You know how it goes: you’re sitting in class, tapping your pen, and half listening to your professor lecture about your assigned reading, half worrying about whether you’re going to get a parking ticket for the parking pass you may or may not have remembered to hang up. And then all of a sudden, your ears perk up, because that obnoxious creature two rows over has decided he has something to say. Now, I know you know this person. It’s the student who always has something to say and is completely convinced that not only is it groundbreaking and wondrous, but that you will surely drop to your knees in awe of their academic prowess. Except not, because what they’re saying is never groundbreaking, and is usually at best a base analysis of what’s going on. Unless, like this time, they start talking about the womenfolk. Or any of “those people,” really. You see, they know everything about groups they aren’t actually part of! What skill!
Yes, this is the person who talks about how easy women had it when you’re going over The Yellow Wallpaper, who brings up Mad Men and how gorgeous those outfits were! when the class is talking about the nuclear families of the 1950s and early 1960s, and who starts going all MRA on the class when someone brings up gender inequality. This person is not restricted to any particular gender or race. In my experience, these students are just as likely to be women as they are men, and race or class rarely plays a part. They know no boundaries; they swarm universities without regard to anything but their own glowing intellects. I had an OHMYGODAREYOUSERIOUS moment with one such offender just last semester. I took a graduate level class that was very focused on identity formation, and because of the subject matter there was a lot of intersection of gender, race, class, and sexual orientation. Because of the department it was hosted in, about 80% of the class was female, and we had the Lone White Dude. Lone White Dude was also a Nice GuyTM. I know because he said so himself at least every two weeks or so. Now, as it happens, he wasn’t a bad guy. In fact, I imagine I would have thought him to be perfectly pleasant if I had been in line next to him at the DMV or sitting next to him in a waiting room. But in class? Completely different situation. Lone White Dude routinely asserted how men really have it just as bad as women! Honestly, it must be so hard with all that extra money they’re making. Lone White Dude was always in a rush to let you know that White people experience racism, too, and he really knows about the subject because of all of his Black friends. Also, we feminists hate all the men, but we shouldn’t hate him because he’s not like those other guys! Men just don’t get enough credit. Oh, and before I forget, he knows how hard poor folks have it, because he grew up poor. Fortunately for him, he had a mighty set of bootstraps with which to pull himself up!
Y’all, I was with this sanctimonious ball of hot air for the entire semester. I rarely called him out, and I’m mildly ashamed of that. I normally make it my business to call people out every time, without fail. In class, however, it is different. You’re expected to give everyone a certain level of respect, where in academic patriarchy, respect means “don’t get all argumentative feminist on anyone.” What I was really attempting to do was keep from derailing, and I engaged this person when it was relevant and not just semantics. However, it pained me to do so like a big, privileged spike in my brain. At this point, I’m used to having eyes rolled at me, used to whispers of “Ugh, here she goes again” or something similar. It rarely gets to me anymore, though I do occasionally have that feeling that if I say something, everyone will hate me. My program is decidedly apolitical, and speaking up about political concerns of any variety is typically frowned upon. But I’m past the point of really caring about all of that. After that semester, I vowed to call people out in class every time. Of course, since I’ve made that promise, nobody has been particularly offensive, at least not on a routine basis. Not that I’m complaining. Yay, progress!
However, for those times that you do run into “that guy” or “that girl” or the like, I’ve got some advice that has worked alright for me so far. First, assess the situation. What is the person saying? How offensive is it? Does anyone else in the class look upset, or do they realize anything is wrong at all? Chances are, if nobody is upset, then they don’t know. Enlighten them. Next, assess your safety level,both mentally and physically. If you don’t feel safe, don’t say anything. Nothing is worth your personal health and safety. Then, if you feel safe, call that shit out! Be respectful, informative, and polite. But don’t tone it down or sugar-coat it. What was said was offensive or wrong-minded for a reason. Don’t make it personal. Lastly, know when to back down. You don’t have to cave to another opinion, but know when to pack your battle-axe and let it drop, at least until next class.
I know you all know this person. How do you deal with them? Share your tactics, Persephoneers!