Why are female professors viewed differently than their male counterparts?




Is this how some of your students see you?  Alas, sometimes students misunderstand their female professors/teachers and misconstrue their professionalism as anger or rage.  

Gender stereotypes continue to permeate academia - i.e. women are less rational and more emotional than men.  Although things have definitely changed for the better, it is naive to think that gender biases do not appear in our students' expectations and hence our evaluations (in the link below there is a list of articles supporting my position).

When I attended University my professors were treated with awe, respect, and reverence.  

While those days are long gone - in my experience anyway - it is frustrating how gender bias still exists.  FYI: I teach mainly first and second year undergrads, so perhaps upper level students understand that their professors are human - that we get frustrated, irritated, exasperated but we are teachers/professors because we overwhelmingly care about students and education.  We are not uncontrollably and irrationally angry with our students.  Sure we have our good days and bad days just like anyone else, but unfortunately those bad days seem to linger in our students' minds until they purge their resentment while writing their SEIs.  

So why am I conflating anger and gender bias?  I honestly don't think that students see their male professors/teachers as out of control, irrational, and full of wrath.  I constantly hear in my SEIs how I am disorganized and have no clear purpose (irrational), I’m angry, and I should be "nicer"....

There are several studies that confirm my own personal experience regarding student evaluations and how woman are judged by a different set of criteria than their male counterparts.

In one seminar I attended many of my female colleagues argued that their SEIs contained similar statements: hard marker, tough on students, doesn't like students, rude to students, disorganized, unclear, angry, cold, distant, doesn't care, should be nicer, etc.  One science lecturer complained that her boss told her that she should perhaps be more "motherly" to help curb her students' anxieties.  She was justifiably outraged but our facilitator argued that we should understand that our students - rightly or wrongly - did view us in this light and that ignoring this reality - however unfair - could lead some students to feeling let down or hurt by us.  The professor asked if it was part of her job to care about their feelings - after all wasn't her job teaching biology to underprepared undergrads challenging enough?  

I have to admit cognitive dissonance here.  I get it - it's not fair but it is what it is, and if I want higher evaluations I have to remember my students' preconceived biases will influence their perceptions of me.  I can play the SEI game - many do - curbing my teaching towards achieving higher SEI results, but I refuse to do this.  I have definitely tried to remember that this generation - called snowflakes - are fragile, but I won't become slavish to their own irrational demands.  I have hit a middle road.  My SEIs are still very frustrating but I have tried to combine the right amount of compassion with an unwavering professionalism.  I try to stay true to my principles while showing empathy to the stress and confusion my undergrads seem to feel. 

Anyway, I'm writing this to help any lecturers out there who may be struggling to understand why their SEIs may be consistently lower than their male (and particularly older and male) colleagues.  Sometimes wisdom is power - maybe this will help.  Maybe it is obvious to you, but, to be honest, it did not occur to me that gender bias could impact a career in academia.  Furthermore, I continue to be disheartened when I read these reports.  Love to hear your thoughts!

Gender and Student Evaluations:An Annotated BibliographyDeveloped at the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan

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