I did something today that I try not to do. I got involved in a heated discussion on Facebook. I usually try to avoid these for two very different reasons 1) It is hard to have a meaningful discussion on Facebook where a lot can be taken out of context and 2) I can get really sucked into these things and all the work I planned to do just flies out the window.
In the weeks and days leading up to the election I posted lots of political comments and "liked" or responded to some of the comments made by my friends. But for the most part I was lucky to NOT have friends posting racist/sexist/homophobic doomsday propaganda BS, so I didn't have to engage in any big debates. It was a lot of "Go Obama" and " I agree with you, Go Obama!".
But today I read an interchange that I decided I needed to respond to. This interchange actually was not directly related to the election, although it certainly relates to larger discussions about power and privilege in society.
This discussion was about Women/Gender Studies Courses and the presence or absence of men in these courses. This is an area of importance to me because I teach Gender/Women's studies classes and I have done research on students' perceptions of these courses. The Facebook conversation was sparked by an article in The Guardian about the limited number of men in Gender Studies courses. The explanations about why men tend not to take these courses were not new. Many men assume that the classes will be "anti-male", that others will tease them or question their masculinity and sexual orientation if they take the courses, and some men think the material is unimportant or doesn't apply to them. Most students make these assumptions without ever taking a Women/Gender Studies course. While this issue is of obvious interest to university faculty and administrators it is also very important to anyone interested in creating social change. The same reasons men might avoid these courses could cause them to avoid identifying as a feminist or engaging in conversations about gender equality.
One of the posted comments about the article was from a man who indicated that he had taken a Gender Studies course and worried that the teacher would tell him he was "wrong." How many courses in other subjects include new material or material that challenges students' current viewpoints? If a student feels like they are "wrong" in what they thought they knew about math or history, do they assume the teacher is radical and biased? Or do they assume that they are taking the course because they want to learn new things? Women/Gender Studies are rich academic areas that are backed by years of research yet some students assume that the material presented in them is "subjective." Can you tell that I am a bit annoyed? And now you know why I decided to engage in the conversation.
I think this perception about biases in these courses relates to the main reason men avoid them. Many feel uncomfortable having discussions about male privilege. Students may leave these courses (or not be open to the content) because of this discomfort. Yes, these courses do address issues of privilege, which can make men feel uncomfortable. But there are ways to talk about being aware of one's privilege without feeling guilty about it. I talk about the fact that people often don't feel subjectively privileged even though they belong to a group that has systematic privilege. I also talk about the fact that a system that privileges some identities over others is problematic for everyone because it sets up limited definitions of "acceptable" expressions of identity (masculinity being a perfect example). Finally, I include discussions of how to use one's privilege (in any area of identity) to be an ally. I often quote Spider Man at this point "With great power comes great responsibility..."
So while individual men may not have chosen to have male privilege, that doesn't mean they don't have it. Just like I have white privilege and heterosexual privilege. I can refuse to address it, feel guilty about it and get mad at anyone who points it out--OR I can challenge myself to be aware of the ways privilege works in my life and strive to be an ally.
At times I feel like just blowing off the men who can't be bothered to take a Gender Studies course or who are resistant to being challenged about their perceptions of the world. But I realize that we need to engage men in these conversations, for the sake of women AND men (and boys and girls). Because in our world, much power is held in the hands of a few men. And until those men decide they are willing to take responsibility for being part of social change I guess I will keep having Facebook arguments.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.