By Munahil Sultana | Contributing Writer
For many, the notion of feminism either produces a feeling of excitement or makes them want to hide under a rock. Feminism has been incorrectly defined for decades, furthering the divide between men and women and halting our attempts of reaching equality. However, this war against feminism is not a war against women because not all feminists are women. At F&M, we offer Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality (WGSS) as a Major and Minor to all of our students. Yet, the nearly half of our student population that skips over this section in the Registration Hub is the segment that most needs to learn it: men.
WGSS is not just a book club for women; rather, it is a discipline that weaves together the intersection of socio-economic class, race, sexuality, identity, and power to understand the structures of our society and attempt to offer remedies to a systematic issue that encompasses every aspect of our life. However, the funny thing about privilege is that recognizing its existence means that you recognize your own complacency within the system — something that men at F&M seldom do.
How can we expect a change in the behavior of men when WGSS classrooms are filled with only women? As I walked into my Gender, Sexuality, and Power class this semester, I saw a room full of 19 women — and one man. Hugo Job, a senior at F&M majoring in Government, sits and listens in a room full of women sharing their anecdotal experiences with the patriarchy. Curious about his motivations to take this course, I interviewed Hugo about how it feels to be a man learning about the horrific impacts of the patriarchy.
What inspired you to take a WGSS course?
“It was actually my ex-girlfriend. She is a WGSS major and she taught me so many things about the subject and introduced me to many of the authors that we’ve been discussing in the course, like bell hooks and Audre Lorde. I’ve also frequently studied social movements and politics surrounding Civil Rights, but I realized that there was this whole part of the world that was barely being discussed in any of my classes. It’s almost as if at one point, someone decided that the only place where we would read about gender issues is in WGSS courses, which I think is ridiculous. It’s impossible to understand the full sphere of government and politics, particularly in America today, without reading these texts and learning more about these authors and their fight. I started taking more history courses for the same reason, to get context for what’s happening today. WGSS courses not only give us context for the present, but also for the past if that makes sense.”
What is your biggest takeaway from what you have learned? In what ways do you think men benefit from the patriarchy? In what ways are they victimized?
“There are a couple of key points that we’ve discussed that have really stuck with me, but I’m sure there will be a lot more since it’s still fairly early in the semester. One of the most interesting parts was what we read recently for class, a piece by bell hooks on the patriarchy. She theorized that the patriarchy is damaging to men as well as women, which was a completely new perspective for me. What she said about love stuck out to me in particular, that the patriarchy was robbing people of experiencing true love. Because of the power dynamics and imbalances that are present due to the patriarchy, it’s impossible for couples to experience the full spectrum of emotion and passion that they can and should have. It may sound cheesy, but it is kind of all about love. I also really found our readings about biodeterminism and, more importantly, the arguments against it, since there was so much about the transgender community that I just wasn’t aware of. Learning about precedent for transgender identities in nature was really amazing.”
How have you, as a man, shifted your actions after this experience?
“It’s hard to say because I like to think that I’ve always been an ally, but this class has definitely helped me learn that there are so many things that I do, even unconsciously, that are damaging to others and that is antithetical to the course. It’s, unfortunately, true that I have participated in the patriarchy, and I’ve most certainly benefited from it— especially as a straight, white, cis, male. But I think that even learning and being more knowledgeable about these subjects can be really important, which is what I’ve tried to do. It’s still early in the semester, though; there is plenty of room for me to learn a lot more. I’ve also found myself noticing and picking up on language, certain words, or jokes that I now know are unacceptable. I’ve been trying to be more active in calling people out for it.”
What would you recommend to men on campus who are interested in taking a WGSS course?
“I would tell them to definitely go for it if they have the space in their schedule. Actually, I take that back— they should take it even if there isn’t space in their schedule. Taking a WGSS course has helped me learn so much about not only the world around me but also about myself. As I mentioned earlier, taking this course has helped me a lot to understand more about the global political context for many different issues. I honestly think that taking a WGSS course should be required for everyone, especially for Government majors like myself. WGSS courses aren’t just about feminism or women’s rights, either. A lot of the issues we discuss are intrinsically tied to race, socioeconomic status, and sexuality. The lessons we learn in our class are meant to improve the lives of everyone. The other side of it is that it’s an incredibly unique experience to be in a class where everything you study is painfully obvious to everyone but yourself. Many of the things that we read and learn about are fairly new to me, a lot of things that I barely even think about. But half of the population has no choice but to think about those things all the time! Why wouldn’t you want to take a course to understand even just that tiny bit more about your fellow human beings?”
How do you try to stray away from toxic masculinity?
“That’s a good question and one that I’m not entirely sure how to answer. I think that the problem is that much of the strength needed to actively avoid falling into the traps of toxic masculinity must come from within oneself. Just by the nature of our institutions, families, friends, etc., it’s hard to stay away from those standards of masculinity by yourself. However, that’s often the only way because the men around you can be negative influences that perpetuate those standards of masculinity. To be completely honest, what helped me most was spending more time with women on an even playing field. Whether it’s with my mom, female friends, significant other, or even a therapist, this has allowed me to be more vulnerable.”
So why don’t men take courses related to Women’s or Gender studies? The most obvious answer is fear. This could be fear of their nonmale classmates taking pitchforks to their neck and deeming them as “the problem”, fear of the ridicule of friends and teammates, or even fear of recognizing that their own behavior has contributed to the perpetuation of inequality that they inherently benefit from.
F&M prides itself on the “liberal arts education” it promises its students; yet, the varied course selection offered at F&M comes with its drawbacks. In the case of WGSS, the seats are almost exclusively filled by women. There may even be merit in mandating a course similar to WGS210 for all students, ensuring that everyone understands the complexities of power within our society and learns how to dismantle these structures. Hugo enlightens us with his perspective of learning about his privilege and understanding what he can do to make a difference and hopefully can inspire more men to step outside of their comfort zone and do the same.
Munahil Sultana is a Sophomore Contributing Writer. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.