I’ve had many great teachers throughout my life, and many bad ones. Some of my previous posts already identify the best and the worst teachers.
In this post, I want to share some of the astonishing sexist things other teachers have said over the years. Many of these comments are too easily swept under the rug. Unfortunately, “small” prejudiced remarks are absorbed by students and live on for too long. Other comments are just plain creepy.
High school (early 2000’s)
I ran into one of my male teachers in the stairwell. I was wearing a short skirt and heels.
Him: “Roxanne! It’s been a long time. How are you?”
Me: “I’m great, thanks.”
Him: “I like your outfit, it looks good on you.”
Me: “Uh, thanks.”
Him: “How old are you now?”
Me: “Uh, 16. Gotta go. Bye!”
One of my female teachers always walked around with heels. You could hear her coming down the halls from 100 m away.
Her (to the class): “Girls, walk with a strong heel. If you’re confident you won’t be raped.”
What she should have said is, “Boys, don’t rape girls.”
Another teacher was showing us the film version of a book we were reading called Agaguk. There was nudity in the film, a scene where we could see breasts (oh my god!). Even though we had read the repeated accounts of rape and domestic violence in the book, the teacher panicked. She couldn’t find the stop or fast-forward button, so she awkwardly stood in front of the TV until it was over.
I’m sure many more sexist things were said back then. I probably just thought they were normal, which is the worst part. We were raised to be anti-feminist. It’s been ingrained in us over and over again by society’s unconscious (or conscious) biases.
German classes (2018-2019)
I’m sad to report that it hasn’t changed since high school. Many of my German teachers at the Volkshochschule (VHS) still pass down their unconscious biases today.
One particular teacher said many horrifying things. Here are only a few of them.
Her: “I saw a man wearing women’s pants, sandals and nail polish can you believe it?”
Me: “Yes, I can.”
Her: “Horizontal stripes make women look fat.” She points to one woman, “your stripe make you look bigger.” She points to the woman next to her, “you’re skinny so the stripes are fine on you.”
I wrote her a letter, telling her that the things she was saying were transphobic and sexist. We discussed it in person afterwards. She conceded to the transphobic comment and said she wouldn’t say something like that again. But to the “fat” comment, she said, “Every woman knows that. It’s not news.”
Her: “Why are you learning German if you have a husband? You can just stay home, you don’t need to work.”
Me: “I want to work.”
Her: “Oh so you’re a strong woman, huh? Men don’t like that. Your husband must be a really strong man.”
Me (in my head): “What the actual fuck?”
Another teacher said the following to me after I introduced myself on the first day of class.
Me: “Hi, I’m Roxanne and I’m a writer.”
Her: “A writer? Your husband must have a lot of money!”
Him: “Women are from Venus, men are from Mars.”
Me: “That’s not true.”
The most frustrating part is that because I’m learning German, all discourse in class must be in German. For a long time, I didn’t know enough about the language to argue with these teachers. (I still don’t have all the words.) So I’d just have to shake my head disapprovingly or give half broken arguments to tell them that they’re wrong. That’s why I chose to write a letter to one of them, so that I could use online tools to help me express myself.
To make things worse, all the students are foreigners trying to learn German. They listen to this blatant sexism and believe it’s okay and socially acceptable. It’s not. I pay to learn German, not to hear your sexist opinions.