Semi-annual visit

Twice a year I fly up to see my Dad. He’s in a nursing home not too far from where I grew up.

I’m lucky, I have friends in the area, so I can visit Dad and combine that with visiting people that I want to see. Part responsibility, part fun.

No matter what, visiting the nursing home is always hard. I haven’t been to a cheerful one yet. People in various degrees of disability and distress, unable to take care of themselves. Some, I am sure, are making the best of the life they have. Maybe some are very content and happy there, but I don’t see it.

Dad has been sleepy and fairly unresponsive this trip with one notable exception. Yesterday he greeted me with the question, “Are you wearing a bra?” “Yes, Dad,” pulling out the strap, “see?” “I can see your nipples,” was his reply. Today I made sure to wear a patterned shirt. Meanwhile my sense of comfort in my own clothing is diminished.

I have to admit, Dad did this before the dementia set in — or maybe the dementia was setting in long long ago. This is not the first time for the bra accusation. One of the worst was when the two of us were sitting in a crowded restaurant, and he burst out with a loud, “My, you have a lot of hair on your face.” Thanks, Dad.

I promise that in the future I will wear underwear while teaching class.

Lately I’ve been looking through old teaching evaluations. About a year and a half ago I taught a “monster” course, meaning the initial enrollment was 300 students.

My biggest challenge with the class was to keep it a human environment. Under such circumstance, it is really easy to depersonalize students, and for students to depersonalize an instructor.

I pulled up those teaching evaluations today. There was a lot of negativity, but one comment leapt out at me in particular

“It would be nice if she would wear undergarments because many people have noticed it when she is walking around the room trying to get to know us.”

I had to laugh, but WTF? I am guilty of many a fashion crime (ugly shoes including Birkenstocks and sandals with socks comes to mind), but failing to wear appropriate foundational garments (bra and undies) doesn’t happen.

Studies show that the chief targets of student incivility are women and young faculty members. It’s pretty easy to conclude this is probably a disgruntled male student making a derogatory sexual comment to me.

I am certainly not the first female faculty member to deal with comments like this. (Aside: if you have any gems, please do share so that we can all appreciate them.) My immediate supervisor was appalled at the comment, and said “I have NEVER seen you inappropriately dressed or without undergarments!!!” Since I’m unlikely to be interviewed for the university paper, I probably won’t have to put up with a hostile follow up conversation with the dean either.

Along the way of joking and thinking about this incident today, I read about

  1. The not-so benevolent nature of benevolent sexism
  2. Dressing for academia (as a woman)
  3. That I should wear makeup in order to look more competent.
  4. Handy tips for our male allies in academia.