Awareness-raising is a process that can facilitate the exchange of personal insights and perceptions to promote a mutual understanding of them. In Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) programs gender awareness-raising intends to change attitudes, behaviors and beliefs that reinforce gender inequalities (Haider, 2012). As a former graduate student in WGSS, I can say the when students enroll in this classes, they challenge their own perceptions of gender in ways that they probably did not do before. Thus, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies classes take a feminist interdisciplinary approach to facilitate the discussions around gender, race, and sexuality and how the social constructions of these identities impact society. My argument in this paper states that through the study of these social constructions of gender in introductory WGSS classes, students can develop more progressive perceptions of gender issues.
However, there is little literature that talks about how undergraduate students experience changes on their perceptions on gender due their participation in WGSS. In introductory WGSS classes, students can come from a variety of majors because these classes are usually baccalaureate core requirements and undergraduate students enroll just to fulfill the credits requirement. Regardless if the students enroll in these class just to complete class credits, I think that throughout the course of the term and because of the study of gender issues, students develop more progressive understandings of gender.
Developing of progressive perspectives on gender in WGSS
Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies programs explore our gendered existence and the ways in which we perform femininity and masculinity and how they interact with other aspects of our identities (Shaw and Lee, 2005). The study of gender can help us to identify the points of intervention necessary to create social change (Davis, Evans, and Lorber 2006). These insights are present across all courses in WGSS and I believe that introductory classes in this area can positively contribute to the development of progressive understandings of gender in undergraduate students.
Berger and Radeloff (2015) argue that in WGSS courses many students learn the different social constructions of gender norms. Ellermers (2018) argues that stereotypes about gender can cause unequal and unfair treatment because of a person’s gender – typically known as sexism. The study of stereotypical gender norms is an important topic within WGSS courses because students can learn both how to identify gender stereotypes and how to challenge their own assumptions of gender. Different studies have showed that gender stereotypes affect the ways people attend to, interpret, and remember information about themselves and others (Ellemers, 2018). Thus, the importance of the study of gender is essential within the feminist classroom. The strength of WGSS is that it recognizes the multiplicity of genders, sexes, and sexualities (Gardiner, 2002) and it brings them into thoughtful and rich class discussions.
Male students in WGSS classrooms can benefit in similar levels than the female students, showing similar levels of change (Flood, 2011). When male students enroll in this type of courses, they can experience a feminist change on various aspects of their personal lives (Flood, 2011). Thus, I believe that WGSS course have the potential to help male students to adopt more progressive understandings of gender and to show greater support for feminist perspectives.
The Study of Gender Through a Feminist Lens
The theoretical framework that takes place within the WGSS courses is feminist pedagogy. This approach strives to help students and teachers to learn and to think from different perspectives, especially those that promote positive social change. (Shrewsbury, 1997). Thus, in WGSS courses, the feminist teaching approach has the potential to empower and broaden students’ perceptions in different aspects of personal and cultural identities, particularly on gender (Smith, 2013).
Feminist pedagogy has a vision of the classroom as a liberatory environment in which teachers and students are valued as subjects not objects. This approach is reached by the application of critical thinking to help teachers and students to understand and get beyond the concepts of, sexism, racism, classism and homophobia, among other destructive hatreds in order to generate social change. The advantage of WGSS courses is that they allow students to work with the insights about education and society that consciousness-raising has provided and that they help empower students across multiple personal identities (Smith 2013, p. 148).
The awareness-raising nature of introductory Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies courses have the potential to help undergraduate students regardless of their gender identities to challenge their stereotypical gender norms. Introductory WGSS classes offer the space for undergraduate students who enroll for first time in WGSS to analyze social gender constructions through different contexts in society that perhaps they never thought about before. Through the study of gender through a feminist lens, students can explore how gender issues take place in different areas of human life. However, more research needs to be done to deeply explore the experiences of undergraduate students in introductory WGSS courses and the perceptions of gender that they bring to the classroom and how these perceptions change throughout the course of the classes.
Davis, K., Evans, Mary, & Lorber, Judith. (2006). Handbook of gender and women’s studies. London: Sage.
Ellemers, N. (2018). Gender Stereotypes. Annual Review of Psychology, 69. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1993977742/
Flood, M. (2011). Men as students and teachers of feminist scholarship. Men and Masculinities, 14(2), 135–154. Retrieved from http://jmm.sagepub.com/content/14/2/135.full.pdf+html
Gardiner, J. K. (2002). Masculinity studies & feminist theory: New directions. New York: Columbia University Press.
Haider, H. (2012). Changing attitudes and behaviors in relation to gender equality. Retrieved from https://gsdrc.org/publications/changing-attitudes-and-behaviours-in-relation-to-gender-equality
Scott, J. W. (2008). Women’s studies on the edge. Durham: Duke University Press
Shaw, S & Lee, J. (2004). Women’s voices, feminist visions: classic and contemporary readings. Second edition. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2004.
Shrewsbury, C. M. (1997). What is Feminist Pedagogy? Women’s Studies Quarterly, 25(1/2), 166–173.
Smith, B. G. (2013). Women’s studies: The basics. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.