A Closer Look: Men in Women’s and Gender Studies (Part 1)

There is no hiding that in our society today many are ignorant to the issues going on around them – whether that be politics, immigration, police brutality or the feminism movement. In this (as of now) two part series, I want to inform male college students that Women’s and Gender Studies classes are a realistic class option – not a daunting course that they should be scared of or assume is exclusive to female students. But even further, I want to break the stigma that feminism in and of itself is exclusive to only women. We, the feminists of the world, want equality which means we want all identities to come together, respect one another and support all beings, but that only can begin when all identities are informed of the issues in our society.

A list of rare sightings: An eclipse in totality, a bald eagle soaring through the sky, snow in Charleston, a shooting star, male students in Women’s and Gender Studies classes…

In the seven years that Kristi Brian, an Adjunct Professor in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program as well as Interim Director for the Gender and Sexuality Equity Center, has been at the College of Charleston she recalls only having two male students that majored in Women’s and Gender Studies. Even more shocking, however, she usually had only two to three men in class each time she taught a 200 level course.

It’s not completely unimaginable at the College (with a 60-40 female to male ratio) for there to be classes with little to no males enrolled, but in WGST classes, there is a constant lack of male presence. We may dedicate this to the patriarchal society we live in, or the abundance of male privilege that consumes generation after generation, or maybe it’s just due to the ignorance males have of these classes and what they actually teach – both academically and morally. Whatever the reason, it’s important to explore and consider on a deeper level what this shows about our society and what it could mean for the future if things change.

First, let me give you an image of a typical Women’s and Gender Studies class. Imagine a room full of women discussing relevant and challenging topics in our society. Topics and ideas like racism, sexism, human rights, inequality in all aspects of our society, sex, badass women, sports, rape culture, history that dramatically shaped our world today but we have yet to be taught. Outlooks and understanding of concepts like love, war, magic, personal struggle, peace, orgasms, conflict, sisterhood, brotherhood, sexuality and endless more are discussed. What I want you to pay attention to, however, is the term “discuss” when describing these classes. They are not lectures with a teacher standing in front of the class droning on to mindless, emotionless robots, but rather teachers and students talking, arguing, expressing, and communicating about these imperative issues and topics in our world today. But most importantly – and my favorite aspect of WGST classes –  it provides a safe, welcoming, and inclusive environment for all identities and personalities.

Brian points out that the male students she has had in her classes “tend to be reluctant to participate at first, but their perspective is really valuable and it’s also valuable to have women be able to challenge them in a way that’s informative.” This is not to say that if a man walks into a Women’s and Gender Studies class he is immediately going to be yelled at by the nasty women of our generation (well I can think of one man this might happen to… *cough* Trump *cough*). Instead, the men will be “challenged” in the sense that they will have peaceful, passionate, and at times uncomfortable conversations that need to be had with women who are tired of the world we live in and want to better it, but more importantly, want to inform others. The class isn’t about undermining men’s perspectives and solely putting women’s ideas on a pedestal. The class is about providing a safe environment where all ideas are respected equally and promoting an end goal of making the world a safe environment where all ideas are respected equally as well.

This conversation is far from over, and it is a looming question of whether it will ever be over… but I will be continuing this conversation next week, so stay tuned.

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