I'm a new assistant professor and I finished my first semester of teaching. It's my first class, but I think it went good: the students seemed happy and interested, I had many of them (both male and female) doing more than required, and some of them later approached me to tell me they learned a lot.
The scores arrived: numerically they ended up being lower than the average of my school, which was disappointing, especially because in the descriptive part about the strengths there were many positive comments about me and the class, and in the negative part, they were mostly neutral or just slightly negative (and I agree with these, they are about my inexperience and baby steps). There was nothing nasty, ad hominem, or abusive. So based on the descriptive part and the overall experience, I expected the numerical score to be much higher, but it's fine and that's not the main topic of this question. I read a lot about student evaluations here on SE Academia and how pointless they can be, so while I care about feedback as a new lecturer, I had low expectations about them and I was going to take them with a grain of salt.
But the scores are also reported by gender. I am a male lecturer, and female students rated me much lower than male students (who rated me highly). The sample size and the difference are so high that I cannot attribute it to a statistical error and dismiss it. This left me astonished as it's the last thing I'd expect, and I'm trying to understand why and where is this coming from. I'm very well aware of the gender equality issues in academia, so I am quite conscious about treating everyone equally well, I'm very careful about avoiding everything that might even remotely imply sexism (for example I don't make jokes, and I never even mentioned anything gender related), and I'm careful about never making any physical intrusion (not even a handshake or sitting too close to a student during discussions). I just cannot think of any reason why students of one gender would give a much different score than the other, and what made female students less happy with the course and me. I know that everyone is biased when talking about themselves, but recently I even had a former female colleague telling me out of the blue I'm the one of the most respectful and pleasant people she worked with.
While you didn't take my class and don't have insights, but is there something in general I might be unaware of, and can improve? Is it possible that there is a teaching style to which different genders are receptive in a different way? Is it just possible that there is simply a discrepancy between how different genders give different scores? It may sound silly, but is it me being too respectful backfiring and seen as condescending by female students? This will obviously be difficult to answer without an insight, so I am at least trying to understand general reasons.
In the comments part of the teaching evaluations there is nothing negative about me or the course that I can interpret being gender related (they are mostly about the organization of the teaching or the course being demanding, and not much about me). The positive comments that are about me say that I am very nice and the course is well organized. This leaves me confused.
I searched online about gender bias in student evaluations, but almost all articles are about the lecturer's gender, with female lecturers on average receiving lower scores than males. I cannot find research on the gender bias of students. I also cannot find anything similar here on SE Academia. I read other question as well (this and this), but didn't get the answer.
In one of the articles I read that some students are so subjective that they evaluate their (especially female) lecturers based on looks. I have experienced this first hand since one of the students wrote that I am the best looking teacher in the school. So even considering that I am always groomed and nicely dressed I am not sure that a group of students would rate me badly based on my appearance.
Some additional notes:
- the gender ratio in the class is balanced, about half of the students are female
- there was not a single conflict with any student during the semester, which would be amplified among a group of students and reflect badly on the evaluations