Sometimes graduate student TAs have to be the mediator in the disputes and biases students bring to the table when they’re in a course with female professors. I’m a male graduate student. My department has two large lecture courses with TAs, one taught by a well known male professor and one taught by a senior (less well known, but not a lightweight by any means) female professor. I TA’d for one in the fall and one in the spring.
The difference in how the students treated the two professors was stark. When I TA’d for the senior female professor, students occasionally used openly sexist language (“bitch”, etc.) and more implicit sexism (“she’s uncaring/unsympathetic”, etc.) in discussion section. In one particular instance, a student raised his hand in my discussion section and made an explicit comparison between the two professors, asking how it is that Senior Female Professor was in our department and charging that she is the least published member of the department (note: she isn’t). I pushed back and cited the fact that Senior Female Professor had published a good book last year. I hope that standing up to the student had some positive effect. It seems important for graduate student TAs to shut down this sort of nonsense from undergraduate students when it comes up.