Thursday, August 27, 2009

From Emily: Gendered Labels

I'm absolutely swamped at the moment, so this will be brief, but today I attended a training session conducted mostly by Cheryl Glenn, a professor from Penn State. Dr. Glenn is best known for her work with education and rhetoric, which is what she discussed today (The training session was for graduate students who are teaching college-level writing at Brigham Young University). But Dr. Glenn also has a background in Women's Studies. This background didn't come up in today's lecture (which was amazing, by the way), but I noticed right away that she referred to the female grad students in the room as "women." I don't always notice whether BYU professors call female students women, sisters, ladies, or girls, but I know from the times that I have paid attention that BYU professors are much more likely to refer to male students as "men" than female students as "women." I'm sure there are many factors feeding into this linguistic practice, but the point is - Cheryl Glenn did the exact opposite. She never once used the word "girl" or "gal" to refer to a female grad student; she always said "woman." But she also never used the word "man" or "gentleman" to refer to a male student - she referred to each of them as a "guy."

I wanted to know why she was doing that more than anything else, but I was too afraid to ask. She did encourage us to email her though, so I might just have to do that.


  1. Wow, I'm kind of amazed that BYU had someone so 'subversive' come and speak. You'll have to post her response when she emails you back.

  2. I just emailed her, so hopefully she'll respond. The thing I wasn't expecting was how impressed she was by BYU. Apparently we have about a 95% retention rate, which is unheard of at most universities.

  3. Now I am racking my brain trying to think of why that would be. Parental support? Less incidence of alcoholism and drug abuse? Maybe just because it's so inexpensive for a private school? Maybe it's to do with the fact that the quality of students here is comparable to higher-caliber schools (which I'm guessing also have high retention rates), though the coursework is maybe less rigorous than those schools.

  4. Probably all of the above, plus things like environmental comfort. I get the impression that BYU creates an environment that's not just academic, but lifestyle and social in nature- which makes it harder to drop out, as it were. Cost is also probably a huge factor! If you're taking out huge loans to make it through, say, Harvard, you're more likely to leave for something cheaper than if you're paying significantly less to begin with for a good education. If coursework is less rigorous, too, that'd make a difference because fewer students would drop out for being overwhelmed. Very interesting, though!