The most popular class in the Psychology department, and probably one of the most popular at UCLA in general, is Psych 137: Intimate Relationships. Although I love the idea of learning about relationships from one of the most popular psychology professors, Thomas Bradbury, I have thus far been at best underwhelmed and at worst highly offended by a majority of the sexist, intolerant and arguably homophobic remarks tossed around Moore 100 twice a week.
Walking into the most recent meeting, I was greeted by a surprising title slide projected in royal blue letters above my head: “Male or Female? Gay or Straight?” and the subtitle, “All of us are described by these two ‘binary’ factors.” When first reading this slide, I assumed there was some kind of mistake. Maybe, I thought, the professor meant to change the word “binary” and forgot, or maybe he was providing an example of a narrow-minded view that he would later refute; Unfortunately, I was seriously mistaken.
Let’s start with his lecture on the first of his so-called “binaries”: that of sex, or gender, since he used the two extremely divergent terms interchangeably. Bradbury spent one hour and seven minutes discussing the differences between men and women in the context of (heterosexual) relationships which were highly sexist, providing me with several award-winningly offensive quotes that I will let speak for themselves:
“Last week I said I’ve been married 22 years…actually I’ve been married 24 years, so I guess I forgot 2 years, but you know my wife never would! She remembers every single thing that happened, because you know what they say, “men don’t need to remember anything about the relationship, because there’s no need for two to do that!” “
“They weren’t sitting around talking about their emotions, it wasn’t a book club, they weren’t sharing poetry and asking how you feel about that…its baseball. Men retreat to that hierarchy [of physical competition] because they feel like: ‘this, i understand.’ “
And then there’s this gem:
“There is a kernel, or core, based on the biological sex we enter this world with.” [in reference to the personality men and women develop, and whether or not it is dependent on biological sex]
Obviously transgendered people don’t even exist in Professor Bradbury’s eyes.
As Bradbury finished his shocking comparison of men and women, in his mind the only two possible identities in his male/female “binary”, I felt relieved that perhaps, after an hour and seven minutes of offensive sexist remarks, the class might be let out early so the women could go talk about their feelings and the men could go watch baseball, but unfortunately, there was still the second “binary” to discuss.
Not surprisingly, the gay/straight portion of the lecture was equally closed-minded and offensive, although mercifully only eight minutes long, because the traumatic male/female “binary” lecture had absorbed almost the entire class. Here are some highlights from the final eight minutes:
“The more men you have in a relationship, the more sex you have in the relationship.” [In reference to same-sex relationships]
Because, you know, women basically have no sex drive anyways, so why bother unless there’s a man wanting it?
“In my relationship, which is monogamous, we don’t need to have the conversation about sexual encounters outside the relationship, but in the case of gay relationships, and some lesbian relationships, its a conversation that often comes up.” [In reference to monogamy and exclusivity in relationships]
And one frightening interchange between the professor and a student:
Bradbury: “Lesbian women have higher dissolution rates than gay men. Why?” Student: “Isn’t it more likely that women will go back to being in heterosexual relationships?”
Bradbury: “Well…women are more fluid in their sexuality. Women who identify as lesbians at one point in their life are more likely to later identify as bisexual.” [This claim was not substantiated with evidence]
After scooping my jaw off the floor amid cheerful students packing up their books to leave, I turned to the person next to me to get a second opinion, asking her if she was offended at all by the lecture. Her response was mild and non-confrontational, pointing out that although the professor had tossed around many stereotypes about sex, gender, and sexuality, he was basing his comments off carefully-conducted scientific research on differences between men and women and aspects of relationships.
So in Bradbury’s defense, I will acknowledge my seat-mate’s point and not claim that these remarks were entirely out-of-the-blue. However, there is never a context in which such sexist and homophobic remarks are justified, especially when ignorantly fed to 411 college students trying to learn about relationships. Maybe Bradbury’s self-identification as a straight male has blinded him to the potential effects of his stereotyped statements.
However, if I were to teach one of the most popular courses at UCLA and attempt to dissect human relationships and sexuality, I would be much more careful when adding my personal opinions to scientific evidence. For example, the correlation between the number of men in a relationship and the frequency of sex in the relationship (an assertion Bradbury did not follow with scientific evidence) is likely not a topic a student in Psych 137C would feel comfortable researching outside of class, so it is crucial that Bradbury ensure he does not promote biased views or stereotypes as the only information students will receive about the matter.
Bradbury should choose the wording of his personal commentary more carefully to ensure that his students receive an unbiased understanding of what it means to fall anywhere on the sex, gender, or sexuality spectra without feeling offended or worse, having their perspectives biased through their professor’s ignorance.