Docsplainin' -- it's what I do

Docsplainin'--it's what I do.
After all, I'm a doc, aren't I?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Excuse me?!

This month’s issue of Teaching of Psychology, the official journal of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology--ToPs for short--(Division Two of the American Psychological Association) arrived Saturday. And Dear Readers, I am not a happy camper, because it contains an article touting what is to my mind a juvenile, offensive role play exercise for teaching psychodynamic personality theory in a manner “engaging” to undergrads.

In brief, students role-play the part of the professor’s psyche (including his leering id, run amok at the local mall). Roles are "randomly assigned" to id, ego, and superego groups from among student volunteers, which presumably means that some women land in the id group, the instructions for which are as follows:

Welcome to my psyche! Your group is going to be my ID! Imagine that I am at a shopping mall and have just seen an attractive woman walk by. Remember that the ID is driven by the pleasure principle and seeks to have physical needs met immediately--with no regard for consequences. Your group's task is to come up with ideas of what the ID might "say" in this situation (Segrist, 2009; p. 52).

Excuse me?! I got this far before I threw the article on the floor for the first time.

Examples of id comments: "Wow, look at THAT! She's HOT!" "THAT", mind you--not "HER". She's instantly reduced to a THING. And Segrist doesn't seem to see anything wrong with this. Defense mechanisms employed by the ego included denial, as in "she's not really that attractive" (Segrist, 2009, p. 52). What undergrad exactly does this 'engage'? Well, in case you were wondering, as I was, the author reports feedback from his students on the exercise.

Most of the students polled were majors in their junior or senior year.On a scale of one to five (the most positive rating), students rated the activity on average a 4.6 for enjoyment. Segrist did not report the range or quote any negative comments. Since 81.4% of Segrist's students are women, I have a feeling that when I post this blog entry, I will be told that these numbers prove that nobody was offended and that I should get over myself. (How much do you want to bet? I'm thinking of starting a pool.) I contend, however, that the numbers only show how oblivious young women have become to their own objectification.* Either that or how well-schooled, if you'll pardon the expression, they have become at not confronting sexism when they see it. Plus, without knowing the low end of the range, we don't know that nobody was offended. Somebody might have rated the exercise a 1--or worse.

But I digress. Back to the article. Segrist cautions his volunteers not to be "hostile" or "clearly objectionable" in their role-playing. Excuse me?! Is it not "hostile" by definition to objectify, rate, and thereby degrade female passers-by? Apparently not, since he quotes these in an article purporting to show how great his exercise is. Which leaves one therefore to wonder how he defines "objectionable" or what it takes for a comment to be "clearly" objectionable. And would it be ok to be vaguely objectionable? Or only mildly objectionable? Besides which, should not the very fact that you have to caution them be a red flag that what you are doing is not a good thing?

Segrist concedes that "comments generated by the id group in particular have the potential to be offensive to some students and disconcerting to any student who has been sexually victimized" (2009; p. 53). Does he mean the comments that are not "hostile" or "clearly objectionable"? Or is he, without realizing it, conceding that they all are likely to be just that, given the setup for the role-play?

And what does he mean by "potential"? You ask me, offense to any thinking female is guaranteed, not "potential". And "disconcerting" does not begin to cover the impact this exercise could have on a rape survivor (which I presume is what he means by the euphemism "sexually victimized". Future post: euphemisms for "rape"-- submit your favorites for inclusion therein.).

I can’t imagine being a student in his classes–oh, wait, yes I can. I’d feel objectified, threatened, insulted, discounted and disrespected. Intellectually and professionally, I’d feel like I’d just been completely erased. (Remember, this whole exercise is framed as "inside your professor's head," not "inside some dudely jerk at the mall's head".) I would, in short, feel instantly reduced to merely the means of some dude to "have physical needs met immediately--with no regard for consequences" to the "HOT", anonymized, objectified "THAT". As a woman, I would feel that way whether or not I were objectively "HOT". (I'm not--see RateMyProfessors.) Personal hotness is not the issue here: Objectifying and rating women is. I’d be mad as hell and might even walk out of class and go file a complaint.

Nor can I imagine what the editors and publishers were thinking–oh, wait, yes I can. I bet it never even occurred to them that this is not only offensive but also oppressive. Part of the way the game is played, of course, is that the oppressor gets to be in total denial of his oppressive behavior (nota bene, no ego- or super-ego-playing student seems to have pointed out to the id what a sexist pig it was being).

But wait. Maybe it did occur to someone at ToPs that publishing this article would not be a good thing. Of the 21 Consulting Editors, only six are women, but we are otherwise well-represented among the editorial board and predominate among officers of the Society. Maybe one of them did complain about this article, and was told to get over herself. Maybe she's why all those caveats appear in the Discussion section.

Not enough: The whole thing should have been shit-canned.

Dr. Segrist and esteemed members of the ToPs Editorial Board, my lecture on Freud is coming up in a few days. I wonder what the reaction of my students, and of my department Chair, would be if I used that exercise with young men as the target. Would they not see that as totally, unquestionably inappropriate? Not to mention, downright gross? Dudes, can you not see how much more inappropriate it is to target women in such an exercise? I wonder how many of my male students would be embarrassed or offended. How many of them do you think would feel free to say so, even anonymously? I would ask you to consider how much more so that is true for the members of an oppressed class. And then yank the article already.

*In the course of his article, by the way, Segrist notes, "I have a wife" (2009, p. 53)--not, "I am married." Woman as possession (as in, "I have a car, a house, and a dog, too"): I'm not even going to go there today. That is a topic for a whole 'nother post, and I have papers to grade. Maybe after I do the one on euphemisms for rape--don't forget to send your favorites to me at


Segrist, D. J. (2009). What's going on in your professor's head? Demonstrating the id, ego, and superego. Teaching of Psychology, 36, 51-54.


Lindsay said...

Hi, Dr. Wood.

Your comment at I Blame the Patriarchy on this topic piqued my interest.

I also wonder how things would be different if this exercise were done with a female professor. Considering the extent to which women (especially older women) are believed not to have sexual urges at all, and the differing natures of "humorous" stereotypes of men and women (all men are horndogs, all women crave chocolate), I'd expect that most of the comments you'd get from students pretending to be your id would involve massive binging on sweets. And, of course, your ego and superego would be piling on the diet talk. If you specifically gave them an assignment like "I'm walking around in the mall and I see a HAWT college-aged guy! What's my id saying?" you'd get something very different than what Segrist's class gave him, because an aggressively sexual older woman is considered monstrous in our culture.

Lindsay said...

I do kinda like the idea of role-playing the different parts of the Freudian psyche, though.

I've actually done something like this for a creative-writing class: the assignment was to write a short piece in which your mind (i.e., you, the student) was somehow made manifest in a physical way. I chose to make my mind be a big open space in which my Id, Ego and Superego hung out and bickered.

That's probably how I'd do this teaching technique --- as a private, individual writing assignment about the student's own psyche. That would both avoid ugly stereotypes (since, to me, a lot of the problems in trying to conjure up your professor's psyche arise from not knowing him or her well enough to go beyond sex- and age-based stereotypes) and intimidation (since no one person's leering Id would be presented to the female students as lurking inside all people's minds).