Last semester, I was enrolled in a class where students sat in a circle facing each other and would have open discussions. I loved this class, but it lacked one dynamic: diversity.
I was sitting in a room with 16 women and four men. The gender disparity was alarming.
Our professor encouraged all of us to feel safe to share our diverse opinions and to be respectful of each other.
I started the class ready for well-rounded discussions. The only problem was we could barely get a word out of most of the male-identifying students.
This semester I am in another gender and sexuality class and the dynamic is the same. This has led me to question why this dichotomy exists.
I spoke with Mary Dolan, a psychology professor, about the issue of gender disparities in gender and sexualities courses. I asked her whether she had any theories on why men don’t tend to want to take these types of courses.
“Overall I would relate it to a manifestation of the college majors and careers we are encouraged to pursue,” Dolan said. “The topics discussed in courses like psychology of women tend to be perceived as ‘women’s issues’ thus many mistakenly believe the material will not be valuable to them.”
I spoke with a few male students to gain a better understanding of this issue. We talked about whether they have taken gender studies courses, did they like the class and would they take another one.
“I did enjoy the class, but I’m not really sure if I’d want to take another gender studies class,” Chico State student Paul Mamalakis said. “I mean I probably wouldn’t take one now because I’m almost done with my GE, but also I feel like it’s not a topic that grabs me as much.”
Mamalakis and several others all had similar responses. Why do so many male students feel this way?
Rachel M. Schmitz and Emily Kazyak, authors of a 2017 academic study analyzed 15 men who have taken gender study courses. Their study, “Checking Privilege at the Door: Men’s Reflections on Masculinity in Women’s and Gender Studies Courses,” was intended to gain the male perspective.
Men who took these courses were able to examine their own sources of privilege. They became more aware of social inequality and had a greater willingness to engage in social activism.
“We need to transform the ‘women’s issues’ perception,” Dolan said. “If all people were to value the need to improve our family leave policies and have access to affordable high-quality childcare, for example, and see such issues as personally relevant, that would help.”
But men also felt fear of being seen as a monolith of the male perspective, especially when they are the minority in these courses.
“Students may avoid self-identification with feminism because of unflattering associations with the term purported by anti-feminists, such as female dominance and man-hating attitudes,” Schmitz and Kazyak stated.
Exposure to social justice-oriented courses exposed dominant groups, heteronormative men, to feelings of collective guilt that can be difficult to handle. This is likely a key factor as to why men keep quiet in these courses.
I know my opinion won’t be popular for students just trying to get through those pesky GE courses. I think universities should create more general education course requirements that actively get students to participate in multicultural, gender and sexuality studies.
While I know it’s a lot to ask of students and faculty, it’s for the growth of society as a whole. The more inclusive ideas we are taught, the more empathetic we become.