The Ideology of Clothes in Academia

I read this article in Inside Higher Ed that made me feel very proud of my colleagues in academia and then instantly very ashamed of them. The article’s title is “Why I (Usually) Wear a Tie“. This is what Nate Kreuter has to say about the way he dresses for work:

For me, wearing a pressed shirt, sport coat, and tie is a way of projecting respect for my job, and respect for my students. It’s a way of saying to my students and to my colleagues, “I take you seriously, I take my work seriously, and I don’t take either for granted.” . . . In my own field of rhetoric, it’s widely understood that the images we project through our writing, speech, mannerisms, and dress play a critical role in how we and our ideas are received by the people that we work with, the students that we teach, and the community members with whom we interact. I think that junior faculty especially, but all faculty, need to ask themselves, as shallow as it may sometimes seem, “What image am I projecting?”

I strongly believe that, for educators our personality is one of the most important means of production we possess. I educate students not only with the knowledge I have but with everything I am, everything I say, do, wear, etc. I couldn’t agree more with Nate Kreuter’s belief that the image one projects as a college professor is very important.

However, when I finished reading this inspiring article, I scrolled down and read the comments. I’ll save you the trouble of having to leaf through them. here are some of the most egregious responses for your perusal:

Professors “on the soft side” of the house (social sciences and humanities) need to dress up to project an image that they’re in charge.  Professors “on the hard side” of the house (sciences and mathematics) don’t have to worry about how they work — they get respect because they clearly KNOW more than their students.

I sincerely hope this is some kind of a clumsy joke. Especially the weird “hard vs soft” part of it.

Ties constrict blood flow to the brain. Someone in an intellectual profession should appreciate the disadvantages of doing that. They are also penis-symbols. Someone in an intellectual profession should appreciate the ludicrousness of wearing such a symbol to impress students and the difficulties it raises in terms of “professionalism”. Further, women don’t wear ties and cannot seem truly professional lacking one. Is that the message you want to communicate? Don’t you find that a tad problematic? Yes, conformity feels good. Shouldn’t an academic be questioning what it means to conform to an anachronistic custom, not embracing it?

First of all, women can wear ties. I have one and I love it. I don’t wear it as often as I’d like to because tying it is an adventure and I keep untying it in a fit of forgetfulness. Besides, the entire screech about conformity is beyond superficial. If anybody feels they are being non-conformist by wearing short shorts to class, they are fools. I thought people get over this teenage rebellion phase by the age they get a job in academia, but apparently it isn’t always the case.

And what’s with these sad attempts at humor?

According to this article the 99% would be a lot better off if the geniuses on Wall Street wore t-shirts and flip flops to work, so that they’d get the disrespect they most surely deserve.  Part of that hornswoggling magic is the three thousand dollar suit, right?  Surely somebody who looks that good must be a hard working and honest professional, yes?

Here is an example of how any conversation can be derailed completely by bringing in totally unrelated issues. I know that Wall Street is to blame for absolutely everything nowadays, including the weather. But it would be nice to be able to discuss an issue without somebody starting to yell “You, the horrible one-percenter!” to shut down all disagreement.

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Through the Eyes of a Stranger: Where is the World Located?

It really annoys me when what could have been a good, informative article is ruined by a ridiculous, offensive title. I just discovered a piece that lists important but sadly forgotten resistance movements in the US. The subject matter of the article sounded fascinating, so I sat down to read it with interest. The moment I saw the article’s title, however, I lost all interest for what its author had to say on any issue:

Beyond Occupy Wall Street: 11 American Uprisings You’ve Never Heard of That Changed the World

I’m sure that these were important uprisings that helped shape this country. The world, however, could care less about the Lowell Mill Women’s Strikes of 1830ies or the Flint Sit-Down Strike of 1936. Other countries had their own strikes, uprisings, problems and victories. So please, let’s stop with the annoying “an American took a particularly successful dump and it changed the world.” And no, the entire planet was not waiting with bated breath for the verdict in the OJ Simpson case.

If anybody tries to tell me this is just a figure of speech, all I can say is that it’s a really counter-productive one. If the author exaggerates the effect of these uprisings on the world, how can we trust him not to exaggerate their importance to the US? One could maybe try to make a case that the two world wars were events that changed the world. Maybe. Other than that, I can’t find a context where this expression can be even remotely useful.

Praise the Lord!

Here is a funny story that is dirty in a literal sense, which is why I didn’t put it in the “Dirty Jokes” thread.

Once my mother bought a three-liter jar of fresh sunflower-seed oil. As she was carrying it into the kitchen, the jar slipped out of her fingers, crashed on the floor, and cracked open. The oil splashed all over the kitchen.

“Praise the Lord!” my father exclaimed immediately. “Thank you, thank you sweet Jesus in heaven!”

“What are you so thankful for?” my mother asked, forgetting about the oil for the moment.

“I’m just so thankful that it wasn’t me who dropped the jar!” my father responded.

Through the Eyes of a Stranger: Discovering Inequality

The collapse of the Soviet Union was so traumatic for many of its citizens because people discovered very visible economic inequalities and didn’t know how to deal with that. Of course, since the closing years of World War II, really immense differences in the economic status existed between different groups of people in the Soviet Union. However, the Soviet ultra-wealthy never had a chance to mix with the regular citizens, which is why we could pretend that we were all equally poor and didn’t have to feel tortured by observing inequality on a daily basis.

In the 1990, the “wild capitalism” stage of the disintegration of the Soviet Union began. Now, anybody could make a fortune. Just as easily, anybody could become indigent overnight. Differences in the standard of living among neighbors, life-long buddies, former colleagues, sisters, brothers, etc. became striking and impossible not to notice. Many people didn’t find a way to process these changes and adapt to them. When the opportunities to live a lavish lifestyle had been limited to the chosen few who simply had the luck of being born into the right sort of family, one could tolerate that. However, the idea that one’s childhood friend could suddenly strike it rich right in front of one’s own eyes was intolerable.

Here is my question, though. People in the US never experienced any other economic reality than the fully capitalist one. Why, then, are they all acting like they suddenly discovered economic inequality two minutes ago? Haven’t the Americans had two centuries to adapt to the existence of glaring differences in the standard of living and find ways of processing them? I just read this article, and it reminded me a lot of articles that proliferated in the FSU countries between 1991 and 2001.

When I go on my daily walks, I first pass through my own middle-class neighborhood, then a poorer neighborhood, and finally arrive at an incredibly wealthy neighborhood. There are veritable mansions that I see there. As somebody who was born in the Soviet Union, my first reaction to these palaces is to feel joy that it’s possible for people to live this well. For me, it’s still something new and surprising. I always thought that for people who were born in a capitalist country this should be a non-issue and they should not have an emotional reaction of any kind to it because they must be very used to the great disparity in wealth. But then I read the articles like the one I just linked to and I feel like I’m back home, discovering capitalism for the very first time.

You’ll say this is because of the recession but, honestly, I don’t buy that. This isn’t the first economic crisis and neither is it the last. Capitalism by its nature does not exist without constant crises, shocks, and upheavals. It is not a static system and would not survive as such.

So here is my question: how do you react to the great disparity in economic status that you observe around you on a daily basis? Do the mansions of the very rich make you feel curious? Angry? Or do you fail to notice them because you are used to their existence?

You Want Empathy? I’ll Give You Empathy!

We all remember that I teach at a state university in an economically blighted area of the US, right? And that our students get offered full-time jobs that pay $11,000 per year after they graduate? And that our students work 2 – 3 part-time jobs while going to college, right?

A student of mine writes:

The government of our country is oppressive towards the rich people. It treats them unfailry by asking them to pay more than their fair share in taxes.

And you say empathy is dead in this country.

P.S. I have just been visited by a horrible suspicion. Is it possible that the student thinks I’m rich and is trying to get me to like them in this inventive manner?

Sunday Link Encyclopedia and Self-Promotion

A really cathartic post on how to liberate oneself from an emotionally abusive relationship that masks as simple friendship.

How one college is making life hell for its non-tenured teaching faculty. I know you must be hearing such stories all the time but it’s important to know what’s going on in the war on teaching. Otherwise, we will miss these changes when they sneak up on us.

Teaching girls to say yes. A brilliant post on the ridiculous way in which sexuality is framed in this uptight, Puritanic society.

A great post from a passionately Republican prof. Should we abolish money altogether?

Writers: beware! You might get coerced by a publishing house if you don’t find an agent to represent you. An important post every author should read.

Communists have been asking themselves the same question for 150 years now: of all the classes, why is the proletariat the least interested in Communism? Here is the most recent round of these hilarious attempts at convincing oneself that there is a chance of finally getting workers to give a damn about Communism. (You see? I’m fair, I give backlinks to crappy articles, not just to the good stuff. Equality rules on this blog!)

Anti-Semitism in the Occupy Wall Street protests. Is it a ploy aimed at slandering the protesters?

Reading the Bible makes you liberal.

What causes bias in scientific publications and how to avoid it.

A fascinating photo-report from the Occupy Toronto protests.

Billionaire’s Pasta: A Recipe

Tell me that this isn’t the most stunning pasta you’ve ever seen:

I found it on the blog of a real billionaire but I improved it so now it is my own billionaire’s pasta. Cook penne al dente WITHOUT using any salt, add 1 or 2 raw eggs and mix them with the pasta. Add some fresh dill and some smoked salmon. Put the pasta on the plates and add caviar to each plate. Make sure you don’t mix the caviar with the pasta, just spread it on top of the pasta. Otherwise, you run the risk of destroying the caviar if you mix it aggressively.

It’s scrumptious. And if you live close to a Russian food store, it isn’t all that expensive to make it.