Students Ask Female Professors for Special Favors More Often Than They Ask Male Professors

By Roberta Attanasio, Forever Leaders Editor

Results from several studies have demonstrated that, in the academic world, student evaluations of their instructors are unintentionally influenced by the instructors’ gender—the bias is (surprise?) against female instructors.

For example, in a study published in 2014 (What’s in a Name: Exposing Gender Bias in Student Ratings of Teaching), instructors of a course at North Carolina State University taught using two different gender identities. Because of the online format, the students never saw or heard the instructors. At the end of the course, students were asked to rate their instructors on 12 different traits, covering characteristics related to their effectiveness and interpersonal skills. Students rated the instructors they believed to be male significantly higher than the instructors they believed to be female, regardless of their actual gender.

Image credit: Maiconfz, CC0 1.0

Results from a study published in 2016 (Students evaluations of teaching [mostly] do not measure teaching effectiveness) confirm the previous findings, and show that student evaluations of teaching are biased against female instructors by an amount that is large and statistically significant. The bias affects how students rate even putatively objective aspects of teaching, such as how promptly assignments are graded.

Now, a new study shows that gender bias in academia influences not only teaching evaluations, but also requests for special favors—for example redo an assignment for a better grade, or turn in an assignment past the deadline. The study (Dancing Backwards in High Heels: Female Professors Experience More Work Demands and Special Favor Requests, Particularly from Academically Entitled Students) was carried out by Amani El-Alayli and collaborators. As reported by Inside Higher Ed, El-Alayli was inspired by her own experiences with what she called “outrageous requests” to break her own policies, or go far out of her way for a vocal minority of students over the years. Especially surprising was when students wouldn’t take no for an answer, sometimes for weeks on end. Some students had negative emotional responses to having their requests denied, and some students even expressed to her their disappointment, irritation or suspicion she didn’t like them.

El-Alayli said in a press release: “Our research provides more information about how students treat female professors, how they react to them when the professors stand their ground, and what kinds of students are particularly likely to treat female professors differently from male professors.”

The study found that sexism, or a student’s view about women in authority, did not play a role in asking special favors. Instead, entitled students—students who believed that they were deserving of academic success, irrespective of their actual performance or the effort they put in achieving success—were particularly likely to ask a female professor for extra favors, and react negatively if those favors were denied. These effects were driven by entitled students’ greater expectations of getting special favors granted by a female professor than a male professor.

El-Alayli said: “Students with high academic entitlement were more inclined to be irritated or disappointed when a female professor denied their requests, and more likely to then persist in asking for favors after being denied. They were also more likely to conclude, if the professor was female, that a request denial meant that the professor disliked them.”

She hypothesize that the gendered expectations that men are more respected and authoritative make even entitled students unlikely to oppose their male professors’ decisions. They might even believe that it would be counterproductive or fruitless to oppose male professors and to keep on nagging, because they are not easily swayed. Thus, these students’ entitlement may only manifest when interacting with female professors.

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15 comments

  1. Gender bias exists in all realms of society. For centuries women have been defined as sweet and nurturing and are always the ones to go to when upset. Whereas, men are seen as stern and the father of discipline. This idea affects the classroom and creates a disparity between male and female professors. When students miss an assignment or receive a bad grade, they are more reluctant to ask their male professor for an extension or redo. If he says no, then that is that. However, when the same situation occurs but the professor is a woman, students are more likely to ask her for an extension or redo repeatedly. They will refuse to accept her decision if she says no and will state that her decision was based off of her emotional state or due to the belief that she may not like them. This is all caused by society and the depiction of the genders. Growing up, I would make sure to ask my mom for things, rather than my father. If my mother told me no I knew that if I bugged her enough, she would give in. However, I knew that if my father said no once, there was no begging him. I have seen this in the way I create relationships with my professors today. With either gender, I have asked for favors to bring up my grade, however, how I handle the situation is different. With my male professors, I have cried when I received a bad grade and begged until they allowed me to fix it. With female professors, I have stood my ground and explained in a serious tone why I should be able to fix my grades. I believe that by basing my reactions on the gender of the professor, I am a part of the problem. If I disagree with their decisions, then I should handle them the same way. I should either cry for both or stand my ground and act like an adult. In order for students in the classroom to stop being bias to the gender of their professor, they have to stop being bias to females in general. Society as a whole has to recognize the issues its beliefs are causing, not only in the world but, in the classroom.

    • I definitely agree with your response. In this contemporary society, gender gap still exist as well as the bias that are being made between males and females. You made a really great point about how men are view as stern and the father of discipline, while females are viewed as sweet, caring and nurturing humans. And of course, just like your example with your parents, I was the same with mine. Whenever I wanted something and I need to ask permission first, I would go to my mother before my father. I feel like that is what many people would do because females seem to be an “easier target.” I don’t think theres anything anyone could do to stop these types of action amongst students. Women are depicted as nice, caring, and less intimidating as oppose to men. Its only natural that students will bother to persistently beg female professors for special favors.

  2. I agree with the other comments, where women are generalized to be caring and nurturing. Moreover, society also depicts this in movies and television, where children often go to the mother for help. Rarely has it been shown that a man is taking playing the mother’s role. Hence, not only does society accept this bias but also reinforces it. Because women have these characteristics, students see her as having empathy. From my own experience, I unknowlingly would only go to female professors for office hours. When I reflect back, I never really felt comfortable or even worth going to male professors. For example, one of my current professors, is someone I would not go to for help, because of that stern authority he demonstrates. I feel as if going to him would be a waste and he would not be helpful. However, I would not hesitate to go to female professor, because I know she will care enough for me to help me out. But this is not always the case. I have had a professor who looked very nice, but when she talked she intimated students. She’s very hard on students, because she wants them to succeed .So many students were too intimidated to even go to office and no one dared to argue with her. Yes, males and females are stereotyped, but research should also rule out behavior/personality as a possible reason.

    • I do agree in that female professors might be more nurturing and are more caring, and sometimes students are more likely to go to their office hours. I sometimes catch myself feeling more comfortable to see a female professor in office hours rather then a male professor. I have experienced where I would go to a male professor and felt intimidated. Every time I asked a question he would always talk down to me. I have also experienced that sometimes male professors do not really care to help students during office hours. Sometimes male professors would tell me to just read the textbook or look the information up one, but what I really need help on is understanding the material. I am not holding every male professors accountable for this action because I have also recently experience many female professors who do the same thing in that they do not really help students and talk down to students. I think that this issue includes many factors, but I guess when it comes to evaluating professors some students are more lenient on female professor. However, I am not lenient when it come to teacher evaluations. It is the students job to honestly evaluate how a professor is doing their job. If a professor is not teaching properly then I believe it is the correct thing to do by being honest on the evaluation form no matter how harsh it maybe. It helps female or male professor to improve their way of teaching regardless of their gender.

  3. After reading this article I couldn’t help but to think of the Heidi and Howard study. Just a recap the study consisted of a professor distributing forms that highlighted the accomplishments of the two contenders to the class. What the class wasn’t aware of was that the forms was identical, but the only thing that changed was the name. Based on the study about fifty five percent of the students liked Howard over Heidi. Also, over sixty percent of the students preferred to hire and to emulate Howard over Heidi ( Asano, 2016). I personally don’t find it okay that women of higher standers are obligated to act “nurturing” in the workplace because we don’t ask the same of men. For example, in the book Lean In there’s a section were Sandberg goes into detail about challenging society to ask more men to be more involved in the workplace. If you ask me, I truly agree with Sandberg if we want to live in an unbiased world we have to stop judging women ethics in the workplace as a problem. As a society we should judge only based on the person’s actions not their gender! “We can no longer pretend that biases do not exist, nor can we talk around them…the result of creating a more equal environment will not just be better performance for our organizations, but quite likely greater happiness for all.” (Sandbrg, p.200, 2013).

  4. This article is surprised me! Being a student myself, I find it hard to believe that our female professors a facing such judgment and bias. However, I also realize that gender bias is everywhere we look. Then I get to the bottom of the article and see that this gender bias is more prominently found amongst entitled students. I do not know any entitled students personally so I can’t speak for them. In my own experience, I have found that my male professors are more lenient and willing to give out second chances and extra credit. My female professors have very strict guidelines in their syllabus about asking for extra credit and retaking exams. However, as I have been expanding my knowledge about the gender gap in our society I have realized that this issue is found more often in the upper class and the professional society. Therefore, I believe instead of talking about this problem, there needs to be more action to combat the situation.

    • I realized the same exact thing regarding the teachers. My male teachers were the ones who gave extra credit projects, study guides, and they had super open office hours. My female teachers, on the other hand, were very hard up. They had everything their way. If you emailed them regarding your inability to make office hours, sometimes they wouldn’t respond or they’ll just tell you that they can’t do any other time. That was something that irritated me because if you sign up to be a professor, you should also encompass being flexible for students who need a more private setting to learn. I guess those female teachers tried to remain so strict and seem so cold so that they wouldn’t be taken advantage of, but I think that they should learn the line between being a pushover and being considerate. Regarding extra credit or second chances, I don’t require that from any professor because at the end of the day, it’s a privilege not a requirement.

  5. I believe in the results this study has found, but disagree with a story line mentioned above. In earlier comments people explained why they ask their mothers first and not their fathers, and the answer was because their mother was more caring and easier to persuade. In my household my mother was the one in charge and my siblings and I didn’t bother asking our dad because he would say yes to anything. After getting the yes from our father we would still have to get a yes from our mother, so we only ever asked our mom. On the contrary, female professors or teachers do tend to be taken advantage of. Growing up, most of my teachers were female and once I started high school I acquired more and more male teachers. The classes with male teachers were more behaved and it wasn’t because the male teachers were more stern or mean. A lot of kids try to push their limits in school with authority and in my experience female teachers/professors get more bad behavior and disrespect in their classes. This behavior changes in college to be more subtle. People talking during class that ultimately ends up with disruption or comments made outside of the classroom that paints these professors in a bad light. Personally, I can understand why these female professors may feel as though they are being taken advantage of. The nurturing nature talked about above may be one of them. Students thinking that a female professor will be more lenient because she can empathize with an excuse given about missing an assignment or asking for an extension can undermine her own authority. I have only felt comfortable with a few male professors to talk to them at their office hours about test subjects or something related that I’m interested in and would like to divulge deeper into. More often I have the feeling that a conversation between me and another female professor who I respect intellectually is almost casual, and I feel confident in picking their brain on certain topics. I don’t see intimidation or possible judgement from most female professors. Instead I see people I can learn from, but still ultimately respect as professors which may lead some people to think they can take advantage of their openness.

  6. Women are viewed as sweet, soft, nurturing, and easier to talk to, therefore, students are going to try to get things their way when they have female professors. Female professors have rules and guidelines, but students will find loopholes to bypass those regulations and attempt to do things their own way. Students are going to try to manipulate and take advantage of female professors. Male professors, on the other hand, are the opposite. They are firm, strict, and students have to go accordingly to the rules and guidelines of the course taught by the male professor if they wish to do very well in the class. I am not going to say names, but I had a male professor in the past that wanted students to attend his office hours at all times. This professor really pushed for the attendance of office hours and addressed it to the class that it was those that attended office hours that were going to very well. As a result, the majority of students attended office hours with hopes that the professor remembers their names and bumps their grade at the end of the semester. I was one of those of students that attempted to attend office hours as much I could so that I could be on the professor’s good side. I was hoping for the professor to sympathize with me when times got tough in the class. The male professor knew that students could not always attend office hours due to other courses, work, and other reasons, but he advocated for office hours because he felt that this was a requirement for performing well in his class. In his mind, it was either attend my office hours or fail. The main point is that male professors format the course however way they wish to structure it. Students have to abide by those rules and regulations if they want that A. Now let’s talk about a female with a similar mentality like the male professor that I discussed about. Students taking a course taught by a female professor wanting her students to attend her office hours would not always get things her way. Don’t get me wrong. Students will attend her office hours, but will try to be deceptive, manipulative, and talk her with the goal of getting something out of that professor. In the course that I took where the male professor wanted students to attend office hours, many students, including me, felt that there was no way around it because it was either his way or the highway. Overall, I believe that a majority of male professors have advantages they use that enables them to control and dominate the class and that is viewed as acceptable in today’s society, whereas, women professors with similar tactics would be regarded as being aggressive and negative.

  7. It’s unfortunate to see how gender bias is everywhere in life, and I think it comes from a deep rooted issue of people always comparing themselves to another and just how we, as a society, emphasize and perpetuate the behavior as we raise our future generations. I am not surprised to read the conclusions of these studies. I think many of us assume that women are to be more nurturing, caring and lenient than men, so therefore female professors should be more understanding to student’s requests. But understandably that is not the case, nor should it be. We shouldn’t assume a professor will respond in a certain way just based on their gender. However, I can be guilty of this at times. I am less likely to seek after class help from a male professor because I sometimes feel that their assertive tone makes me feel as though I am asking dumb questions and I do not want to feel like I am wasting their time. But perhaps that comes from my own lack of self confidence. I find that female professors have more patience, but perhaps I see them in a better light because I can relate to them. But ultimately, we should look at each professor individually and take into consideration of who they are as a person versus their gender.

    • I actually can agree with your comment based on the way I look at my male and female professors. I also believe that goes back to how women are seen as being nurturing and caring. Even with my female professors who are more stern and conclusive, I am more willing to go to them for help compared to my male professors who have the same demeanor. We have a society have to change the way we view individuals and stop putting them in a stereotypical box of behaviors. When a female says no her no should be just as respected as a male saying no. There should not be a loophole because she is a female.

  8. The facts that were stated in this blog surprised me a lot because I’ve noticed that female professors were more “mean” and “strict” than male professors. Now that I’m looking back to all of my female professors, I can really relate. Female professors are more strict with female students because they want to see them do better because you’re a female. Female professors are viewed as kind-hearted and soft. Most students are comfortable talking to female professors, but when it comes to grades and guidelines, female professors have higher expectations. It’s hard being a female in STEM because sometimes our voice isn’t heard; therefore, I realize that when I have a female professor, they try to push all of the females in the class. Gender bias is a problem now and days because males want to be more dominant than females.

  9. I realized the same exact thing regarding the teachers. My male teachers were the ones who gave extra credit projects, study guides, and they had super open office hours. My female teachers, on the other hand, were very hard up. They had everything their way. If you emailed them regarding your inability to make office hours, sometimes they wouldn’t respond or they’ll just tell you that they can’t do any other time. That was something that irritated me because if you sign up to be a professor, you should also encompass being flexible for students who need a more private setting to learn. I guess those female teachers tried to remain so strict and seem so cold so that they wouldn’t be taken advantage of, but I think that they should learn the line between being a pushover and being considerate. Regarding extra credit or second chances, I don’t require that from any professor because at the end of the day, it’s a privilege not a requirement.

  10. I do agree that it is easy for a student to judge a female professor because she denies extra time for an assignment. Since women are thought to be light-hearted, and fulfilling many students mistaken that for the reality of the situation, which is to finish their assignments on time based on campus policy. Students forget that a male professor and female professor have the same abilities, and a female professor can react the same way as a male professor by denying a request. Students have this mindset that females are required to give second chances, and should be more lenient, but it is important to remember that male professors could also do the same. There are male professors that I would not go for help because he is intimidating, and has higher authority so I feel fearful in asking a question or meeting in his office. But, I have also had a female teacher who was very intimidating. I don’t think women should be underestimated in her teaching abilities, or thought of as “weak” because female professors are superior just like males. The gender gap is increasing and it’s critical that students understand the importance in treating a male and female professor equally.

  11. Throughout the discussion of this post, there were many different experiences about encounters with both male and female authoritative figures. I think to truly understand where the disparity lies and why it is there we need to conduct studies with much larger sample sizes than those in the studies mentioned in the blog post. The more teachers we include, the better our results will be and we can figure out why everyone seems to have different experiences and explanations. There are so many factors that go into a teacher’s personality and how they’re taught and thus teach. This is not to say that gender biases do not play a role in how a teacher is treated. In every aspect of a woman’s life, it seems that gender biases play a role. In some areas that role may be more prominent than others. So, i think it is important to consider more factors in this situation and include more people in these studies, so that the results can be more accurate.

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