Tuesday, July 11, 2006

True Story from Graduate School

The scene is a graduate classroom in which we are discussing factors that people find desirable in a mate. As various students give answers, "emotional stability", "wealth", etc. I raise my hand and answer, "fidelity"

"Bark!" responds the professor. Not the word, but the sound of a barking dog.

Then class moves on. I don't know exactly what to think. Much later, months later, I process this event with a colleague. (Much like Christians "share" with each other, psychology graduate students "process" things with each other.) She confirms that I did not misperceive something else as a bark. I was actually barked at in a graduate classroom of a public university. Only then, processing it with a friend, did I get a bit angry. For two reasons:

  1. Had a barked at any of my Psych 101 students for any reason whatsoever, I would be out of the program. Guaranteed. This would be considered the height of inappropriate behavior. We have an institutional statement on creating a Civil Learning Environment and this certainly would qualify as incivility coming from me.
  2. As far as I know, and I believe research would support this contention, fidelity is valued not only by heterosexual, religious men, but also by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals, by feminists and by liberals. I was expressing a wide-open opinion: that people want their mates to be theirs and not other peoples. Of course you could take issue with my opinion, but I could take issue with someone else's assertion that wealth is valued in mate selection. Taking issue is different from barking.

In processing the incident with a colleague, we figured out what happened. This was my first and only class with this particular professor, who is well known for work with women's issues. My reputation preceded me – the professor knew that I was a religious person and it was quite obvious that I am male. The professor might also have heard me refer to my wife as "my wife" rather than "my spouse" which is normative in my program. The professor must have expected me to espouse patriarchical values, to be controlling over my spouse (which a brief conversation with my wife would readily disconfirm) and to be intolerant. When I said something innocuous, the professor heard it through that lens of expectation. This is exactly the intolerance that we are so thoroughly drilled to resist in my program.

No, this incident didn't hurt my self-esteem or wound me intrapsychically. If anything it gave me a great story about my graduate training. I'm sure to get some mileage out of it. It illustrated for me the one-sidedness of tolerance that is preached in our public universities. I was a "victim" of religious intolerance (albeit so slight as to be trivial), and I know for a fact that had I done the same action in reference to someone of a minority sexual orientation or ethnicity, I would be searching for a new profession.


Blogger John said...

LOL! You should have howled back...literally! LOL!

Seriously...But of course, you can affirm a patriarchial creational structure without being a sexist as commonly represented by "biblical complimentarianism."

9:23 PM  
Blogger Devona said...

This reminds me of when I got a "C" on a paper I wrote on Ibsen's A Doll's House in which I stated that Norah was weak for leaving her family in the dust just because we wanted to experience the world.

I changed my topic for the final draft and wrote a completely different (and far worse) but "gender-equal" paper and got an "A."

College is a fun place to learn about equality.

8:35 PM  
Blogger Sean said...

I still dont get it... who barks?

my favorite thing to say in my "lilly scholarship meetings" was to remind all the feminist theology majors that Luther considered motherhood to be one of the greatest vocations. :D they would get sooooo mad at the suggestions of that.

10:01 AM  
Blogger solarblogger said...

If you had meowed back, he might have been left looking patriarchal.

You may well be right about the intolerance of the environment. But there is a decent, though smaller, chance that this professor felt like he was just expressing an opinion, and not maintaining the status quo. If you had been the prof and someone much further to the right of you had said "unquestioning submission", what would a bark from you have meant?

That we have to ask these questions says something about the environment. But it's easy to get the individuals within it wrong. (Then again, I wasn't there and have my own picture of the bark in my head. A friendly "I'm in my yard!" bark would be different from a ferocious "Don't take my steak!" bark.)

4:52 PM  
Blogger Seth said...

I can't remember for sure, since it was almost 10 years ago, but I believe in my Senior AP English class we read parts of the Canterbury Tales. One of them was about a man looking for a wife and how he struggled to chose between a "hot" (Old English for "hot") wife and a simple wife. He ended up choosing the simple wife, which was the better choice because he didn't have to worry about other men lusting after his wife and causing her to fall into infidelity. Thus, one of the points of the story was fidelity is an important quality when choosing a spouse. You can't argue with Chaucer, right?

2:07 PM  
Blogger Seth said...

Follow-up posting:
I looked up the Canterbury Tale because I have thought about it often ever since. Turns out I had mixed up some of the details. Here are Cliffs' Notes on the Wife of Bath's tale.


"A lusty young knight in King Arthur’s court rapes a beautiful young maiden. The people are repulsed by the knight’s behavior and demand justice. Although the law demands that the knight be beheaded, the queen and ladies of the court beg to be allowed to determine the knight’s fate. The queen then gives the knight a year to discover what women most desire.

The year passes quickly. As the knight rides dejectedly back to the court knowing that he will lose his life, he suddenly sees 24 young maidens dancing and singing. As he approaches them, the maidens disappear, and the only living creature is a foul old woman, who approaches him and asks what he seeks. The knight explains his quest, and the old woman promises him the right answer if he will do what she demands for saving his life. The knight agrees. When the queen bids the knight to speak, he responds correctly that women most desire sovereignty over their husbands.

Having supplied him with the right answer, the old crone demands that she be his wife and his love. The knight, in agony, agrees. On their wedding night, the knight pays no attention to the foul woman next to him. When she questions him, he confesses that her age, ugliness, and low breeding are repulsive to him. The old hag reminds him that true gentility is not a matter of appearances but of virtue. She tells him that her looks can be viewed as an asset. If she were beautiful, many men would be after her; in her present state, however, he can be assured that he has a virtuous wife. She offers him a choice: an old ugly hag such as she, but still a loyal, true, and virtuous wife, or a beautiful woman with whom he must take his chances. The knight says the choice is hers. And because she has “won the mastery,” she tells him, “‘Kiss me … and you shall find me both … fair and faithful as a wife.” Indeed, she had become a lovely young woman, and they lived happily ever after."

2:18 PM  

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