Gender: An Unrecognized Part of Life
For many people, the words “Gender Studies” conjures images of women burning their bras and/or oppressing others under the guise of liberation. If not outright terror and images of pitchforks, it inspires rejection as a niche issue or a women’s issue, as though only women have a gendered identity.
Gender Studies allows people to look at society through a different lens to understand the interactions between the different genders, the ways that gendered actions and norms are created and constructed by society, and the ways individuals subvert and support these norms. The field seeks to understand how sexuality and gender are related and mutually constituting categories of identity. Gender Studies is about more than women. We discuss masculinity, femininity, sexualities, and third gender categories, in the hopes of understanding how different societies have different social expectations for their people based on their gender or sexuality.
The Gender Studies minor gives students the ability to create an interdisciplinary pathway through a number of classes. Our minors thus far have engaged in undergraduate research, presented at conference both within and outside UNG, and have developed excellent analytical and critical thinking skills. The minor’s flexibility, as well as the interdisciplinary ways of thinking it imparts, makes this minor very important for UNG.
So, how do we attract students to the minor and inspire them to value the courses, whether in the minor or not?
The Gender Studies Council helps administer the Gender Studies minor, but the number of students declaring that minor has stalled. We have expanded the minor to include students and faculty in Gainesville and we are gaining traction there, but ultimately, we are having difficulty attracting students, especially men. Many male students, not to mention male faculty, hear gender and head for the hills, fearing as noted above, man-bashing feminists or discussions that involve women’s issues.
The field of Gender Studies and its definition is alive and well in the Internet. From presentations about gender roles in cartoons (look at Johnny Bravo, Kim Possible, and Scooby Doo), to TedTalks that question the value of traditional ideas of gender and sexuality (Courtney Martin’s reinvention of feminism, Tony Porter’s call to men, IO Tillett Wright’s exploration of gay identities), people are discussing, disagreeing, and questioning what it is to discuss gender and how to move the field beyond women. Yet, this discussion is not happening widely at UNG’s campuses.
Partially, this is because there is just not the programming. Partially, it is because students believe that the only thing Gender Studies has to provide them is a challenge to what they believe. Yet, talking to students, on the Dahlonega campus at least reveals that our students publically demonstrate a wide variety of gendered and sexual identities. Some do challenge their gendered roles, asserting statements like “I’m not that kind of girl,” and “I’m a better man than that.” These questions and discussions go on daily and yet few students understand or appreciate the value of analyzing how gendered expectations and identities affects their lives. It is just part of life.
At UNG, the Gender Studies Council works to change the conversation around the issues of gender and sexuality both within the classroom and outside of it, because we all experience our gender differently. Students who choose to minor in Gender Studies choose their path through the courses offered at the university—from the history of gender and sexuality to marriage and the family –students are offered a broad view of the ways that gender and sexuality affects their lives and they are given tools to evaluate its impact in society.