By Erin Yazgan
In 1999, at Boston College, associate professor Mary Daly refused to enroll two male students into her “Introduction to Feminist Ethics” class, because she believed that a male’s presence would interfere with the female students’ learning. There was a large backlash against Daly, and she eventually agreed to retire.
Within UC Santa Cruz’s feminist studies department, although significantly outnumbered by women, men do major in feminist studies.
Timothy Clark is a third-year feminist studies major and a teacher’s assistant for “Intro to Feminist Studies.” He is also the only male in his TA seminar. Clark acknowledges that there are still stereotypes about studying feminism.
“There’s a stereotype within the major that all the women are lesbians and all the men are gay. You’re also seen as more of a radical,” he said. “But at UCSC, there isn’t that much of a stigma — it’s a fairly well-known major.”
Daly’s view that the study of feminism should not be open to men, or that men cannot be feminists, is not new. In fact, when first researching her book “Ain’t I a Feminist?,” Aaronette M. White, UCSC associate professor of psychology, was suspicious of the idea of a male feminist. She presented her book in a talk at UCSC on Nov. 5. The book traces the lives and struggles of several black men who identify as feminists. She began the project skeptical about men’s sincerity in feminism, she said, but working on the project changed her mind.
“Their levels of self-exposure, their honesty about their lives, and their candor regarding their ongoing struggles to unlearn sexist behaviors and resist patriarchal institutions changed my attitude,” White said. “As a perspective, feminism can be accepted or rejected by anyone, male or female.”
Clark said it may be difficult for men to study feminism. Since male privilege is rarely discussed, some of the material may be a shock to male students, he said.
“As a man, to be involved with feminist studies, you have to be very open to the idea that you’re the privileged people, and you have to be willing to be uncomfortable some of the time,” Clark said. “Men are generally the dominant voice in society. Feminist studies is trying to change that. It’s working toward a more equal and just society.”
Despite stigmas associated with feminism, men in White’s book, as well as in the feminist studies major, stand up as feminists.
Angelo Haidaris, third-year feminist studies major, said he was unsure about the consequences of being a male in feminist studies, but soon realized that the other students and the general attitude were more open than he had expected.
“At first I was a little hesitant to speak up because I wasn’t sure what my place was within the major, but you realize that it’s pretty accepting overall,” Haidaris said. “There is a certain aspect of feminism here that goes beyond the idea of sex or gender — it goes into sexuality, race and class. These are classes that allow you to reflect on yourself and how you’ve come to be.”
White said that men have an important role in the study of feminism because they, too, may reflect on how they have come to be. She also encourages more men to become involved.
“[A man] doesn’t have to have lived the life of a woman to develop a feminist consciousness. He has to have lived a life under patriarchy to know that patriarchy hasn’t worked for men or women,” White said. “I don’t think feminism needs to become women’s work. We have enough women’s work. The feminist movement is supposed to balance the type of work we do, balance the work between men and women. So if we make feminism women’s work, we haven’t accomplished anything.”