Mathochism: Bro privilege

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

We’re going into the sixth week of Algebra II now, and I’ve gotten a fairly good feel for the class dynamics. (Functions, sadly, still elude me.) For the most part, it’s a pretty good class. There are quite a few young men in it who could qualify as “bros,” but so far, they haven’t turned into an obnoxious bro peanut gallery (or Bropeagal), which happened in my last class.

This is largely because the instructor is a bro too. He may be 15 years older, and married, but he speaks their language. He won them over early by reassuring them he finds Algebra II as boring as they do. He comes to class late, in cargo shorts and frat t-shirts, and is happy to drop teaching to discuss global warming and poker. He counts on the fact that, due to bro culture, these young men won’t admit they don’t understand a concept because that would make them look weak, so he feels free to skip steps and slough over crucial concepts, leaving it to us women in class to protest.

He is also white, and speaks English with just the right bro accent.

That was not the case with either of my last two professors. My pre-Algebra professor was from Nigeria. He spoke English perfectly, but it wasn’t American English. He avoided many of the idioms and verbal tics most Americans are prone to. My Algebra professor was also from Nigeria. His English was also perfect, but the way he pronounced words was even less American than his colleague’s pronunciation.

This means that, on a website that rates professors at colleges all over the country, people complained a lot about how both these men have “really thick accents and are hard to understand.”

Honestly, I had no problem understanding them. Then again, I have close relatives who speak with thick Swedish accents, so I’m used to hearing English spoken in different ways. But the professors’ accents really seemed to make the bros in their classes (even the bros of color) act up.

It wasn’t as bad in the pre-Algebra class as in the Algebra class, though there was a rowdy (and possibly cheating) contingent in the back row that only sometimes responded to the admonitions from the teacher. That class was only two months long, though, so I wonder if the dynamics would have changed with time.

But the Algebra class? Hoo boy. The level of disrespect in that class was upsetting. Bros in the back had no compunction about chatting through lectures, and there was the guy I called “genius bro” who had taken it upon himself to translate the professor’s explanations (which were perfectly clear) to the rest of the class.

The pre-Algebra professor was not bro, by any means, but he was definitely closer to the genre than the Algebra professor. The Algebra professor, or as I called him, in affection and exasperation, “the dour professor,” was the furthest from a bro imaginable. He was all business. He wore a tie to every class, arrived five to 10 minutes early, and was determined to get us through all the material.

Add the accent — He talks different! Kill him! — and he was bro repellent. Which made them act repellent, and made sitting through that class some nights a real chore. But you know what? He was a damn good teacher. Because of him, I mastered Algebra, something I never thought I would do.

Therefore, I find it very frustrating that my current teacher, whose explanations are wooly and his demeanor unprofessional, gets so much respect from the young men in class. No one talks over him, no one tries to translate him. They all listen and pretend to understand (I know they are pretending, since there were very few A’s on the last test. I got an 85. Damn matrices!).

Bro privilege is an ugly thing. I just hope I will have the patience to deal with it as I continue on my math path.

All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.


  • Hang in there.
    When I was studying, it would never have dawned on me to analyse the dynamics of the class. Interesting.

  • Thanks, Quercki. Your supportive comments have helped a lot during these various classes! As for the dynamics — I guess now that I’m older, I find that kind of stuff fascinating, because it can really affect the learning process.

  • this analysis is totally on par with what i was experiencing in my own classes. its like a weird retaliation against intellectualism yet i feel they have to be aware on some level theyre probably paying a pretty penny to be sitting in that seat

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