A look at the cutting edge concerns of gender studies departments helps give us an idea of just how wide a gulf there is between academics and mere mortals. “The questions that have long plagued these programs persist: Is our subject matter women and men, gays and lesbians, transgender people?” Kate Drabinski notes in Radical Teacher. “Or is it rather the production of those categories and how they come to matter?”
Radical Teacher, which devotes its latest issue entirely to such questions, calls itself “a socialist, feminist, and anti-racist journal on the theory and practice of teaching.”
“How we teach is fundamentally tied up with who we teach,” Drabinski avers. “Students enroll in introductory gender and women’s studies courses for all kinds of reasons: it fits their schedule, it fulfills a requirement, they want to learn about themselves, it is supposed to be easy or fun, and the list goes on.”
“The introductory classroom is thus a real mix of students, some of whom have deep personal knowledge of the issues raised, others with some general interest but no expectation of being reflected back to themselves, and of course the occasional student who enrolls to play ‘devil’s advocate’ and fight against the perceived takeover by liberals of their university.” Arguably, the latter student may be well behind the curve.
“I ask students if they fully identify with everything on one or the other list of male/female attributes, and invariably they do not,” Drabinski states. “They look around the room and see women slumped down and spread out, women with short hair, men with purses at their feet, and they see in a real way that when it comes to gender, everybody is doing it, but nobody is doing it exactly ‘right.’”
“I want students to see immediately that for all of us, there is a gap between gender ideals and the realities of our lived experiences.” Drabinski teaches gender and women’s studies, queer studies, and activism at the University of Maryland’s Baltimore County campus.
“In order to break up this naturalized understanding of gender, I ask my students to see gender as a mobile category that does not come prepackaged in human bodies,” Drabinski relates. She attempts to do so with real-world examples.
“For example, where some students might argue that beer is for dudes, flavored martinis are for girls, and straight whiskey or bourbon is for men, other students challenge those assumptions in class, discussion from communities not wedded to such heteronormative understandings of gender,” Drabinski explains. “As a self-identified lesbian once argued in class, a woman ordering a Jack on the rocks at a dyke bar is doing gender in a very different way than a frat guy ordering the same drink at a college bar.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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