What Happened in Lecture: Confronting Sexism in Real Time

Last week in a class that is required for my human rights minor, a situation occurred. After class, I walked away feeling indignant and awestruck that sexism is still so present in my everyday life. While this was just one small instance, standing up to systematic bias directly and in the moment is how we can start to chip away at it. After consulting with friends and trusted advisors I sent this letter to my professor in the hope that I can use my writing to effect the change I wish to see with a calm, collected, and open-minded yet unwavering conscience.

Dear Professor,

I am writing to you today in reference to something I found troubling about the lecture you gave on Genocide Denial last week. We talked about the notable work of Deborah Lipstadt, who has dedicated her life to Holocaust memory and the confrontation of Holocaust denial. We also watched the clip from the movie Denial, which you mentioned starred Rachel Weisz. Before you played the clip, you said that “Deborah Lipstadt isn’t as pretty as Rachel Weisz.”

In lecture, we talked about how it is important to confront issues of Human Rights when they enter our spheres of influence in order to combat harmful underlying problems of society. That is why I would hope you understand why I am writing to confront this issue now, as this comment was deeply inappropriate and a disservice to the work of both women like Deborah Lipstadt and the female students that you have the ability to influence in class.

In addition, because you are not only a leader in Human Rights Studies but are also an active and valued professional in Human Rights work, I know you are constantly interacting with marginalized and oppressed groups of people. Because of this, I know that you are sensitive to marginalized groups that are present in your classroom, including women, and are aware of how impactful just a few words like yours can be. I know you would want to know if you did something that further marginalized them. In addition, the exposure to volatile materials is always an occupational hazard of being in a class that circles around such a controversial issue as genocide. Given the amount of hate speech that we are exposed to in learning about crimes against women during Genocide, I believe that it is insurmountably important to reaffirm and support women in class.

Lastly, a woman’s subjective physical appearance, especially when she has been acknowledged for the amount of renowned work she has done in the Human Rights field or in any field (acting included), is not only the least notable thing about her, but using it to judge her can invalidate the importance of her work. I understand that we all make mistakes, and that this was just one small comment in the long quarter of otherwise great discussions of Human Rights. However, I hope that in the future you will be more aware of the vulnerability and strength of women in the classroom and in the field.


Claire King

Learning about women standing up for other people of marginalized and at-risk groups inspires me to continue to seek a career in the field of human rights and activism. It also inspires me to continue to stand up for what I believe in even if I am afraid or feel that I not qualified. Deborah Lipstadt has done amazing work in speaking out for Holocaust Victims and is an accomplished academic, historian, and writer amongst many other hats she wears. If you would like to know more about her, visit Jewish Women’s Archive website.

Happy Womxn’s History Month!