My senior year of college I took a course with the chair of the philosophy department at my small, wealthy, southern liberal arts college. (It was the sort of place where women wore pearls to the gym). I was a brash Yankee girl who very much objected to the sorority culture and standards of southern femininity, and so dressed accordingly. He, by contrast, was a meticulously neat, old-fashioned man, who clearly wished he could drape a tablecloth over me so as to be spared the sight of my sartorial choices. Unfortunately, he couldn’t ignore me, because I sat in the front of room, spoke frequently, and was, by far, the best student there.
One day, when discussing Dewey’s Democracy and Education, I asked some question about Dewey’s methodology. The professor asked if I minded being used as an example to clarify his point. I said, no, not at all, and he proceeded to say this: “X has a lot of problems – her wardrobe, what she is going to do tonight, her wardrobe, finding a date for the spring formal, her wardrobe…..”
At the time, I was mostly furious for the way he assigned such stereotypically shallow, feminine concerns to me. My real concerns at the time were the domestic violence counseling I was doing to support myself, the international fellowships I was applying for (one of which I won), and the grad schools I was applying for (all of which accepted me). Looking back, I’m still offended by his totally unjustified assumption that I was not a serious student, but even more outraged that he thought it at all appropriate to comment on my physical appearance in front of the entire class. Fortunately, he has since retired.