I wonder if it’s because I’m woman…
Reading Kate Chopin and Susan Glaspell and talking about feminist literature is great. I mean, I was an English major! Love it! But sometimes I feel like my male students are disconnected. The emphasis on women’s issues sometimes means I don’t get a buy-in from some of my male students.
When we look under “Gender Issue” or “Gender Studies,” we find many articles on women’s rights. And as I was winding down one semester a few years ago, I realized that I had unconsciously – clearly I had not been very thoughtful – planned nearly the entire semester on issues related to race and women. This seemed to have alienated some of my white male students. They just seemed checked out. So, the following semester, we read an article called “Being a Man” by Paul Theroux and talked about… well… about what it means to be a “man” today. Then we had lively conversations about “manliness” and “masculine,” which led to very engaging essays about defining these terms. To my delight, of course, this also led to discussions about what it means to be “womanly” or “feminine.” How can you talk about the one without the other? We also paired this reading with Beverly Gross’s essay called, “Bitch” (which is such a fun article – unfortunately I can’t seem to locate on the web). This closed the loop on our “gender” discussion. (Or you could do Deborah Tannen’s “Sex Lies and Conversation.”)
I understand that history plays a key role in the way we must study and understand feminism and women’s rights issues. There’s a long history of repression and discrimination, and it is important to study the history as well as the current politics of gender issues. I’m certainly not arguing that we should stop talking about these issues regarding women, women’s history, and women’s rights. Nor am I arguing that this belongs to history books – because we certainly know that these are current issues.
But I’m a writing teacher. And I want my students to write. So, if writing teachers are trying to engage all students in their writing experience, I think it’d be a wonderful idea to make room for our male students (and our female students) to critically think not only about issues regarding standards of female beauty (a popular topic in writing classes) and other woman-related issues but also about issues regarding men. How about men when it comes to abortion rights? I think that’s a fantastically charged and controversial issue – a possible gold mine for writing teachers trying to teach argument writing (perhaps it’s an explosive mine?!) I also came across a great article in Newsweek called Men’s Lib. There are lots of great articles on defining “gender” today. That could spark very interesting – possibly heated – conversations in the classroom.
For me at least, I’ve realized that I have to be a little bit more conscientious about what will engage my students, especially the male students. Let’s give the men something to talk about and write about.