Sexist comments from the University of Chicago, 1970

I just came across a book I feel that I ought to have encountered sooner, Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Women’s Liberation Movement, edited by Robin Morgan (1970). I haven’t had time to read it all the way through, but it has these astounding section titles like “The hand that cradles the rock,” and a few things I’ve seen before, notably Pat Mainardi’s marvelous “Politics of Housework,” a brutal and hilarious deconstruction of her husband’s sexist rationalizations for not doing housework.

Anyway, halfway through the volume, I find a compendium of sexist comments made to women graduate students at the University of Chicago. I thought it would be worth reproducing here, since I haven’t seen this text before and I think it’s good to have this sort of discourse out in circulation. While the general lines of this sort of sexist thought are pathetically familiar, the horror is always in the particulars.


The Women’s Caucus, Political Science Department, University of Chicago

Several of our professors have made these comments—some of them in jest— without realizing how damaging comments like these are to a woman’s image of herself as a scholar:

“I know you’re competent and your thesis advisor knows you’re competent. The question in our minds is are you really serious about what you’re doing.”

“The admissions committee didn’t do their job. There’s not one good-looking girl in the entering class.”

“Have you thought about journalism? I know a lot of women journalists who do very well.”

“No pretty girls ever come to talk to me.”

“Jane Jacobs’ book The Death and Life of Great American Cities is the only decent book I’ve ever read written by a woman.”

“Any girl who gets this far has got to be a kook.”

“They’ve been sending me too many women advisees. I’ve got to do something about that.”

“I hear I’m supposed to stop looking at you as a sex object.”

“We expect women who come here to be competent, good students but we don’t expect them to be brilliant or original.”

Student: “No, I wouldn’t stop teaching if I had children. I plan to work all my life.”
Professor: “But of course you’ll stop work when you have children. You’ll have to.”
Professor to student looking for a job: “You have no busi­ness looking for work with a child that age.”

Some people would say things are better now than they used to be. Well, are they?