Interpreter Q & A: How to Handle Sexism in the Classroom (and, Therefore, the Workplace)

Interpreter Q & A: How to Handle Sexism in the Classroom (and, Therefore, the Workplace)

By Brenda Cartwright
Sunday, July 26, 2015

This article is written by Brenda Cartwright (BC). Brenda is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher and a well known author. BC also contributes numerous blog articles for Signing Savvy. Look for them on the “Articles” tab on our website.

This article is part of our "Dear BC, Interpreter Q & A” series, which answers questions on interpreting and Deaf culture from multiple perspectives. There isn’t always one “right” answer to every question, and different people have different opinions on how to handle different scenarios. That is why more than one perspective is provided in this series, however, more opinions always exist. These perspectives are gathered from talking with experienced interpreters and deaf consumers from across the United States and Canada and do not solely come from the author.

Dear BC,

I interpret in a technology class where I am the only female in the room. The students often make crude remarks about women and the class always looks over at me and cracks up while I interpret them. I can see my Deaf client is embarrassed for me, but he laughs along with the rest of them.

Singled Out

An Experienced Interpreter's Perspective:

In any classroom, the teacher bears responsibility for controlling student behavior, whether it’s kindergarten or graduate school. I would approach this problem as a discipline issue. If you talk about this issue by placing the focus on yourself - on how you feel or how this behavior is hurting you - statements like that leave room for others to suggest that you are too sensitive, or that "boys will be boys." Instead, talk about the class behavior in terms of outcome: it is disruptive, impedes the student’s access to instructional material, and impedes the interpreting process. Use words that carry legal impact.

Always talk to the teacher first. The field of education is fraught with politics, and it is better to begin the problem solving process in the classroom. If that fails, then the next step is to ask to talk to your immediate supervisor (not the teacher’s). Your supervisor should handle the matter from there. Be clear in what you expect. I would ask my supervisor to have the classroom discipline issue dealt with. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, I would then ask my supervisor to move me to another class, since I cannot perform effectively in a hostile work environment.

Experienced Deaf Consumer's Perspective:

In a perfect world, the deaf client will speak up in the interpreter’s defense and scold the class for making crude remarks about women in general, and specifically you, the interpreter. But in today’s real world, the way to handle this is for the female interpreter to lodge a formal protest with the teacher about the boorish behavior of the class (including the deaf client who laughed along with the rest of them). Hopefully, the teacher will be able to handle this situation. However, if the teacher is not able to do so, then file a harassment complaint. Why? We do have harassment laws and if we do not invoke on those laws protecting people, harassment of any form or substance will continue to no end. It is high time to make our laws work so that we can all live in a perfect world.

Have you experienced this problem too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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About the Author

Brenda CartwrightBrenda Cartwright is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, well known presenter, and author of several best selling sign language and interpreting textbooks from the RID Press. For 35 years Brenda was the Chair of the Sign Language Interpreter Program at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan.

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