Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Mrs Degree

In days of yore, when I was in graduate school, I was asked by a senior professor whether I was in graduate school because I couldn't find anyone to marry me.

According to a recent e-mail message from a reader, some professors are still asking young women questions about their education/career decisions in the context of their marriage plans (or lack thereof): in this case, an undergraduate was asked if she was going to graduate school to find a husband and get the so-called "MRS degree".

Go ahead and say it, commenters who like to give alternative, he's-not-a-sexist interpretations: These guys are joking! Women should lighten up and get a sense of humor about having their career goals viewed as subordinate to finding someone to marry. Men who pursue graduate education in female-dominated fields also have to endure jokes. There is a world economic crisis, so stop whining about sexism, which doesn't really exist anyway, except for when it does, but then it is actually the fault of the woman, who shouldn't complain. So get over it. Etc.

In fact, I disagree that these statements, even if meant as jokes, are harmless when made by a professor to a student.

It can be difficult for a student in that situation to explain why this comment is disrespectful, undermining, and insulting, but I would be interested to hear if anyone has gently or aggressively explained to the person making the "MRS degree" (or similar) comment why such statements are derogatory, or at the very least, not funny. And if anyone has done so, what was the response? An apology? A defensive remark? Another insult?

Let's put our heads together and come up with some suggested counter-remarks, for those who may want to have an arsenal of responses for such circumstances. A suggestion, just to get the ball rolling, in response to a statement along the lines of "can't find a husband?" or "looking for a husband?":

That didn't occur to me, but is that why you went to graduate school?

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