Invisibility- It's ONLY Email!


The final condition of computer-mediated communication that can intensify problems faced by female writing teachers is that when problems do occur on-line, they are easier to brush off. Our study of student-to-teacher harassment in traditional classrooms showed that women who are harassed by students have an extremely difficult time gaining administrative support. Most are blamed for not "controlling" the class when they report problematic student behavior to their supervisors.

Our study of student-to-teacher harassment in the traditional classroom showed that one of the most difficult problems teachers who have been harassed face is the lack of support and understanding from their colleagues and administrators. In fact, many women who responded to our survey said they did not report problems they had had with students because they feared ridicule or criticism. One respondent described a male student coming to her office for a conference. At one point he told her he wanted to "lay" her on the table. This teacher then said she didn't talk to her supervisor because she could handle the problem on her own and didn't want to "let the student get the best of her."

Another teacher wrote about a student who turned in "several papers filled with obscenities and accounts of violent sexual acts." When she reported this to the administration, they told her to either fail the papers or let the student re-write them. They suggested she was overacting because she wanted him out of her class. It is more difficult, as female teachers, to convince others, and perhaps to believe ourselves, that written harassment can be as harmful and painful as physical harassment. The virtual reality of on-line communication exacerbates this problem. After all, it's ONLY email! And yet, anyone who has experienced on-line harassment knows that the anguish of on-line harassment is just as harsh as in real life. Stephanie Brail, in her study of on-line harassment, says:

While it can be said that [harassing] email is "only words" and "not real," I can't help but wonder how many women are discouraged from speaking up online for fear of being targeted for some sort of sexual advance or another. I wonder how many women have stopped posting their words because they were sick of constantly being attacked for their opinions. I'll be the first person to stand up for good old-fashioned disagreement and even flaming, but I have a problem with women being silenced through sexist attacks and vague physical threats. It is the threat of the physical behind the virtual that makes online harassment a very scary thing (152) . The "virtual" aspect of virtual reality creates a distance that makes it easy to ignore the very real human communication and interaction of such spaces. If we are to challenge these abusive attacks from students and the passive-acceptance of this behavior from administrators, we need to work collectively to convince others, including program administrators, to take female teachers dealing with harassment seriously. Student aggression, whether it takes place in writing, in person, or on-line, is a violation that creates a hostile or intimidating work environment; it is harassment and must be treated as such. In doing so, we begin to address the question: What Can We Do? about student-to-teacher harassment.


Masculine Space | Real and Perceived Differences in Computer Expertise |

-Responsibility--Or Lack Thereof | Invisibility: It's ONLY Email | Back to Problems with Virtual Space