First day of class for a white man teaching feminist philosophy

A reader writes:

I’m going to start teaching a feminist philosophy class next
week and I was sort of thinking that on the first day it would be
worthwhile to *some how* broach the question, which I expect to be on
many of the students minds once they see me, of why a white dude is
teaching a class on feminism. Maybe something as simple as a joke,
but more likely opening it up for a brief discussion, with the aim of
coaxing the conversation roughly towards ideas such as that feminism
is good for everyone, patriarchy and bias can hurt anyone, nobody is
exempted from power relations, and we wouldn’t ordinarily think twice
about someone being concerned about injustices or problems that they
didn’t directly suffer from (poverty, climate change, disease). As I
write this, it seems like no big deal, but I guess I was wondering if
you had any pointers or good examples that work for these purposes?
There’s a tiny part of me that wants to say nothing about it at all
and just act like it’s just obvious and run-of-the-mill for me to be
doing this.

Wise thoughts?

52 thoughts on “First day of class for a white man teaching feminist philosophy

  1. I certainly think it’s commendable that you have learned enough to convince someone that you COULD teach this kind of class. But, isn’t this somewhat like a white person teaching a class on black history? I think context may matter to some extent, i.e. is this in Mississippi or California? I think it might be better if you and a woman were teaching the class together….I’m having a hard time understanding why a school would hire a man to do this…Was there no woman available who could? Just curious.

  2. Depending on how much background I thought the students had, I might try the angle of “the difference between feminist and female,” while still paying attention to feminism’s basic point that we have to learn to listen to women, not listen to men repeating the insights of women. (Ha! You could work your anti-plagiarism speech in there!) I think the question of whether men can be feminist is a really important one to address, and will probably always be controversial. That might be a little more grist for discussion than Patriarchy Hurts Men Too (which of course it does, but I can see students with some feminist background spending a very shiftless hour if that’s the thrust of the first class).

  3. I think it’s fantastic for men to teach classes on feminism. Sure, there are some aspects of feminism that women *can* have special access to– having to do with the experience of being a woman. But masculinity is also a very important issue in feminism, and men can have special access to the experience of being a man.

    I’ll add also that it’s extremely offensive to suggest that someone who you don’t even know lacks the competence to teach feminism on grounds of his gender.

    And that there are some excellent white people teaching black history.

    Your comment is offensive enough that I still wonder if I should have deleted it.

    I feel like my response is inadequate. But that’s because I’m having trouble thinking straight.

  4. How about reminding (informing) them that feminism is about social justice for half of the population, and that you (as a member of the more privileged other half) are committed to social justice in much the same way whites who marched for civil rights were committed to social justice for non-whites.

    By the by, some years ago, a female graduate student gave a class presentation on feminism, and prefaced by saying that feminists were women who had been deeply hurt by men, and now distrusted all men and all authority. Sigh. She just couldn’t seem to get that this was an issue of social justice that men could be a part of, not a fight between mars and venus for control over the remote.

  5. I just now finished reading this article. (funny coincidence)

    Which is how men can benefit from classes on feminism.

    I think a discussion, asking the students to tell you how they feel about a male teacher leading a class on feminism might help them clarify and articulate their feelingso n the matter. If you say it I don’t think it will have as much impact on them as if you make them tell you.

  6. I’ve co-taught a class on feminist philosophy with two other women and just last night was discussing with a male philosopher how much I’d like to have a male colleague involved in the teaching of that class. I think it’s important to have men teaching feminist philosophy. Wish there were more men interested and willing! Welcome. (And I can see how comments like the first one here might put you off.)

  7. Jender I don’t think you should delete what suetiggers posted. I think this is an important part of the debate and it is a lot of what a male teacher will face.

    I don’t believe for a minute that a man can’t teach feminism, that a white person can’t teach racial studies, or that a heterosexual can’t teach queer studies. I think it is of crucial imporance that people other than those in the minority group in question speak up for equality. If only the minory supported the cause, then we would never have enough votes to make changes.

    Rememeber when women finally got the right to vote in the United States, it was their male allies that voted for the amendment and finally made it into law.

  8. I think what you have is a framework for an open and honest discussion that identifies the challeges and opportunities within feminism, but also the stepping stones for discussing what it takes to be an ally. Your discussion brings up to me similar questions from my field (training and professional development) about who is best to tea conduct Safe Space training, and who else should do diversity training (I truly think it’s problematic when diversity training is only conducted by people of color). I agree that opening up the coversation to solicit your student’s voices would be a wise approach, but I wonder as well would it be helpful to also have the class establish some “rules for dialogue” so they can freely AND respectfully “go there” with their comments and thoughts, as well as challenge you and each other. I think this scenario provides an opportunity for the class to recognize that we really are all in this together.

  9. Micheline makes another great point. There is an unfortunate tendency today to over look the crucial contributions made by people in powerful majorities that essentially meant giving up some of their power and privilege in order to obtain social justice for minorities.

    The civil war was fought to end slavery, and thousands of white soldiers gave their lives because they believed slavery was morally wrong. Thousands of whites also marched in civil rights demonstrations (e.g., Selma) to end Jim Crow laws, school segregation, and so on. They put their privilege and their safety on the line to because they believed these things were morally required.

    Men were instrumental in helping women get the vote, employment equity, entry into what were previous male-only colleges and universities, and so on. Like it or not, things really start to change when members of the privileged classes speak out for the rights of the non-privileged. To put it more bluntly, your students will probably take the issue of feminism more seriously precisely because you are a white male championing it.

    Another by the by: When my daughters were in middle school, the worst things you could call a girl were “lesbian” and “feminist”. By the time they got to high school, the gay and lesbian rights movement had become so large that the first was taboo. But being called a feminist could still reduce girls to tears.

  10. My suggestion:
    “I know some of you will find it odd that this feminism class is taught by a guy. But you also wouldn’t expect a class about National Socialism to be taught by Hitler, would you?” Delivered with an ironic smile, this may work. It may also ruin the whole term. In any case, it will make you better known on campus.

  11. If feminism cannot be taught by men, it’s not (part of a) science. It’s a political struggle then. As such, I don’t think one should receive academic credits for it, let alone a salary as an academic.

  12. best of luck, from a guy who’s often in a similar spot — i’ve found that students, generally, respond beautifully when any of us offer an authentic invitation to a deeper humanity and wisdom about suffering, power, and justice. in my religion classes, *pray the devil back to hell* works magic — it’s the gorgeous documentary about women’s extraordinary nonviolent campaign to end the recent Liberian civil war. students immediately realize (if they haven’t already) that when they’re talking about feminism, they’re talking about human rights, about almost everything that matters…and then the class is no longer about me….

  13. I guess many people who still see our society as a dikotomi, as a whole divided by contrasts as black and white, female and male, children and adults, will have problems to see male feminists. You have to leave behind you a certain way of thought, go pass the religious ideas of evil against good, the Hegelian dialectics as a way of finding answers.

    Then start to see life as a prism, where everything breaks up into hundreds different types of that same thing. So a human is not only man and woman, but also every kind that fits in between

  14. When that happen we have gays, bisexualls, male females, female males and so on. Then humans are not divided between black and white, but held together thru hundred different colors. Children becomes adults and adults children. And if you see the world this way why should it be strange for a man to talk about feminism, if he is a part of it.

  15. I’m going to work with the presumption that the original quester’s position in teaching this course is legitimate. I don’t think it’s a given, per se, that it’s neutral for a man to teach a feminist philosophy course solo. As someone who wanted to teach feminist philosophy in grad school, I was a little conflicted about going for one of the Feminist Philosophy (cross listed with women’s studies) courses. On the one hand, they were perceivable as ghettoized (as only women grad students taught them). OTOH, I think it would have been rather tricky to do well.

    My solution was to incorporate feminist philosophers in the classes I did teach (i.e., Intro to Philosophy, Intro to Ethics, and Bioethics).

    Being that as it may, it seems that there’s a big pedagogic value in exploring the role of men in feminism using the very class as the example. It hits a lot of excellent points (including consciousness raising, the pervasiveness of the political, and the fragility of our moral statuses in a world with multiple complex patterns of oppression and co-option).

    You can either start there, in medias res, or you could lamppost it on the first day and then do some groundwork, straight. (Frye, as always, is an awesome starting point.) I.e., you can either try (together) analyzing the class situation without any theory/prior examples and letting that experience guide the exploration of theory, or you can start by loading up on some theory which you then apply.

    What I wouldn’t do, myself, is treat the issue as something to be gotten by quickly. There’s so much to be gained by tackling it head on.

  16. “Pray the devil back to hell” sounds interesting. Made me think of Miss Representation, w newer documentary about media portrayals of women. Which may be useful after you’ve gotten into the term a bit.

    I have used brief reflective in-class writing to bring out students’ thoughts about a topic; have them write near the end of the class, then summarize the writings and then put them all up for discussion the following week, whether in class or on your e-learning platform. This way no student has to take responsibility if their thoughts are not in line with their peers’, but the alternative (or perhaps outright wrong) views do get aired. Removes social desirability bias. I give credit for participating, not quality, to encourage students to share freely.

  17. I know amazing men in the profession who are outstanding teachers of feminist philosophy. It makes me happy that they are so excellent at it, because it disrupts the image of feminism as something which is the fringe interest of some (often viciously stereotyped) women, instead of a major method which is enlightening for everyone. Congratulations to the OP on being about to join the ranks of such instructors!

    I understand the tiny part of you wanting to ignore it, but recognition is better — harder, but better. You don’t have to be apologetic or defensive, of course, if you just tell them why YOU find feminist philosophy interesting and enlightening, as a person who represents the white male majority in the profession. Tell them that philosophers have theorized about sex, sexuality, and genders for millenia, and why you think the students should read the selected texts on your syllabus. How does it help them think? What does it do for you?

  18. Nurse PhD, I love your idea of having a written reflection. I think that could work beautifully, it allows the instructor to address it without the group-think that tends to happen when they know what you want to hear.

    I am an anthropologist. We have a great bit of text we use to teach cultural relativism Body Rituals of the Nacirema. But if the students know in advance that it is misleasding they are not honest. I have used this lesson frequently, but one day a student spouted out the truth at the begining of the lesson and I couldn’t get a single truthful answer the rest of the class.

    if you are interested the PDF from Jstor is:

    Click to access miner_nacirema.pdf

    it is a cute read, though it is a bit dated (1956) now.

  19. I was trying to recall my exact calculus about teaching Feminist Philosophy classes at the time as a grad student. I think my principle was that I would happily do teach a section if it didn’t deprive a female grad student who wanted it. If we had large lectures (i.e., >50 which is what a single grad student could teach) I might have tried to TA on one. But if someone was trying to broaden the teaching section of their CV and there was no one else substitutable, that seemed to be a pretty reasonable scenario to me.

    I did worry a bit about how it would affect my CV, but I had taken grad courses in Feminist Ethics and I could point to the things I taught in intro, etc. Obviously, I was much less at risk of getting shit for including feminism (and anti-racism) topics in “regular” philosophy courses.

  20. Andreas, I found your line:

    If feminism cannot be taught by men, it’s not (part of a) science. It’s a political struggle then. As such, I don’t think one should receive academic credits for it, let alone a salary as an academic.

    rather off and somewhat facile. In particular, your first two sentences are tendentious in a variety of ways. For example, Feminist Philosophy isn’t generally part of a “science” (though it might have scientific connections). Furthermore, there’s no necessary exclusion between a political struggle and an academic subject. Indeed, whether men “can” teach feminism (or be feminists) is both a political and theoretical issue of great interest. Finally, even if it is politically ok, there may be pedagogic reasons.

    For example, when I was in grad school (in the 1990s) it was still the case that women studies classes (including Feminism Philosophy) played a special role in many female students’ lives and intellectual development: It was often the only class for which they had a female instructor and a majority of female classmates and a perceived license to fully participate. Now demographics have, I hope, largely changed the first two, so perhaps it’s not as relevant anymore. However the third is still live and can be a challenge for a male instructor.

    In other words, there’s a wide range of possible arguments (on theoretical, empirical, political, and pedagogic grounds) and positions (from “men are largely incapable”, to “it’s not a good idea, much of the time”, to “we need more men teaching feminism) in this space. So, I don’t think you can reason from a conclusion about instructional practices to the illegitimacy of the field.

  21. I also think that you’ve already got a good framework to broach the topic. My personality is to go with humour: you could go with something as simple as, “Some of you are probably wondering why a white male is teaching feminism.” Then open it up for the discussion you’re already hoping for. This sounds like a great first class. It will cultivate a culture of openness, I hope, because you’re willing to call attention to difficult topics including possible roles your own gender might have in teaching that class. Good luck! Please let us know how it goes.

  22. I can’t speak directly to the issue of teaching feminist philosophy, because I’ve never taught a course on feminist philosophy (b/c I just finished my Ph.D. and just haven’t yet had the opportunity to teach anything other than intro to phil, intro to logic, etc.). I certainly have integrated feminist philosophy into other types of courses, though.

    But people who know me or run into me certainly know (or find out) that I identify as a feminist, and I’ve sometimes encountered the genuinely surprised or curious “but can a guy be a feminist?” reaction.

    Usually I handle this particular issue by framing feminism, generally, as opposition to the subordination of women or as opposition to the subordination of people on the basis of sex or gender. Framed in that way, anyone can make some kind of contribution. Not only that, but you can point out to students (and others) that while some types of contributions can only be made by women, other types of contributions can only be made by men. How about this one: first-person reflection upon and discussion of male privilege or the ways that men degrade or subordinate women in homosocial (male-only) social situations. There’s a contribution that can only be made by men.

    Maybe you can start by framing feminist philosophy and by pointing out how specifically male contributions aid the task/aims of feminist philosophy.

  23. I think lots of good suggestions have already been shared so I’m not sure that I have much to add. But, for what it’s worth, what I did the last time I taught feminist theory (and what I’m planning to do in a couple weeks when I teach it again) is pretty similar to what Rachel McKinnon suggested: at the end of the first day, after syllabizing and talking through the course, I noted (with a bit of humor) that I was a white male (and asked my students if any of them had noticed). They seemed relieved that I’d done so, and when I then opened it up to questions, my students had lots of them: Why was I the one teaching their feminist philosophy class? What was my background with feminism? What had drawn me to it in the first place? Did I identify as a feminist? Did I expect them to so identify? All this made for an especially productive “first day”, and a discussion we revisited (and continued) all semester. So again, echoing what others have said, I think that creating the space for students to ask questions about your social location and relationship to the material is crucially important and allowing that conversation to play out over a full semester can be really useful (and can help to establish trust right from the start).

  24. Micheline, the Nacirema article is an amusing read. It struck me as a little too transparent to be effective, but I suppose that is in the eye of the beholder, and the beholder in this case is a “vestal maiden who move[s] sedately about the temple chambers in distinctive costume…” (We abandoned the headdresses long ago.) *L*

  25. I think it’s relevant that the person seeking advice identifies as a white “dude.” There’s definitely a gender identity suggested by that description. I decided to write this post because I don’t think the conversation has so far contemplated this complication.

    My sense is that whatever the best way to address the issue in class is, the extent to which a (seemingly) male person partakes in masculinity and thus (non-voluntarily) claims its benefits is relevant to how the matter is addressed in class. I am male and generally appear to be male by mainstream conventions, but people seem to think I am pretty darn feminine, as these things are judged in contemporary American culture. The kinds of benefits I get in the classroom as a “too-feminine” perceived male who teaches feminist philosophy regularly at a state university in a tenure-track position in philosophy are diluted and distorted (hello, intersectionality) in comparison to self-described “dudes” teaching feminist philosophy.

  26. Barrett Emerick, wow, thanks for sharing this line, especially!: “They seemed relieved that I’d done so.” This is seriously useful information.

    A coworker of mine here at Trent also passes along the following:

    K, I say show this video:


  27. One way you might start is with having a discussion or doing a survey, or both, in which you ask everyone to share what they are bringing to the class – their experience, their strengths as students and citizens of the classroom, their questions and their doubts, etc. This might help to highlight that there’s more going on than a gender binary, and that the class is all about questioning assumptions about how each person in the class will respond to the material, given that there is more to their identity than their easily identifiable group characteristics. Also, it might get everyone to begin thinking about their responsibility for the community of learning in the course, and what each person has to contribute, not just the instructor.

  28. For me, the most important thing to do on the first day is to show students what the class is about. That’s “show,” not “tell.” Design (or, perhaps better, ask students to design) ways of interacting that allow students to experience what should be of concern to them given the course, then they can debrief through lived experience. Inclusive, embodied pedagogy of this sort allows students to tell you through their actions what matters to them. I’m not saying that one should engage in some ill-fated trip down “give-them-only-what-they-want” lane. Rather, it is important to take the time to learn where they are and then strategize about what will best help them grow in the ways they should. The assumption that talking about, on the first day, your concern about gender/teaching roles is the most effective way to help them grow, strikes me as very likely incorrect. Sorry for the self-promotion but you might want to read: Concepcion & Eflin, “Enabling Change: Transformative and Transgressive Learning in Feminist Ethics and Epistemology,” Teaching Philosophy 32:2 (June 2009): 177-198.

  29. I agree with Micheline@comment5. I try to start a feminism course by asking students how many of them think of themselves as feminist. More often than not the class is split pretty evenly. I then ask the students who self-identify what they think feminism is, and those that don’t what they think feminism is…The goal of the discussion is to create an environment where students can disagree with each other about sensitive topics, and that usually works too. I confess that the first time I taught feminism it was a disaster because I hadn’t anticipated the dynamic between students — a mix of idealogues of one kind or another, and students who are just curious — at all.

  30. This has been a great discussion so far, and I’m happy to have been able to witness it!

    I really like Barrett’s way of broaching the topic with some humor to invite questions and bring some levity to the discussion without making too light of it.

    To the original poster, I wonder if you could still broach the topic and also mention towards the end your reasons for almost wanting to say nothing about it at all while still realizing it’s a necessary/important conversation to have. This allows you to reveal your ambivalence about how to address it and possibly also invite questions like: Why is it the case that a white male teaching feminist philosophy is unusual or seen as unusual?

    Best wishes to you on your course! I know several male philosophers who would be (and are) excellent teachers of feminist philosophy.

  31. This has been a very interesting discussion, but I can’t help noticing that the idea that feminism (like civil rights and gay/lesbian rights) is a matter of social justice. The discussion has gotten so caught up in what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman that this very crucial concept has gotten lost.

    Here is a definition taken from Wikipedia (which our students are reading, whether we it or not) that is as good as any: Social justice is justice exercised within a society, particularly as it is exercised by and among the various social classes of that society. A socially just society is based on the principles of equality and solidarity, understands and values human rights, and recognizes the dignity of every human being.

    Here is another definition from Oxford Univ Press online student glossary: Social justice is the equitable redistribution of wealth and power allowing individuals to meet their necessary needs.

    Tying this in with Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance is a snap, and would be a good overarching concept for a course on feminism.

    I do frankly find it somewhat disturbing that the discussion seems to have devolved a bit into “men just don’t understand what it’s like to be a woman”. We fought for the vote, for jobs, and for social/economic equity not because we wanted men to understand what it was like to be us. We fought for these things to make our society a fairer and more just place for women.

  32. When I’m nervous about the first day of class, I just quell my anxiety by putting on a really stand-out outfit. Linen and strappy sandals are always a winner in August. You know?

    I remember reading a study in the ’90’s which found that besides grades, high scores on teaching evaluations are also related to wearing big jewelry and just being especially put together. You could try that. Or not.

    Seriously, what approach will work for you depends a lot on who you are. You have to be yourself. If you’re Profbigk, you could joke about it. If you’re me, you could be serious and, as the all the air leaves the room, hope that you get some sympathy.

    As an undergrad I took Feminist Theory from a male professor (shout out to Mark Hebert!). I learned a lot from him, but he let it be apparent that he was learning from me and others, too. I think that worked. Being honest about the two-way street for learning in this class (even more than other classes) continues to be important for me. I can talk about radical feminism, but it was the radical feminist in one class who really had the authority. I can talk about queerness, but it was the student undergoing FtoM transition who was the real teacher. It’s not just a first-day thing, either.

  33. Sorry to be slightly off topic, but Nurse Ph.D., I was teaching freshmen….except for that one student out of 6 times I used it in college classes they had NO idea. So no, for the majority of undergrads it isn’t that transparent.
    We use the reading because they would use terms like primitive, barbaric, sick….and then at the end of the class we turn it back on them and explain that they shouldn’t arbitrarily judge people, especially if they don’t know their motivations.

  34. Hi Denise,

    I think the social justice theme is very interesting, but even given that it seems possible that men teaching feminism could be problematic. (There are social justice arguments for affirmative action, for example.)

    Similarly, I don’t think it’s too outre to tie social justice to empathy.

    For me, one nice bit is to present the challenges of trying to work toward social justice from a privileged role. “Oppressor ethics,” if it doesn’t degenerate into self-congratulation, is extremely interesting and useful (as most people, esp. those going to uni, find themselves in some oppressor situations, if only class).

    And, of course, not all feminist philosophy is about ethics or politics. The ontological or biological status of sex difference and the tie to possible epistemological situations are still live debates. There are politics stances which do not depend on settling those and there are some which do.

    Hmm. I’m not satisfying myself. I guess I think that being quick to reassure people of the appropriateness of men in feminism seems, at the least, a missed opportunity.

  35. Certainly empathy can foster a desire to improve the lot of an oppressed class. But so can commitment to principles of fairness. If we depend solely on empathy, then we risk considering only those with whom we identify or whose plights are particularly heart rending when deciding how to distribute power and resources.

    Further, it seems to me that rather than telling men how different women are and trying to make them understand what it is like to be a woman, women who embrace this approach should be trying to convince men that women are no different. The more similar a class of people is to your own class, the more willing you should be to share your rights and privileges with them. But I think that approach constitutes too wobbly a foundation, while embracing the view that certain rights are “inalienable” is more solid and less probe to emotional manipulation.

  36. I once read this good advice about teaching: ask students to discuss a question only when you genuinely think there’s more than one answer worthy of consideration. If you think it’s 100% obvious that a man can teach feminism, then don’t even bring it up. By not discussing it, you get across the idea that it’s no problem. If you think there is some real question about the ability of a man to teach feminism, then bring it up and allow a completely open debate, getting students to back up their positions on both sides (presumably they will disagree. This will make a nice initial foray into argumentation, how you support a position, debate manners, etc. But if you take the second path, prepare to explain how you will make up for any possible deficits in your teaching (real? imaginary?) due to your being male — like having female speakers, showing videos, putting first person material by women on the syllabus, etc. I think I like option ……no, I can’t say, both have their virtues.

  37. I regret the way I worded my initial statement. I meant it only as questions but if I have offended anyone, I apologize. I’ve found the responses here very interesting and realize I should been more careful in my response. I am an older feminist (72) and have always strongly supported men as feminists…I am sure my husband and 3 sons would all consider themselves so. In fact, my favorite saying from the 60’s is “Men of quality are not threatened by women of equality”.

  38. suetiggers: Thank you for such a rational apology (such a rarity on the internet!).

    All: So that David’s not just self-promoting, I wish to add that I’ve read and made much use of his and Juli Eflin’s co-written work in Concepcion & Eflin, “Enabling Change: Transformative and Transgressive Learning in Feminist Ethics and Epistemology,” Teaching Philosophy 32:2 (June 2009): 177-198.

    Highly recommended!

  39. Hi Denise,

    First, to reiterate: a social justice approach doesn’t necessarily preclude a focus on what it’s like to be X as well as the possible differences (positive and negative) that stem from inhabiting various social (or biological, or…) positions. Thus, I don’t think talking about whether it’s right or sensible for a man to teach feminism is antithetical to considerations of social justice.

    I agree that personal empathy can be problematic in exactly the way you describe (this is, after all, a standard Animal Liberation concern). However, I was thinking of empathy more broadly, i.e., understanding the other class as subject) and of it being necessary information, not just motivational.

    For example, the viel of ignorance, at least as I recall Rawls, removes from us knowledge of who we are, it doesn’t attempt to change how we think (except by making us unaware of our position). It seems quite straightforward that problematic arrangements might be selected because of lack of understanding of their effects (e.g., a sexist might actually believe that women are happier in a subordinate position and thus think that a sexist arrangement would be best even if they turned out to be female).

    Finally, whether or not articulating differences is good political strategy is a bit orthogonal as to whether it should be investigated in a course on feminism, even on focused on political strategy. After all, it is a political strategy that has been championed at various times and various ways.

    Side note: I wonder whether actual similarity is really an inducement to share power. Indeed, it seems as likely that the more similar, the more worried that they threaten my status (e.g., classic effects of ressentiment and how negative attitudes flow downward).

    Anyhoo! Interesting stuff!

  40. That’s right. It is a political strategy. A political strategy for creating and/or maintaining social inequity based on sex. Sexism is used to keep women disempowered in a political hierarchy where privilege and rights are assigned according to social rank. That is why it is crucial to see feminism through the lens of social justice.

    We fought for socioeconomic empowerment, not so men could understand what it was like to be a woman. Any man who believes that women should be fully enfranchised human beings in a society because it is the fair thing to do is a feminist whether he calls himself that or not. And that is why it is perfectly appropriate–indeed welcome–to have a member of the more privileged sex teaching and speaking about feminism. I really don’t care whether men understand what it’s like to be a woman. I care about whether they are willing to take action to erase sexism in hiring, promotion, elections, and so on because it is the fair and right thing to do.

  41. Hi Denise,

    I feel I’m missing something or failing to communicate.

    Articulating differences has been an oppressive political strategy (as you articulate) and a liberatory one (e.g., separatism).

    It may be a failed or flawed strategy, but surely it is an interesting part of feminist thought.

    Different people fought for different, often interrelated, things. There’s lots of interesting liberatory thought that isn’t primarily socioeconomically oriented (e.g., personal or theological or intellectual liberation). That’s at least part of the picture.

    Similarly, it might be problematic for a man to teach a class or be a feminist spokesperson for lots of reasons (e.g., reverse tokenism/appropriation, etc.). It’s hard for me to see how it’s a no brainer per se.

  42. Some of the disagreement in this forum is due to ideological differences, but I suspect at least some is a reflection of “new feminists” v “old feminists”. Those who were involved in the “women’s liberation movement” (as it used to be called) remember a time when employment ads were divided into “help wanted-male” and “help wanted-female”, when women were not allowed in the library at Case Western Reserve University because they would distract the men from their studies, when women faculty were not allowed in the faculty lounge at Johns Hopkins without a male escort, when women could not apply to male-only private schools like Harvard, and when the only place women had any power at all was in divorce court.

    We fought to garner economic and political power to improve our lives, make ourselves less dependent on men for our survival, and to make the world a fairer place for our daughters. Young feminists today never experienced any of these things, and take for granted all of these dearly and very recently won rights. After all, they reason, it’s only fair that women should be able to compete with men for college placement or jobs. It seems fair now. It did not seem fair back then. To men in positions of power, it was grossly unfair because women’s pay was “supplementary” while men needed large salaries to support their families. So all societal resources needed to be skewed towards empowering men to gain and maintain high paying, high status positions.

    Contemporary feminists now seem to think feminism is about letting women have a lot of sex without social censure (as in Sex in the City, and the jaw dropping allegation that Helen Gurley Brown was a feminist), pushing an agenda whereby sex differences are ALL due to socialization (some going so far as to believe gender itself is a social construction, never mind millions of years of differential reproductive effort between male and female mammalian humans), and setting up an antagonistic us-vs-them attitude towards men. Frankly, I think young feminists have marginalized themselves and dropped the ball. I think I speak for a lot of old-style feminists when we say we want our movement back.

    In my opinion, we dropped the ball in only one area: We vastly underestimated the important contribution parental care makes to society, buying into the smug belief held by men at the time (and everyone now) that parenting young children is nothing more than baby-sitting. And so the workplace continues to be hostile toward workers’ reproductive efforts. The U.S. has the most stingy and worst family leave policies of any industrial country. The responses I received to my Psychology Today blog on this topic (and the backlash to Slaughter’s Atlantic essay) show that young childless women and men think having a child is a private privilege that one does to pleasure oneself, akin to taking a vacation in New Zealand, and that the workplace need not accommodate young families. Raising well-educated human beings of good conscience to take our places once we are gone is one of the most important contributions we can make to our society, and it takes time and effort to do that. Yet few of us seem to realize this simple fact.

  43. Here’s a way to pursue the suggestion that you let the students create the discussion. I have gotten great mileage from a cue on the swip list to start classes by asking my students “why wouldn’t you be a feminist?” If they do consider themselves feminist they can consider why their mothers, fathers, partners, lovers, sibliings, children or neighbours wouldn’t consider themselves feminist.

    The answers provide grist for the myth busting mill, as many of the answers may have some kernel of truth. Are feminists man haters? Well they hate violence against women which is mostly done by men, so its a complex emotional relationship based on indisputable facts.

    This has worked so well for me that I now “take it on the road” to highschools, theatre companies, etc. Every time the conversation is different, and it’s always interesting and helps create a good classroom environment.

  44. I should add that I sometimes add to the questions students pose, e.g. the maleness question. I’d recommend coming up with a good list for yourself to start so that if you have to add that it doesn’t seem like an artificial ploy; and really it won’t be.

    Here’s what I’ve heard from students: Feminists… hate men, have to be women, are against stay-at home moms, are too touchy-feely, are too angry, are against sex, strippers, prostitutes, porn. Also calling oneself a feminist is too hard and invites constant criticism and challenge. Feminism isn’t needed anymore. One girl from China said she didn’t know what feminism meant at all.

    You can run this discussion using the think-pair-share technique: Ask them to think about it for themselves and then write down the answer. Give them a few minutes. Then have them break up into pairs or larger groups of 3-4 (5 can work too but don’t tell them that in advance or you’ll end up with groups of 6). Give them 5-10 minutes. Then have them volunteer the fruits of their discussion, and note them on the board or in a fresh powerpoint slide (or three!) so everyone can see the list. You may need to group them thematically as you go, especially if using slides. Often there will be connections among them. Once you’ve completed the list go through them and do the fact-vs-fiction bit. This exercise alone easily takes up an hour with a group over 20.

    Sometimes I use pictures of past stereotypes of feminists, e.g. suffragettes pictured as old maids, women burning bras. They’re easy to find under google images of feminist! Sad to say, but great educational grist, again.

    Of course, this will lead them to want a positive definition of feminism to work with, but they will understand some of the controversies and disagreements already. You could make it an exercise for them to find such definitions — I’m planning to try that myself this year.

  45. I like the idea of opening a discussion about why people might not consider themselves feminists, since that will lead to a variety of other interesting topics. You might ask what they thought feminist philosophy was, when they signed up for the course.

    I think you–the person who originally asked the question–should simply plunge in without bothering to explain yourself as a man, as a white person, or as any other particular identity. If it comes up, then address it when it comes up. Obviously men can and should teach courses on feminist philosophy. However, I do think it’s important to listen carefully to what students might have to say about this, and especially to listen if they suggest that they are not being understood or given a proper chance to air their arguments. That’s important for anyone who teaches a course in this subject, though.

  46. Just yesterday I was sorting through some older files and I came across a paper by Alison Jaggar that deals specifically with the question about men teaching feminism/women’s studies. The paper is “Male Instructors, Feminism, and Women’s Studies,” *Teaching Philosophy* 2:3-4 (it doesn’t give the year but Jaggar notes that she wrote the paper in the summer of 1975). Among other things, Jaggar examines whether a male instructor in a philosophy of feminism class “is perpetuating precisely that hierarchical relationship between the sexes to which feminists object” (p. 250). There is also a response to Jaggar’s paper by Michael McNulty, “Teaching Feminism: A Response to Jaggar,” in *Teaching Philosophy* 3:1. You may find it helpful to assign and discuss these readings in class– I think they are likely to generate good discussion, while they also let students know that you are sensitive to the issues raised by your teaching the class.
    Jaggar also touches on the early assumption in many departments (quite dated by now we hope) that any woman philosopher was willing and competent to teach feminist philosophy.
    I also strongly second the suggestion about essays in the volume *Men Doing Feminism* ed. Tom Digby (Routledge, 1998), and especially Michael Kimmel’s “Who’s Afraid of Men Doing Feminism?”– this is a paper I’ve discussed in classes to good effect.

  47. Whether a man can be a feminist and whether a man should be teaching a course on feminism are entirely separate questions. Of course I won’t say that a man shouldn’t teach courses on feminism, but any opposition to this idea isn’t necessarily due to the idea that men can’t be feminists; there are actual issues to confront here. Almost all women have had the experience of being talked over by men, of being treated as less knowledgeable than their male counterparts, of saying something and being ignored, and then hearing a man be praised for saying the same thing they had said. Men do benefit from these things, even (maybe especially) in areas like gender studies, where men are seen as “more objective” because they’re “less biased.” Even if they don’t want to benefit from it.

    I’m not suggesting that this white dude has done anything to wrong women, and I’m not suggesting that he’s not really qualified. But it is something that might make some students suspicious at first. If I were a student (in this class, I mean, I really am a student), I’d be glad if the teacher were able to have a conversation about how men are often privileged as knowers, and to say “being a man doesn’t make me any less of a feminist, but it also doesn’t make me any more of a feminist, so don’t think I’m especially rational or noble just because I’m a man.”

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