My friendship with BES has made me privy to all sorts of intrigues and details that I never would have known had we not become friends. Nothing untoward or that I shouldn't know about current students of mine, but interesting stuff nonetheless. I thought of this particular one as I read the comment thread to Historiann's current post, though it's totally a tangent and not actually related to what Historiann was writing about or what her readers commented. See, when BES and I were hanging out a while back, she noted that she'd taken a class in which she absolutely hated one of her classmates. As we were talking about it, I realized that I thought I knew who she was talking about. So I asked her, and she confirmed it: the Hated Classmate was my student, much in the way that BES became my student. (He was about a year ahead of her, so they never had a class with me together.) When it became clear that my Favorite Student from the Time before BES was the nemesis of BES, I was surprised. I'd always thought that the students who entered into the Circle of Crazy's Influence would just naturally get along. I mean, they are the best and the brightest and the coolest, after all - how could they not?
But what became apparent to me from BES's narrative was that this is not the case. And actually, some other intel that I gathered from her about another student confirmed that it's not the case. See, while it's true that students who are my students do often bond in response to their experiences with me, it's also true that they often end up in hyper-competitive relationships with one another, particularly when the students involved are divided by gender. In other words, my female student superstars tend to collect themselves into supportive and productive collectives, in which they like one another, read each others' drafts, and generally gain a lot through their interaction. When my male student superstars enter the mix, apparently it doesn't work in the same way. They either pester my female students with untoward advances (or wax poetic about crushes on me - as IF!) or they compete with the female students and deride them, acting as if the female students aren't really their equals. As you might imagine, this pisses my female students off. And rightly so, I might add.
I wonder at the fact that I didn't recognize this dynamic on my own - that I needed to hear it from BES before I saw it. To some extent, I believe that my cluelessness comes from my own socialization through graduate school. When I was an undergraduate, I think I responded in much the way my female undergraduates now respond to this shit. In very real ways, I became inured in graduate school to the whole cock-blocking, pissing contest dynamic of my interactions with my male peers, and I came to the point where I decided that I'd rather find a way to engage with those cock-blocking, pissing contest dudes, because they were wicked smart, than to hate them for their lame ways. I think this may be why I don't see it when my male students do the same stuff - I see it as par for the course with teh boyz, now, because I'm jaded and cynical. The problem is, my female students haven't gone through the gauntlet that I went through in grad school. They don't see it as dumb boy behavior: they see it as hostile and awful and sexist. (And, seriously, it is hostile and awful and sexist. I just found a way to deal with it, because I had to or I would have collapsed under the weight of trying to reject it.)
The problem is, I don't actively instruct my female students in what this bullshit is. Instead, I just meander along, assuming that because I can see through it - tracing it to the intellectual insecurity and to the socialization into modern masculinity - that my female students see it, too. And further, I don't instruct my male students about how this way of being is totally fucked up and also unnecessary and unproductive. I go along assuming that all of my students, male and female, "get it," which they totally do not.
All of this has me thinking about how I can actively work to stop this dynamic. I want all of my students - and most especially my students - to forge strong and productive relationships. I want them to realize the value of collaboration and conversation. I don't want them to take each other down in an attempt to build themselves up. I don't want them to compete for recognition. I most especially do not want for students to stop listening to one another and to dismiss one another when they could be learning from one another.
1 year ago