Today, I was completing a sexual assault/harassment training module online for work. In general, it was actually pretty talked about alcohol use/consent and avoided being victim blame-y.

Toward the end, I was given some scenarios and asked to pick the best answer. The questions were what you’d expect from this sort of thing—straight forward and super easy, just to make sure you are actually reading the stuff and not just clicking through. Then, I missed a question. Here it is:

Mary is a new student in a mostly male department. One day, she tries to introduce herself to a senior professor. Before she can speak, the professor interrupts, “You must be the new secretary.” Mary is embarrassed but afraid to correct him.

Question: What should you do?

a. Be direct. Tell the Professor he’s being offensive.

b. Report the Professor to the Title IX office.

c. Politely correct the Professor.

So, which would you choose? I chose a. My reasoning was that if the professor is so clueless that he’s going around doing this, a “polite” correction is not going to get through to him that he’s doing anything wrong.


Now, I recognize that in real life there are circumstances that would make you choose the polite option rather than the direct option, but on paper, I think a is best choice.

According to the module, the correct answer is c because “being too direct might make him reluctant to listen.” I understand that coming out with something super aggressive (“Dr. Smith, you are disgusting, sexist piece of filth!”) is not a good thing to do in a work environment in general, but that’s not what option a says.

Anyway, now I’m side-eyeing the Title IX office super hard. I know it’s not the biggest deal in the world (and actually, in our school, it’s an unlikely scenario—half the students are women, and there aren’t any departments that are so overwhelmingly men that a professor would assume a woman was a secretary), but it is an important thing that’s happening to a lot of women in other fields of science now.


I guess my take away is: Call out sexism when you see it...but be polite about it.

ETA: The other woman in my lab missed the question also, so I feel like I’m not totally off base with this.