Why men should take Women’s Studies classes

The dire importance of gender education that reaches cisgender men

Will Nelson, Senior Columnist

“I̶t̶’̶s̶ ̶j̶u̶s̶t̶ ̶a̶ ̶j̶o̶k̶e̶.”

s̶e̶x̶u̶a̶l̶ ̶h̶a̶r̶a̶s̶s̶m̶e̶n̶t̶

free real estate

The sign hanging above a printer on the first floor of GLC–which usually stops at replacing ‘just a joke’ with ‘sexual harassment’–had been defaced by some jumped-up child in an embarrassing attempt at humor. Though it was a reference in remarkably poor taste to an old meme from a couple years ago, the implications of the statement were appallingly obvious.

There’s no dancing around it, Hamline has a misogyny problem.

Historically, a large percentage if not all of misogyny can be traced back to the demographic of cisgender men. This isn’t to say that other demographics can’t be misogynistic as well, but the root of the problem really comes down to them. 

Hamline has spaces designed to prevent and counteract the spread of misogyny through gender education–women’s and gender studies classes, the Women’s Resource Center, gender politics classes–but the problem is that men tend to be largely absent from these spaces. 

One possible explanation as to why so few men are present in these spaces is in naming.

I think because it’s called Women’s Studies, men don’t feel like they fit into that. ‘Why learn about women when I’m a man?’ they think,” says senior women’s and gender studies major Aoife Zamacona.

While the women’s studies major has just recently undergone a name change and become women’s and gender studies, the misguided assumption that classes in that field aren’t for men still exists. 

And even when there are men in said spaces, discomfort can drive them to a lack of engagement.

“Cisgender men typically tend not to talk at all,” says senior women’s and gender studies major Caelyn Androsky. 

A lot of this discomfort can be traced to the stigma that women’s and gender studies classes seem to have.

“I think that there is such a stereotypical belief in today’s society that any female-identifying person that takes a women or gender studies course or is just proud to be a feminist is just bashing men… That stereotypical belief that all the women are going to be like ‘f*ck you’ is something that definitely holds [men] back from even having the thought to be part of it,” says Androsky.

Though this belief is fictitious, it’s also not the responsibility of gender education to make men feel comfortable. Discomfort can even be productive.
“Embrace the awkwardness and it goes away,” says Jen England, an assistant professor in the English Department and former director of the Women’s Resource Center.

The question remains: how can gender education better reach cisgender men without catering the curriculum to their comfort and changing the space to suit their demographic?

I think the best way to reach people who aren’t signing up for classes focused solely on gender would be to integrate gender modules into other kinds of classes,” says Alina Oxendine, professor and department chair of the Political Science Department.

Incorporating gender education into all departments is an excellent step, and an entirely feasible one, considering the interdisciplinary breadth of the field. 

But why stop there? Gender education should be commonplace… expected… mandatory even.

“I’ve always wished that there was a womens and gender studies letter on the Hamline Plan,” says Androsky.

It’s not an unreasonable request. With the Diversity Credit–responsible for gender studies–covering everything from renewable energy to Russian literature, there’s really nothing incentivizing students to take courses in the field. 

Ideally, our gender education system would be completely reformed, starting in elementary school. Unfortunately change like this takes time and, as illustrated by the vandalized flier, we don’t have that luxury.

“Women are such a big part of men’s lives every day, so if you don’t know about how we’re systemically disadvantaged, it’s hard for you to not be part of that problem,” says Zamacona.

Upending gender inequity is the responsibility of all of us, and doing so takes learning. So if you’re a man who’s never considered taking a womens and gender studies class, give it some serious thought. The future will thank you.