UMD speech instructor allegedly calls student ‘cute’ for ‘mansplaining’

An “Introduction to Linguistics” instructor at the University of Maryland allegedly accused a male student of “mansplaining” after he questioned her claim about sexism in job titles.

“Look, it’s really cute that you, as a white male, would tell me what I’m not allowed to be offended by, as a minority female,” the instructor tells the unidentified student in an audio recording posted on Reddit over the weekend. “Thank you so much for doing that; that’s called ‘mansplaining,’ so stop.”

The rebuke was prompted by the student’s attempt to understand her assertion that the suffixes “–ette” and “–ess” are “diminutive,” and therefore “infantilizing,” which was made in relation to the term “poetess.” The student says he understands that “-ette” has a diminutive root in French, but questions whether the same is true of the other suffix.

“The point is: same job, same title,” the instructor replies. “If she’s writing those poems with her cunt, then it’s a difference, but she’s not; she’s writing poems based on the fact that she has fought in two wars, which is more than her fiancée has ever done.”

“But you shouldn’t have a problem, I guess, with two different, like, titles, because—” the student attempts to respond, only to be cut off and accused of “mansplaining” before he could articulate his point.

The student gamely continues, saying, “I’m curious as to why you take offense.”

“I think I just told you,” she says. “I think I just told you that you’re choosing not to agree with me, and through that, you’re choosing to explain why I should agree with you, coming from a position of privilege, having never experienced what I’ve experienced.

“That right there: excellent example of privilege,” she concludes.

The student points out that she still hasn’t answered his question, to which the instructor says simply, “I’ve explained it to you, and you’re choosing not to accept. We’re going to move on now.”

The recording, a full version of which was posted along with the excerpted portion, generated a lively discussion on Reddit, with many commenters accusing the instructor of exhibiting her own brand of sexism, and of “trying to impose her views.”

One user going by “idsardi,” who purports to be Prof. Bill Idsardi, chair of the Linguistics Department at UMD, came to her defense and attempted to offer a fuller context for the exchange.

“Idsardi” explains that in French, both –ess and –ette “can be attached to nouns to derive new words which restrict the referents to females,” and that while only –ette is truly a diminutive, “the uses … become psychologically equated, such that (unconsciously) female ~ small ~ imitation,” which then serves “to devalue the contributions of women and disenfranchise them (or serve to perpetuate male power), even if nobody intends this as a consequence.”

The comment also defends the instructor’s somewhat uncouth choices of words when asserting that job titles should be gender-neutral, arguing that “she puts it humorously, or at least it seemed humorous to me.”

The real Prof. Idsardi did not respond to Campus Reform’s requests for confirmation that he was responsible for the comment, but the user profile for “idsardi” has been active for about six years, and frequently engages in discussions of linguistics-related issues.

Prof. Rochelle Newman, chair of the Hearing and Speech Sciences Department, told Campus Reform that “this is an unfortunate incident,” but noted that “my understanding is that the recording was from 2014,” precluding the possibility that it features any of the course’s current instructors.

“We regret this incident happened and this sentiment has been expressed by many members of our community,” a university spokesperson told Campus Reform. “Our goal in academia is to welcome and encourage civil debate over ideas and diverse viewpoints.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @FrickePete