Accusations of sexism force RateMyProfessor to end hotness ratings

Accusations of sexism force RateMyProfessor to end hotness ratings

SexJuly 03, 2018 By Lindsey Kline

RateMyProfessor.com has created enemies out of college professors — especially women professors.

RateMyProfessor is like Yelp for educators, allowing students to publicly rank their teachers. Ratings on criteria like quality and difficulty mean students can learn what a professor’s course is like before ever stepping foot in their classroom. It’s a godsend for students, but a living hell for many teachers.

That’s why some women have been stirring up a furor to have the rating system overthrown. This week, they took a step toward success. RateMyProfessor was forced to remove the ultra-popular chili pepper feature, which rates teachers on their “hotness.” The symbol of sexiness was eliminated in response to accusations that it’s sexist against women.

The drama played out on the same world stage as most modern controversies — Twitter. BethAnn McLaughlin, a professor at Vanderbilt University, tweeted out her criticisms of the hotness rating, calling it “obnoxious and utterly irrelevant to our teaching.”

She linked to a study on sexual harassment in academia, claiming that women in science, medicine and engineering education endure the highest rates of sexual harassment in the country outside the military.

A mob of fellow ladies joined McLaughlin’s battle cry, voicing complaints that their student evaluations are often based exclusively on physical appearance. All seemed to agree that the chili pepper rating undermines their credibility, shifting focus from a female professor’s brains to how big her tits are.

“I looked up my ratings once and it broke my heart,” commented one female professor. “Written evals were worse, maybe 90% comments on my body and clothes.”

Added another, “it's about damn time to end the [chili pepper]. Any instructor who has witnessed her students mentally undress her as she lectures can attest to the creepiness inherent in encouraging this behaviour, & the misogyny that seems inherent in the old boys' club of academia.”

Within 72 hours of the post going viral, RateMyProfessor announced that all chili pepper references were removed from the site.

McLaughlin applauded RateMyProfessor and celebrated her victory with a blog post, writing “my single mother did not put my brother and me through college and graduate school for 25 years so that I could be measured by a vegetable.”

Till the end, the RateMyProfessor defended its pepper system, insisting it was meant to reflect a dynamic/exciting teaching style.

Believe it or not, this claim is consistent with real research — a study of 1 million RateMyProfessor profiles by NYU professors Dr. Pascal Wallisch and Julie Cachia.

Wallisch and Cachia crunched the numbers and found that the chili pepper was the greatest indicator of which professors got the highest quality ratings. This likely wasn’t because a professor’s beautiful face made him/her a better educator, the researchers concluded. It was because students gave the chili pepper as a reward for being a fantastic teacher.

Wallisch and Cachia took on the RateMyProfessor research project in response to a rising movement to eliminate professor evaluations. The movement argued that students’ evaluations are misogynistic.

“Feminists, men and women both, are trying to get rid of evaluations, saying that they’re sexist,” Wallisch told Rooster. “Honestly, I would find these arguments more compelling if they came from professors with strong ratings. It’s possible that these are just really bad professors who don’t want their egos to be bruised.”

Allegations of sexism are nothing new to academia, or generally any other field of employment. It’s only now, in this time of sweeping social change, that women are empowered to make meaningful improvements to their working conditions — like the loss of a chili pepper avatar that represents their ability to fulfill a hot-for-teacher fantasy. You go, girls.

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