Category Archives: sexuality

Student evaluations

I think I’ve mentioned the phenomenon of student evaluations before on this blog. Sometimes, as I’ve explained in the earlier post, I’ve received some very amusing ones. Most have been pretty positive although I have received some critical evaluations. Never anything really soul destroying…yet. Other times, the positive ones balance the negative ones exactly (eg, I get 5 saying “Where were the Powerpoint slides?” and 5 saying “Thank God there were no Powerpoint slides!”) I tend to mentally file those responses under “well, you can’t please ’em all”.

Lately I’ve come across a couple of interesting legal issues regarding student evaluations. Of course, both cases come from the US, the fount of much interesting litigation.

First, there’s the case of a student who, when asked to complete a student evaluation form, wrote offensive comments about a professor’s sexuality and expressed the desire that the professor die of AIDs. Read more about it here at Concurring Opinons and here at Volokh Conspiracy.

The evaluation was said to be confidential. However, the professor in question was very upset by the comments, and went through exam papers to identify the handwriting of the person who had made the comments. The particular student was identified, and officially reprimanded. The student has been asked to write a 1,200-word essay on how his remarks affect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, to write a letter of apology to the professor (including constructive criticisms of his teaching style), and to discuss with the university training or other programs deemed appropriate.

Hmm. I have to say that I found the student’s comments offensive, and for this reason I decided not to reproduce them on my page. I’m sure that if someone directed racist, sexist or other abuse at me, I would be very, very upset. Particularly if it was something about which I was already sensitive or about which I had already had to face abuse from others previously. I also think the punishment was appropriate, although I do wonder whether it will really change the student’s underlying prejudices.

On the other hand, if it were me, I don’t know that I’d go through all the exam papers and work out who said it. To my mind, the surveys are confidential, and even when people say stupid and offensive things, that is a promise that needs to be kept, except in extreme cases where, for example, a death threat is made. The confidentiality allows students freedom of speech to say whatever they want, even if it is ridiculous or highly critical.

The student did say that he hoped the professor in question would die, but to my mind, it was not a death threat – it was more of a unpleasant and juvenile sneer of the kind that 13 year olds make. The statement made by the student indicates (a) that he is extremely immature and (b) that his opinion is not worth much anyway. I’d probably decide to brush it off as an opinion not even worth worrying about, and hope that as he progressed through university he came to a more open-minded point of view. I might also suspect that he had sexuality issues of his own (as is often the case with young homophobic males)…

However, I’d welcome comments from anyone who feels differently. I suspect some readers who are members of the gay and lesbian community might feel very strongly about this one.

The second case concerns a professor who altered student evaluations to make them more favourable towards him. The professor happened to teach law, and the Supreme Court of Iowa has suspended him from legal practice, with the possibility of reinstatement on conditions. (Hat tip to Stephen Warne for alerting me to this one).

The misconduct occurred as follows. The professor remained in the room when the student surveys were taken, and he and his research assistant also completed surveys which were handed in (favourable, I’m sure). It seems that they amended some of the results.

The professor also gave a speech to the students stressing the importance of good reviews, and said that his problems with the law school had arisen because others were jealous of him. I must say that I have never had the hide to give a speech to students about how important student evaluations are to academic careers. I’d rather people judge me honestly, without having to beg them to be kind.

The professor was suffering from bipolar disorder, and at the time of the offences, he had not taken his medication, which makes his conduct rather more explicable. Ironically, his speciality was mental health law. Still, despite the bipolar disorder, he must have known that what he was doing was wrong.

The consequences have been quite devastating for his career, I am sure – what a silly fellow! – he would have been better to leave the questionnaires untouched and leave his career in one piece.

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Filed under academia, cheating, education, freedom of speech, law, legal education, powerpoint, sexuality, society, tolerance, universities, USA

Dance of the seven robes

The title to this post could also be “Anything you can do, I can do better.” I’ve long believed that bickering and conflict between the three Abramic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) is a bit like sibling rivalry, as I’ve said before, and the story below just confirms that belief. The three are very similar, but the differences are all the more contentious because of that.

Apparently there is a new trend among ultra Orthodox Charedi women in Israel. Inspired by Rebbetzin Bruria Keren, these ultra Orthodox women wear ten skirts, seven long robes, five kerchiefs knotted at the chin, three knotted at the back of the head, hide their faces behind a veil and then cover themselves with several thin shawls. Whew! I’m surprised that these women can walk after putting all those clothes on.

The effect is somewhat like a niqab, or a full Islamic veil revealing only the eyes. I refer to and repeat my comments about the niqab (here and here). An outward show of inner faith, or a display of modesty before God are, to my mind, acceptable reasons for wearing religious costume. But as a feminist, I draw the line at religious costumes which impede women from interacting with the outside world. If a woman cannot engage in face to face communication, cannot drive, cannot run, cannot drink a glass of water in public…then I think it’s just plain wrong. It makes her less of a person than a man. I also dislike the idea that layers of clothing must be worn because a woman’s body is peculiarly seductive, or because it is thought that women’s bodies are unclean or lewd.

There are a number of interesting things about this phenomenon. First, the ultra Orthodox men tend to dislike the practice, despite their emphasis on tzniut, or modesty, in women. Thus it has been considered to be a kind of “counter revolution” – women saying, “Well, if you’re going to ask us to be modest, we’ll do that to the maximum degree possible.” I still don’t think that it can be considered “empowerment”, except in a very negative way.

The other interesting thing is that the women are apparently mistaken for Arab Muslims or Arab Christians, and are somewhat offended by this. They don’t feel any solidarity with their Arab sisters. I wonder, as foreshadowed by the alternative title to the post, whether there’s a sense of “oneupwomanship” here: “You Muslims think you’re modest? We Jews can be ten times more modest, and wear even sillier outfits, just watch us.” I’m waiting for some fundamentalist Christian women to start wearing old fashioned metal diving suits, just to show that they are the most modest of all.

In the end, it’s up to all these women (of whatever religion) to choose to wear whatever they please. I don’t really mind, as long as they don’t judge me for what I choose to wear, and don’t impose their standards on me or my daughter. My body is not dirty, thank you very much, and nor am I a harlot because I show my ankles. To me, empowerment is being able to move and communicate freely.

(Via Indyblogs)

Update

And it’s stories like the one of Indian tennis player Sania Mirza which make me believe that requiring women to cover up cannot be empowering or “feminist”. Mirza is an Indian Muslim, and some radical clerics have issued a fatwa against her. She has just withdrawn from the Bangalore Open after receiving threats because she wears short skirts and sleeveless tops.

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Filed under christianity, feminism, islam, judaism, sexuality, society, tolerance

Waxing lyrical

Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but I’ve never understood the appeal of the Brazilian wax. In fact, I’m a bit disturbed by the thought that there might be guys out there who prefer women to be hairless. Do these guys like to imagine that the woman is very young? Erk.

There is a piece in The Age today about Brazilian waxes for teens and pre-teens. The piece references a site called girl.com.au which touts itself as “Empowering girls worldwide”. The site has a feature on Brazilian waxes. I thought I’d go have a look. I was horrified. It explains the concept as follows:

Removing all hair from the vagina area, the Brazilian Wax although sadistic in nature is surprisingly not as painful as you might think, to some.

My first comment is that this is an appalling sentence. (Yes, I’m a pedant). My second comment is that I have my legs waxed and it hurts! And once my sister persuaded me to have a bikini wax…owch! Not the kind of thing you want sensitive girlish skin to undergo. I think I’ve made the right decision to avoid Brazilian waxes. The piece goes on to describe the process in ways that make it sound like some kind of torture or violation:

Brazilian waxing involves spreading hot wax your buttocks and vagina area. A cloth is patted over the wax, then pulled off. Don’t be alarmed if the waxer throws your legs over your shoulder, or asks you to moon them, this is normal and ensures there are no stray hairs. A tweezer is used for the more delicate areas (red bits).

EEEK! Doesn’t sound very empowering to me. Apparently if I wanted to become a model this would be a “must”, but fortunately, I got over that particular desire at the age of 13.

I think they have changed the most offensive part of the feature since Dubecki wrote her article. Dubecki says that the site says “Nobody really likes hair in their private regions and it has a childlike appeal”, but the site now says, “Nobody really likes hair in their private regions and this removes it.” Nonetheless, it’s still pretty full on. It suggests that “nobody” likes people who have pubic hair and that “everyone” is removing it.

I suppose it’s all about what you’re comfortable with. I can understand wanting to remove leg hair, and if my 15 year old daughter wanted to wax her legs, I’d let her, with parental supervision. However, I don’t think I’d allow it before the age of 14. Also, if my daughter wanted to shave her underarms, I’d let her. It would be hypocritical of me not to let her do these things because I do them myself.

But I draw the line at Brazilian waxing. The skin there is particularly delicate. And that area is private. It is a sexual area, in a way that legs and armpits are not. There’s no reason to undergo Brazilian waxing unless one is (a) wearing very revealing clothing or (b) exposing that area to others. I just don’t think that it’s appropriate for young teens to do either. Furthermore, I don’t want my daughter thinking that there’s something wrong with her when she hits puberty and gets pubic hair. The inference is that an adult body is somehow dirty or wrong, but girlish, thin and smooth is “sexy”. It’s just a continuation of the idea already present in the media that only girls are attractive, and that a womanly body (with curves, breasts, pubic hair) is ugly. I don’t want my daughter to believe that. And I’d encourage her never to undergo the process described above.

As I’ve said before, there are some very confusing messages out there for young girls these days. Girls’ magazines seem to assume young girls will be wearing makeup and revealing clothes before hitting their teens. Let’s not beat around the bush. Makeup, revealing clothing and waxing are all designed to make a woman more sexually attractive to men. Do we really want 8 year olds doing things which are ultimately designed to make them sexually attractive? I don’t. No wonder Jamie Lynn Spears is pregnant at the tender age of 16: to be rather crude, she looks like “gaol bait”. If we sexualise girls at a young age, we shouldn’t be surprised if they then go out and behave in a sexualised manner.

I really don’t want my daughter to go out and explore her sexuality until she’s ready. And I want her to be comfortable with her womanly body when she grows up. Now, I think that’s an idea which is truly empowering.

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Filed under children, corporate paedophilia, feminism, media, morality, motherhood, parenthood, sex, sexuality

Egypt and FGM

It’s awful that it has taken the death of a 12 year old girl to precipitate change, but it is good that Egypt is now looking at banning female genital mutilation outright. Even more positively, leaders in the Sunni Muslim and Coptic Christian communities have spoken out unequivocally against the practice, which is practiced by adherents of both faiths. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a cultural shift.

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Filed under christianity, feminism, human rights, islam, law reform, middle east, sexuality

Gay cowboys cause psychological injury?

More crazy tort cases from the US… Apparently a 14 year old girl is suing the Chicago Board of Education for emotional distress suffered when her class was shown the film Brokeback Mountain. I presume the emotional distress arose because of the film’s portrayal of a closet homosexual relationship between two cowboys. She purportedly seeks damages of $500,000.

What exactly is so distressing about the revelation that cowboys may have a covert homosexual relationship? I can understand that girl’s guardians may have wished to have had a say in whether she watched the film. Further, they may not have wished her to learn about homosexuality from a film. But I can’t see how this gives her an entitlement to half a million bucks.

I was trying to think of a topic about which I would feel outraged if a school teacher exposed my child to it without my consent. I think if a school showed a film with graphic violence to my teenage daughter, for example, I would want a say in it. But I don’t think suing the school would be the answer. I would raise my concerns with the school, and say that I thought it was inappropriate. I would also counsel my daughter and encourage her to talk about anything she found disturbing or worrying. Surely that’s all that a guardian or parent needs to do? Suing for half a million is really over the top.

Update

Someone has pointed out that Brokeback Mountain shouldn’t be shown in schools because it is rated R. This is a very good point. So the teacher certainly should not have been showing the film to students under the age of 18. But still…$500,000 for emotional distress?

I wonder if you could sue the school for breaching the film classification recommendations – sounds to me like that’s a more productive way to go to prevent this sort of thing in the future.

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Filed under crazy stuff, education, law, parenthood, sex education, sexuality, tort law

“Everyone wants you when you’re bi…”

That’s what Living Colour said in a song a few years back. But it seems that they might have been wrong.

I was surprised by the account of a recent decision of the Refugee Review Tribunal (discovered via Anonymous Lefty). Ali Humayun sought asylum on the basis that he was a bisexual Christian and would be persecuted if he was returned to Pakistan. He had commenced a relationship with a Mr Lorenzo after being detained in the Villawood detention centre.

Giles Short, the Refugee Review Tribunal member found:

… I do not accept that the Applicant is in fact bisexual in sexual orientation as he claims. I consider that his relationship with Mr Lorenzo is simply the product of the situation where only partners of the same sex are available and says nothing about his sexual orientation. I am not satisfied that the Applicant’s conduct in telling his family in Pakistan about his claimed bisexuality and his claimed relationship with Mr Lorenzo was engaged in otherwise than for the purpose of strengthening his claim to be a refugee… Since I do not accept that the Applicant is in fact bisexual in sexual orientation, as he claims … I do not accept that, if the Applicant returns to Pakistan now or in the reasonably foreseeable future, there is a real chance that he will be persecuted for reasons of his actual or perceived membership of the particular social group of homosexuals or bisexuals in Pakistan.

Huh? The Member accepted that Mr Humayun has had sexual relationships with both men and women, but then refused to accept that he was “really” bisexual? Seems a little illogical to me. Does it matter that the cause of Mr Humayun’s relationship with Mr Lorenzo is his incarceration? Does it matter that Mr Humayun’s relationship with Mr Lorenzo may be simply a casual one? I would suggest that neither of these things are relevant. What is important is whether Mr Humayun would be persecuted for entering into a relationship with Mr Lorenzo when he returns to Pakistan (regardless of the cause of the relationship and the duration and seriousness of it).

The concern seems to be that refugees should be deterred from entering into short term homosexual relationships simply to gain refugee status.

I have since looked at the decision of the Federal Magistrates’ Court which reviewed and upheld Mr Short’s determination, and it sheds more light on the real reasons behind the decision.

First, Mr Humayun also made an unconvincing argument that he had converted to Christianity after 9/11, but showed no knowledge of the Christian faith, and he did not realise that homosexuality was frowned upon by the church of which he claimed to be a member. Therefore, it seems that his credibility was limited. Secondly, Mr Humayun is a heroin addict.

It seems to me that Mr Short should have concluded either:

(a) that Mr Humayun had entered into a supposed homosexual relationship as a sham to gain refugee status, and his lack of credibility on the issue of his conversion to Christianity also cast doubt on his evidence with respect to his relationship with Mr Lorenzo; or

(b) that Mr Humayun was bisexual, but had over-emphasised the seriousness of his relationship with Mr Lorenzo for the purposes of his application.

If the conclusion is (b), even if Mr Humayun’s relationship with Mr Lorenzo is a casual one created by the circumstances of incarceration, there remains a question of whether he would be persecuted in Pakistan because of the relationship. You can’t say “He is bisexual, but it’s not “real” bisexuality, even though he has had a sexual relationship with a man.” It’s just a matter of definition.

The other question which springs to mind is – if the relationship was caused by the circumstances of incarceration, could Mr Humayun argue that the Australian government had “caused” his bisexuality and thus ought to wear the consequences…?

If I were a refugee who had been genuinely persecuted because of my homosexuality, I would be angry if Mr Humayun had cynically claimed to be bisexual and had entered into a relationship with Mr Lorenzo solely for the purposes of getting refugee status. On the other hand, if he was in a relationship with Mr Lorenzo for more genuine reasons (even if those reasons were created by circumstance) and he would be persecuted for it when he returned home, I would want to see him protected from persecution.

If the Australian government wants to give a message that false claims with regard to sexuality will not be tolerated, it would be better to just say it outright.

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Filed under immigration, law, sex, sexuality, tolerance