women are crazy”? I don’t know, but it makes me feel bad for the women in his class, who’ve now had first-hand experience with microaggressions. He’s just called them crazy. He’s drawn a line between them and the guys in their class, and he’s definitely not on the girls’ side.
I don’t even know what larger point to make, except that I’m so exhausted by sexism in academia that I don’t even know what to do. I had hoped that it would die with the ancient, old-boys club retiring, but this guy was not much older than I am, and he’s here replicating sexist attitudes and showing students that it’s okay to keep on treating women as though they are a lesser form of human.
And that endless cycle of sexism–and not anything having to do with my uterus or estrogen levels–is what may eventually drive me crazy.