There has been raging debate in my Facebook timeline about this, and I’d be interested in to see how the hivemind reacts to this. Basically, the student was an undergrad in class about public speaking and performance. The class syllabus states that for performances, they should dress appropriately for the context and persona they want to present. When she was about to begin a practice talk of her senior thesis, her professor questioned if that her outfit is what she’d wear to her defense presentation, said that her shorts were too short and would be distracting, and basically opened the class up to discussion about dressing for the male gaze (see the articles for more detailed summary).

Her decision, after initially getting up and leaving the class, was to give her practice talk in her underwear. And then, to make sure she made a statement, in her official thesis presentation, which was livestreamed, she wore the same outfit, stripped to her undewear, and invited the audience to do so as well.

So, here’s where the debate has raged: 1) was her outfit appropriate or inappropriate? 2) did her professor handle it in an appropriate or inappropriate way? 3)is it fair to publicly shame the professor? 4) Did the student succeed in making her statement, or was it a poor choice?

My take is that the shorts would be a too informal for an official presentation, but normal for a practice talk in a classroom environment. The comment seems odd to me in the first place—why would you ask if that’s what’s she’s wearing during a practice talk a few days before the real talk? To me, that seems a complete derailing, like the professor is trying to undermine/distract and make the student nervous about something unrelated. And the comment was sexist and inappropriate. If the professor had genuine concerns about her outfit, she should have spoken to her in private, instead inviting the class to a public debate over how this students should dress to not invite the male gaze. I also think the syllabus policy is problematic... I get that they aim is to get students to think about clothing as part of performance, but vague guidelines in conjunction with in-class questioning of clothing choices, seems like a bad idea.

I’ve noticed there seems to be a divide though—it seems people under 40 tend to think that the professor was in the wrong, and this student’s response was a brave response. And it seems people under 40 are clucking about how she’s inappropriately dressed, and that it’s her professors responsibility to chastise her for that. And I’ve seen a couple older professors insist that it was a well-meaning mistake and we shouldn’t shame the professor for phrasing it badly (which I think is a load of BS).

Advertisement

So hivemind, thoughts?