In a woman’s world: Men find their place in women’s studies classes

On Tuesday and Thursday mornings English majors Jon Smith and Mike Moening sit down in Eddy 200 and pull out their books. This week they are reading “The Woman Warrior” by Maxine Hong Kingston. Their class is Modern Women Writers, which focuses on studying the women novelists of the 20th and 21st century. Smith and Moening are two of three male students in a class of over 30 students.

For Moening, it is his first time taking a women-centered class as well as his first time taking an extensive look at the work of women writers.

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“I think it’s interesting to have a class devoted to women writers,” Moening said. “In all of my other literature classes we touched on or read one here or there but never really focused on women’s writing.”

Prior to taking Modern Women Writers Smith took a women’s history class, which he said served to fill in the blanks of other history books.

“I took a class in U.S. women’s history which I thought was really interesting because most U.S. history you hear about is dead, white males,” Smith said. “It was really fun to hear U.S. history from the perspective of strong women and women in general.”

Smith said he took the class in hopes of exposing himself to a different perspective on literature. He does this by taking an active listening role.

“I don’t think I act differently or conduct myself differently in this class because of my male privilege, but I do think that I take more of a back seat in the class simply because I don’t have the same understanding of the issues that a lot of the women in the class do,” Smith said. “I try to listen more than I talk because I think I will learn more from listening than I do contributing.”

Carl Izumi Olsen, the program coordinator for Men’s Programming and Violence Prevention at the Women and Gender Advocacy Center, said there is a huge benefit for men to take women’s studies classes.

“It makes more well-rounded people,” Izumi said. “Hopefully, it opens up the brain to take a more critical look of the world around us.”

While many men do enjoy and appreciate women’s studies classes, there are social barriers which prevent some men from enrolling.

“When you think of particularly male dominated fields, such as engineering or computer sciences, or even when you think about fraternity men, the potential ridicule that would happen within all-male spaces of one person taking a women’s studies class could be a big determent,” Olsen said.

Olsen said having a support system can make coming into a female space easier for some men.

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“I don’t want to say it’s hard being a dude in a women’s studies class because it’s obviously harder to be a woman in society in general,” Olsen said. “It’s a different type of tough to be in a mostly female space and I think there does require some level of support outside of the classroom for men who are in those classrooms. I don’t think that support should come from other women. I think that support should come from other men.”

Both men said they have found the class engaging and encourage others to take it.

“I would encourage everyone to take this class,” Smith said. “Maybe it needs to be a core class at the institution, because only by learning things like this can we bridge the gap of inequality and if you’re not exposing yourself to this sort of information, you’re not aware of it and if you’re not aware of it, you’re not going to do anything to help it or make the situation better.”

Moening said understanding brings compassion.

“I’ve always considered myself somewhat of feminist, but I never realized how much I took for granted and already in this class I’m starting to see that,” Moening said. “If you don’t put yourself out there or try to understand anyone else’s situation, then you’re never really going to care about it.”