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Fear of Feminist Indoctrination at All-Men's Colleges

nia.pike's picture

            The phrase "feminism unbound" is strange to me. I thought at first I understood it, but when we began to discuss this phrase in class, I got even more confused. So I sat down to think about it on my own. I thought about the rigors of society, the boundaries have set for ourselves and others, the world we have been told should exist. As someone who has chosen to go to an all-women's college I know I follow certain boundaries within the walls of Bryn Mawr College, regulations the college sets for me. I began to think of similar institutions. A friend of mine also goes to a single-sex institution, Wabash College, an all-men's college in Indiana. Wabash sets regulations for its students as well. A potential new regulation is a gender studies graduation requirement. This debate struck a chord with me, especially when I discovered the contorted view of gender studies some members of the institution had created around this issue . . .

            "[The] wimpy, neutralized guys that gender feminists are trying to create:  men who are not committed to constructive struggle and conflict and fighting for a cause and coming out the winner." (Michaloski and Allman) This statement was made by Dr. David P. Kubiak, a Classics professor at Wabash College in relation to the debate at Wabash over the proposition of a gender studies graduation requirement.

            Wabash College, is a small liberal arts college for men in Indiana. Upon its establishment in 1832, higher education was solely for men, but as time has passed most institutions have become co-ed. Wabash, along with Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia and Morehouse College in Georgia remain the three non-religious all-men's colleges in the United States. As the remaining survivors of another era, these three colleges have undergone pressures over the years to go co-ed, as have all-women's colleges (Salmone). However several members of the Wabash community cite a new threat looming on the horizon - a gender studies requirement, which students would have to complete before graduation.

            Currently at Wabash gender studies is only an area of concentration as defined as interdisciplinary field  which "explores the similarities and differences between the experiences, perspectives, and voices of women and men by analyzing variations in gender roles that occur across cultures and over time, examining relationships between biological differences and social power, and investigating the complex interaction of gender with race, class, and culture." (Wabash Gender Studies). The proposed requirement would make it mandatory for all Wabash graduates to take a class within this concentration.

            As seen with the opening quote, there is severe opposition to this new requirement. But why? Because the situation has been contorted and misinterpreted. Many like Dr. Kubiak see this proposition as "feminist propaganda . . . [by] gender feminists"( Michaloski and Allman). This view is not the aim of the proposed requirement. Instead the goal is to address the issues in the area of gender for society has a whole, not just for one gender or another. To me, single-sex institutions are the perfect place to achieve an immersion and an education in gender studies. Dr. Warren Rosenberg, an English professor at Wabash vocalized these ideas in his presentation defending the new requirement, despite opposition to a gender studies requirement, as an all-men's college "Wabash defines itself by gender. We are a college for men; asking and understanding why makes sense.” (Chrney) Gender studies is not about men, it is not about women. It is about gender and its role within society.

            Yet why are members of the Wabash community so opposed to a gender studies requirement? One possible explanation is fear. There is a fear that if gender studies becomes an mandated course then feminism will take over the course, and perhaps even the school (Churney). Unfortunately too often feminism is defined by the radical activities of the few, not the more progressive activities of the masses. Wabash is afraid of the well-publicized movement of militant feminism (Michaloski and Allman). A 2012 Wabash alum, Reed Hepburn vocalizes the fears and assumptions of his peers "There’s a lot of false assumptions we are operating on here…gender is not simply masculinity [or femininity]; gender is gender. A lot of students also think that gender equates to feminism, but this is totally untrue; gender is gender…there’s also this idea that feminism equals this anti-male propaganda…this is not true either.”(Churney) Gender studies is not feminist studies. The two may have some similarities, but they are not the same. Even if one assumes, the specific details of this requirement has feminist qualities. Feminism in general is not an attack on men. There are many different theories of feminism.

            Feminist and social activist on race and gender, bell hooks delivers a welcoming form of feminism. Feminism is for everybody. bell hooks defines feminism as "a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression"(hooks). Contrary to the view taken by Dr. Kubiak at Wabash, feminism is not against men. Since birth we have been indoctrinated to accept sexist thoughts and actions as acceptable, thus women can be sexist, as can men. In order to end the patriarchy, we need to accept that we all perpetuate this societal issue, we all participate in sexism.

            We must change the way we think, act, and teach, releasing ourselves of our sexist nature and accepting feminism. Feminism is for everybody. This movement is not just about ourselves, it is about each other and coming all together.

            So if one accepts hooks' theory on feminism, then why does Wabash oppose a gender studies requirement? Especially considering the benefits it would have on the students to be exposed to a variety of different perspectives within a range of disciplines.

            Wabash is an all-men's college. One of three in the nation to continue to educate only men. It is a very deliberate, self-conscious part of Wabash’s identity (Dixon). A part of their unique identity that they cling to. I understand because Bryn Mawr College, as an all-women's college does the same - we would rather be dead than co-ed. But by being a single-sex institution, that is a restriction based on gender. Wabash self-defines them as a gendered school, offering a gendered education (Chadwell).

            Wabash has chosen to remain a gendered institution in the modern day, and thus must include gender as part of their curriculum for the benefit of its students. It is well known that women are forced to conform to standards, but so are men. Dr. Rosenberg cites an instance when " one of his students came to him and told him that when he was younger he enjoyed the color pink and playing games that were traditionally 'girl games.' When the young man’s mother noticed this 'irregular behavior' she had him get therapy." (Churney) Societal pressures have an impact on everyone's lives, regardless of our gender. Gender plays a role with Wabash students, justifying its necessity. A gender studies requirement would allow students an outlet to examine these pressures, to change the way our society processes, to change the way our society forces others to fit into boxes. A gender studies requirement would not wimp-ify or neutralize men, as Dr. Kubiak believes. I believe a gender studies requirement at single-sex institution would empower the students even more. It would give them more agency to be independent.

            As a part of their mission statement, Wabash lists fourteen core values, included in these are the following: "freedom of thought . . . an understanding of and appreciation for other cultures . . . independence and self-reliance in its students and graduates" (Wabash College Mission Statement). A gender studies requirement would enforce these three core values. Exposing them to gender studies would allow them to make informed decisions in their own lives, it would help them appreciate the decisions of others concerning gender and sexuality, as well as give them the confidence and awareness to be the progressive change in the world.


Works Cited

Chadwell, David W. A Gendered Choice: Designing and Implementing Single-sex Programs and Schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2010. Print.

Churney, Zachary. " A Gender Studies Requirement?" Wabash Conservative Union [Crawfordsville, Indiana] Dec. 2011. Print.

Dixon, Robby. "The Failure of Gender Studies" Wabash Conservative Union [Crawfordsville, Indiana] Dec. 2011. Print.

hooks, bell. Feminist Theory from Margin to Center. Boston, MA: South End, 1984. Print.

Michaloski, Matt, and Ronald Allman. "The Wimpification of Modern Academics: Dr. Kubiak’s Response to Gender Feminism." Wabash Conservative Union [Crawfordsville, Indiana] Dec. 2011. Print.

Salomone, Rosemary C. Same, Different, Equal: Rethinking Single-sex Schooling. New Haven: Yale UP, 2003. Print.

Wabash College Mission Statement. "The Core Values of Wabash College." Wabash College. Updated 2013. Web.

Wabash Gender Studies. "Area of Concentration in Gender Studies." Wabash College. Updated 2013. Web.


Anne Dalke's picture

constructing masculinity

You've made an interesting "turn", from your last month's project thinking about the walls within and without sisterhood, to this one about the need for a gender studies course  @ a school differently gendered than ours. (In this context, it may interest you to know that BMC was very late in instituting its Feminist and Gender Studies Program--in large part because the faculty insisted that “everything we do is feminism.” When the proposal was made, years later, to change the name from Feminist and Gender to Gender and Sexuality Studies, there was again a very strong pushback--this time from several faculty members who taught in the program, conceptualized their own work as feminist studies, and felt that the political edge of our work would be lost with the change in our name.
So: Wabash isn’t the only one fighting!)

Anyhow, my first (and maybe primary) question here has to do with your audience. Have you conceptualized your readers primarily as Wabash students, and/or as Dr.Kubiak? (if so, your mode of address seems off a bit...) Or are you addressing this to your own classmates, enrolled in an intro gender studies class @ a women's college, who--given the conversations we’ve had this semester--are likely to agree with most/all of your points about the need for a gender studies requirement @ an all-male school? (If so, you need to move on from the claims you make repeatedly here).

Depending on where you are aiming this, what I think I’d most appreciate here (and/or maybe you’d like to take this on for your final project? it could be fun!) is an actual thinking-through of what the syllabus of such a course, for such a school, would consist of. Would there be readings about segregated education, and about the history of boys' schools in particular? Would you read the classic anthology on Constructing Masculinity (ed. Maurice Berger, Brian Wallis and Simon Watson. New York, Routledge, 1995)? Would you read more recent (and threatening?) work like Michael Kimmel's essay on “Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity." Privilege: A Reader. Ed. Michael Kimmel and Abby Ferber. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2003, 51-74? Or how about Chris Ware's graphic novel, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. New York: Pantheon, 2000? What would be your primary themes, what the "arc" of the whole?

nia.pike's picture

What is this fear?

Wow I did not realize Bryn Mawr was so late in instituting its Feminist and Gender Studies program. Yet when I think more about that fact, I think of how many people take a GenSex course while at Bryn Mawr, and it's not as many as I expect. When I talk about this class (with great excitement I might add) a lot of my friends have never taken a course like it. I wish Bryn Mawr had a mandatory GenSex course, even a mandatory feminism course. Especially as a woman's college. I understand that it's not for everyone, but then neither is math or science or history, yet we are required to fulfill requirements for those subjects.

I guess I did not think of my audience. I planned it as an address to the community of Wabash, but as I reread it, I can see how that message did not come across as smoothly as I planned. Perhaps I should have framed the paper in the form of a letter to the Wabash community, I think that subtle difference would have changed the way I approached the paper.

It's intriguing to think of a possible curriculum for the requirement. Your suggestions sound more like ones for a specific course, and I do not think Wabash or myself envisioned being forced to fulfill the requirement in a single class without choice. I envisioned a selection of classes, similar to Bryn Mawr where the requirement is general term or phrased goal which can be fulfilled with a variety of classes. And looking online at Wabash's graduation requirements, they currently have in place a similar system. But I agree with your comments that a class for a gender studies requirement should examine many different viewpoints from different eras, backgrounds, etc. Especially addressing the fear factor at Wabash. I want to know more about this fear. What exactly is this fear of "wimpy, neutralized guys" that Dr. Kubiak speaks of? How has it originated? Is it all based on an assumption of losing power within society? How else is it manifested?

Michael Kimmel's essay sounds interesting to me. And I think I shall sit down and take a look at that. Yet I do not think all of the fear is based around homophobia, but I agree it is a contributing factor - as a threat to the "traditional masculinity" society holds so high. But fear is frequently a complex web of causes, without a single origin, especially with a topic so originally complex.