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I am currently in a financial accounting class with a professor that has used offensive (in my opinion) commentary in her lectures since my first exposure.

Examples of comments she makes:

  • Financial accounting is a class everyone should take, because it's actually useful, not like forced electives such as sociology. (Whether or not you believe income statements and balance sheets are more important than understanding how and why the society around you functions, the tone of this comment was what bothered me at the time.)
  • Boys are bad at wearing work clothes for work instead of nice clothes.
  • Girls treat their clothes better because they find them more precious.
  • Woman have a shopping gene.
  • It's implied that women (or moms) do all the shopping and cooking.

I admit that I don't attend class often enough to know whether this is a pervasive or sporadic issue. I just know I've been put off enough to not attend classes more often and find out. I make up not going to her lectures by putting in extra effort other ways.

I can tell that she's not trying to be offensive. Her comments are meant to come off as motherly and humorous. I'm also not trying to be offended, as I gain nothing from that.

What is the most diplomatic way of addressing issues with a professor when you're in a large lecture hall setting? (As opposed to small classroom settings, which lend themselves to more personal connections with the instructors)
Or
How would a professor prefer I address them if I were dissatisfied with the nature of their off topic commentary? (As opposed to opinionated comments that relate to the course or field, such as economic policy preferences in a economics course)

  • Should I send a polite email to the professor explaining that I wasn't comfortable? It's quick and semi-anonymous. She won't be able to associate the name with my face. Presenting myself in an impersonal matter may result in an impersonal response.
  • Should I wait until the end-of-semester course evaluations and express my concerns? These are completely anonymous, but seems passive aggressive and rather too far after the fact.
  • Should I approach her directly if it happens again? It's more personal, but that can also seem to be more confrontational (especially if I go out of my way to meet her during office hours). I don't feel it's confrontational, or that I would present myself that way, but people receiving critique can feel that way.
  • Is there a better solution?

Switching sections isn't any more preferable than skipping the current lectures. The other available times didn't work well for me or my family on a regular basis. I'm also not sold that it's the best option for most students in a similar situation. I would see changing sections as a recourse only if other methods failed, or the lecturer was wildly offensive.

While the first class bothered me, I didn't drop attendance immediately. This was done after getting a feel for the course, when I knew I could balance not being in the lectures. It wasn't a knee-jerk "How dare she!" reaction.

Spotty attendance is admittedly doing nothing to address the issue. Thus, my inquiry.

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    I rarely attend the lectures [...], with these types of comments being the main reason for my chosen absence: — You say that you can tell she isn't trying to be offensive, and yet you don't attend the lectures due to her remarks? It seems plausible (to me, anyway) that you may be looking for a reason not to attend the lectures. Also, it's a tough, cut-throat world out there: growing some thicker skin may be your best option. – Mad Jack Mar 5 '15 at 20:22
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    @MadJack And if I could give you a -1 for comments, I would. The idea that we should just let people get away with sexism is part why gender inequality continues to exist. – user30980 Mar 5 '15 at 20:41
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    @CreationEdge What, exactly, do you envision as the perfect outcome here? Her termination? Attending Gender Studies classes? What do you expect the true outcome to be? If she is a Professor and not a TA, I'm not sure there is anything you can do to effect change in her behavior. Perhaps simply meet with her during office-hours and spell out your unease with her and don't take anything else of she teaches. – CGCampbell Mar 5 '15 at 20:54
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    At least the first example you list (the remark about sociology) sounds like the usual bickering between fields (that in most situations, one could understand as humorous). It might depend on the actual words used, though. – O. R. Mapper Mar 6 '15 at 10:04
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    I understand how some of the comments could be found as sexist but I think she's really making more of a generalization or pointing out a stereotype rather than intentionally being offensive or sexist, Although these really aren't things that should be discussed in a class about financial account. Also the one about sociology is pretty tame compared to the stuff the science and math departments say about each other and pretty much every other department. – user25345 Mar 6 '15 at 13:44
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I'm afraid you lose a lot of my sympathy by complaining about a lecture that you rarely attend. I don't really understand what you mean by "the luxury of other options". If you can take the class from a different instructor and would prefer to do that, do it. If the attendance in the lecture is not required and you feel that you can get what you want out of the course without attending the lectures: that's your choice too, but is it a good choice?

You seem to be prioritizing sociopolitical beliefs over the material of the course. It's very easy to be offended if you want to be. I won't comment on the gender stuff, but I will say that the bit about accounting over sociology really doesn't rate as an "offensive" comment. I think it's true that accounting is a more practical field than sociology and that most American adults need to do some accounting in their daily lives in a way that they do not need to do sociology. Not knowing how interest and loans work will have a more direct negative effect on most people than not understanding the difference between mechanical and organic solidarity. Of course "practical" is not necessarily better: it is a matter of taste and goals. I am a mathematician, I have taken courses in sociology but not accounting, and I am fully content with that decision: in fact, I would be hard-pressed to imagine a university course that sounds less interesting to me than accounting. But that's just my own personal taste: the idea that the accounting instructor prefers accounting over sociology is neither offensive nor even surprising. We have a right to like what we do better and tell that to students.

Not everyone has the same views that we do. But an accounting instructor's views on gender, shopping and clothing seem incidental rather than professional: it is very unlikely that she is pushing these views on the students or that she is holding herself up as an authority figure on them; they're just part of the way that she likes to present her lectures. Ask yourself this: what are the negative effects of her expression of these views? Is it likely that the men and women in the class will adjust their own behavior or views in accordance with hers? Will men feel worried about their own cooking and shopping agency? It just doesn't sound that insidious to me.

In my opinion, if you disagree with the views and feel strongly that the lectures would be improved by not sharing them, then have the courage of your convictions and convey this to the instructor, either in person or by email during the class, or after the class is over. But not attending the lecture because you don't like the incidental views that the instructor expresses? I'm sorry to say that I don't find that to be a very mature reaction. In so doing you are compromising your own educational experience in exchange for...what, exactly? What is anyone gaining by your failure to attend the lectures?

Added: If from the first day of class you have a problem with the instructor which is severe enough that you can only bring yourself to attend the class sporadically because of it, you have an excellent reason to drop the course or change sections right away. Staying in a course with an instructor that you find personally offensive doesn't seem like a very good plan. In fact, if you tell your advisor that you want to change sections for this reason, you can probably get additional help with the particulars of that: it is in everyone's best interest for you to take a different course.

  • I can attend other lectures or study sessions, or just study on my own during that time. I'm not compromising my education, and am putting in the extra effort necessary to compensate for not being at my assigned lectures. Anyway, I'm not looking for sympathy. I was hoping to get professional responses, hopefully from professors with insights into how'd they want a student in my shoes to respond. I don't lack courage, I'm just unfamiliar with the milieu of academia that can sometimes be very different from larger social norms. I want to be tactful and use the proper format. – user30980 Mar 6 '15 at 7:05
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    I can appreciate that you are in a situation with little flexibility and that you have other demands on your time and energy. In this situation, it honestly seems to me that the easiest thing is just to go to the class and ignore everything that isn't directly relevant to the course material. Wouldn't that be the most convenient and least disruptive thing to do? – Pete L. Clark Mar 6 '15 at 7:41
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    That's my plan from here on out. I'd rather be back on the set schedule I signed up for. But, I still feel the need to address the issue in some way, especially if it continues. I might be the only student that's bothered by this, but today I heard a female student directly behind me scoff in response to the shopping gene comment. I don't know if she scoffed at the idea of a woman not liking shopping, or the idea that woman would have such a "gene", but it led me to think I might not just be a curmudgeon. – user30980 Mar 6 '15 at 8:07
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    +1 for "have the courage of your convictions and convey this to the instructor". Most instructors would not take personal offense as long as your conversation was kept civil and non judgmental "Hi professor X, I know you mean no offense when you say X Y and Z in your lectures but these comments personally make me feel uncomfortable. Would it be possible to not make comments about gender in the future; I'd really appreciate it." Of course such a conversation works better prior to stop attending the course. – WetlabStudent Mar 9 '15 at 17:48
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    Hypothetically, if this question was posted by a female asker about a male lecturer, would you be recommending the same thing? – Studoku Aug 8 '15 at 12:45
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You're a postgraduate student. You and the professor are both academics. And you're both grown-ups.

So have a grown-up, informed, intelligent conversation with her about this. Pick her up on it during a seminar or lecture, when it happens. Do it intelligently. Use your academic skills. Build a point up concisely from literature and reason. You should be able to do that in three sentences with some thought; have other literature to hand to back up your discussion, after the lecture.

The lecturer started the disruption: If a lecturer is perpetuating nonsense such as "shopping genes" and women's role being cooking and shopping, that needs challenging. Do it at the moment it occurs: it really is the best time to catch it. When people use stereotypes that reinforce existing hegemonies, they often don't even realise they're doing it. Catching it in the moment gives them an opportunity to reflect. Postgraduate education can be much more versatile, more flexible than undergraduate - it can be open to broadening out and extending discussions.

If we were talking about undergraduates in large groups then the disruption to the lecture might be inappropriate, just as the lecturer's sexism is: but we don't deal with that sort of undergraduate question here, so the only way to make this question useful is to deal with it as a question about a postgraduate degree. And in such cases, there is a much more level playing field between lecturer and students: learning is a collaboration.

A large part of a postgraduate degree is independent study and thought. So show some.

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    I don't think the lecture would be an appropriate time to "Build a point up concisely from literature and reason" about sexism, given that the class is about accounting and not anything remotely related to sex roles in society. (The professor may have started it, but I don't think that's a good reason to waste everyone else's time further by going off on a tangent, even a concise one.) I think an e-mail or office visit would be a better way to raise the complaint. – Trevor Wilson Mar 5 '15 at 21:31
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    While I agree that intelligent conversation could be beneficial, I don't agree that disrupting or waylaying the learning of the other 200+ students in the lecture is an appropriate course of action. We wouldn't be discussing the course. Also, I'm an undergraduate, not that I believe that should make a difference. – user30980 Mar 5 '15 at 21:31
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    I will also chime in that a dramatic (even if well-sourced) "J'accuse!" moment in a lecture with hundreds of students seems like a poor idea. I don't think that the OP needs to "academize" his concern: citing literature to refute the "shopping gene" to an accounting professor...there is some real passive aggression here. I made a remark about Meghan Trainor vs. Iggy Azalea in a class last week. If someone wants to say they wish I didn't make that (obviously irrelevant) remark, just say it. Don't quote me a paper about ethnomusicology! – Pete L. Clark Mar 6 '15 at 6:37
  • @PeteL.Clark I don't know of any postgraduate module with hundreds of students, but that's not to say they don't exist - I guess they probably do somewhere. But I don't know of any postgraduate lecturer that would reject a mature, considered intervention on an issue that could alienate half the students. I don't know what an Iggy Azalea is, but we've got quite alkaline soils, so I don't suppose it would flourish here anyway. – EnergyNumbers Mar 6 '15 at 6:47
  • Law school classes can be this large, for instance. The point is that during class is not the ideal time to raise an issue that has nothing to do with the course material. I have to agree with the OP that the under/graduate distinction does not seem relevant here. If someone wanted to have an academic discussion on a subject outside of mathematics during my mathematics lecture, I would almost certainly reject it (by telling them to talk to me about it outside of class). – Pete L. Clark Mar 6 '15 at 7:05
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If the language is sexist (and your examples are) file an official complaint or grow a pair. Don't whine, no-one wants to hear it and it just makes you sound foolish.

Many women don't understand how sexist and rude their language and behaviour is, and you don't have to put up with the abuse anymore than they have to put up with flirt/pickup orientated abuse in class.

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