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Too Hot To Teach

November 15, 2010

There’s a new study from the Chronicle of Higher Education that shows that good-looking professors are less well-respected by their peers, the thought being that perhaps they were hired for their body – rather than their body of work…

“The feeling among professors was that if you looked like you spent too much time in the beauty parlour and not enough in the library, it was a problem,” says Chronicle senior writer Robin Wilson, who’s been covering faculty culture for 25 years. “It’s almost better to be a little crusty-looking so people will trust you and give you more respect.”

This is twice the problem for women.

“Men didn’t say it caused any trouble per se with their peers; they were just really embarrassed by it,” says Wilson. “But attractive women in science felt like their male colleagues took them less seriously because of (the chatter), and treated them like bimbos at conferences. They had to take extra measures to look serious.”

Due to our societies’ preconceived idea about gender roles and lookism…  I doubt many people would be concerned that an attractive male professor was “spending too much time in a beauty parlor,” or for that matter, that he was spending any time at all at the parlor! But an attractive female professor would certainly have the worst of both worlds.  She would indirectly be expected to both look attractive in socially acceptable ways, and at the same time couldn’t look too attractive.

So, it’s pretty amusing that they choose an attractive male professor to profile with the article.  …once again academia is reinforced as a “masculine career.”

57 Comments leave one →
  1. Teri permalink
    November 15, 2010 10:13 am

    Hmmm…I wonder if the same rules apply for blogging….

    Congrats on being pressed!

  2. November 15, 2010 10:13 am

    I sometimes wonder if some people realize how difficult they make life for others just because of the stereotypes they have in their minds. It’s something we all need to think about next time we are tempted to judge another person based on a preconceived idea we have.

  3. zzlaniecouture permalink
    November 15, 2010 10:16 am

    I completely agree with this. As someone who works even in retail as an attractive woman, I have a lot of clients who admit that they are surprised about my product knowledge because I am the “cute chick”. Admittedly I do work for Men’s Wearhouse, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know anything just as well as any fellow there. Love this.

  4. November 15, 2010 10:20 am

    Ick. I taught for years at a local university, and being a young female at the time, I used to secretly wish to wake up one day a crusty old man. I knew that if I weren’t young and female, I’d earn the same respect that the crusty men showed one another.

    Academia is broken in many ways. This is just one…

    • November 16, 2010 4:55 am

      I totally relate to Mikalee comment to your post – some time ago, I also had a similar bad experience in teaching due to being young and female.

      One of my colleagues (old, female, ugly) was constantly rude to me for no apparent reason.
      On my first day of teaching in that school, she came in to meet the new teacher and colleague (i.e. me). She asked in front of all of my students ‘So, where is your new teacher?’ just as I was sitting in the room at the teacher’s desk…nice start!

      I still think (or, wish to think) that, in the long-term, people will really only judge me for my competencies and skills. Am I just a dreamer?? Probably.

  5. November 15, 2010 10:22 am

    Interesting. I am a business professor and I just got back from a conference with other business professors and professionals. I am not the typical 5’8 supermodel type nor am I a size 0. However, amongst people at this conference I was one of the ONLY non-supermodel types. I was in a mixing pot of beautiful people even though we were all academics in some way shape or form. Does this study break it down by discipline? In the business world everything is how we look and the first impression we make, so I am just curious to see if this viewpoint is different based on academic discipline.

  6. November 15, 2010 10:23 am

    If indeed the realm of academia belongs to men, then women simply need to invade and prove their worth as teachers. There are plenty of wonderful female teachers in this world. They are able to ‘show’ not ‘tell’ how valuable they are as teachers. As for their ‘hotness’ being a problem. It’s only a problem for students who do not want to learn and are in school for other reasons. A teachers looks are easy to criticize because they are physical and on display for everyone to judge. It’s silly to think that the best teachers are the most unattractive teachers.

  7. November 15, 2010 10:25 am

    That’s so sad. What about student respect? I wonder how much looks have to do with the respect professors get from their students. Would an ugly professor get lower student survey results than an attractive one?


  8. Snezhana Azarushkina permalink
    November 15, 2010 10:28 am

    So choose ur teacher by the knowledge he or she can give u. A pretty face, stunning figure and stylish clothes are to be bonuses).

  9. November 15, 2010 10:29 am

    Sadly, this is true – in most every profession.

  10. November 15, 2010 10:31 am

    So true!
    One of my daughters hated being a professor because the 1st year 6′ and over students liked to pat the top of her cute head . She’s 5’2″.

  11. November 15, 2010 10:48 am

    Would it be okay if I used this excuse when job-hunting in the future? If I can’t get a job right away, can I just say it’s because I’m just too damn beautiful?!? Sounds like a self-esteem booster to me!

  12. November 15, 2010 10:50 am

    This is interesting! Thanks for sharing!

  13. November 15, 2010 11:09 am

    I can definitely say I’ve experienced this on multiple levels. As a student, rising health advocate, and customer service rep at a supplement store, at times I get the sense I’m not taken seriously because of my fashion forward outfit and well groomed appearance. I’ve noticed on the days I look more “mousy” if you will, and less dressed to impress, that I have an easier time building rapport with customers and notably other female students on campus.

    Even though I want to point out this isn’t always the case, it happens often enough that I’ve come to look in the mirror before work or class and think to myself, “Damn, I look good” and my following thoughts tend to gravitate towards questioning whether I should put my hair up in a bun or grab a loose sweater. I admire my efforts to be fit and healthy and find it rewarding to express myself through the clothes I wear, so it can definitely be upsetting when I realize it might be hindering my ability to come across as qualified.

    Great Post, you’ve definitely squandered up some very thought provoking ideas!

  14. November 15, 2010 11:10 am

    As an intellectual woman I have a bit to add: I personally don’t spend a lot of time grooming myself (fancy clothes, hair dye, makeup, etc.) because I feel it is a bit of a waste of time. There are far too many things much higher on my priority list.


  15. Stephen Mc Elligott permalink
    November 15, 2010 11:17 am

    strange indeed!!! It is true however that women seem to get more of the attention than men in the classroom from what I’ve read on your post. I’ve never had a problem though with any female professors whether they be attractive or not, it shouldnt be their problem, the problem ultimately lies with the student, so I do feel sympathetic towards these professors who are expected to live up to the students behaviour and be dictated as to how to look because some people have a problem adjusting to their studies.

  16. November 15, 2010 11:50 am

    It is funny/sad that this stuff never seems to end.

  17. savannahmazda permalink
    November 15, 2010 11:53 am

    I noticed some of this at my school, especially among the more attractive female teachers. Short hair cuts, boxy suits, bookish glasses, all things designed to make a woman look more ‘serious’. It’s such bull. I plan to become a teacher, and I guarantee you’ll I’ll be keeping my pencil skirts, long hair and make-up. I feel more confident when I’m dressed up, so screw the haters.

    • November 16, 2010 5:53 am

      Try your hardest, but just wait ’till you stand in front of a classroom of students ogling your boobs or legs. Respect goes out the window, the students often act out, and suddenly you find yourself uglifying just to make life easier. I speak from experience!

  18. November 15, 2010 12:08 pm

    Nice post. If they have the brains then it shouldn’t matter what they wear or look like, but I suppose it’s never that easy.

  19. musicmyheart permalink
    November 15, 2010 1:36 pm

    I think it is kind of funny that they described it to be better to be a bit “crusty” 🙂 haha It just kind of made me laugh. Thank you for this post 🙂

  20. obsidianfactory permalink
    November 15, 2010 1:38 pm

    I think this gender bias exists with or without “beauty” being a factor.

    Let’s say it was an Amazonian society and the good-looking guys were all fair game. Obviously, the top girls would not treat them seriously and they would be in the twice category.

    The truth is that as women have come up a long way to get into these fields it’s obviously the reason why they are not treated seriously ESPECIALLY because intellectualism is a biased realm with society generally thinking girls have the feelings but guys got the brains.

    True, I agree with you – this is present in all cultures to many degrees – whether Western or Eastern.

    Too much focus on crap that doesn’t really matter.

  21. November 15, 2010 2:25 pm

    To hot to teach, too cool for school… I see a trend here 🙂

  22. November 15, 2010 2:30 pm

    I know students in my school tend to not respect female teachers who have more appealing features than others, although I cannot say anything about the work atmosphere. Sounds like a problem though.

  23. noothergods permalink
    November 15, 2010 2:49 pm

    At least the unattractive have a career in which their looks won’t hurt them, not many of those around unfortunately.

  24. November 15, 2010 3:40 pm

    Yes. This applies to non-teachers also.

  25. November 15, 2010 4:41 pm

    it isn’t just teaching either… I’m a nanny and actually didn’t get a job once because I wasn’t ‘mumsy looking’ enough?!!! WT*. Like I should take off my make up and put a pair of trainers on for an interview?!
    I’d like to know if this study came up with a sensible answer to this problem?

    Love the blog by the way x

  26. Kathryn McCullough permalink
    November 15, 2010 4:42 pm

    Just discovered your blog and loved it! Having spent part of my life as an academic who wrote my masters thesis on clothing images in Renaissance English literature, I crave this kind of smart look at what we wear and why. For a fun take on another sartorial oddity, you might enjoy my own post today called “Airing Family Secrets via Haute Couture” at . It’s a true story, by the way!

  27. November 15, 2010 6:03 pm

    Thanks for this! Really interesting blog idea. I like how you use fashion as a lens for society.

  28. November 15, 2010 6:27 pm

    Very interesting and I definitely agree. There seems to be a perception out there that as a female, the better looking you are or the more time you spend on your looks automatically means you are less intelligent.

    It’s very sad that a woman needs to look ‘scruffy’ so-to-speak to appear more intelligent and respected by her peers.

    What a shame!

    Thanks for the interesting read 🙂

  29. November 15, 2010 7:50 pm

    could this be a sign to the return of ‘power dressing’ for women – shoulder pads, dark colours and the like…?

  30. Elizabeth permalink
    November 15, 2010 8:42 pm

    It’s true. Thanks to rate your professor and their “hotness” rating that tends to be the first thing mentioned if said professor is attractive but usually it lacks anything about the professor themselves…. oh the internet!
    Nice post,

  31. November 15, 2010 8:43 pm

    Interesting. I think regardless of appearances women will sadly always have it tougher in the workforce.

  32. findingserenity2010 permalink
    November 15, 2010 9:08 pm

    I don’t get why teachers all have to “look” a certain way. It sucks as a female, but what about particularly short & young-looking college instructors (like myself) or one of my male colleagues who happens to have long hair? You hear stories all the time about the occasional eccentric/nutty professor who wears blue jeans and smokes a pipe or whatever, but those aren’t the norm. We who are on the forefront of exchange of great ideas look just like corporate cubicle drones in our gray suits.

    Just to be clear, on the community college level, it’s a bit more relaxed. You can wear shorts for all they care. But it all comes down to coworkers and students who don’t respect teachers who don’t “look” the role, but I hate the idea of cutting my hair or changing the way I dress so that I don’t look like a 17-year old geek instead of a rhetoric professor.

  33. November 15, 2010 9:39 pm

    My friend is a prof. at MIT. I met her for lunch one day. Her hair was wild….wind-blown, a mess. I asked her what was up with her hair, she said she never brushes it for work & she doesn’t iron her shirts. She said that she would get no respect if she ‘dressed’ for work!!!

  34. November 15, 2010 10:31 pm

    I teach college and have had conversations with a few fellow teachers, a couple of whom are attractive women. What they’ve told me lines up with this post. I think age plays a part too. I still look and sound like my students for a few more years anyway. We’ll see what happens.

  35. November 16, 2010 12:21 am

    HAHA! You don’t necessarily have to go to the ‘beauty parlor’ to be attractive. There are some pretty gorgeous low-maintenance women as well! Sometimes I think people are just ready to knock people because they’re insecure. I know I do it sometimes too, and I’m not proud of it. I graduated from UCLA with a degree in Bio and worked at the med center for 6 years. I look young, and I get disrespected for that a lot. I’m pretty sure a lot of the male doctors I worked with thought I was stupid…until I opened my mouth and taught them something they didn’t know.

  36. noothergods permalink
    November 16, 2010 1:11 am

    It’s nice to know that there is at least one career where we unattractive people can still excel.
    I’ve only ever taught online courses but I have a few attractive female friends who taught classes as a part of their GA requirements. They had problems with students hitting on them, not incredibly frequently, but often enough. That also led to other problems in the class as the students who hit on them obviously didn’t take them particularly seriously.

  37. November 16, 2010 2:24 am

    I’m constantly getting crushes on my male profs. And it’s not their physical looks that make the biggest impression on me – it’s their intelligence and enthusiasm. One of my faves was from my first year literature class. I’m in third year now and I still gush about him. The thing is, he doesn’t have matinee idol looks. Just a regular, blend in with the crowd sort of guy. What makes him so attractive and appealing, however, is his brain! Intelligence really is sexy. And being passionate about what you’re teaching, and just being easy-going and humble about it all. That’s charisma.

  38. November 16, 2010 2:39 am

    Ya…I as a student…find attractive teachers – both Sir and Madam; very appealing and blessed in both ways, appearance and knowledge. Well, talking about seriousness in their capability, we are always reminded time and again by philosophers that never judge a book by its cover, Just because a person looks good that doesn’t mean he/she is not talented or creative or knowledgeable…
    So, I guess…it all depends on the perspective of different people…


  39. Jule1 permalink
    November 16, 2010 3:15 am

    This is very funny. My husband swears there are no good looking women in science, and he has a Ph.D. from Columbia. It’s been a running joke with us.

    Of course I knew he was exaggerating, but now perhaps I know why there are so few — because being treated like a bimbo ain’t no fun! I guess women will just have to keep on dumbin’ it down until people realize that looks and brains have no correlation. You can be good looking and smart, and you can be dumb and ugly.

  40. November 16, 2010 3:33 am

    Well, people dress for effect and then get upset that there is in fact, an effect. Just not the effect they want.

  41. Greek n Blonde permalink
    November 16, 2010 3:40 am

    In 2010 we still fight to make both sexes equal.

  42. November 16, 2010 3:41 am

    Congrats on being Freshly pressed!

  43. November 16, 2010 5:50 am

    Your post reminds me of an article I read just this week about a lady prison guard who got bullied by her colleagues (and prisoners) for being too attractive! She took them to court. Male-dominated industries can be like that (I work in one such place but they try hard to be fair 🙂 ). Congrats on being freshly pressed.

  44. November 16, 2010 5:50 am

    Yup, it’s true, being an attractive woman means people you say seriously. The sucky part is you’re damned if you do (not taken seriously) and damned if you don’t (students will comment female instructors’ appearance). So fun…and it applies at all levels. That’s one reason I left, as I’ve written about here.

    Congrats on being Pressed!

  45. November 16, 2010 7:24 am

    It’s the same with school teachers. I sometimes wish I was an old, ugly man because
    1) new colleagues always think I am only a trainee;
    2) older male teachers who think themselves very funny always give some remark about either my looks or my clothes;
    3) “shocked” students tend to ask me if something went wrong with my life because I’m still so young, and if I therefore didn’t want to change my job;
    4) especially Turkish students pay much more respect to male teachers, and are suddenly very quiet and concentrated.
    But as I don’t plan to look for another job, maybe they’ll change their attitude – or I’m getting old before that, we’ll see.

  46. November 16, 2010 7:39 am

    In my experience the only way forward from what is and has been a problem since Adam was a lad is to exceed expectation and outperform to the point where the scales tip the other way.

    It will still go on behind your back of course but at least you dont have to compare yourself head on.

  47. November 16, 2010 8:29 am

    The same is true for women in ministry as well, though I would say the vocabulary would be a bit different. It isn’ t a matter of how “hot” or sexy you are because, well, it’s pastors after all, but it is about how feminine, masculine or gender neutral one looks. It seems that, for best response (read: least rejection) a female pastor is to aim for gender neutrality. I would think this would be similar for many professions because there is a point where the criticism becomes that “she’s trying to be a man”. Gender neutral = less offensive/ threatening/ whatever.
    In western culture there are many and varied gender markers for women. According to some sociologist, many times over the number there are for men. There is, in a manner of speaking, more to criticize. The only way I know to fight it is to stay the course. Do your job to the very best of your ability just as you would expect of any one else. Dress professionally for your profession in a manner that does not obscure who you are. Doesn’t mean this kind of judgment is going to go away, but changing one’s appearance to fit a prejudice bias changes no one but you. And not for the better. Just look at how far women have come already and in a short period of time (as compared to all history)!
    And, for heaven’s sake, brush your hair!

  48. November 16, 2010 9:08 am

    This is just another way to bully people for looking different. So very sad. Look to people’s hearts, not their faces, then decide, will I like this person?

  49. November 16, 2010 9:16 am

    I am going to be a high-school English teacher and I have this problem already. The teachers all tell me to dress a little more “blah” (in my opinion) and not so “pretty”. This is offensive to me since I love fashion and nothing I wear is out of dress code or inappropriate. I completely agree with you on this one. I should gain respect because of my education, not because of looks (I’m not trying to say im super hot either).

  50. November 16, 2010 9:35 am

    I feel that this is not only a problem at the college level but even school teachers are given this negative stigma. Being a new teacher myself, I have felt that sometimes there is a silent, passive agressive war between older teachers and young teachers. The older teachers seem to see us a radical, irrational, and too concerned with looking good. But, my thoughts are that if you dress frumpy, or like you just don’t care, you are telling your students that you don’t care about your job and and consequently them.

  51. November 16, 2010 11:33 am

    We live in a world where judgements are passed out daily. Everyone has done it without maybe wanting to do so. But you can’t control how you look. And deeming someone’s intelligence based on their looks is just stupid.

  52. November 16, 2010 12:54 pm

    We haven’t made much progress when we judge a book by its cover attitude. It is not only in academi, it is also everyday life. Some of us will play the game while others seem not to worry about it.

    In the scheme of everyday life no one notices what a person wears or looks like when their knowledge or skill has everyone in a “WOW!!!” factor.

  53. November 16, 2010 8:20 pm

    Alas, we “beautiful-smarties” no longer have to suffer in silence. 😉

  54. November 18, 2010 10:46 am

    Interesting debate which draws on much of the cut and thrust we’ve experienced on Chalkboard Chestnuts. Terribly hard it is being a beautiful teacher, but then we all have our cross to bear!

  55. November 19, 2010 3:36 pm

    Interesting post. Ironical that there used to be a very interesting combination speculated during my college days; brains of Einstein and looks of Cleopatra. Guess that no amount of education will change the primitive nature of going by the looks!!

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