Behold an alarming statistic: According to the office for Institutional Research and Planning, of the 115 gender-based courses or courses with the word “woman” in the title offered at Portland State, only 17 percent of the students attending are male or male-identifying students. This means there is a ratio of one man to every four women or female-identifying students. However, if you’ve ever taken a gender studies course at PSU, you would know that this statistic is accurate and perhaps even understates the true status quo: In a class of approximately 35 women there will usually be two or three men.
Though there are other genders along the spectrum taking these courses, there is a distinct lack of masculine identities involved. This is a huge problem because, ironically, in a society where women are often ignored, we need more men to spread the word since they’re actually listened to.
This isn’t to say the current gender studies courses aren’t important because the audience is primarily women. Yet, especially in such a progressive place like Portland, it sometimes feels like those classes are just preaching to the choir.
In order to bridge the gap, PSU should require all students to take at least one gender studies class. Even though many men might be apprehensive about this suggestion, they fail to realize gender studies are about them, too.
“There’s an idea that gender is only about women,” said PSU gender queer studies assistant professor Eddy Alvarez Jr., suggesting a reason that may account for a common societal failure to take feminism seriously. “If you think about feminism in terms of intersectionality and in terms of interlocking systems of oppression, they realize it’s also about them. For example, when I teach about men of color being imprisoned at disproportionate rates, that’s a feminist issue.”
This is one of the various reasons gender studies classes should be a requirement for all students: In an academic setting, not only would they be made to think about feminism, they’re made to think about feminism’s nuances and intersectionality. When students aren’t educated academically about feminism, they’re forced to go elsewhere to find out what feminism is.
“There’s men’s studies classes, too, and those are worthwhile as well,” said associate professor Kim Williams, who teaches a course called Women in Politics. According to Williams, men’s studies classes “would still touch on a number of the issues that we’re touching on, just in a slightly different way. These classes teach about masculinity and how it gets formed, and how men are socialized to become who they are. So perhaps men would feel more comfortable in that type of class.”
These types of classes would not only benefit society, but also the men taking them. They could help men think about issues relating to their lives that they may have never considered before.
“I think they’re able to see that these expectations they take as normal are hurting them, too—are hurting their relationships, are hurting their sense of self,” Alvarez said. “There’s high suicide rates among men.”
It’s clear gender studies encompasses dire issues that shape people’s lives on a daily basis, subconsciously or consciously. Yet gender studies is often only taken as an elective or a schedule filler, probably because people fail to realize how relevant and practical these classes are. Alvarez claimed gender studies help students understand a multitude of experiences.
“Another thing that’s important is to see how taking gender studies courses will help you in your career,” Alvarez said. “A lot more careers out there are expecting people to have this intersectional knowledge and to be able to work with diverse populations.”
It’s interesting that general education requirements include science, math, and humanities credits for all students regardless of their major, though they may not use most of the knowledge they gain in those classes. Learning about feminism and other cultural critiques would benefit every individual and society, but there are no enforced requirements.
At least one gender studies course should be part of degree requirements at PSU. It’s not like these life-altering issues are being taught in high school, so they have to be implemented in the educational curriculum somewhere.
This is not to say that any one ideology should be forced on students. Everyone is free to disagree with what they hear. However, in an academic setting, students would have to at least listen to what the professor has to say. It would be a good way to push people to see things through a different scope.
Many men realize the importance of taking classes that deal with scientific issues such as global warming. While they aren’t exactly sexist, when it comes to feminism they don’t seem to care enough to invest academic time into it. When are men going to start treating feminism like the dire issue it is? The change should start in the classroom.
The Take is an ongoing opinion column by Claire Meyer.