A student shows up for the first day of class and never returns. He doesn’t drop the course, so at the end of the semester he naturally fails the course.
Sounds about right, right? Well, I’m not done yet.
After failing, said student sues his teacher claiming he was discriminated against for being male. Huh?
Such was the case of University of Toronto student Wongene Daniel Kim who enrolled in a women’s studies course at the school and felt that as the only male he was too “shy” to continue attending class:
I felt anxiety; I didn’t expect it would be all women and it was a small classroom and about 40 women were sort of sitting in a semicircle and the thought of spending two hours every week sitting there for the next four months was overwhelming…I’m generally a shy person, especially around women, and it would have been a burden if I had had to choose a group for group work.
When he learned he had failed the class Kim asked his teacher to reconsider his grade and waive the 15 percent class participation and attendance mark. She refused (as was her right) so he took his complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal which found that he had no evidence of being “excluded, disadvantage or treated unequally on the basis of his gender.” (I mean, duh!)
Kim’s suit is ludicrous to say the least and smells like more of a stint to paint women’s studies courses as anti-male, which as the Human Rights Tribunal pointed out he had no evidence of because he spent virtually no time in the class. In the few minutes he was there what he saw – women sitting in a semi circle – was actually one of the tell tale signs that the course was designed to make students feel welcomed, supported and equal.
In my experience, as a women’s studies minor myself, these courses make a point of being a safe place where diverse opinions are respected. They were never a battleground for blaming men for women’s inequality, but rather a space to explore why such inequalities have been the fabric of our history and still exist today. Furthermore, a male student’s presence in the classroom and discussion was always welcome. Actually, I found it kind of annoying (and insulting) that a male student was put on a pedestal for daring to take a women’s studies course. Was I as a woman put on a pedestal for taking a history class? I don’t think so.
Kim’s story reminds me of Tom Martin, the former London School of Economics (LSE) student, who sued the Gender Institute citing “anti-male discrimination.” After attending class for only six weeks, Martin concluded that “its programs actively block men’s discourse and perpetuate the men-bad, women-good dialogue.” Of the program’s core texts he says they were, “overwhelmingly negative on men, blamed men for women’s perceived inequalities, and complained about misogyny but never spoke about misandry [which is defined as the hatred of men].”
In response to Martin’s claims, author Jonathan Dean, a gender studies professor and former researcher at LSE, penned an excellent op-ed in The Guardian which expertly refutes Martin’s accusations:
The perception that gender studies is doctrinal and dogmatic is simply untrue. It is skeptical of traditional distinctions between fields of research, and is more dynamic, innovative and open to new perspectives than established disciplines…gender studies programmes encourage students to acknowledge the diversity of relations between men and women, the limitations of a victim-centred understanding of womanhood, and the complex ways in which gender intersects with race, class and sexuality.
He goes on to add that:
Gender studies courses are extremely friendly and supportive environments. In contrast to the stuffiness and conformity of many academic settings, gender studies students and scholars are tolerant, friendly, and enlightened in their attitudes to race, sexual orientation and transsexuality. Gender studies is invariably more sociable than other academic settings, and all kinds of people are welcome, so long as you are willing to engage with people and ideas in a considered and respectful manner.
I think my fellow gender and women’s studies students would agree with the above and share in my frustration of attempts like those by Kim and Martin to give our discipline a bad name. Women’s studies courses have great value and are a place where you can learn about many things including politics, race, sexuality, sociology, history, psychology and much more – all without discriminating against men. Those like myself who studied women or gender studies are a special crew with lots in common, especially that we don’t in fact hate men.
Want to learn a little about our special crew? Check out a list of 22 things only our kind understand.
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