Beyond Bullying: Rape Threats and the Female Professor

Photo credit: Stefan Kamer, Creative Commons

Years ago, I was part of a panel for the Commission on Social Justice in English Education, a subgroup of the National Council of Teachers of English. The panel discussed the topic of bullying from the teacher’s perspective. We focused on the many ways we as former teachers and current professors had been threatened, challenged, and delegitimized.

I shared a painful memory of my second year of teaching high school. I had headed to my classroom a bit early from an all-school pep assembly. As I was nearing my door, I heard a male student, one of five male students, say, “There she is. Let’s rape her.” We were alone in the hall, and I rushed to my door, opened it with trembling hands, and got in and relocked the door. The students walked by laughing.

This memory came back today as I read Kristina M.W. Mitchell’s piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “It’s a Dangerous Business, Being a Female Professor.” Mitchell’s story is different from mine – she received a threatening phone call in which a male caller explicitly described how he would rape her. Although Mitchell reported the call, no one was apprehended, and she discusses a new feeling of vulnerability in her office, where she used to feel empowered and assertive.

Mitchell’s conclusion suggests that online professor rating websites, among other things, allow for objectification of women: “Bias against women is a compounding problem that begins with women receiving angry anonymous evaluations and ends with women fearing for their physical safety at their place of work.”

I would hope Mitchell’s story, like mine own, is a rarity, but given the ways in which politicians have been allowed to threaten women, I’m inclined to think many of us have experiences to share. Do you?

Read Mitchell’s full article in the Chronicle.