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January 20, 2005



Frankly, I can't get overly worked up about men in the feminist movement. I'm too practical-minded not to want a little of that male privilege working for us.

Hugo Schwyzer

Amanda, I've noticed a real generational divide on this. The feminists who seem most troubled by the presence of men in the movement tend to be older. Younger activists tend to have a more inclusive world-view. On the other hand, older women just may be bolder about getting in my face from time to time!


As a male who has feminist theory on my teaching competencies list (haven't taught it yet as a stand alone class, had 2-3 weeks devoted to it in an issues class), I'm rather obviously with you. But in my neck of the woods, it isn't really controversial. Two of my main graduate faculty are prominent feminist theorists; they've encouraged me to develop this teaching/research interest. The women's studies department here only has a handful of core members, and I think they're all women (but I they did, IIRC, make an offer to a man, but he took another job), but many of the courses they offer are taught by men in other departments.

There is a potential ackwardness to it, I'll grant, but it doesn't come close to the ackwardness of (for example) when we're reading about race, civil rights moveement or something, and all eyes in the room dart toward, then away from, the one or two black students (typical number per class), and they sit silently, obviously feeling pressure to say something for all the wrong reasons. My point is, teaching is going to have ackward moments. They'll be more plentiful and perhaps difficult in these kind of situations.

At the end of the short unit of contemporary feminist theory I taught, which went very well as an upper division academic seminar, but discussion remained at a pretty abstract, non-personal level, I gave a mini-lecture on how I used male privilege to make that happen. It was one of those teaching moments where you could look around the room and see all the lightbulbs going on--sort of a meta-male privilege! But look, first and foremost, I want to be a good teacher, so I'll play with the hand I'm dealt.

I also take issue with the dissing of the title gender studies. It seems to me that's what women's/feminist studies has always been. It wouldn't make sense to study the history of racism in the US without paying any attention at all to white people.

La Lubu

I think you're right about the generational difference; older women in the feminist movement have experienced more outright hostility, including from men supposedly in the 'movement'. They're old enough to remember when people (including women) were laughing at the very idea of Women's Studies.

The battles are still there, but the nature and location of the battles are different. The memory is still raw for some of the veterans.


I should also note that in my 11 years of nominal adulthood, I've been around feminists--scholars and activists and friends--pretty consistently. My role in these various activities (and that of other men) has never really been controversial. Obviously, some tasks and positions shouldn't be taken on by men, and usually which ones those are are determinable through a bit of common sense. And part of common sense in this case is being aware of male privilege, and the role it plays in various social situations, and making a reasonable effort to adjust my behavior accordingly (In a practical sense, about 80% of that is shutting up and listening when my first impulse is to talk some more). So I take umbrage to B's thoughts about the proper role of men in feminism, but I'm pretty sure most of my feminist friends and colleagues would too.
Could easily be a generational thing.

On the use of the term feminist, I'm sorry, but I'm going to continue to use it unapologetically, without the male modifier, every bit as comfortably as I call myself an anti-racist, without the modifier white, until I've seen a good reason not to. It's a damned outrage that men (or women!) calling themselves feminist is controversial and not absolutely normal expecte (like, for example, anti-racist).


I'd like to apologize for my abuse of the english language in my previous post. I'll try very hard to avoid apologizing for things I do unapologetically in the future.


Women in their late 40s-early 50s remember when the concepts of feminism, women's studies, etc were derided by male experts, and the competency of female experts was considered nil. Men told us what we were supposed to think and feel and do, and it was a big improvement when women said "dammit, I feel this, I think this", not parroting what the men decided was acceptable. Hard as it is to remember today, this was a novelty.


This reminds me of a moment in a short-story class I took when I was an undergrad at Wellesley. I don't remember how it came up, but one student said to the class, "Don't you ever have those mornings where you wake up and think, 'I'm a woman at a women's college. I feel so empowered!'"

The rest of us stared at her blankly. "Uh ... no."

It's obviously very important to some feminists to have these all-female spaces free from the influence a man might have just by being there. Having spent four years at an all-female college I don't see what the big deal is, but clearly some women really need it.

I don't like the idea of making it the sine qua non of feminism though, basically for the reasons you state. What is the long-term strategy here? Is the solution really to hide out from men and their mysterious superpowers over the female psyche?


B would have really become worked up had she attended my alma mater. I had a Sociology teacher who knew of my interest in Women's Studies, and he encouraged me to get the uni to work up a special plan for me. So, I went to the department head, and was presented with a list of a combination of sociology, history and *home economics* courses that I could take to get a minor in said studies.

B, Hugo's class is what this East Texas chick calls progress.

Robert L

QUOTE The Cassamia "What is the long-term strategy here? Is the solution really to hide out from men and their mysterious superpowers over the female psyche?"

I have to say that doesn't sound very empowering to me. I get the humor and truth in what you are saying though. To say that there is a male privilege in just our presence gives us guys a lot of power we don't really have. Stranger and stranger.

What do you think the reaction is, as a teacher of these classes, from the female students to a male student? I have been curious about these classes myself, and I was wondering if there was maybe some material I could read at the local library that would a Prof. such as yourself would suggest?

I'm seeking truth and peace, and willing to look at all sides. I am very cautious of information from either side due to the fact that there are so many zealots and people with grudges/agendas.

Please do not take offense to any of that. If I offended any where please let me explain before anything gets taken the wrong way.

Hugo Schwyzer

Robert, there are countless books out there, and I'll try a future post of a reading list for you.

The male privilege in "just our presence" comes from assumptions that others make about men and that we make about ourselves. We are, merely by virtue of being male, assumed to be more rational, logical, and intellectual. We also are free from the socialization that has been forced on to so many young women, the socialization that teaches them to be compliant and quiet rather than vocal.


Two things:

First, I think it's extremely important that sexism and feminism be issues taken up by men. Sexism will persist unless women and men oppose it together. That means men must actively oppose sexism -- and for that reason, men should be studying and participating in discussions of feminism. The occasional postcard-essay of "Good luck! Best wishes!" is just not going to cut it.

If men are going to take feminism seriously, it would stand to reason that at least some academics in the field should be men.

I'm not crazy about the expression "male privilege," since I believe that men actually suffer a great deal because of sexism, if not nearly as much as women. However, it's hard to miss all the little markers of male dominance in daily life, so I suppose I must accept the term.

Second, a few years ago, when I joined a socialist group, we generally only used "feminism" to describe non-socialist opponents of sexism. This led to a lot of unnecessary confusion and hostility, alienated good allies, and I think referring to principled opponents of sexism as "feminists" a lot more clear. Fortunately, I think most of the members of my socialist group came to the same conclusion.


Well, I'd like to think I'd get in your face about it. After all, we virtual met after I threated to kick you in the shins. As for the generational thing, I think a lot of men in my generation were raised to take women's opinions a little more seriously than previous generations. I really don't have nearly the amount of experience that older women do in being run over by men my age on every subject, including feminism. Not to say that it doesn't happen; it happens nearly every day. But I wouldn't even say that gross sexism is a problem in 90% of my encounters with men. I'm sympathetic to both sides, really.


Hello, I would like to thank Hugo for taking the time to repond to my inquiry and to do so in a cordial manner. I am B (Bella). I would like to respond to your post with a question I forgot to ask and a couple of comments. Is there a roughly equivalent rate of women educators teaching in the evolving men studies courses and if so is anyone writing articles that are available?
I was struck by your comment that knowledge has no sex within academia. I like it in theory and it is what i want to believe about institutional education I but don't think it is always carried out in practice within colleges and universities. I think the histories of many educational institutions old and new would present ample examples. Even most recentlly with Harvard Unviversity president making the usual comments on womens "inate lack of abilities" in science and math and their most confusing new school policy on not investingating sexaul assault unless the person can bring in a witness or evidence.
I find these comments from the president of one of the most influential schools around to be very discouraging.

I do not think having a woman teaching womens studies is throwing the class into the ghetto. I do not think you have to experience everything in life that someone else does in order to educate or be in the role of a teacher. Obviously that just cant be done. I do understand empathy, participation to the level you can and actively enacting a way of thinking and living be that in your personal or professional life. And I certainly do not think being female alone makes you any more sypathetic about feminism. If you were teaching Latino Male history to a class of prodiminately latino males and you were a white rich female dont you think a few students would ask what was up with that at some point? So I do not see why my asking a similar question within women studies is viewed as something an old feminist would ask. Contrary to the assumed I am not in my fifties only in my early thirties. I ask my questions, and i feel valid in having my opinion, based not on the sole accounts of books or first generation feminists stories but on my own personal daily experiences that come from men and from women. There are a host of women studies basher books and articles written by women on the market that call it a joke and and say it is not a discipline to be studied and say it is dangerous and harmful/ Their comments read similar to the ones you would find on the manpower site. I am not as well read as many of the posters on this site but I do try to read a bit and I do not see alot of other programs of study being treated this way. And yes, I do know all programs have their problems but there does seem to a be a rather vile hatred geared to women studies.

I think it was Camassia, apologies if i am wrong not sure if posts signs are the name above or below sometimes. I am not hiding out from men or their mysterious superpowers. I do not think they are that mysterious nor do they have superpowers.
But the intellectual community does at times (historically and present day) have a tendency to think they have super powers and are immune from carrying the effects of life and their specific genders, and the ideology of institutions and or race into the classroom. If knowledge has no sex in academia why would a male teacher "legitamize" as you said, Hugo, any class particularily a womens studies class. Clearly it is at issue.

And by the way, I am not a middle class or wealthy feminist with all the answers. I am a low-income person with alot of questions. (sorry for such a long post again many thanks for everyones comments i appreciated hearing what you had to say)


I would rather take a Women's History class from a man that could present a balanced and truthful treatment of the subject, than a class from a pro-feminist woman pushing her own one sided political agenda.

If only women should teach women's history, should then only Latinos teach Mexican history, and Chinese teach Chinese history? What then to do with the survey classes that teach a variety of cultures? Who is "qualified" to teach those?

The ancient history that I teach to my 6th graders is filled with the heroics of MEN like Alexander and Caesar. Should I then be unqualified to teach this because I am a woman?

Hugo Schwyzer

There certainly are plenty of women teaching men's studies, largely because at so many institutions, Bella, we have the Gender Studies departments you decry. I assure you, the feminist and pro-feminist work done within them is superb, better by far than what was being done when I was an undergrad in the 1980s.

I don't think you've understood, with all respect, what I meant by "legitimize." I don't believe that men teaching a course legitimizes it! Far from it. Rather, I am aware that in the minds of some students, male professors are WRONGLY perceived as having greater intellectual credibility. I do think a subject can only be legitimate when folks are allowed to study it -- and teach it -- regardless of their race or sex.

To some extent, we all teach from our own life experiences. No one woman has sufficient life experience to be able to relate to all women; no one man has the sufficient life experience to relate to all men. In college, we are pushed -- and we push others -- to empathize with those who are least like us. That's essential work.

Hugo Schwyzer

Anne, I hate to break it to you, but I teach my course from a pro-feminist standpoint...

But your comment proves the very point I was trying to make to Bella about the presumption of male objectivity!


Anne may I ask why you assume a feminist has an agenda in the classroom but a man doesn't? teaching is agenda knowledge is agenda

you demonstrate my point
You imply a feminist can teach with passion as teacher but not as a feminist teacher and she can do so as long as she does not challange the pc fashionable feminism. As you are teaching sixth grade there is a very distinct difference in the administrative and academic set up. You are encompassing a wide vareity of information for an overall study assessed by levels 6th grade, 7th grade and so on. In college and universities programs of study are specifically designed for the historical and contexual elements of the program antrhopology, latino studios, dance, yes they encompass other areas for the liberal arts or required faces but in a designated program there are emphasis that are core to the primary area of study which is meant to carry the student into either a professional or personal career of specific study. So yes questions are raised to who teaches what.


So Hugo, are you saying that you do not teach History with objectivity?

Why should any history course be taught from a biased point of view? There are two sides to every story, and yes history is usually written by the victorious. But it is any teacher's responsibility to provide a balanced view of the subject.

This reminds me of the recent cinematic fiasco of "Alexander the Gay". Clearly, the makers of that movie had an agenda; and as a result, those of my students who (sadly) went to see it will remember Alexander not for his triumphs on the battle field but for his conflicts in the bedroom.

Similarly, if your student's receive the "pro-feminist" view of Women in American history, then aren't you somehow diminishing their right to an objective, non-biased curriculum whereby they can analyze the information and draw their own conclusions about how to interpret the past?


If he were a woman and said he taught "objectively", would you believe him?

When you ghettoize someone, you make it hard for them to get out. I want feminists to influence every corner of academia, and if it helps to have men in feminist courses, then good. I don't want there to be fuel for the belief that only men can teach history, literature, etc. because most of the achievements in the past were done by men. (Or by women and stolen by men, but that's another story.)


To answer Bella's question... I never said that I assume a "feminist has an agenda in the classroom, but a man doesn't".

I simply mean that I would rather hear Women's History from an OBJECTIVE man than a BIASED woman. There is not to be any assumption that I was referencing anyone in particular!

And I am well aware of the differences in the structures of middle schools vs. colleges and universities. (duh!)

Hugo Schwyzer

Anne, are there limits to objectivity? When I invite a Holocaust survivor to speak on World War Two, should I also invite a neo-Nazi to give a counter-story?

Objectivity is, in its purest form, morally neutral. Good teachers are moral advocates, not disinterested computers dispensing information.


Now Hugo... you are taking a very extreme example to try to illustrate your point. But my answer to your question would be yes- bring in the other side of the story -if for nothing else- it should help you prove your point.

Good teachers are moral advocates - but be careful whose "morals" are you preaching. This world has many different views in it, and a good teacher would present as many as possible.

I hope you don't really believe (as you make it sound) that being objective is synonymous with being disinterested. Nothing could be further from the truth. A teacher who cares enough to empower their students with the tools to think critically is by no means just a computer dispensing information!

Hugo Schwyzer

Anne, "disinterested" is very different from "uninterested". The former is considered a virtue, the latter less so. And if you would bring a Nazi into your classroom, I fear for your students. IF you consider that responsible pedagogy, then the gulf between us is too wide to have ongoing dialogue.

Chris Tessone

Interesting discussion—I have to admit that having been raised to identify as feminist, I was shocked by the idea that men should not identify as feminist. I've simply never heard this.

Personally, I use the label to describe myself not to trumpet my tolerance or passion for equality but because it's like a giant "kick me" sign for when I'm wrong. I've had women close to me sit me down when I said something insensitive and say, "You're a self-avowed feminist, how can you think something like this?" Anything less than that label strikes me as a wishy-washy name for me to take—I want to be held to the standard everyone should be held to. Put me in the "why isn't everyone a feminist?" camp, I guess.

As for gender studies, opposition to that term strikes me as misguided. Not only is gender identity at the root of many of the problems women face in society, but it's also at the bottom of the things homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgendered people face. I understand preferring the term "women's studies" because it highlights how much more problems women face as a result of gender issues than men, but it excludes a lot of people who face just as many problems as women. The argument can be made that gay men still enjoy male privilege and lesbians fall under the broader feminist movement, but trans folks get lost. I don't want to be part of a movement that excludes transgendered people, consciously or otherwise. That's what I see as the strength of the "gender studies" term.

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