[Vision2020] Sweater Day Sexism at Simon Frazer University

Nicholas Gier ngier006 at gmail.com
Fri Feb 5 11:24:59 PST 2016

 Sweater Day Sexism

February 5, 2016
By Scott Jasch <https://www.insidehighered.com/users/scott-jaschik>ik

At Simon Fraser U, professors were stunned by video university posted on
its website that suggested female faculty members could be viewed as sex
objects -- in the name of saving energy.
"Sweater Day" events are designed to encourage people to wear sweaters in
colder months, and to set slightly lower thermostat levels than might
otherwise be needed for comfort.

At Simon Fraser University, a video posted by the university to promote the
day stunned faculty members with its sexism. While the origins of the video
are under investigation, it was posted to the website of the Canadian
university and promoted to faculty members -- leaving many wondering how
such a thing could have happened.

The video starts with the university's logo and then shows a thermostat
being lowered. Then it shows a fictional female faculty member in her
office pulling on a pink sweater. A male student walks by, stops and says,
"Miss Pinkham?" She says, "Yes, Chad." And he says, "Nice sweater,"
prompting the professor to smile and laugh to herself. The video ends with
the tagline "saving energy is sexy."

The video was apparently made for a previous sweater day but was sent
around this year -- and the response was immediate.

Elise Chenier, a gender studies scholar who is professor of history at
Simon Fraser, used a blog post
to summarize many of the objections. "[A] female teacher is in her office
-- she is supposed to depict an instructor but is addressed as 'Miss
Pinkham,' not doctor or professor -- and a young male student stops to
compliment her in a sexually suggestive manner. She is flattered, and
flustered. Really. No, really. Saving energy is, apparently, a huge turn-on
for white heterosexuals, and don’t take my word for it, that’s what the
video actually says."

The university took the video down the same day it was distributed and has
vowed to investigate why it was placed on the website and promoted.

"As the video was produced by an external vendor, I had not seen it. When I
did watch it, I immediately agreed with the feedback we had received that
the video is inappropriate, sexist and not in keeping with our equity
commitments. We took steps to remove the video as quickly as possible and
have followed up with the group who produced and distributed the video to
ensure it will no longer be used," said a statement
from Joanne Curry, the university's vice president of external relations.
"We plan to investigate how this video was posted and plan to put into
place additional procedures to ensure that this will not happen again."

Chenier, in her blog post, said the video poses questions about how
something like this wouldn't have raised flags.

"When the very place you work promotes the kind of sexism that your
intellectual work seeks to contest and ultimately, destroy, you feel like
you are being eaten from the inside out. There was once a time when I would
have seen the video is simply outdated, idiotic and, yes, offensive, but
now I see it much differently. Now I feel the harm it does, and not just to
Miss Pinkham, but also to her male student, who is encouraged to relate to
half the population on such a limited level, and who himself then is
defined by his heterosexual desire for women," Chenier wrote.

She concluded: "The collective outrage of female faculty resulted in the
video being removed from the SFU website, and that is a very good thing.
But how do we get to a place where such a thing never gets up there to
begin with?"

UPDATE: Chenier has posted a new blog post in which she praised the speedy
response and Curry's words in which she called the video sexist. But
Chenier also noted concerns about the way some have reacted.

"Remarkably, grumblings were heard among some male faculty members that
those of us discussing the matter were wasting our time and we should get
back to our 'real' work," she wrote. "Such grumblings illuminate why so
many of us reacted so strongly to what may seem to some an innocuous video.
The video is a symptom of the toxic environment in which women work. Male
privilege, like white privilege (from which white women also benefit) makes
it possible to 'just get back to work.' Why? Because their working
environment is not toxic. (Insert nod to the many men and non-gender binary
individuals on campus who are very keen to be alert to and contribute to
eliminating such toxins.) Sexism poisons our environment, and this makes it
harder to 'work.' Indeed, only someone who benefits from sexism could fail
to see how calling sexism out is our work ...  the best job we never


A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they
shall never sit in.

-Greek proverb

“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.
Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance
from another. This immaturity is self- imposed when its cause lies not in
lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without
guidance from another. Sapere Aude! ‘Have courage to use your own
understand-ing!—that is the motto of enlightenment.

--Immanuel Kant
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