That Guy (or Girl!) in Your Class

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!

Because they know everything!

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!

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Elfity

Elfity, so named for her tendency to be a bit uppity and her elf-like appearance, is a graduate student and professional Scary Feminist of Rage. She has a propensity for social justice, cheese, and Doctor Who. Favorite activities include making strange noises, napping with puppies and/or kitties, and engaging in political and philosophical debates.

38 thoughts on “That Guy (or Girl!) in Your Class”

  1. Imma 180 this into a Pollyanna moment here for a sec.  That Guy is EVERYWHERE – one in every class, one in every workplace, one in every family . . . but he/she isn’t here.

    Is Persephone, in fact, the last bastion of peace, tranquility and open, informed and respectful dialogue free from That Guy?

    Unless, I’m That Guy.  Fuck.  Hadn’t thought of that.

  2. My Tumblr turns into an “I Hate People” blog every night I have class.

    To be honest, it’s not usually anti-women remarks that my fellow classmates are making, but usually culturally and racially ignorant remarks.

    I’m in an education program and we’re all basically white, middle-class, adult women.  You should hear the comments they make about their students, even when being well-meaning.  ONE LADY ONCE REFERRED TO A STUDENT AS BEING “TOO ETHNIC.”

    I don’t care anymore and I school anyone who makes such ignorant remarks.  At first I was afraid of being too pushy or domineering of the conversation when it would edge into multicultural waters, but I chalk that up to being afraid of not being demure enough.  Now I say Fuck It.  And I’ve actually repeatedly had people come up to me after class to tell me how they were so glad I spoke up to offensive comments, or how much they learned from me.

    Whew.  This post gave me ~*feelings*~.  Basically, I am not in school to make friends.

  3. Related: http://therumpus.net/2012/04/sunday-essay-you-or-someone-like-you/

    “But this piece is an account of one of the down sides of the job, which any professor/teacher/instructor has probably encountered if they’ve taught for a while. It’s about the loons who fuck up your class

    It happens. These people, if you are not careful, can make all the good students drop out and make your boss wonder what the hell you did to have set school records for attrition in an elective class.”

  4. I’ve taught classes with minor moments of that kind of thing–never a person who was outspokenly “that person” the whole term–and I’ve used a mix of humor and polite redirection to deal with it.

    One of my male students once said something about how any woman could get laid at any time whereas men have to work harder, or something, apropos of something only vaaaaaguely related, and the student he was semi-responding to looked completely baffled, so I laughed and said something like, “that sounds like a tangent we could spend a long time on and I think you could be wrong, so let’s get back to blah,” and people chuckled and he looked good-natured about it, so it was fine.

    Another time I had a (white) female student attempt to use an analogy about red heads to discuss racism (I think we had just read something by Gloria Naylor) and also a humor video about how it’s rude to call someone “ninja” like as a similar joking parallel, but she was serious (and, I think she was raised poor and in a primarily non-white community, so I didn’t want to totally silence her experience necessarily), so I acknowledged that parallels like that can be helpful for helping us to understand, but we should be careful because of course red haired people aren’t subject to systematic, institutionalized oppression that has been characteristic of life in this country since it was founded, and that doesn’t erase anyone’s specific experiences, but it means that their applicability might not be as far-reaching as it seems. I felt like this was the right way to deal with this issue because she seemed slightly shut down but mostly agreeable, and the black students in the class all nodded vigorously as I was speaking.

    I guess the only reason this story was relevant is that I was really proud of that moment in my teaching career and I wanted to share. Ha.

    1. That was an awesome and respectful way to put it. I’m glad that as a teacher you didn’t just completely shoot down that girl’s response (sounded like she was trying at least) because good teachers are respectful towards all their students – even annoying ones. Good for you!

  5. I had one of those a few semesters ago in my “God and Evil” class (all about theodicy, which if you don’t know about you should look up, it’s a total mindfuck when you really get into it and made for one hell of a fun class.) This girl in the class with us was a total Jesus freak, and would occasionally interrupt the class with gems like, “but that’s evil. The Bible says so.” Okay, sure. But the Bible’s not fact. “Yes it is.”

    … In a class, the whole point of which was to ponder the philosophical and logical inconsistencies in the Bible, this girl could not wrap her head around the fact that we were not treating the Bible as Absolute Truth. I still don’t know what possessed her to sign up for it.

    1. I took a comparative religion class with someone who was an outspoken fundementalist. She did the whole ‘the earth is only 10,000 years old’ thing. On the last day, the teacher asked us to share what we all learned. She waited until the end and said ‘What I learned was that it’s nice that all these other cultures had their stories, by my lord, Jesus Christ, is the only true god’. I PUNCHED MY DESK.

  6. I have found that the older I get, the more my “Fuck it” side flares up. I went through a bad patch in life (money troubles, family troubles, “Oh god what is life all about” troubles) and am now just coming out of it and it has left my tolerance for bullshit extremely low. While I am rarely flat-out impolite, I have grown quite comfortable calling people on their ignorance. Because, seriously, fuck it. Fuck. It. If someone is wrong, tell them. If someone is being a jackass, tell them. If someone’s head is so far up their own ass that they are in danger of never seeing the light of day, tell them. Because you know what? Everyone around you is thinking the same thing, and they will be relieved that someone said it. This doesn’t mean forcing your opinions on someone else, and it doesn’t mean being a jerk – it just means that once in a while, you need to lay it out for someone.

    And I have known plenty of people like you’re talking about – I was an English major! I was practically swimming in these people!

  7. One of the atvantages of art school is that everyone tends to be on the exceedingly liberal end of the spectrum. Except the male professors when feminist art critique is involved. Dear god.

    “Oh, feminists would probably dismiss this piece as too ‘Male Gaze.'”

    L’Origine du monde is pretty fucking male gaze. It doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it. Or that we would dismiss it out of hand. ArgGGLeBArgle.

    And because I was just a beginner feminist then, I had no clue how to stare down a professor and tell him that he was being a dick.

  8. “That person” always makes me want to bang my head against a wall. Because what can you really do? If you try to argue against them, oftentimes class ends up derailed. And usually it just results in me being really really pissed off. But if you just let them keep saying it…what if people agree with it?

  9. Uuugh- I’ve actually got one of those girls/women in my phd cohort. Always speaking in class just to seemingly hear herself talk; “comment” on something, but really just reiterating what was said five minutes ago; or just completely missing the f*ing point. She “really identifies” with the poor hardworking folks and farmers that she’s aiming to work with for her interview/ethnography based dissertation. And then proceeds to go on and on about all the things she can teach them about their situation.

    It goes so much farther than that, but if I started really getting into it I’d only start to rant. And there’s no good way to respond to most of what she’s saying. I really just want to look at her and ask if she is actually listening to anyone but herself.

    1. As someone who grew up quite poor with plenty of benevolent, clueless, wealthy people telling me how my family was doing life wrong, I have to say – none of those folks or farmers are going to take a damn thing she says seriously. They just aren’t. She is wasting her time. When someone comes in for the expressed purpose to enlighten others, po’ folks shut their ears. No matter what, it always feels like they are calling you stupid.

      1. I know it (having grown up in one of those farm communities similar to who she’s looking to work with). Nearly everyone else in our class knows it. In the beginning we tried to correct her, but after two years of trying, some of us are just sitting back and watching for the crash and burn. Even then, I’m sure she won’t get that it’s her approach that’s wrong- she’ll just blame the communities. It kills me.

      1. Well I don’t know what they were or weren’t doing, but there was a lot of not-so-subtle ogling going on during class. You ever try to be “not obvious” about something you’re trying to keep a secret, and in the process draw more attention to yourself? It was like that. So I don’t know what the story was, but it was unlike any other professor/TA dynamic in my other classes.

  10. Oh, do I ever know that person. I also have encountered both men & women like this. For me, the picking which battles to engage thing is key – I know that when I was dealing with someone like this in one of my politics classes, and they spoke up with something contemptible in every lecture, the arguments got old for the rest of the class (and for me too) fast. I learned that sometimes I had to just keep my mouth shut for the sake of not taking up a lot of class time rehashing the same thing, otherwise my classmates would resent the discussion, and I would end up feeling angry and not accomplishing anything.

    From the teaching end, I have been absolutely shocked at the racist and sexist bile that can come out of student’s mouths without any response from classmates. In that capacity, I feel I have a responsibility to respond, or it seems like as the ‘authority’ figure I am allowing, or even endorsing, that student’s statements. Then I wind up spending days brooding on whether I could have handled the situation better, made my point more clearly, etc. This is largely the reason why I have stepped back from academia for now; I find this aspect of teaching emotionally exhausting. I have so much respect for the instructors who can take on these arguments with a new group of students every semester.

    1. The teaching thing is something I really fear. I aim to be a professor one day, and I don’t even know how I’m going to deal with that. I do wish my own professors would speak up now and then. On the other hand, sometimes my professor is that person, which is a whole ‘nother thing,

    2. From the teaching end, I have been absolutely shocked at the racist and sexist bile that can come out of student’s mouths without any response from classmates. In that capacity, I feel I have a responsibility to respond, or it seems like as the ‘authority’ figure I am allowing, or even endorsing, that student’s statements.

      I had a horrible experience with one of those guys in my human sexuality class, and I have to say that I lost almost all respect I had for my professor when she didn’t speak up about the things he was saying. I get respecting other people’s opinions, but I also think you should call them out when they’re clearly crossing a line. And I should point out that this happened several times throughout the semester. It got to the point where I dreaded that class. Actually, I even discussed it with her in her office but nothing changed.

  11. I hate hate hate Nice Guys because they are the poster child for ‘I can’t help it if’ – ‘I tried really hard but’ – ‘I don’t understand why you make such a fuss about’. They have shoe-wedged themselves into that cubicle and nothing will get them out.

    Luckily I don’t have to cope with such people too much, but in my experience a ‘Really know? Are you serious? Did you hear what you just said?’ can help out a lot. If after that their arses are still half way on the road to stubborn I’m Rightness, I will kindly explain how far their heads are up their arses. If necessary, information-bombing will be used.

  12. Sadly, for me, “that guy” in my class turned out to be my (now ex) boyfriend. I didn’t realize he was going to be “that guy” or I probably wouldn’t have dated him. (I say probably because, let’s face it, I’ve made worse decisions romantically). But my way of dealing with it was at first private discussions to explain my reasoning and find his viewpoint, and then more public ones with our friends, and finally I left him because I wanted to dye my hair, and he thought he had the right to tell me no, which has less to do with his in-class behavior, but still. But my point is, I prefer private take-downs, not public ones.

      1. It happens. I’m having much more fun without him! Plus, really, if a guy is going to yell at me for highlighting my hair (to keep my roots from my last dye job from showing while I picked a new color) then I really don’t want him around me or any children I adopt. Cause it’s hair. It grows. It’s meant to be changed and is my major form of self expression. SO suck it, Trebek.  /end rant

  13. Oh man, I’ve got one of those guys. He once insisted that stereotypical gender roles were just as hard for men because “I’ve paid for so many damn dinners for ya’ll” and then got legitimately angry that women didn’t always want him to hold doors open for them. There have been multiple gems like that throughout the semester. I always think I should call him out, but I haven’t. For someone who is so often indignant and rage-y, I am actually really afraid of confronting people.

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