Monday, March 24, 2008

I'm RG, and I'll be preparing your feast today...

I love to cook. Especially for folks who will, I think, appreciate eating what I cook. (Though, really, I'll cook for anyone.) And students are extra-fun to feed because they're a) hungry, and b) willing to expand their palates, and c) hungry. Last week, I was surprised to hear a very smart, funny, capable student of mine saying something--not about me particularly, if I'm remembering right, but speaking generally--about how female professors (she'd heard from a reliable source) shouldn't cook for their students because it undermines their authority in the classroom. Too motherly. Too domestic. Too I don't know what.

This comment doesn't really bother me as it relates to my own actions, but it bothers me a lot for what it says about the perceived role of women in academia, even in 2008, and in the world. Is a woman's authority so fragile as to be shattered by a plate of canapes? Must male professors be likewise wary about baked goods?

I've never bowed all that much to conventional wisdom about the construction/performance of classroom authority. I insist that my students call me by my first name. ("Renaissance.") I wear jeans or shorts and t-shirts to school, and during one very early-morning teaching gig years ago showed up more than once in, well, pajamas. Despite these breaches, I'm confident that my authority isn't so much under threat. My authority in the classroom, after all, doesn't derive from my clothing or my professorial reserve. It derives from my mind.

Now, my point is not an egotistical one, though it may seem to be. It is, in fact, the precise point I keep trying to teach my students--ALL my students, though it must be said that my female students need persuading a little more than my male ones seem to. That is, that authority isn't about deferring to the right sources or conforming to some kind of code.

Authority comes from knowing what you think and backing it up. Isn't this what we want students to believe when they sit down to write analytical papers? I own my ideas, even when they are (as they should be) subject to revision. That's why I have authority in the classroom.

Now. Anyone want some bread?

1 comment:

Dr. Write said...

I just made some vegan scones. But I don't think I'll share them with my students! But I agree, authority should not derive from our outfits or our titles.
And I also love to cook. And bake. So. There you have it.