Over on Ladies, there’s a delightful post from our esteemed President on New Year’s resolutions we’d like to make for other people. I’ve had my say over there on irritating drivers, etc., but there was one that I intended to add, or mention over here, which I’ve now had occasion to rethink before even getting it out.
What I was going to say was that, while I know such statements generally come with the best of intentions, that it is not flattering to inform a full-grown woman, when she tells you that she is a professor, that she doesn’t look nearly old enough to have such a grown-up job. And I was going to kindly suggest that the world resolve not to do this anymore. In most cases, I still think this is true, particularly from other professors. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t find infantalization sexy.
BUT. This morning I found a GRAY HAIR sprouting out of the top of my head, brought on, no doubt, by the stress of preparing for the spring semester with a broken right wrist, and I nearly lost my shit. So I must admit that I could have hugged the young man working at the campus Starbucks who asked me what my major was, and declared (when told I taught in the English department) that he couldn’t BELIEVE I was old enough to teach, that I looked maybe 19 MAX, and then gave me a free upgrade to a grande vanilla latte on account of my New Year’s injury.
Obviously, this matter is more complex than I initially realized. I guess we could say: Generally, when someone is in her “professional mode,” i.e. teaching a class, or attending a conference, or trying to get the hold removed from her library account even though she has a million overdue books because she absolutely needs them for the article she’s writing, do not tell her that you don’t believe she is an adult. Also, if you are a grown man, do not hit on a grown woman by telling her how eighteen she looks. This is creepy on multiple levels. But if it’s clear that you’re not macking on or professionally compromising a woman who looks like maybe she’s having a tough day because her right arm is in a cast and she can’t carry books and open the door at the same time and her hair is graying and unwashed and she kind of looks like she’d rather be in bed watching an E! True Hollywood Story marathon, then maybe it’s okay to underestimate her age a little, and give her free coffee.