Part 1 of what will probably be an ongoing series....
I find myself facing an unusual situation, for the second time: I will be teaching a class with no female students.
Now, in my field there are very few women to begin with, and thus most of the classes I teach have very few women. (The one notable exception being the "computing for non-majors" class I taught, where the class was 80% women. That was an interesting experience for me....but that warrants its own post.) And I've certainly been on the other side: one of a few female students in a class full of males, typically with a male prof. I don't necessarily like this state of events, but it's the way things are. So, whether you're a female prof or a student, you develop ways of dealing with this. As a student, I coped by forming support/study groups, either with the other women in the class or with my male friends. As a prof, I cope by trying to make my classroom as comfortable and inclusive as possible. There's a certain tenuous balance, but it mostly works.
The dynamics are completely different when you are the only woman in the room, AND you are the one in the position of power. I am usually pretty confident in my teaching, and I try to project this confidence to the students. But teaching a class of all male students really threw me for a loop. What changed? Well, first, I had this insane idea that I could never be wrong or let on that I did not know the answer to something. I am usually not afraid to say "I don't know the answer to that. Why don't you google it and get back to the class?" or "That's interesting. Why don't we explore that further in the next class?" Instead, I found myself making up answers much more often if I wasn't sure of the actual answer. I don't mean that I made stuff up out of thin air.....I did try to come up with a logical-seeming answer based on whatever we were talking about. But still, this is not a healthy way to behave.
The second thing that changed was that, oddly enough, I never mentioned gender in the context of the course. This, of course, is highly unusual for me; I bring up women and their contributions to computing as much as I possibly can. But again, I had this insane idea that I could not draw any more attention to the fact that I was different, and by not mentioning gender (until the last day of class, when it came up a few times) I thought I could do this.
I knew that neither of these ideas were healthy. But the experience was just so weird for me that these became, in a sense, my defense mechanisms for coping with the weirdness of the situation.
When I have female students in my class, even though there is a power differential, I feel like I at least have people that are on my side. We're connected by gender, if nothing else. This gives me a certain level of comfort. I never really realized that until my "comfort zone" was gone from my classroom.
I wonder if anyone's ever studied this?