Random Acts of Sexism

Here is an ongoing compendium of some of the things I encountered at the big state university where I was in the studio arts MFA program:

§ The Metal Shop was big, dark, disorderly and a magnet for the guys in Sculpture; they wanted to “make big and hard things” (that’s a direct quote from one of them) and endlessly attempted to inveigle grad students to get 24-hour access. In my second year, the Studio Tech was a just-graduated MFA who thought pretty highly of himself–he was hard working, pretty smart and the ladies found him extremely good looking (and a bunch of the guys did, too)–and so did the professor in charge of Sculpture. During my monitoring shifts, this Tech would swagger around the Shop, taking charge, answering questions students asked of me–generally getting between me and my job and preventing me from learning. I finally complained to the professor about this and his response was that, “Well, the Tech was a young guy and he’s figuring out how to do his job…” So, in other words, I, as a student who was there to learn, was supposed to accommodate a guy who was paid to help me learn. The professor scoffed when I suggested that it was important to me to get a real opportunity and, essentially, told me to keep it to myself.

§ I was trying to take a piece of equipment off of a sturdy table in a Sculpture workroom and was having a hard time—the nut/bolt was very tight and kind of hard to access—I couldn’t get any leverage. This middle-aged man (undergraduate), who was former military, came up and asked if I was having trouble. As I continued to try to loosen the nut, I said, yeah, I couldn’t quite get it. As he took the wrench from me, he said, laughing, “You mean, you’re being a woman—ha.” He yanked the nut loose, handed me the wrench and walked away, chuckling.

The Sculpture professor thought this guy was great and would always smile at him and joke around with him. The professor smiled at me twice in three years and scowled when I said anything witty.  Gee, I wonder what the deal was…‘nt.

§ Some undergrad, presumably a male, kept drawing phallus/scrotum combos on the sculpture classroom metal tables and walls with a Sharpie. After I started scrubbing these images off, he (let’s say it’s a ‘he’) carved the motif into the wood-topped table. This, I had to sand off. Thanks for that, bro. The Sculpture Area was very macho and the professors rewarded the behaviors of the stereotypical self-involved immature, juvenile males, the ones who took all the space, bullied people, were convinced they were geniuses, broke stuff, broke into stuff, showed up drunk, etc. However, as idiotic and insufferable as these dudes were, I don’t think the graffitist was from that group—I still wonder who this was. These drawings stopped showing up after a couple of semesters. I never told the prof because he was so anti-me (another tale of corrosive sexism/ageism). These drawings weren’t disturbing in themselves, but they contributed to, and were a signal of, the underlying sexism of the program and the rote trivialization of anyone who wasn’t a young self-involved male. There were more females in the program than males and the women were more involved in community and were more responsible and more imaginative, but it was the guys who got the respect. It was maddening.

§ The studio spaces grad students were offered were on the second floor a working warehouse on the edge of campus; it was not private, safe, comfortable or convenient (no water, no tools, no elevator, one electrical outlet, etc…). Also, it was brutally hot. I was commiserating with a fellow grad, a guy I barely knew, about this, and he said he would be working shirtless. I said, well, what was I supposed to do about it. He responded, ‘well you could work in a bikini, haha.’  BIKINI? What? Not bathing suit? Not, ‘you can borrow a fan,’ or ‘keep the fridge full of ice,’ but BIKINI. He wasn’t the biggest jerk I’d ever met and I certainly didn’t feel threatened and I don’t think he was deliberately ‘putting me in my place’ or revealing a salacious interest in me. But, it was not fair. He was about 40 years old, too—not an inexperienced kid. He should have known better. How could this have been his automatic response? Why, at age 50, was I still encountering this kind of crap?