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teaching thoughts

I wanted to relate a teaching experience I had earlier this semester. As you may know, I teach an undergrad unit, Cultures of Masculinities. After the introductory lecture a male student approached me and asked if the course was 'feminist'. He told me that he was a committed masculinist and that he had struggled in other courses in which one J Butler appeared in the set reading list. I replied that disagreement with any particular argument or reading is fine, but that students are expected to engage with those ideas. (ie disconnected ranting can't pass muster)

Afterwards, I thought about how my reply might sound like a cop-out with a 'pedagogical' response to what at first blush looks like a 'political' question. But more on that later.

Week 2: On the menu is Sedgwick's concept of homosocial desire and homosocial bonding. The next day the avowed masculinist (well, I'm assuming it's him) posts a comment on a forum page of 'Dads on the air', a father's rights community radio station based in Sydney. He commits himself to reporting on what the Dep't of Gender Studies thinks about men. The tone of his post about Cultures of Masculinity is set early. He comments about Sedgwick's ideas:
'Homosociety and Power: How males force society to look at itself as male-centric, and why fathers aren't as capable of looking after their kids as their mothers.'

What's interesting about this comment, I think, isn't that he got it wrong. (I didn't say anything even closely resembling those comments.) But why - or how - did he get it wrong in this particular way? The instructive point for me, then, has been the realisation that it is because this student is engaged in a conversation with 'committed' others, he's not able to engage in dialogue with, say, Sedgwick. Returning to the question of pedagogy I raised earlier, however, I wonder if the emphasis on engagement can highlight (for the student) what it is that his political investment blinds him to? I hope so.

Anyway, his post was the catalyst for a number of other posts which attacked gender studies courses on masculinity and men. The author of one such response ended up complaining to the Sex discrimination office at Sydney Uni.

As the legal entity for such an accusation the School replied to this complaint, but I was involved in drafting the response. This was a useful exercise because it got me thinking about what it is that a course like Cultures of Masculinity does and why it matters. While I'd like criticisms of what I do to be less paranoid and hostile in advance of my actually doing or saying anything, the whole episode was a reminder that gender is something people think and feel very strongly about. So what we do is important (and risky) because it interrogates those thoughts and feelings.


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This is the blog for thinking and talking about culture, Cultural Studies and cultural analysis at the University of Sydney.