[Trigger warning: This article partly deals with rape, violence and harassment]
Estimated reading time: ~ 15 minutes
This time I am writing about sexist professors in university commissions and harassment in lectures, specifically male students harassing female* students. Last time I told you about male students working in student representation accusing female student reps of irrationality, being hysteric and shouting aggressively agitated.
[Disclaimer: In the context of the following text I only feel to be a part of the marginalized group of women* and not for example of the LGBTQIA* community or non-binary7 people. This caused me to largely only discuss repression mechanisms caused by sexism. Of course, there are many more in connection with other “isms”, but I don’t feel like I have the competence to write about those. I hold the believe that writing and reading about those experiences is incredibly important.
So if you blog about your experiences in these or similar contexts, I would be happy if you sent me links to those texts/blogs to which I’d gladly point people.
If you are interested to write a guest article/text/report on kalter pfefferminztee (cold peppermint tea), feel free to drop me a message!]
In my work as a student rep for computer science/informatics at the University of Technology Vienna I am taking part in several committees, commissions and working groups. One of those is the working group to evaluate the StEOP, which is supposed to take place in the first semester of every computer science student of the university.
First I want to give you some facts about the StEOP, which was meant to be a phase at the beginning of every bachelor’s degree the computer science/ informatics faculty ate UT Vienna offers. Originally the StEOP aimed to help students transition into university and orient themselves as to which study is the best choice for them.
The StEOP at the faculty of computer science/informatics usually consists of about 6 courses and a beginners’ meeting adding up to 30 ECTS points. These courses are mostly theoretical and technical, meaning that the development of social and emotional skills as well as knowledge in the field of social sciences are completely neglected.
Additionally scientific methods are also left out of this first semester. Under these circumstances the StEOP has multiple negative consequences.
On the one hand the choice of courses conveys a very distorted view of the study program at the university, the jobs following the time at university and the field in general. This view shows a theoretical and technical developing climate, research and work environment that is disconnected from humans and human interaction. It is completely ignoring the fact that technology should be developed by humans for humans, this practice coins the perception of students immensely. The first sociology course is in the second semester and is mostly not taken seriously. Realistically mostly students need 2-4 semesters for the StEOP, meaning that the distorted picture the StEOP conveys is taking effects for 2-4 semesters resulting in the undervaluation of social skills.
On the other hand this first impression causes especially cis-male students to reject any social, emotional education as well as courses connected to social sciences.
The domain of computer science is pervaded by the so called nerd culture1 and partly also by bro culture2 which are connected in several aspects, for example in the occurrence of toxic masculinity3. Part of those cultural phenomena is the shaming and/or exclusion of anyone challenging certain problematic views, such as sexist, racist or homophobic behaviours. The StEOP as it is right now is supporting these highly problematic views by failing to communicate the importance of social and emotional skills and knowledge connected to social sciences.
The result of these discriminating, unreflected views and condoned sexist, homophobic, racist and transphobic behaviours are catastrophic statistics concerning diversity. The dropout rates among women*, non-binary7 people as well as those belonging to the LGBTQIA* community are even easily noticeable for students representatives that interact with a high number of students and have never seen any statistics.
This problem is rooted in a hostile working climate and unacceptable behaviours being shown in everyday social interaction as well as a lack of understanding of social constructs and emotional responsibility.
The incidents I am describing in the rest of this text happened in the above mentioned working group that is aiming to evaluate the StEOP. Two female student reps (I was among them) and a female colleague from the AKG (=working group for equality) were criticizing the missing social education in the StEOP. To make the problem more relateable and easier to grasp I reported harassment that had happened to me personally in a lecture at the faculty of computer science/informatics.
One of those examples was an incident with a cis6-male student that I had been in a learning group with two semesters prior. He had touched my body multiple times without my consent and asked “Are you ticklish?” What I did not mention was that I had told another colleague I knew very well that I had recently separated from my boyfriend. I still have the impression that the male student had then interpreted this as an invitation for him to “interact” with me in the way he did. But this did not matter, because no matter my relationship status, his behaviour was inacceptable.
I explained that this incident was caused by a lack of social knowledge. It followed the problematic “understanding” many cis-men are taught: Women* that are claimed by a man are not to be touched. Women* who are momentarily not belonging to a man are unprotected game, free to be claimed by any man without requiring the woman’s consent or respecting her personal boundaries.
A professor, I will call him prof. Miller for the sake of this text, then replied with an outlandish reasoning, that I will paraphrase now: The women* he knows are not confronted with behaviour like this, therefore this incident had to be an isolated case. Generally one had to concentrate on the average student. Furthermore he claimed that this behaviour was not sexist but bad manners and that the harasser had been nothing more than ill-bred.
Of course, my colleague from AKG clarified immediately that one counterexample did not negate everything that is happening at our faculty. Thinking that it did was highly unscientific.
Furthermore prof. Miller mentioned that at his martial arts club no one would dare to touch a woman like this, because he would immediately get beaten up by her. He hereby suggested violence as an acceptable way for women* to cope with harassment. When I explained that the reason for women* not reacting violently to men harrassing them is that if they do, they often face physical assault or rape, because men were often either physically stronger or the majority, prof Miller waved this reasoning aside.
Since I am still learning myself, it later on occurred to me, that his argument was implicit victim blaming, basically saying: “If women* fought back more/harder they wouldn’t face the harassment and rape that they do.” It shocks me that someone teaching mostly young male students is still holding such views.
When I referred to more incidents of this nature with the words “shit” and “shitty” as in “this shitty behaviour”, I was told by prof. Miller that my choice of words and the loudness of my voice showed that I was ill-bred and had been brought up badly.
Afterwards the female student representatives as well as the colleague from AKG were told they had overreacted. Especially because after this pointless discussion that was dominated by sexism and ignorance, the women* that had participated in the discussion left the room and did not participate in the following curricula commission.
This way of coping with people that point out flaws in a system can also be observed in my previous field report about sexism in Austria’s university politics (https://kalterpfefferminztee.wordpress.com/2016/02/03/erfahrungsbericht-zu-sexismus-in-osterreich-z-b-in-universitatspolitik/).
Women* are accused of being loud, out of control, aggressive, hysterical or as in this case “overreacting”. And again they are told by white cis-males how to behave, and which of their experiences and arguments are valid or invalid.
In the following meetings of other similar organs of the faculty of computer science/informatics behaviours similar to those I mentioned above were observable. Highlighting problematic behaviour connected to ableism4, sexism, neuronormativity5 and other methods used to oppress marginalized groups again lead to a practice of trivialisation, ignorance and minimizing.
1 nerd culture: The term nerd culture refers to a subculture that predominantly cisgender men associate themselves with. This cultural phenomenon tends to nurture a climate of heteronormativity8 sexism, transphobia, racism and so on. Many”real”/widely accepted nerds have the view that only certain characteristics make one a nerd, which means that a self-association with nerd culture or what it means to be a nerd does not automatically mean that one will be accepted in the nerd community. Many barriers make it nearly impossible for women*, non-binary people and men* that do conform to the stereotypical picture of the “classic nerd”, to be accepted in the nerd community. Recently there have been efforts by groups of mostly women* in STEM fields or female gamers to change this toxic environment. These women* have been confronted with rejection, ridicule, harassment, even leading up to violence. [This definition/explanation was written by myself, I will try to expand on the topic in an article soon]
2 bro culture is a male youth subculture of “conventional guys’ guys” who spend time partying in ways similar to each other. Although the popular image of bro lifestyle is associated with sports apparel and fraternities, it lacks a consistent definition. Some aspects vary regionally such as in California where it overlaps with surf culture. Oxford Dictionaries have noted that bros frequently self-identify with neologisms containing the word “bro” as a prefix or suffix. Journalists named American swimmer Ryan Lochte and television character Barney Stinson prominent bros.
“Bro culture” (also known as “frat culture”) is basically defined by excessive drinking and its effect on campus culture is pervasive. Currently, about four out of five college students consume alcohol and half of all college students engage in binge drinking. An insane one out of every three college students meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder and hospitalizations for alcohol overdoses increased 25% for those aged 18–24 between 1999 and 2008 (Dowsett Johnston, 2013).
3 toxic masculinity is one of the ways in which Patriarchy is harmful to men. It refers to the socially-constructed attitudes that describe the masculine gender role as violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive and so forth. [Source and more examples: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Toxic_masculinity%5D
4 ableism is the term used for a social ideology under which able-bodiedness is privileged, often resulting in discrimination or social prejudice against people with disabilities. Ableism eludes the idea that a person is characterized by their disabilities making them inferior to the non disabled. Discrimination faced by those who have or are perceived to have a mental disorder is sometimes called mentalism rather than ableism.
[Source and more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ableism%5D
5 neuronormativity describes a society that privileges certain ways of being as ideal, and characterises those who fail to live up as abnormal or deficient. For example, an education system with an emphasis on reading could be seen as neuronormative in the sense that it forces those with conditions like dyslexia to adapt, even though people with reading disorders might appear far less impaired under a different system of education. Similarly, conventions like job interviews are potentially neuronormative, because they give a systematic advantage to people who find face-to-face communication easier, sometimes even when this is almost irrelevant to their suitability for the job. [Source and more: https://www.reddit.com/r/neurodiversity/wiki/glossary%5D
6 cis/cisgender(ed): A “cis” person is a person who was assigned a gender and sex at birth that they feel comfortable with. Typically, cis men are men who were assigned male at birth and feel that the words “man” and “male” accurately describe who they are. Likewise, cis women are women who were assigned female at birth and feel that the words “woman” and “female” accurately describe who they are. Generally, cis people feel comfortable with the aspects of their bodies that others inscribe with a sex and gender, and do not seek to modify their bodies in ways that would change how they or others place them in a sex category.
7 non binary: describes any gender identity which does not fit between the binary of male and female.
8 Heteronormativity is the belief that people fall into distinct and complementary genders (man and woman) with natural roles in life. It assumes that heterosexuality is the only sexual orientation or only norm, and states that sexual and marital relations are most (or only) fitting between people of opposite sexes. Consequently, a “heteronormative” view is one that involves alignment of biological sex, sexuality, gender identity and gender roles. Heteronormativity is often linked to heterosexism and homophobia. [Source and more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heteronormativity]