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The Professor with the Scorpion Tattoo

By Emily Baio

The office is dimly lit. The ambiance of the room is calm and inviting. The walls are painted a soft blue color with books scattering its length. Sitting back in her chair is a woman with dark hair and bangs that just barely cover her eyes. She is sporting a black turtleneck with a velvet burnt orange coat and white checkered pants. A voice signals an “okay” to enter the room.

Kosut's bookshelf with the likes of Tupac and Frida Kahlo. (Photo by: Emily Baio)

Professor Mary Kosut has been teaching sociology at Purchase College since 2006. Before then, Kosut taught at several other institutions, some private some public. When she got to Purchase, she felt she had found her place.

There was great collegiality and acceptance,” Kosut says. “I was given full intellectual and pedagogical freedom and I liked the commitment to the intersections between the social sciences and the visual and performing arts.”

Kosut is known by her students for her interesting style and her tattoos.

Sophomore Gloria Carretta describes Kosut’s style as, “Very unique. It’s very funky, I feel like shes is a punk rocker, I just get that vibe from her and I love it.”

This is apparent when Kosut describes who she looks up to in the fashion world.

“I've always been interested in clothing and costumes and have dressed up since I was a kid,” said Kosut. “Some of my style icons are Patti Smith, David Bowie, Charlotte Rampling, Rihanna, Gloria Steinem, Nina Simone, Nick Cave, Tilda Swinton.”

Kosut’s fellow colleague and friend Professor Matthew Immergut describes Kosut as, “very sharp” and “funny as hell.” He also describes her style as “untouchable.”

Kosut's scorpion tattoo. (Photo by: Emily Baio)

Kosut is no stranger to body art. With at least 15 tattoos and possibly more, her tattoos are something many kids first notice about her.

“I like that she exposes them. She doesn’t try to hide them,” said freshman Ajonea Ridgeway.

The tattoo that sticks out the most is a scorpion tattoo that rests on the top of her right hand.

“Scorpions are solitary, tough as nails," said Kosut. "They can go long periods of time without food and water they don't register as pretty or beautiful in a traditional sense and are a rather immodest image to have tattooed on your hand.”

Kosut’s interest in tattoos began when she was doing research on the subject in grad school.

"As an ethnographer, I decided to 'go native' and wanted to understand what it meant to be tattooed from an embodied and experiential lens,” said Kosut. “There is not one thing that defines me, especially not my tattoos.”

To some, tattoos or the exposure of them can come off as “unprofessional” or “unladylike.”

There is a lot of pressure in the world, especially in the professional world for a woman to be and act feminine. It is words and stereotypes like these that Kosut rejects.

“I have never thought about being more feminine, I am more interested in blurring or rejecting gender roles,” said Kosut. “I sometimes consider what would a man do, or say in a particular situation.”

Ridgeway, who is in Kosut’s Intro to Sociology class said, “Although she doesn’t fall into those stereotypes I don’t look at her as less professional than I look at other women.” ,

Carretta agrees, “Showing a tattoo doesn’t make you any less professional.”

“I never think about being feminine nor am I interested in trying to be feminine,” said Kosut. “It means nothing to me personally, sociologically, well that’s another story. Luckily, old school gender roles and binaries are toppling.”

When asked by what she means by “toppling” she explained, “What I meant is that our understandings of gender are shifting in the wake of Queer Studies, and also in social movements like MeToo," said Kosut. “So I think this is all on a historical continuum put in action with the Feminist movement in academia and outside of it in the 1960s. The struggle for gender/sexual liberation is an ongoing process.”

With a style as funky and unique as described, Kosut has received lots of positive feedback on her tattoos.

“I really like the scorpion on her hand," said Carretta. “It must’ve hurt a lot, there’s a lot of veins there.”

Kosut says the scorpion tattoo is the most commented on.

“They say it’s badass, scary, beautiful, cool, fire,” said Kosut, the list goes on.

Even in such an open environment as Purchase, this doesn’t mean Kosut hasn’t faced some gender-based discrimination.

“I get paid less than most of my male colleagues, I am often asked to do service work and expected to say yes to all requests from anyone all the time,” said Kosut. “I often have to "take one for the team. I am underestimated intellectually and in also in respect to street smarts and savvy. In a nutshell, I am treated like a woman.”



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