When your institution treats you like a sex object

Later today I will be talking on CBC’s “On the Coast” about the sexualization of female faculty. This interview was prompted by Simon Fraser University’s video promoting “Sweater Day.” In the video, which you can watch below, a female teacher is in her office — she is supposed to depict an instructor but is addressed as “Miss Pinkham,” not Doctor or Professor — and a young male student stops to compliment her in a sexually suggestive manner. She is flattered, and flustered. Really. No, really. Saving energy, is apparently, a huge turn on for white heterosexuals, and don’t take my word for it, that’s what the video actually says.

 

When the very place you work promotes the kind of sexism that your intellectual work seeks to contest and ultimately, destroy, you feel like you are being eaten from the inside out. There was once a time when I would have seen the video is simply outdated, idiotic, and yes, offensive, but now I see it much differently. Now I feel the harm it does, and not just to Miss Pinkham, but also to her male student who is encouraged to relate to half the population on such a limited level, and who himself then is defined by his heterosexual desire for women.

We could talk, too, about the heterosexual and racial norms this video props up. This video only “works” because the whiteness and heterosexuality of the two characters are “normal” and “universal,” and therefore stand in for “everyone.” Two people of the same-sex, people of different or differing racial heritages, would change the meaning in critical ways, ultimately undermining the nudge-nudge-wink-wink factor at work here.

The collective outrage of female faculty resulted in the video being removed from the SFU website, and that is a very good thing. But how do we get to a place where such a thing never gets up there to begin with?