Sexist Responses to "Grading System Gets an F"

Much has been said about Ailee Slater's article in the Oregon Daily Emerald, including thoughtful comments on Dennis Jerz's weblog and Kairosnews. A generous, sympathetic reading of the column might emphasize Slater's obvious alienation from the university and interpret her virulence in that context. She is clearly troubled by the grading system, which exacerbates an already stressful environment that ranks and disciplines minds rather than nurturing them. She writes, for example:

perhaps a decrease of focus on grades will actually lead to more fair admission policies. Time not spent calculating grades could be used by teachers to write recommendations for the students who have truly shown the ability to work hard and be motivated to educate themselves.

That being said, she foregrounds the university-as-corporation, student-as-customer model ("If I'm paying someone to do my housekeeping, I'll be the one to tell the receiver of my hard-earned money exactly how well they did. Shouldn't it be the same with education?"), which hurts her ethos, and even worse, she comes across as being oblivious to and dismissive of considerable issues of privilege and access that affect student performance (my emphasis):

Students who work hardest would be surrounded by similarly ambitious and intelligent peers; as for teachers, their time could be spent concentrating on exceptional students who want to learn, rather than wasting resources grading the sub-par work of students who didn't care enough to do a good job in the first place.

I realize I'm preaching to the choir here, but: Some students are much more well-prepared for college than others. Students whose parents can afford, for example, music lessons, summer enrichment day camps, tutors, book-of-the-month clubs, private schools, computers, the internet, etc. and who have the leisure time necessary to take children to museums, to read to them, and to help with homework (which implies that the parents would need the necessary education to provide such help, which implies that they would likely have had access to similar resources) are better prepared for college, and their performance is more likely to be interpreted as "exceptional." I object to Slater's argument for those two reasons.

Now, I've been looking at the comment forum at the Oregon Daily Emerald, and one poster mentioned that Slater was getting ripped apart at Fark. I've only occasionally visited over there, and the times I have, I've enjoyed all the PhotoShopping fun. However, this time, I was troubled by some of the comments I read. I don't mean to single out Drew Curtis by any means; these comments could have been left in any forum, unfortunately. I've seen this before; one example that comes to mind is the comments at the forums when Linda Bensel-Meyers openly criticized the University of Tennessee's athletic program and the tutoring the athletes were receiving, claiming they weren't getting a proper education and that, basically, they were being treated like pieces of meat, a means to an end (revenue from ticket sales). "I bet she weighs at least two hundred and fifty pounds," one poster at said about Bensel-Meyers. These are only some of the comments about Slater:

"She was not accepted at the University of I'd Hit It.

/admissions officer"

"I was really hoping it would be one of the much cuter girls I met... I'll ask if they know this one. The creature that wrote this is pretty scary, not to mention inept."

"Please, this was my excuse in high school. College is the big leagues, biatch, come up with something better.

Also, we regret to inform this biatch that she was not accepted into U of I'd Hit It West, as well."

"I thought unattractive female college newspaper columnists only wrote about their sex lives. What gives?"

"That's OK, there's dozens of boobie bars that will be waiting for her after she drops out."

"From her pic, can we guess that she is not sleeping for her "A"s?"

"This chick redefines the meaning of fugly."

"Look at her face right now

What's that in her mouth?

Is it a big wad of gizz?

Yeah, i think so too."

Would comments about Slater's appearance and speculation about her sexual practices have been made had she been a man? Maybe, but I've seen them repeatedly over the years in reference to women (and yeah, I know I've only provided one other example, but perhaps others will point to more). Am I being a strident, knee-jerk feminist? It certainly wouldn't be the first time, probably not the last either. Should I just lighten up? Seriously, I really want to know.


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Defending Aliee?

I feel a little hypocritical since I just posted to Kairosnews an attack on Ailee's article, but after reading the Fark comments, I'd have to agree she's being singled out because of gender typing, and that you're not being strident or knee-jerk. (I think my own comments would have been the same had she been a man--or had no gender been identified--even the use of the word "whiny," which is unfairly applied more to women than to men.) But the vitriol of the comments makes me think that her primary sin (to the commenters) is standing up against a grading system that (arguably) has favored male students over the years. In this respect, Ailee's not unlike Hillary Clinton, who incurred such right-wing wrath for her support of universal healthcare (a threat to a male-dominated AMA establishment). Nevertheless, Ailee's not criticizing the grading system for inherent gender bias, but for being too hard. In fact, by ignoring any sort of real bias within the system, she actually supports it.

you got it

Would comments about Slater's appearance and speculation about her sexual practices have been made had she been a man?
Not nearly to that extent, if at all. The issue has nothing to do with her looks, but for many it seems like the best way to attack women on ANY issue is to criticise their appearance. If a man brought up the same issue, no one criticizing him would focus on his looks or "fuckability."

Am I being a strident, knee-jerk feminist?

Should I just lighten up?

No - you shouldn't lighten up

No - you shouldn't lighten up; those comments are disgusting. They're disgusting especially because they haven't the tiniest least little bit to do with the article, and no, I don't think a man would get that kind of response at all. Sure, it's a stupid article, but that doesn't say anything about the author's sex life. Ick. Completely disgusting.

(from New Kid on the Hallway, in case the HTML isn't coming out correctly)

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  • sad, sexist gaggle of fraggles

    The same types of attacks would not have been posted if a man had written the piece. I'm fairly certain the same individuals would have resorted to personal attacks either way, effective way of getting a point across, but the gender or sexual behavior would not have been the source drawn from. This is some major insecurity and hostility from a seriously sad selection of guys. I'm male...and I'll go out on a limb by suggesting these guys voted for shrub. Nice blog by the way.


    It seems strange to me that one student's article caught so much attention. Anyway...

    Nah, good thoughts, C. All of the comments you listed are off-base and unnecessary. On the other hand, I think experience and surfing has shown that people like to say stupid shit, especially when given the chance to remain anonymous. Slashdot, for instance, is one part honest discussion about technology trends and one part "who can be funnier / more offensive / nerdularly witty."

    Yes, nerdularly.

    I'd be more upset if my own friends were making sexist remarks and were going unchecked. This, however, while representative of larger problems and therefore certainly worthy of attention, seems hardly within reach of any immediate remedy (i know that's not your intention).

    Good post.

    --pma (

    Yeah, Paul

    I thought about that; it is Fark, after all, and not a more serious forum like Crooked Timber. I agree that these same people might discuss the article in a completely different register elsewhere. The thing that bothers me about it is just that these attitudes and values continue to lurk and that they are often left unexamined.

    Same Bad Show, Different Channel

    Re: "The thing that bothers me about it is just that these attitudes and values continue to lurk and that they are often left unexamined."

    Precisely. I think while at a "more serious" place of discussion we might have all been spared the asinine variations on the theme of "hitting it", the criticisms of the content would probably still exist, whereas they likely would not had the article been written by a male. That likelihood demonstrates just how insidious the aforementioned attitudes and values can be. Idiots sounding like idiots, in my view, are marginally better than the more deceptive alternative, though all such demonstrations are contemptible.

    Yeah, lighten up, Clancy

    I just did that to get attention. As the term ends, let's all relax and lighten up for the Festival of Lights.

    As for the idiotic posters, you are spot on. I did learn a the phrase "I Hit It" which is not in my register and which I haven't encountered yet in my own students' comments.

    Actually, I think we may be seeing a resurgence of these kinds of male put downs of female adversaries. On Fox or MSNBC (wherever Brit Hume spews forth) a few nights ago, Hume aggressively interrupted a female colleague to contradict her, the sort of thing aware males were not doing ten years ago. And in an AOL chatroom last night, one idiot was proudly proclaiming that white males had created western civilization and it was white males who need to be in charge to maintain it.

    It's interesting to speculate at what in the zeitgeist might be encouraging young males to give voice to these notions.

    John L

    You're right

    You're right on all counts.

    What is "I'd hit it"?

    Feeling old,

    iBeth (

    Thanks for alerting me

    I recently posted about this article on Pedablogue, too. I didn't even consider the gender issue, till I read your post here and clicked through to Fark. How bizarre -- thanks for opening my eyes.

    Young Males

    Hmm, Clancy, I'll have to review the links later.

    But I'll add, after reading that last comment from John L, I'm glad to have the finger on my two young males and I intend to contribute something more to society than the skeletal shards of intelligent and emotive men. I'll spit out my own morals to them, thanks. And I don't give a crap about what goes on in AOL chatrooms.

    < href="">Michelle P

    from the mouths of the "young people"

    I believe "I'd hit it" is synonymous with "I'd sleep with her/him"--at least, that's how my friends use it when we're inappropriately objectifying a guy. It is occasionally phrased, "I'd hit that." While it's problematic in private conversations, it's clear we all agree that it's deeply problematic and inappropriate when used in this kind of public forum, even if it is fark.


    Lighten up or not...

    I more or less agree with you (and most of the others posting here) on this Clancy, the comments against Ms. Slater are more than a tad sexist. On the other hand, the tone of her essay isn't exactly high n' mighty, and in a way, it's sort of feeding this kind of response. For example:

    "A situation like this is the ultimate spit in the face: Students have paid someone to teach them, they have been taught, but an arbitrary grade makes it seem as though this learning never occurred. Their newfound education is not recognized, and they have, in essence, paid money to be told that they are idiots. If I want to be told that I'm an idiot, I could just get drunk and leave embarrassing messages on the phone machines of attractive men -- for free."

    lighten up or not?

    I'm hemming and hawing on this--the original essay was so full of flawed logic (still don't get the "if I pay someone. . ." analogy. Do we sell grades? OK, let's not go there)that letting it die on the side of a mountain seems the only kind thing to do. On the other hand, the sexist comments were worth pointing out, though I wonder if the authors would even care that their comments were innapropriate. The site read like a frat party blog. Joanna

    high-brow sexism

    clancy, i don't think you need to lighten up, in fact, i don't think you got very heavy. i agree that comments such as these would less likely be directed at slater were she a he.

    there is a tad mention on the jonathan last essay on natalie portman and "pedophilia chic" over at drezner. he being a fan of portman, he doesn't chime in on last (or further implications) but a commenter has just responded "Nadaly portman is hottttttt!!!!!!!" - i thought i would see what folks here had to say about that.

    what kind of difference do y'all see in the "Nadaly"-style statement versus those about slater? is the "tameness" of the "Nadaly" statement due to drezner's audience, one might assume of a more "intellectual" or "enlightened" crowd? is it odd that an un-tenured prof at UofC would post eye-candyesque photos of the likes of portman, zeta-jones, & co.? do you think the fact that he does post these photos, and occasionally gush about their good looks, create the atmosphere where someone might post the "Nadaly" comment? do you think that a professor, such a drezner, in creating a certain blog presence, arguably sexist at times, is setting up a potentially less-than-comfortable classroom environment?

    [dan, what do you have to say about all this? i reckon you have come to check your trackback:]


    The Problem with Fark

    Clancy, while I agree with you about the tenor of the remarks at Fark, I'll suggest that remarking on the maturity/sophistication/englightenedness of Fark commenters is probably about as effective as remarking on the ideology of Little Green Footballs commenters. Fark, after all, has a post category of "Boobies." The fact that it's adolescent tech-oriented boys making the comments doesn't excuse those boys -- if you'll pardon my stereotyping -- but it does help to explain the nature of those comments.

    That said, I thought Slater's piece was a poorly reasoned whine from someone firmly and foolishly committed to the consumerist approach to higher education, as well as being a piece that made many horribly obvious logical errors. (The discussion at Metafilter makes some interesting points about this.) And, yes, I'll agree with you on the classism bit: Hampshire College, just down the road from me, offers written evaluations rather than grades, and declares their commitment to idiosyncratic learning for the creative individuals of tomorrow -- and, as you might guess, it's home to a preponderance of trustafarians, and has a conspicuous absence of students of color. (This semester, I had my students take field trips to the surrounding local campuses and turn in some semi-ethnographic field notes.) I'm not excusing the Fark boys -- they're as bad as, or worse (maybe dumber, but more inclined to joke?) than, the /. boys -- but I'm saying that the rhetorical environment of Fark is gonna be just as influential as the rhetorical environment of

    So then the question becomes, as various folks above have pointed out: what to do about it? One hopeful possibility might be that as adolescent boys begin to grow out of their adolescence, some might find Fark less appealing at about the same time they realize that they can actually talk to girls. Yes, it's a cop-out. I have some ideas about ways to call this into question -- maybe asking students to interrogate the rhetoric of (yes, go ahead, sign up) in combination with the rhetoric of in light of Mark Edmundson's obnoxious essay and Wesley Shumar's work on commodification and higher education -- but they're still only half-formed.


    I don't think you need to lighten up

    But I do think that this is an old argument, an old debate. I'm tired of it and I'm bored by it but it doesn't mean that it's not worthwhile as a topic. What makes it new is the people participating. Or should I say, what is beneficial about it is the newness to the people exposed to these things for the first time. or the people who don't tire of it and i think they're out there, as well.

    Chel P

    Men's sexuality can be challenged too

    Ad-hominem attacks against a man are more likely to focus on sexual preference or prowess than against his desirability. Remember also the "Star Wars Kid", who was ridiculed in a videoclip that went all over the Internet.

    I agree, however, that the sexist attacks against Slater should be read as deplorable efforts to keep her "in her place". (When that sort of thing happens in male culture, it's an attempt to establish a pecking order within the culture, not usually an attempt at exclusion -- though that happens, too.)

    Prompted in part by Clancy's willingness to be sympathetic, I posted a follow-up blog that responded to a comment on the newsper website that suggested that future employers would throw Slater's resume in the trash can. I invoked the educational purpose of a student paper, and invited future employers first to see how Slater responds to the tempest her article touched off.

    Dennis G. Jerz

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