Male students express importance of gender and women’s studies classes
September 13, 2015
Gender and Women’s Studies, or GWS, courses have made the transition from solely women-oriented to both genders, but the students taking the courses have not.
GWS classes offered at Illinois are centered on studying a variety of gender-related topics. Although administrators have seen a steady increase of men taking the courses, the majority of students taking them are women. Jacquelyn Kahn, GWS academic advisor and administrative coordinator, said in May there were only five men who graduated from the University with GWS degrees. And according to the Division of Management Information, there are 13 GWS majors this fall, two of which are men. However, Kahn believes things are looking up.
“I’ve been here for 20 years, and I think that there’s been a gradual increase in men taking GWS courses since I started,” Kahn said.
Despite the low number of male GWS graduates, Kahn said the degree provides men with a lot of latitude because the skills from a GWS degree can apply to a wide range of fields.
“They’re very politically conscious and want to do something that will help change things,” she said.
Kahn said she believes the number of men taking GWS courses is so low simply due to misconceptions about what they are about.
“There’s probably some stigma attached to men taking GWS courses,” Kahn explained. “I know that in the past, years ago, sometimes men would take the courses as a part of fraternity hazing. The interesting part was that in some cases, the men actually changed their minds about the courses and thought that it was important information.”
Adrian Brizuela, sophomore in LAS, is currently the only male in his Contemporary Women’s Issues class.
“I really thought it was a good opportunity to learn,” Brizuela said. “I was looking through classes and thought it would teach me about history and a little more about what’s going on today.”
Even though he is a minority in the class, Brizuela said he feels no discrimination while attending it, beckoning his interest in taking more in the future.
“The class isn’t anti-men or anything like that,” Brizuela said. “I really like the way that it’s taught and the structure of the class. The teacher never gets mad or says anything negative about men.”
Timothy Coukart, junior in LAS, is pursuing a minor in GWS, in addition to sociology and secondary education.
“I took my first GWS class over the summer, but I’ve always had this weird interest in it and thought ‘I think I want to do this,’” he said.
Coukart said he believes his male identity provides him with privilege in society. Over the summer, for the first time in his life, he was verbally harassed by another man while walking down the street.
“I was terrified,” he said. “I told my grandma about it, and she said ‘Welcome to the life of being a girl,’ which she was right about. I’ve gotten harassed once, but it’s a common thing for women.
Jacob Ferruzzi, senior in LAS and also a GWS minor, said he wants to learn about the different types of feminism, rather than what he referred to as “mainstream feminism.”
His desire to earn his minor in the subject came after he took an African-American feminism class. Ferruzzi plans on using his degree to go to law school and partake in Civil Rights-related activities, with the end goal of working for a nonprofit.
“My GWS minor just helps me get a broader knowledge of all forms of oppression,” he said. “We look at the different identities of someone like their gender, race or sexual orientation and how they intersect with each other and form experience.”
Ferruzzi considers himself a feminist, and he thinks so few men take GWS classes because feminism is viewed as only a women’s issue.
“If you believe in equality and you want to become more aware of the misogynistic culture, it definitely is something that men should care about too,” he said. “I do feel that men have more power in society, and it shouldn’t be that way. But that’s how it’s been through history, and I think that, as men, we have a responsibility to challenge the whole system and to challenge our own privilege and identities as well.”
Coukart said he feels men have a responsibility to challenge societal standards when it comes to gender.
“Women deal with certain issues, and you should be able to look at that, as a man, and say ‘How can I change this?” he said. “As opposed to just saying that you’re a man and you don’t need to deal with it.”
The question of why men are continuously the minority in GWS classes was one of the first topics discussed in Coukart’s first women’s studies class.
“I think what holds men back from taking GWS classes is the ‘Women’s Studies’ aspect of it. They find it to be slightly emasculating,” Coukart explained. “Also, when a lot of guys think about feminism, they don’t think about equality, they think about crazy women that hate men, and if they take a GWS class everyone in the class is going to hate them because they’re a guy.”
In hopes of increasing gender inclusivity in the classes, Kahn explained that the program’s name was changed from “Women’s Studies” to “Gender and Women’s Studies,” and now there are even courses focused on masculinity studies.
“It’s always been looking at both men and women, but now we have courses that specifically concentrate on that,” Kahn said.
Feruzzi said he believes that all men should be required to take at least one GWS class in college.
“Other men may not think it’s a very masculine thing to do, but why does it have to be?” he said. “I don’t see it as one way or another, masculine or feminine, it just is a class to raise awareness.”