DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a math Ph.D. and a female one at that. In my youth I was blissfully spared most of the tasteless cracks about women not being able to do math, or mathematicians not being able to be women that were current in pre-women's lib days.
Now, however, I am facing the obverse of those remarks. I am back in school in an unrelated field. Occasionally the professor will write a simple algebraic equation on the board. The students know high school algebra well, or they wouldn't be at this university. Nevertheless, without fail, a hand goes in the air and the plaintive oh so "feminine" voice wails, "Can't you just put in the numbers?" or "We won't have to do this on the test, will we?"
I know that these plaintive little mieus are followed up with earnest visits to the professor, bad marks on the professor's teaching evaluations, or sometimes even trips en masse to the dean. One of my friends took a real statistics course for which she had not had the prerequisites and found the statistics professor expecting them to know the theory behind the statistical methods they were learning. She flounced off to the dean, all teary eyed, to complain.
The net effect of all these "feminine" wiles is to dumb down my education and my kids' education!
What can I do to respond to this thoughtlessness? Writing a letter to the dean defending the stats prof was a good idea which I followed. Turning around and issuing a sarcastic remark to the offending student would be bad.
Seeing them after class and ruthlessly attacking their laziness and cowardice is also not a good idea. Offering to review high school algebra with them would be good, even if it would be a drag on my time. Praising the teacher for doing things in a way which is far more useful than doing an insipid little song and dance routine with numbers instead of equations might be good. What are your thoughts on the matter?
GENTLE READER: That you suffered more than you think from the bad old days. You acquired the belief that females are always judged as a group, and that therefore the poor performance of some is a reflection on you.
There is no need for you to do anything at all about other students' shortcomings. That is the professor's job. If you wish to tutor them out of the kindness of your heart, Miss Manners certainly does not want to discourage you. But your urge to attack them does not sound as if you are interested in their education.
Your education is only affected if there are so many students whining and asking silly questions that the class is not worth your taking. Since you praise the professor, this does not seem to be the case. And anyway, good luck in finding a course where there are no whiners or poor students.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am expecting what will be the sixth, and probably last, grandchild in my family; the first five are all boys. My mother has commented frequently, although not insisted, that it is inconsiderate not to find out the sex of the baby before it is born. Is it?
GENTLE READER: Inconsiderate to whom? If you promise to use a kind and humorous tone, Miss Manners will allow you to say, "I wouldn't dream of violating my child's privacy. (Pause) Yet."