Sister Sirens

Hot Teachers, Gaslighting, and Sexual Abuse in Academia: Reflecting on Essays by Shaindel Beers

Author & Poet Shaindel Beers

Shaindel Beers shares a story much too common for female faculty members. Her essay, “Hundreds of Dollars,” covers the uncomfortable manipulation of men in power who feel entitled to women’s bodies in exchange for doing them a favor. In this case, one of Beers’ former students argues that by having his university pay “hundreds of dollars” to fly her, an up-and-coming poet with a great deal of promise, out for a guest reading, he should be able to have sex with her.

The morning after the reading and the manipulation, the former student gaslights Beers, confusing her into thinking nothing actually went wrong that night. Thirteen years after the incident, Beers states,

It wasn’t until after reading my students’ personal essays about rape and the very public cases of Steubenville and Maryville that I even realized what had happened to me was the same. His manipulations and friendly emails afterwards had thrown me off balance, made me wonder if it had really happened, if I was really to blame. I haven’t told anyone until nearly thirteen years later that this happened to me, and I want to tell you what I tell my students when they choose to write about rape and sexual abuse in their personal essays—If something like this has happened to you, whether you are seven or seventeen or twenty-seven, I believe you, keep telling your story, there are people who need to hear it, people it will help, it wasn’t your fault.

The bravery required to step out and speak against one’s aggressor, especially in such an honest manner as a movement in solidarity for other survivors, is profound in it’s strength and resiliency. For each woman that speaks out, more gain confidence to confront their pasts and add their stories to the #YesAllWomen canon.


I guess I’m not “hot,” according to my former students.

Beers’ essay brings up a particular nuance to these issues of sexual abuse and gaslighting–their place in academia, and how even young female professionals can be taken advantage of. The idea of “the hot teacher” is perpetuated not only in popular culture and too many news articles about teachers busted for sexing their students, but even in something as simple as a chili pepper ranking for “hotness” on anonymous teacher evaluation sites (see left). The fact that this arbitrary method of objectifying critique is placed on an even level with performance quality and students’ final grades in the course points to a larger societal problem. It’s not uncommon for young female teachers to be told that they’re hot, or to have students “offer favors” for higher grades, as one former student of mine did.

In a follow-up essay, Beers comments on her own experience:

Another former student of mine recently messaged me about something writing-related and out of nowhere said, “oh and by the way, did you know that almost every single one of your male students want to bone you?” This is a student who (before this) I would have considered enlightened, a male feminist. When I asked what would possess him to say this, he said he thought it was a compliment. … I posted the above former student’s quote under, “From the December 6th edition of things not to say to your professors:” and started a dialogue about it. In general, women didn’t seem so surprised, but men did. And, that, I think, is part of the problem. Men need to know what other men do and do not know. Men need to help teach other men what is appropriate behavior towards a woman, and what is not. Because, sadly, a lot of men don’t respect women enough to truly listen to them.

Beers’ analysis is spot on. Bringing men into this conversation is absolutely an essential part of creating the paradigm shift we need to change the way women are treated in the classroom, workplace, and home-front alike. Our male allies can (and should) help magnify our voices (while taking care not to mansplain). In the words of Beers herself,

The one lesson that I have taken from having this piece published is that we need better education for men. Rape and sexual harassment are not “women’s issues.” These issues hurt everyone.

So let’s work together to overcome these issues and make campuses a safer place for everyone.

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