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Randy Enos for The Chronicle Review

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Randy Enos for The Chronicle Review

She came up to the podium before class began, as I was gathering my notes and putting on my game face for the 80-minute lecture I was about to deliver. Centered on a simple question having to do with proper citation form, our conversation was brief. But I have never forgotten it, for it altered my vision of the contemporary classroom in a way I'm still figuring out how to deal with.

It wasn't our conversation that threw me; it was her clothing. Or, rather, lack thereof. My young student wore a tight-fitting, scoop-necked, midriff-baring T-shirt, with an obvious Wonderbra displaying her assets. She also wore jeans, but not in the sense that I used to wear jeans growing up, when Levi's, Lee, and Wrangler were the only brands (except for the brief "designer jean" fad). The jeans my student wore were tight and slung so low they could have been an advertisement for the salon that did her bikini wax. In fact, I've seen more modest bikinis on Brazilian models.

As a historian of civil liberties and a proponent of freedom of expression, I'm certainly not a prude, and by no means modest or reserved myself. But I never thought I'd confront near-nudity in the classroom—at least, not outside of historical footage. And my students apparently didn't either, because the two-minute conversation I had with that female student at the front of the room created a hush you could hear throughout the building.

At first I wasn't sure why everyone's eyes were glued lustfully to the front of the room. Could it be the fascinating outline of my lecture on the blackboard, with its timeline of the creation of NATO? Or was it me, my usual black turtleneck covering enough skin to qualify me for the Miss Dowdy Victorian pageant? Perhaps it was my knee-high stockings, provocatively gathered in rolls about my ankles, or the glint in the lens of my eyeglasses betraying my secret weakness for documentaries not produced by Ken Burns? Could the students sense my wild side?

Soon enough I realized that all eyes in the classroom were riveted upon the Hefnerian vision hovering before me. The female students were focused on her, too, but in a different way from the men: Some of them rolled their eyes and cast snarky glances at one another. Others merely looked upon her with heartbreaking hopelessness.

With every bone in my body I had to fight the urge to throw my jacket around her and shout, "For God's sake, woman, put something on!" Partly it was out of concern for her, but I have to admit—hey, this was my show: I'm supposed to be the star. I hold the key to knowledge, to the infinite mystery of the past ... and to these students' grades. I'll be damned if contemporary fashion is going to steal my thunder.

Certainly clothing has always been a source of dissension and debate in the modern classroom: long hair, bell-bottoms, lurid phrases on T-shirts, safety pins through noses—kids will be kids, we sigh. Male students are just as influenced by fashion as women. The popular style of low-slung jeans revealing wildly patterned boxer shorts has been around for a few years now and seems here to stay. Slouching across campus in their oversized outfits, these men could be malnourished escapees from some hipster chain gang, desperately trying to make sure their pants stay on—but not too on.

The problem here is that I don't want to know what kind of underwear my students wear—or don't wear. And I really don't want to see all those Y-shaped G-strings rising from the butt-cracks of my female students as they bend down to pick up their 50-pound designer purses.

But how much does clothing contribute to the dynamic in the classroom, and what kind of contribution does it make? Is it merely something we should ignore, or should we bring discussion of personal choices into the class? When I lecture on the history of civil liberties, it's easy enough to discuss controversies over public schools and their policies about appropriate clothing. But should I also raise the issue of the fashion choices visible right there in the classroom, or do I risk alienating those students who proudly flaunt their so-called tramp stamps?

As an educator, I want students to feel comfortable in my class, so I can't simply tell them that their clothing is too sensational, not to mention tacky, and therefore distracting to other students and a violation of my aesthetic sensibilities. I also can't gently point out that the absence of a stripper pole in the room means that such ensembles should be saved for other more, shall we say, raucous occasions. Nor can I tell a female student that though I appreciate her self-acceptance, I would prefer not to see her butt-crack every time she turns to sit in her seat. After all, I'm not even supposed to see her butt-crack, right?

But it's hard to miss. The female student in the "pubic jeans" drew so much attention from the rest of the class that she became thoroughly objectified, right before my eyes. I wanted to shake her and remind her that she was more than the sum of her very blatantly displayed parts, to throw a little feminism her way and wake her up to her more hidden—and infinitely more valuable and long-lasting—assets.

Let me be clear: I'm opposed to dress codes and other codified ways of enforcing conformity. After all, I'm a woman whose fashion choices in college were dictated by my obsessive following of the Grateful Dead and alternative politics: I once wore a full-length flannel nightgown to a final exam I had studied for all night long, and showed up for a biology exam barefoot, with bells dangling from my ankles, ears, and hips.

But I think it's our job as teachers to make students self-conscious of their choices, to present them with opportunities to challenge mainstream standards. I would hope that my female students can realize their potential beyond the predetermined worth that has been placed on them by our sexualized culture, with its limited conceptions of the role and value of women.

In the end, I decided that the best way to do this is to teach them about subjects that matter, that point out the value of self-analysis and self-respect.

I hope that teaching my students about hell-raisers like Fannie Lou Hamer, Margaret Sanger, and Betty Friedan—women whose voices were so strong that they didn't need provocative clothing to be noticed—will go a long way toward demonstrating that individuals are worth more than any of society's superficial valuations. I hope that my students, both male and female, will sail forth having internalized the words of great leaders and common folk alike who demonstrated their inner strength without recourse to Botox and breast augmentation. I hope that they will one day come to realize that, when all is said and done, their contributions to society will rest not on how toned their bodies are and what fashion choices they make but on how they live their lives.

I just hope they don't trip on their stilettos and kill themselves before they get the chance.

Jill Silos-Rooney is a lecturer in history at the University of New Hampshire.


1. laur2582 - November 08, 2010 at 09:57 am

I was lecturing in a history of women in art course, when the sole male student arrived, 10 minutes late, wearing loose gym shorts and a shirt that had the sleeves cut off nearly to his waist and the neckline cut to his breastbone. He walked right in front of me and sat down. I was flabbergasted. Literally. I could not speak for many seconds. While the young women in the class stared at me as I attempted to collect myself, I had many thoughts going through my head. As above, I did not want to convey a sense of prudery to the students, but I also had an idea that what I was looking at bordered on deliberately sexual, and, in the context of the course content, also provocative in a couple of different ways. The young man in question looked up as I, in dumbfounded stupefaction, tried to collect my thoughts and said "whut?" At that point I just started to laugh. Every woman in the class laughed too, but I suspect they were laughing AT me, not with me. It didn't matter. It allowed me to collect myself and move on with the material.

I wonder how I could deal with this in the future, though.

2. 22266017 - November 08, 2010 at 10:06 am

Interesting that you cite Margaret Sanger as a role model in the same paragraph that you talk about how to live life.

3. kathden - November 08, 2010 at 02:03 pm

22266017: Single-issue blog trolls are not all that interesting. Even you might agree that Sanger was a hell-raiser.

In thirty years of teaching I've run into this class-attention problem more than a few times. Fortunately I haven't encountered a male student dressed so slovenly or revealingly that I felt I had to mention it (individually, after class is how I would approach it). Before the mid-90s I never experienced any "gross" violations of decorum with female dress, but in the last five years it is rare that I don't see at least a couple of examples each semester. Again, I've been lucky--I haven't had any repeat offenders.

Of course I teach at a school with a historical religious orientation, which makes some difference, and I also know that at least a few of my colleagues are not shy about calling out students about their behavior. And I've visited enough schools to know that the problem is more "conspicuous" elsewhere.

And here gender gets in the way: can I, as a middle-aged male, really discuss this with the student without appearing to be the one who sexualizes the situation? Would I be at risk of running afoul of sexual harassment concerns?

I've developed a heuristic device that (fortunately) I haven't yet had to employ: if I notice that other students are being more than casually distracted by the student's dress, and if it happens a second time, I'll talk to the student right after class has ended, in a private conversation that should nevertheless be in public view. (A colleague has suggested that in addition I report this to the Title IX officer--but that seems to me to go beyond the pale of maintaining a healthy teacher-student relationship. Unless, of course, the student takes it very badly.)

Any comments?

4. 22266017 - November 08, 2010 at 05:22 pm

kathden, am I pro-life? Yes. Is that my only point here or the only issue I care about? No. I actually like this article as a whole. I was simply taken aback by that particular paragraph, which seemed contraditory (both within the paragraph and in comparison to the rest of the article). Even if you argue that she dressed conservatively (and I have no knowledge of this one way or another - but really, didn't everyone else in her heydey), didn't she also flaunt the fruits of excess through sexual "liberation"? This is a woman who was friends with Hitler and started PP for the purpose of eugenics. Oh yeah... that sounds like a true role-model for self-respecting folks everywhere.

5. this_beats_research - November 11, 2010 at 06:40 pm

I ran into this a few years ago while taking students on a tour of the middle east. While touring historical sites, several female students on the trip, against our advice, wore very revealing outfits. It offended the locals. We cautioned them not to do so, but they did the next day as well.

On the third day, I paid our tour guide $25 to tip a security guard at a Moslem historical site, pretend to argue, and have the guard ban them from entering, saying out loud "no prostitutes". The guide explained tot he guard what we wanted to do, and he happily obliged. The 7 students had to wait outside (we also locked the bus so they couldn't sit in the bus), for an hour. They didn't know where to go, were afraid to wander off, so they were miserable. And angry. They told us how wrong the guard was not to let them enter the site, and how they needed to loosen up.

But after lunch two of them put on a sweater (covering up, and we repeated the prank, and the other five had to wait outside again. The next day two were determined to win the argument and wore even more revealing. We stopped them getting on the bus and warned them they'd be banned. Both insisted, and so I paid yet another $25 for yet another ban. The guide was loving it. They admitted defeat, and wore modest outfits after that.

It was money well spent.

6. tee_bee - November 11, 2010 at 07:16 pm

@22266017 : Better to be silent and be merely thought a fool...

There's plenty of your type at the Faux News Channel. Go there.

7. cbfrench - November 12, 2010 at 12:22 am

Though the undergraduate institution I attended--Sewanee--did not have a formal dress code, everyone knew the school's tradition with its implicit dress code: dresses for women, jackets and ties for men. Now, of course, not every student necessarily went to these extents in dressing for class; however, many did, and those who did not still dressed professionally. I have always imagined that the class dynamics were different from those at other UG institutions with more lax standards of classroom dress. Students at least on some level communicated a respect for the professor and the classroom environment. Like the author, I would never advocate a formal dress code by any means; rather, I only wish that students would recognize (for better or for worse) what their clothing choices signify about their presence (or lack thereof) at class.

8. 11137138 - November 12, 2010 at 06:49 am

You haven't seen anything yet, Professor Silos-Rooney. Try teaching in New Jersey.

9. unabashedmale - November 12, 2010 at 08:29 am

You're just pushing s@#$ against the tide.

We are a society of extreme tolerance now.

Degenerates 'R us.

10. olmsted - November 12, 2010 at 09:23 am

Better to avoid the issue and rely upon distraction than encounter the core of the poster's argument. Consider your own admonition.

On the main subject, this is all the more interesting to address when a male instructor and the student in question is female. [sigh]

11. najlaamundson - November 12, 2010 at 09:34 am

Interesting that the Chronicle chose to feature a big-busted woman in a low cut blouse to illustrate its story - do college males dress inappropriately? Apparently THAT is difficult to illustrate.

12. 20ahabs - November 12, 2010 at 09:55 am

This also brings up the question, I think, of how to deal with this issue in a proper manner when instructors have to face inappropriate dress in meetings with individual students. I'm a male graduate student--obviously and happily married--but on a few occasions I've had meetings with students from my classes in my carrel or office space where the student--always female--has shown up in clothes that were entirely inappropriate for that context. I've yet to find a way to discuss this issue that doesn't seem to cross the line into sexual harassment so I've never actually said anything about it; both Oleanna and Coetzee's Disgrace are always vividly in the back of my mind in these situations as I make constant eye contact with the student or look at the papers under question. I guess the best bet is to simply put a clause in the syllabus about distracting or inappropriate dress for everyone which might help to stop some of it before it starts in earnest.

13. farm_boy - November 12, 2010 at 10:14 am

Apparently many young women are majoring in CM (Cleavage Management).

14. labjack - November 12, 2010 at 10:28 am

The old saying 'Clothes make the man' doesn't seem so far off the mark. I teach students in the sciences who are going to work in health care, and I point out to them that patients need caregivers (doctors and nurses) to be dressed in a manner that promotes trust in the patients. I tell them to imagine being in the hospital with their mother. How comfortable would they feel if the doctor came in wearing a clown suit of gym clothes? Or the nurses dresses like strippers? I know I'd be carrying my mother out of there and getting her to a professional hospital. There is also the effect of making it easy on the patients to trust you. It seems silly not to reduce a patients stress by wearing the 'uniform' of the profession. It instantly lets people know alot about you. You know how to be professional, and the patients can expect professional treatment. When you wear something different, alarms start to go off in people's heads. It's an easy transition into what they expect of me when they see me in class. Correct pronunciation of the different diseases and causative agents also helps patients. Patients need competent care, and part of that is appearing and sounding competent.
I also have the advantage of having labs associated with classes. Safety issues such as no open-toed shoes, and hair that doesn't hang down into the bunsen burners does apretty good job of helping the students understand what is expected of them.
I hope this helps the non science people.

15. jaysanderson - November 12, 2010 at 10:30 am

The solution to this problem was available back in 6-8th grades, and needed to begin at home, but could have been addressed at school a bit.

Whether dressing like a prostitutes, using drugs, binge drinking, or any other risky behavior, students tragically cannot seem to see very far down the road. Perhaps that comes with age and experience. It is sad that by the time they realize the damage that they have done to themselves, much of it is irreversible. No prude here, just reflecting on my own experiences and wishing that I could help some of my students avoid hurting themselves.

16. 11117367 - November 12, 2010 at 10:31 am

A few years ago one of our undergraduate teams presented their senior project to a group of business executives. They were well-dressed, the men in suits and the woman in a white blouse and navy skirt. Unfortunately, the blouse was quite a bit tighter than it should have been and she more than filled it out. I should mention that she was exceptionally pretty, by most people's standards. During her portion of the presentation she shifted back and forth, exaggerating the movement and jutting her hips to one side or the other. She exaggerated her hand and arm gestures, which further tightened her blouse. When her portion of the presentation was over, rather than stepping to the background as her peers did and as is typical of our students, she remained in front, but slightly off to the side. While still shifting from side to side, she also started wrapping and unwrapping her long blonde hair around her finger.
I was a guest as the administrator of the academic program, but I asked the faculty advisor if I could participate in the feedback session he would have with the team. I provided feedback on both content and process, and I like to think I was polite in the way I phrased everything I said, but I could not let her dress and presentation style go unaddressed. And I did it in front of the advisor and the male team members because it was a learning moment for all of them. She, especially, was embarrassed and angry, but they all got the message that the behavior of every member of them team must be professional if they want to be taken professionally. If we do not address these situations, we are doing our students a disservice.
In another situation a colleague was teaching a summer course and in the first class period a male sat in the second row (eye level) in short shorts sans underwear. Feeling uncomfortable about dealing with the situation alone, she told her department head and, together, they met with the student and had a discussion about appropriate dress and distractions in the learning environment. The student continued to wear short shorts, but he added underwear thereafter, at least in her course.
Whenever we encounter teaching moments, we need to grab them, perhaps not at that very point in time, and perhaps not without consulting, or otherwise involving, others. At some point, the lesson we impart will take hold.
By the way, about 18 months after the presentation feedback session I received a call from the young woman, thanking me for my comments. She admitted that she traded on her looks during presentations and I was the first one to call her on it. The lesson sunk home when, after failing to close business and receiving many invitations to lunch, dinner, and drinks, she decided to try the professional approach; it resulted in considerable success.

17. 11232247 - November 12, 2010 at 11:03 am

The description of the young female student reminds me of a Playboy cartoon from early 1971. Two similarly dressed women were strutting down a crowded street while salivating men all around them are having their eyes bug out and their jaws drop at the spectacle of a very public peep show.

Below, the caption of one woman speaking to the other read: "Don't you just hate the way men undress you with their eyes?"

I am certainly not suggesting that anyone begin wearing burkahs, but please. Serious people need to dress....well...you know, seriously, if they wish to be taken seriously. College ain't Animal House.

18. sand6432 - November 12, 2010 at 11:38 am

Perhaps the point could be made by the teacher dressing even more provocatively (if that were possible)--except that, of course, there no doubt are enforceable dress codes for teachers whereas there aren't, apparently, for students.---Sandy Thatcher

19. cjba6163 - November 12, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Considering the fact that girls have been out-performing boys in K-12 education for years and significantly outnumber them in many undergraduate schools, it seems likely that many of the "inappropriately dressed" young women described in the article and in the comments would have a different take on this issue. I think that young women today don't necessarily find that being fashionable (and tight, low-cut jeans are pretty standard) prevents them from from following their intellectual passions or winning academic accolades. Most of them will probably dress more conservatively when they enter graduate school or the workforce, but younger people have different views of what is "tasteful" or "appropriate" than do many older professors. They're dressing for their peers, not their teachers. I really doubt that following current fashions will ruin these girls' lives; it seems more likely that the next generation of educators will be less easily shocked by revealing clothing (since many of those professors will have worn tight jeans or thong underpants or low-cut shirts in their own undergrad years). Dr. Silos-Rooney's own professors probably did some hand-wringing over how distracting it was to see students in nightgowns.

20. alan_kors - November 12, 2010 at 12:18 pm

In the very first seminar I taught at Penn, at the height of the cultural revolution, my students (quite dear) were all from a hippie commune that had chosen to take my class on Voltaire. The guys were all in workers' overalls, but the women were wearing men's undershirts, not t-shirts, braless. Being of a different generation, culturally, I felt like a voyeur, and I looked at various spots on the wall when talking. After the class, I called over one of the guys, asked him if I could talk about dress in class, and when he reassured me, told me that I'd be immeasurably grateful if the women could dress less revealingly. "Does that make you a bit uptight?" he asked, without sarcasm. "It makes me very uptight," I answered. "OK," he said, "I see where you're coming from....I'm sure they'll be glad to help you." From that point on, the women wore peasant blouses or flannel shirts, and the seminar was terrific. They even had me over for macrobiotic meals. If you think the issue is perplexing now, try to remember the late sixties.

21. abichel - November 12, 2010 at 12:19 pm

What passes for classroom wear in Hawaii beats NJ anyday of the week. Aloha!

22. 11250382 - November 12, 2010 at 12:19 pm

tee_bee - what, in heaven does "Faux" News have to do with this discussion? FYI, take a look at the credentials of some of the female reporters/commentatolrs who work at Faux News and then tell me you think you are better educated. Can we please stay on topic?

23. osugrad - November 12, 2010 at 12:34 pm

With apologies, as this comment strays from the original subject matter, I feel a need to come to Margaret Sanger's defense. It seems odd to me that "life" has come to mean nothing but the fetus in some circles. Do the lives of women who are forced to bear unwanted children they cannot care for count for nothing? If so, one runs the risk of sowing the seeds of women's radicalization.

Sanger, for her part, worked tirelessly for a woman's right to prevent unwanted pregnancies. In a chapter from Woman and the New Race (1920) entitled "Contraceptives or Abortion?," Sanger wrote, "While there are cases where even the law recognizes an abortion as justifiable if recommended by a physician, I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization." Not exactly the kind of sentiment you'd expect from a proponent of Nazi-style eugenics. It should be remembered that eugenics came in many sizes and shapes. I certainly don't care to be an apologist for eugenics, but not everyone who saw eugenics as a legitimate tool for reducing human misery was a Nazi.

24. anonscribe - November 12, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Either students in CA are tactful (doubtful), or you people need to cope seriously with the fact that it's not 1955. I've been teaching for seven years, and I've never had an issue with student dress. Perhaps I'm simply clueless (possible), but I never noticed a student's clothes disrupting my class.

Loose gym shorts and a shirt with cut off sleeves? That's overly sexual? That's the uniform for men if my class is anywhere near the tail end of the day, when they will rush of to the gym. Once or twice, an attractive female student's fashion caught my attention: I think it made me teach a little better that day. I had to exert effort not to look at her, and I was extra engaging because I subconsciously didn't want her to think I was an idiot (likely not successful).

Anyway, I think it's pretty insulting to young women to assume that dressing provocatively equates to a lack of self-awareness or a dearth of feminist consciousness. This is a familiar debate within feminist discourse, but I can't see how women self-censoring their clothing to avoid being looked at by men screams feminist liberation. If the student is comfortable and studies hard, god bless her. You say you're not a prude, but I don't believe you.

25. hanchu - November 12, 2010 at 12:58 pm

This article does beg the question: at what point does students' dress (or lack thereof) become an issue of creating a hostile work environment for teachers (of whatever gender and at whatever level)? Remember the naked male student at UC Berkeley years ago? Shouldn't teachers enjoy the same protections from a hostile work environment as everyone else, in and out of the classroom?

This scenario has been deftly satirized in the realm of library instruction: http://librarypariah.blogspot.com/2006/11/classroom-cleavage-hospitalizes.html.

26. blarkin - November 12, 2010 at 02:09 pm

Ditto, and thank you for saving me the time of writing a similar response which would not have been as articulate as yours.

27. khancock0 - November 12, 2010 at 02:22 pm

I've never written a comment to this forum, but I cannot let stand, without response, comment #5 from "this_beats_research." I find your approach completely unprofessional and a violation of teacher-student trust. To bribe people to insult and humiliate your students, to go so far as to call them prostitutes, is beyond the pale. If the local guides were blocking your students from entering, that's one thing, but for you to not only initiate it but actually bribe someone to do it is just wrong. I have been to mosques where women were required to cover up, and that's fine. That's a teaching moment. What you did was take pleasure in humiliating your female students. Shame on you!

28. brixton - November 12, 2010 at 02:54 pm

(Unfortunately, when you go into the shops marketed for our students, you see that this is actually a bigger issue than the classrooms.)

I was on a thesis defense for an undergraduate. The thesis was smart. The committee was all male, except for me, and the student came in in a short, short, short leather mini-skirt, black lace stockings, and lots and lots of skin. We went through the defense, she left the room, we discussed the merit of the thesis, and then I said, with some hesitation: Before we bring her back in to congratulate her, should one of us at some point talk to her about what she wore. (She wasn't my thesis student, I was just on the committee.) My male colleagues looked horrified, butmaybe were relieved that I said something.

We've all been well-trained not to objectify our students, but finally talking about professional dress, and how search committees start judging you when you walk in the door is part of a student's education. For students who will be interviewing, we're doing them a favor to say something. I think it's less about freedom of expression or disrupting the class, and more about preparation for life.

29. lucapacioli - November 12, 2010 at 03:06 pm

laur2582 - Students when I am speaking, and I stop to tell them that is rude and don't do it again, to me or any other speaker. But then I am a stuffy accountant with business experience who once saw a young staff accountant terminated late one morning for doing exactly that to a senior VP whose lecture we attended early that morning. Bad manners is bad business.

Too many instructors are terrified of the little darlings because of teaching evaluations. But again, I am a stuffy accountant who can always find employment outside of academia.

30. graykane - November 12, 2010 at 03:06 pm

Silos-Rooney gave an example in which the whole class saw the students' clothing as a problem. That makes the student's choice of fashion a simple case of "disruptive behavior." In certain geographic areas, however, students are so used to skin-tight and other revealing clothing that they don't see what the big deal is. Teachers run the risk of policing boundaries that their students don't recognize or understand. In short, the fashion choice can be less disruptive than the teacher's response to it.

hanchu mentioned a "hostile work environment." If there's no campus policy to resolve the issue, is fashion disruptive if it disrupts only the teacher's concentration? Or is the problem with the teacher in that instance? Can we draw a line that isn't defined by the students' social norms? Can we reprimand or report the student if we only expect the fashion to be disruptive? At what point are we arguing that generational differences are "disruptive" or create a "hostile work environment"?

Contrary to how they might appear, these are real questions, not leading ones.

My own concern has less to do with what I've seen than what I expect to see during the course of my teaching career. Whereas skin-tight clothing is popular now, imagine if spray-on clothing catches on: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/sep/16/spray-on-clothing-t-shirt. This article's video shows only the professional application, but the aerosol prototype already exists. A spray-on clothing fad is a distinct possibility. If spray-on clothing (or whatever comes after that) becomes a social norm for students, does Silos-Rooney's example lose its bite? Not just where, but how do we draw the line?

31. nebo113 - November 12, 2010 at 04:50 pm

If I see another young man's butt crack, I may scream...and of course I will see another young man's butt crack, since many young men wear their pants so low it's a wonder they don't fall off. Oh, maybe their britches are bunching up around their tighty (not so)whities which are also on prominent display.

Hmmmmmmm....Wonder if male butt cracks are as sexualized as women's breasts? I see a journal article in my near future.

32. navydad - November 12, 2010 at 05:01 pm

Try being a therapist with the student in the article (male and straight therapist in this example). The two of you are alone in your office with the door closed (and no little side window, either). You sit in a chair about five or so feet away from the student. You focus your attention on the student's words, expressions, and body language. You spend almost all of the 45 or 50 minutes looking at the student. Part of you wants to check out her ......, but the much larger part of you just wants to do a good job and help out a vulnerable young woman. You wonder if the skin is meant for you (probaly not) and if you should say anything about it (also probably not). Sigh.

33. rosmerta - November 12, 2010 at 05:30 pm

khancocko, I loved this_beats_research's solution. Those young women were an embarrassment to their group and very poor ambassadors. And look how they kept fighting to impose their own standards, even as guests in a foreign country. They clearly didn't even understand good manners.

All this "grrl-power" crap of the last decade or two has done our young women no favors. Quite the opposite: we've raised a generation of trash-talking, trash-wearing young women who look like they have nothing of substance to offer, whether they actually do or not.

34. bmljenny - November 12, 2010 at 05:32 pm

I had a very sleepy post-call resident over for a one-on-one library instruction session. He was wearing the type of hospital scrubs with the drawstring tie fly and nothing under them. I really didn't know how to tell him he was giving me a free show, so I just had him hold the big Medical Subject Headings book on his lap. We never actually used it.

35. rear_view_mirror - November 12, 2010 at 08:26 pm

What would be wrong with a dress code? Illegal?
Another problem: students who wear T-shirts with rude slogans or words on them. I once dealt with this by saying to the student "I was surprised to see you wearing a shirt with a rude message on it, because otherwise you seem like a well adjusted, mature person." He cooled it after that.

36. summers_off - November 12, 2010 at 10:44 pm

The real problem is not so much that they are "expressing" themselves, but that they take pictures & post them on Facebook & other social media. They also create email address like partygrl@xyz.com. Then they try to get a job after graduation & don't understand why they can't get past the reference check. At least my silly 80's hair style is only in my college yearbook, which few but my fellow 80's alum can see (if they can even find their yearbook anymore).

37. blue_state_academic - November 13, 2010 at 11:29 am

If a young woman dresses in that manner, and she must realize the impact it has, then I think she's fair game to be leered at by professor and students alike.

38. psychdock - November 13, 2010 at 11:34 am

What's the appropriate reaction? Pants feeling a little tighter, and my office door being closed for 6 minute intervals.

39. opentosuggestion - November 13, 2010 at 01:41 pm

This is all a bit silly. When I was an undergraduate (I'm in my fifties), women often wore nothing more than halter tops, short shorts and sandals. Their profs managed to cope. And these women went on to negotiate interviews and become professionals. Sheesh. They're kids.

40. lost_angeleno - November 13, 2010 at 02:12 pm

I never saw anything in a male body that was in any way interesting. When women expose intriguing body parts, I look. Everyone else in the class does, too. Sooner or later they either cover up (what usually happens) or I get an offer (which I reject). To paraphrase the car ad, enjoy the view!

41. nebo113 - November 13, 2010 at 03:22 pm

#40...Are you as small a pr*ck as you make yourself out to be?

42. coco_rico - November 13, 2010 at 08:37 pm

Oh, writer, please relax. If girls want to wear kinky things to class, I'm not going to complain. I am there to teach them the subject matter, not micromanage their self-esteem issues. The fact that this professor thinks she's even entitled to opine on the girl's wardrobe choices points to the problem with the Left's takeover of higher education. Somewhere along the way, the liberal desire to reform everyone from the ground up made them play the omniescent superego. It's pathetic. http://colorfulconservative.blogspot.com

43. midivory - November 13, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Googled the writer of this article.

She looks exactly like I expected her to.

44. alice2010 - November 14, 2010 at 12:32 am

@43 Yeah, what do you look like?

45. alice2010 - November 14, 2010 at 12:33 am

@coco_rico: Why don't you go get a job in the for-profit sector where you belog or are you a hyprocrite?

46. alice2010 - November 14, 2010 at 12:37 am

If this happened to me, I'd ask the student to leave the classroom -- loud and proud too. I don't care who would get upset (the student, other students, administrators) -- no problemo.

47. sdryer - November 14, 2010 at 12:58 am

The writer of this essay claims to not be prudish because she teaches students about hell raisers. Or something. But everything she wrote is nevertheless prudish, judgmental, and I wonder about her motivations for writing this essay. Regardless of what is really behind her angst, what right does this lecturer have to ASSUME that because a student dresses in a certain way, they cannot realize their full potential? That pressumption is, dare I say it, sexist. Who cares if a student violates a professor's "aesthetic sensibilities"? Your aesthetic sensibilities are not part of the job, maybe unless you are teaching a course on aesthetics -- which here in North America is esthetics unless you're putting on airs, but I digress. Ms. Silos-Rooney might be less alarmed if she were to read some anthropology and learn that "sexualized" cultures are actually the norm, not the exception for our species and somehow we've survived for hundreds of thousands of years. And if you teach at any public university, this is just part of the landscape and has been for a long long time.

48. sdryer - November 14, 2010 at 01:02 am

Alice2010, so you think you have the right to publically humiliate students? And you're proud of it? As an administrator, believe me I can tell you that in my department there would be a big problemo.

49. patrick_s - November 14, 2010 at 02:27 am

It seems to me that the only professional response is to ignore it.

We will get students who make any number of poor life choices. These mistakes are often due in part to their age. They may wear revealing clothing, smoke cigarettes, vote conservative or eat twinkies. Not our problem, and none of our business.

Personally I think it is a far worse sin to distract everyone in an exam by wearing bells, than to wear a revealing outfit.

50. amnirov - November 14, 2010 at 05:47 am

I don't so much care about revealing clothes as ugly clothes. If I see one more pair of PJs or Ugg boots, I'm going to gouge out my own eyes.

51. odetteism - November 14, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Just don't sit the kids in a circle when one girl is wearing a very VERY short skirt and doesn't keep it together, so to speak. For some reason that day, all the male students sat on one side of the classroom, while she was on the other. No one on one side was paying any attention to the subject matter in the book, I'm sad to say. I didn't figure it out until nearly the end of class, when I was pacing and discussing something on that side of the classroom.

We didn't sit in circles in that class anymore. Sigh.

On a serious note, say nothing unless they show up naked. I taught a male student who insisted on being shirtless all year 'round. He made the news. Really.

52. farm_boy - November 14, 2010 at 08:14 pm

Perhaps these young ladies who flaunt their physical assets are simply following the advice of Garcilaso de la Vega and other poets who recommended "carpe diem" before the flower of youth wilts. They are gaining a competitive edge at the university; their degrees will give them "value added" features to augment their physical package. So maybe they're thinking holistically.

53. sputtering_spitfire - November 14, 2010 at 09:22 pm

@ 52. farm_boy, I was thinking more along the line of the "MRS degree" for these ladies.

54. alice2010 - November 15, 2010 at 02:49 am


Where do you work? Some small, private liberal arts college where you so desperately need tuition dollars?

55. alice2010 - November 15, 2010 at 02:54 am

I don't know if this has already been commented on - but the other students in the class have a right to an education too without being distracted by freakshows. Obivously I'm not talking about the men in the classroom, either.

56. kublakhan - November 15, 2010 at 01:48 pm

The article was bad, but the comments are downright disgusting.

First the article. You talk about women whose "voices were so strong that they didn't need provocative clothing...". Why not women whose "voices are so strong that what they wear doesn't matter"? Inner strength like you say. The only reason you offer is prudery. People who care about nothing other than superficial things are indeed shallow. But you can't assume that they are shallow from the way they dress. That's prejudice.

Next the comments. There are a disturbing number of people for whom a tight blouse or "skin" is very distracting. I hope they invent anti-viagra for you. Most people aren't that constantly aroused.

this_beats_research is a horrible person. I also commented for the first time (like khancocko) to say that. You're smug about how you bribed a guard to call students prostitutes and ban them from a museum so that they had to stand outside for an hour...you even locked the bus? That's pathetic.

57. bibliophilious - November 16, 2010 at 11:57 am

@#43 (midivory): Really? Are you really hiding behind your anonymity on this public forum, to critique this writer's appearance? Do you work in higher education? If so, I am truly concerned.

As for the suggested "prudery" of the article and its author, aren't we, as educators, supposed to prepare our students for professional codes of conduct? There seem to be very few work environments where this student's clothing would be considered acceptable or appropriate... and the few that might would consider it so would be... (ahem)... ones that would not usually require a college education. Actually, I have seen female students come to class in lingerie: a bustier with garters, tights, stilettos, and a loose, open, gauzy shirt! Freedom of expression through clothing does not extend to the overt sexualization of the classroom environment. As the moderators of that intellectual and physical learning space, we need to protect all of our students and hold the appropriate boundaries, whatever the age, gender identification, or sexual orientation of those who test them.

58. lynet - November 16, 2010 at 04:06 pm

Please don't perpetuate the idea that a woman can never simultaneously be seen as sexual and serious. You, and your class, should be able to see this woman as a whole, strong person, no matter what she wears.

'Objectification' doesn't just involve looking at a person sexually, it involves looking at a person sexually and failing to acknowledge their humanity as a result. You, in this piece, take it as given that society will never be able to see women as sexual and more than that at the same time. You ask her to change her behavior instead. I'd say that it's you who is capitulating to objectification, not her.

You say that you want to remind this woman that she is "more than the sum of her very blatantly displayed parts". But she already is, and maybe she already knows that. Heck, maybe that's something she shows the world just by existing as a smart, sexual young woman. What would you know?

59. i_dunno - November 19, 2010 at 09:40 pm

I found this article extremely offensive. As a student, I feel like if a professor judged me this harshly for what I was wearing, I would leave the class. Just because someone wears make-up or a low cut top doesn't mean they are completely ignorant of any ideas outside of conformity. Calling a girl a bimbo solely based on her clothing isn't justified by your need to 'save' her by telling her about a bunch of feminists. It's just bigoted. I like to dress up and waer skirts to class often but that by no means is nearly as important as the work I do, and by treating this girl like she needs to be rescued or is ignorant just shames her as much as the jerks in the class leering at her. I find it disheartening a teacher would think of her student in such a lowly way.

60. bowl_haircut - November 20, 2010 at 11:50 am

I'm reminded of Foucault's argument in _History of Sexuality (volume 1)--our "tolerance" for (and obsession with) sex conveniently masks our extreme discomfort with (and intolerance for) it. We "other Victorians," indeed.

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