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Gettin’ Naked in Class

April 1, 2009

Er, not really …

Here’s one thing I recently tried in order to grab my students’ attention.

A few weeks ago I took my jacket, tie, and shoes off and untucked my shirt in class. I told the students that although this might be great on a Saturday afternoon, I felt really uncomfortable doing so in class. In part I was scared that another professor would come in (one did) or that I would run across another professor as I dashed from the classroom to the bathroom in order to put myself back together (which I did). I felt the need to go out of my way to explain to both professors why I was dressed the way I was. “Everything’s normal here! This is just a gag for class! I always abide by the arbitrary dress codes set by our society!”

The point? Violating social norms is not typically liberating. We internalize social norms so much so that letting go of the practice isn’t liberating but makes us uncomfortable.

armpit-hair-bigFor instance, upon consideration the girls in my class usually tell me that they would feel really uncomfortable if they stopped shaving their armpits. Lifting the ban on female armpit hair wouldn’t be received as liberating but as weird and gross.

Yes kids, freedom is not the absence of constraints. Freedom is the ability to pursue the desires you’ve been socialized with.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 2, 2009 6:43 am

    Forgive my ignorance, but do you *really* wear a suit & tie when you teach at a university? Is that common in the USA? I thought it was odd enough when I found out that at some universities students refer to teachers as Professor whatever. A suit and tie?

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    April 2, 2009 6:54 am

    It varies at my university; the professors with tenure tend to be more relaxed. I usually don’t wear a suit. I either wear dress pants and tie or jeans, jacket, and tie. One of the people in my department wears a suit and tie pretty much every day. Khakis and polo are pretty popular, but I hate wearing khakis and polos. One senior professor indirectly suggested to me that I shouldn’t wear jeans, but I (and a few other faculty) do so anyway.

  3. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    April 2, 2009 7:27 am

    Also, it might be worth mentioning that my college isn’t particularly “prestigious.” I think that we may rely on a certain formalism (“proper” dress, calling professors “Professor” or “Doctor”) in order to build social capital. Those professors at more prestigious schools don’t need to do this because they have other forms of social capital to fall back on. I don’t know for sure that this is the case, but it strikes me as a pretty good guess.

  4. April 11, 2009 1:06 pm

    Desires you have been socialised with and also the desires that you have innately (to eat food, to have status of some kind, to live somewhere dry and of a consistent liveable temperature etc etc).

    But yeh. Freeeeedoooom isn’t about having like a gazillion choices. It’s about having the choices you want, mostly conditioned by tradition.

  5. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    April 11, 2009 1:10 pm

    Sophia: The skull picture on your blog is awesome! I wish I could read German better …

  6. April 11, 2009 5:02 pm

    You’d probably not like my blog. It’s mostly me whining. :p I put it in German partly to learn but at least as much so I can be as pathetic as I like without risking people I know (or get to know) understanding it.

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