Saturday, December 7, 2013

I taught my first Women's Studies class & I think I passed!

A few months ago I wrote about my excitement for teaching my very first Women's Studies class this semester. I taught the last class this past week and am waiting for them to hand in their tests (yes I gave them a take-home). I have to say this was the most-rewarding thing I've done in a long time. I read the book as the students did and would go in to class energized and excited to talk about what we had read. I was able to give them a few examples from my own experience which is fun/easy for me and from what I have heard, entertaining/educational for them. I made a point to encourage them to share their experiences with the class or at least in their reading reflections if they were too shy to speak up in class about something personal.

I am proud to say that as a result of my class, one of my students signed up to major in Women's Studies and two others will be signing up to minor in it. How awesome is that?! I remember that moment when I decided to switch my major from Photography to Women's Studies. I had dreamed of being a photographer for a while but was disillusioned with the lack of classes that were offered in that program at my school. Not long after I took my first few classes of a Women's Studies course I was hooked. I can tell that many of my students had their "a ha" moments in my class. Now, I don't take all the credit, of course. The book I used, recommended by my WMST colleagues, was pretty awesome. It had some great feminist classics and also some recent pieces. I appreciated that they included the year each piece was written next to the title so the students could put them in to context.

Not long into the semester some of my students started emailing me interesting articles and videos they had found online related to women's issues. They didn't get any extra credit for this, they were just so inspired they wanted to share it with me. That for me was evidence enough that I was doing a good job because they were starting to open their eyes. My favorite quote from Gloria Steinem about feminism is "at first it will piss you off" because it is so true. Once you open your eyes and start analyzing how gender is portrayed and used to limit women and men, you get really pissed off. And then once you have the tools to express yourself you learn to pick your battles and be strategic about how you fight that oppression. I mentioned this in class several times and I think by the end of the semester they finally realized what that meant.

I told my students about how my friends reacted to/treated me when they heard I was taking Women's Studies classes and then majoring in it. My best friends were cool about it and we'd have interesting talks. Other friends who I wasn't as close with would refer to me as "The" feminist and bring up issues and challenge me on them whenever we were together at a party. It got real old but I kept up with them. They, like many others, had heard only negative stereotypes about feminism. Or, some of them being white males, felt threatened by the word "feminist" because they assumed it meant I was out to take something away from them. They weren't hostile, they were just passive aggressive. I get it. I'd like to think I handled myself ok. Poor Bill got to hear what I really thought after we left each "challenge". He was learning along with me and of course was/is so supportive. I mostly tried to use humor and "tease" those friends who would challenge me because I knew where they were coming from. Hopefully I helped them to look at the world a little differently.

The friends that I spend most of my time with now are feminists (or feminist enough) that they identify sexism if they see it when we're together or come tell me about something sexist so I don't even have to point it out anymore. It's AWESOME! I love that there are more people in my life that GET IT. It's not so lonely any more. I have to say I was SUPER lonely in my feminist bubble in the beginning. It was HARD basically getting picked on every time we were at a party. "Oh Gretchen, The Feminist is here. Everybody brace yourself!" It's not like I would even bring anything, or only a few things up. Sigh. BUT, I made it through and, like I said, I'd like to think I got through to them at least a little bit.

There was this one guy. Oh, I loved going back and forth with him. He was the "Alpha male". A "man's man" who worked out a LOT, drank protein shakes, and dreamed of going in to the military (he eventually did and I appreciate his service). I could always get a rise out of him but it was fun because he was so animated. This guy is a great story-teller. I remember laughing til I cried just listening to him tell a story about trying to take his dog to the vet and getting delayed in various ridiculous ways. I knew he was a good guy so I felt safe pushing his buttons. It was all in good fun. At least, I think so. I'm not sure if I made a difference in the way he sees the world. I doubt he'll let either one of his three sons wear anything pink but maybe he'll teach them that "no means no and drunk means no" or some other very important lesson as a result.

I had 4 guys in my class this semester. One definitely liked to challenge things we brought up in class. BUT, he also got it. I could tell from his work that he is supportive of feminist values. One of their questions in their take-home test was "Do you identify as feminist, why or why not?" I'm not going to fail them if they don't, I just want them to be able to show their critical thinking skills and that they understood what we went over in class. I'm curious to see how many say they are feminist. At the beginning of the semester only 4 or 5 raised their hands when I asked the question in class. On the last day I had about half the class raise their hands. I'd call that a success.

The sad thing about my class ending is I don't know that I'll see any of them again. I know I'll see a few for sure because they've signed up to volunteer with my office or I knew them already. I want to know their stories and see where they go in life. I want to be a fly on the wall when one of their friends or someone they meet realizes they are a feminist and challenges them on some issue. I want to see how they handle it and be there to cheer them on. I'll just have to settle for them hopefully remembering something we talked about in class and using that as an example to win an argument.

Most of all, I hope that what they learned in class gives them the courage to have confidence in themselves, call out injustice in all its forms and to go out and change the world. Maybe they'll find me on Facebook and let me know how things go. I can't wait to meet my students next semester. It will be interesting to see how that group differs from this one. A new group of eyes to open! :-)

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