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Heterosexual Male Students in Women's Studies

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This is a bit of a rant piece but also an attempt to get other's experiences and insight.

 

During my UG and while getting my MDiv, I took a fair deal of coursework in Women's Studies and LOVED it, did exceptionally well, and received encouragement that I had a future in the field if I was so inclined. The problem came, as more than one professor and student put it, is the fact that I'm a heterosexual male and professors and students simply found it odd that I was interested in the material, let alone interested enough to do well.

 

My first couple of courses in WS in UG, until my name got around, was that I was a confused jock who thought the class would be talking about sex all day. By my third course that reputation was shed and it was known that I was serious about the material but people still told me they found it weird I was so into the material. Perhaps weird like your atypical white male student studying African American Lit? I never asked why people found it so weird to begin with, partially because I always felt constantly being challenged and forced to prove myself. That said, I think such experiences help me relate to others in a similar boat.

 

Anyway, my question is really - Just how rare was it for some of you to have non-typical students in your WS classes? For example, heterosexual white males. In all of UG, I was the only known one (it was a very small program to begin with) and while doing my MDiv, I had one class that had two others.

 

Going further, is there a place for heterosexual males in the field of Women's Studies? Academically (grad. student/professor) but also as far as 'meaningful' contribution to the field itself. I would compain about constantly being tested and doubted until I proved otherwise, but I know many of my female friends went through the same in science programs.

 

Well, that's my late night rant while I work a 3rd shift at the hospital. Take care everyone.

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I did my UG in a small Div II university (7,100 average total enrollment). One of the Gen Ed requirements gives students a choice between Intro to Sociology or Intro to Women's Studies. I took both because my first degree is in sociology. Anyway, the course had an enrollment of 30 and 11 of those spots were taken by men. Only two were left after the first week and only one stayed the course. I'm pretty sure it's because his girlfriend was involved.

 

Women's studies is very uncomfortable for men, I think. It examines patriarchy and finds it abusive. It points out male privilege, privilege that many men took for granted as normal or a right, something everyone experiences. When they're forced to see the opposite point of view, it feels like a personal attack, perhaps even an examination of all the ways in which men are bullies and women are victims of that bullying. I also think that it's says a lot about your women's studies professors that they did not alienate you. I've been in a few classes that were either specifically women's studies or were run as if they were feminist studies. There was a lack of sensitivity to the men in the class; there was a sense that there was an expectation that men would just have to suck it up and get what it feels like to be the second class citizen for a change, that as beneficiaries of systemic privilege, they had no room to complain about feeling disenfranchised, powerless, and devalued. I think that's wrong because it just serves to alienate men from the subject---not women's studies, but the subject itself. It alienates men from embracing the feminism they already participate in. (Few men believe in unequal pay anymore, or that women should not work, or should not participate in all parts of civil life.) There is a place for anyone in women's studies. I don't think a field of study can be legitimate if there is a restriction on who can study it based on gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or social status. I also think that there's a lack of men in women's studies because of that sense of alienation men get from the very beginning. I also think that women's studies would be a stronger discipline if it did have men in it on a broader scale. Men are fully capable of understanding, researching, and adding knowledge to the field. Women's studies should no more be a female privilege than any other field should be a male privilege. Maybe that makes me weird or wrong in some people's eyes, but there is (should) be a place for men in women's studies. Women's studies instructors need to develop a method of teaching the subject without alienating men from it. There's a difference from making people uncomfortable (good teaching should challenge beliefs) and making people feel that the curriculum finds personal fault with them and that everyone in class blames them for things they have no control over.

 

Full disclosure: I characterize myself as a humanist, but that still means I'm a feminist. I'm also a masculinist. It's telling that spellcheck doesn't recognize the term masculinist, but it picks out feminist just fine. The key is that neither gender should have hegemony.

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I think this varies a lot across institutions.  It can also be a function of whether the program is in women's/feminist studies or gender studies, the latter of which sometimes accommodates a slightly broader perspective.

 

Personally I always found Sociology (of Gender/Sexuality) to be a much more hospitable home for men interested in this field.

 

And for the record, some women's studies programs are just as inhospitable to gay men as they are to straight men...

 
Edited by ADLNYC

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Yes, there can be a place for you in women's studies. What you have to understand is that the whole academy is your place by default, and that the creation of spaces that don't devalue voices unlike yours is an incredibly important function of women's studies departments. If you don't understand why that is, I imagine you don't really get what the discipline is about and don't have much of a future in it.

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I'm quite aware of the privilege that has been extended to me on account of my race and gender, without even considering any academic merit. I also understand the importance of minority voices, regardless of the content of their message.

 

Speaking of devaluing voices, reminds me of a Feminist Interpretations of the Bible class I took, three or four males in the class and the rest were women. It was the men however, not entirely surprisingly, that dominated the conversation for the first week. If a male and female student started a point at the same time, the female deferred discussion to the male, etc. Anyway, not surprising events really since it speaks to our larger society and gender norms but for the second week the Prof. flipped roles and decided that all discussions must be initiated by females and they would call on specific males for their opinions, otherwise we were to remain silent.

 

Anyway, not entirely related but it's where my mind went.

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I have little of worth to add to what's already been said. You do have a space, but you'll have to carve it for yourself, and you'll (probably) have to be extraordinarily careful with what you say/write.

 

Though it gets just as irritating from the other side as well. If you're female/LGBTQ and you're interested in gender studies or -- to come up with a slightly more innocent example -- you're Asian-American and you're interested in East Asian politics, sometimes you end up being pegged as someone who has a stake in the outcome, and that carries with it its own problems and assumptions about your research (i.e. you're not "objective" enough, as if objectivity is something to strive for in all cases).

Edited by kaputzing

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One of my profs in UG was a straight male who specializes in feminism/womens studies in the Spanish dept, well regarded at the uni.  He was my favourite prof!  It is possible, so don't get discouraged.

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There is definitely a place for men in studies of women, gender, and sexuality!  I for one would welcome your participation -- it's always a bit sad to me when I'm attending a class that is all about breaking down gender norms and furthering the project of equality, but no men are present to learn and contribute.

 

Many men in the field have focused on masculinity, influenced by the work of feminist scholars.  If you went in that direction, you might feel less alone.  

 

Even if you do end up being the only man in the room, you should follow your interests and forge ahead!

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When I was an undergrad, I thought about taking an introductory women's studies course. I was discouraged from doing so by female friends I spoke with (who had taken such courses). I was told that my presence, as a man, would be disruptive to the class. Of course, I didn't want to be "that guy," but I was still intrigued by what I might learn. At any rate, the course I wanted filled up quickly and I wasn't able to register in it. I never ended up taking an undergrad women's studies course, and now, as a grad student, I'm in a different field.

 

So that's my humble anecdote. Take it for what it's worth.

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On the flip side, while you might find space in the course schedule

 

Will there be discrimination in the hiring market?

 

I do not know.

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I wish more heterosexual white men were interested in equality and examining issues like privilege such that they'd take a few women's/gender/LGBTI studies courses.  $0.02.

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I am incredibly skeptical of cis men in my women's studies courses, but have been won over by some. Same as 2520s in Africa American studies, or any other person who is part of the supremacy entering into subjugated spaces. Talking about masculinism as if it were equatable to feminism is how you'll get some side-eye though. That shows you don't have a true understanding of the patriarchy or oppression, and also that you're stuck in a gender dichotomy. Understand your privileges (esp. when it comes to dominating classroom discussions) and make sure you know what your endgame really is in taking the course. Susan Bordo does some work on critical masculinities, and may be a great starting place for allies. 

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Do you have any other neat numerical racial slurs? I went to a primarily black middle and high school, and they would just say 'cracker' if they wanted to insult us. Not that any significant fraction did, but that's just what they would say when they did. Using numbers is so much cooler. Like how white supremacists encode nazi slogans like the 14 words or heil hitler with numbers.

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'Whitey', a derogatory term for white people. Fits the definition of racist and perjorative.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ethnic_slurs#W

 

I'm not implying that I'm upset that you've offended me. I never faced any type of systemic discrimination besides a very specific kind that I chose to accept, so I don't associate epithets regarding any superficial quality of mine with any kind of wrong being done to me; but you don't do yourself any favors by using language like that. It's considered disgusting in polite society, it's unprofessional, and you are being insulting to a great many people for no reason other than for self-satisfaction.

Edited by IbbetCodWuvivEgg

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2520 is slang, not a slur. The fact that you are comparing a WOC calling someone "whitey" to white supremacy or nazis, what?

 

Whether or not "Whitey" is a slur, I've heard the same argument for terms that all would agree are racist and derogatory in nature.

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2520 is slang, not a slur. The fact that you are comparing a WOC calling someone "whitey" to white supremacy or nazis, what?

 

This term is absolutely derogatory in nature. How would you feel if I said “blacky” was slang, not a slur?

 

Racism works both ways. Speaking in a pejorative manner about any group is unacceptable--even those who you feel like are privileged.  

 

PS: I absolutely welcome male voices in Women’s Studies and Gender Studies. Anyone who doesn’t clearly doesn’t understand the intention of the field. 

Edited by Kamisha

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I've never fully understood the desire to "carve out a space" for minority/oppressed groups to speak exclusively. Which is not to say that I don't understand the need or desire to seek out a safe space to express opinions which are otherwise marginalized. But if the only way I can share my voice is by creating a space where I refuse to let those from the dominant group participate at all, then what is the point? I've created a cute little echo chamber where the only thing I hear is my own voice bouncing off the walls.  

 

I believe that any dominant group member who wants to participate in the discussion should be constantly cognizant of their privilege and through practice can start to learn when it is best to silence themselves (although I think the same about anyone in any discipline). But having your voice shut down from an outside force doesn't help you learn anything. It just leads to a cycle of (structural) violence. I understand how it may be beneficial as an exercise in understanding how it feels to have your voice silenced, but as a general practice institutionalized by the entire discipline? I can't agree with that. 

 

As a woman of color, I don't want my own space to have a discussion. I want to participate in the dominant culture and engage in that discussion. And I also believe that means allowing people from the dominant culture to contribute. Anyone who genuinely cares about the subject should be generating relevant theory which is beneficial to the discipline anyway. How else would they get themselves recognized/hired by people within the same field?

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I've never fully understood the desire to "carve out a space" for minority/oppressed groups to speak exclusively. Which is not to say that I don't understand the need or desire to seek out a safe space to express opinions which are otherwise marginalized. But if the only way I can share my voice is by creating a space where I refuse to let those from the dominant group participate at all, then what is the point? I've created a cute little echo chamber where the only thing I hear is my own voice bouncing off the walls.

I believe that any dominant group member who wants to participate in the discussion should be constantly cognizant of their privilege and through practice can start to learn when it is best to silence themselves (although I think the same about anyone in any discipline). But having your voice shut down from an outside force doesn't help you learn anything. It just leads to a cycle of (structural) violence. I understand how it may be beneficial as an exercise in understanding how it feels to have your voice silenced, but as a general practice institutionalized by the entire discipline? I can't agree with that.

As a woman of color, I don't want my own space to have a discussion. I want to participate in the dominant culture and engage in that discussion. And I also believe that means allowing people from the dominant culture to contribute. Anyone who genuinely cares about the subject should be generating relevant theory which is beneficial to the discipline anyway. How else would they get themselves recognized/hired by people within the same field?

Generally, I believe in having "a space" outside of the dominant culture as an educational, and essentially curative, step. Before one can use one's own voice to affect change within society, one ideally should be able to hear that voice, to practice using it, without fear of being silenced. Going to a women's college was immensely helpful for me for this reason.

However, I don't think it's productive, as an end goal, to only be able to engage in that separate space and never move outside of it. I think in general feminists believe in engaging the dominant culture, and therefore should invite diverse voices into women's/gender studies--under specific terms (if thou art a member of the dominant cultural group, thou shalt not dominate discussion. Thou shalt deal with listening to the experiences of women, people of color, and working class people, and recognizing their issues and concerns as valid and worthwhile. Etc.). On the other hand, I know that having those (culturally dominant) voices present, in practice, can be difficult; I suppose some would rather just not attempt it, which I feel is unfortunate.

Edited by allysekn

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^ RE the stuff on 'whitey' above - this is off the subject of men in women's groups and probably opening a whole can of worms, but I'd've thought that we'd all now pretty much acknowledged that there's racial slurs and racial slurs. The difference between a term like 'blacky', which targets a group who are still the subject of widespread institutionalised discrimination and have a long history of oppression based on the colour of their skin, and a term like 'whitey', which targets a group who, by and large (I know there are exceptions, I'm talking generally here) aren't and haven't, is enormous. Both terms are insults, and insults aren't cool - but the weight of those insults is entirely different. If, in say Europe or the US, you insult a white person based on their skin colour you're definitely being a dick, but you're not oppressing them and you're not contributing to massive institutionalised discrimination. If you use racial slurs against a POC then you pretty much are. The two things just aren't comparable. 

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^ RE the stuff on 'whitey' above - this is off the subject of men in women's groups and probably opening a whole can of worms, but I'd've thought that we'd all now pretty much acknowledged that there's racial slurs and racial slurs. The difference between a term like 'blacky', which targets a group who are still the subject of widespread institutionalised discrimination and have a long history of oppression based on the colour of their skin, and a term like 'whitey', which targets a group who, by and large (I know there are exceptions, I'm talking generally here) aren't and haven't, is enormous. Both terms are insults, and insults aren't cool - but the weight of those insults is entirely different. If, in say Europe or the US, you insult a white person based on their skin colour you're definitely being a dick, but you're not oppressing them and you're not contributing to massive institutionalised discrimination. If you use racial slurs against a POC then you pretty much are. The two things just aren't comparable. 

 

Discrimination toward any group of individuals should be approached with disgust. The goal here shouldn’t be to weigh what is more offensive and what is less offensive--it should be to treat everyone with respect and recognize that all discrimination is harmful to society. 

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Discrimination toward any group of individuals should be approached with disgust. The goal here shouldn’t be to weigh what is more offensive and what is less offensive--it should be to treat everyone with respect and recognize that all discrimination is harmful to society. 

 

Look up 'intersectionality' 

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I didn't mean it should be downplayed! I said that I think we need to acknowledge that it's different to the point that it wasn't comparable. Not to recognise the difference between the two is much more seriously to downplay the fundamental inequalities that minority groups suffer/have suffered from in the past. That's all I'm saying. 

Edited by ldoone

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I am incredibly skeptical of cis men in my women's studies courses, but have been won over by some. Same as 2520s in Africa American studies, or any other person who is part of the supremacy entering into subjugated spaces. Talking about masculinism as if it were equatable to feminism is how you'll get some side-eye though. That shows you don't have a true understanding of the patriarchy or oppression, and also that you're stuck in a gender dichotomy. Understand your privileges (esp. when it comes to dominating classroom discussions) and make sure you know what your endgame really is in taking the course. Susan Bordo does some work on critical masculinities, and may be a great starting place for allies. 

On point post! 

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