Editorial: Why men should take gender studies classes

File photo

File photo

As I’ve been working on the last few issues of my Chimes career, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to listen to and amplify voices other than my own. As a news organization, we try to do that by publishing feature stories, letters to the editor and interviews by and about people with different experiences, politics or beliefs than ours.

But I’ve also been thinking about how to do this on a personal level. Two weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of listening to the stories of people from other faith traditions. Many of us, especially at a Christian school like Calvin, can go days or weeks without encountering anyone from a markedly different faith tradition. Depending on how we cultivate our social interactions, it’s even possible to avoid conversing too deeply with someone of a different political persuasion.

With very few exceptions, though, we all interact daily with people of a different gender, and this is one reason it’s so important to learn how to listen to those people’s experiences. We’ve seen this rise to the top of public discourse with the #MeToo movement, but our conceptions of gender also affect how we talk to each other, how we work together and who we listen to.

Because of this, it concerns me a little that the places on campus dedicated to dealing with issues of gender equality, from SAGA to gender studies classes, seem so predominantly female. If we really do need to listen to each other to increase understanding, respect and equality, why does the effort seem so uneven?

It disturbs me that a lot of men don’t see a problem here, and even if we do, we don’t think it’s our problem. Two things here:

First, it is our problem. Sexual harassment and violence destroys relationships of all types. Gender stereotypes teach us to want and not to serve. Toxic masculinity turns pent-up emotion into hate, violence and bitterness. Injustice hurts everyone.

Second, even if you don’t think it’s your personal problem, that’s not an excuse. Our biblical mandate is to seek justice, to honor the image of God in others, to make disciples, to wash each other’s feet, and I don’t think any of that is consistent with behavior that perpetuates gender injustice.

I took Professor Christina Van Dyke’s philosophy of gender class on a bit of a whim — I needed a persons in community core class, I’d enjoyed intro philosophy, I wasn’t about to take political science and I was curious how a night class would go (spoiler alert: not well). Looking back, though, that class challenged more of my blind assumptions than almost any other class I’ve taken at Calvin, and isn’t that one of the primary roles of a liberal arts education?

I didn’t agree with all the readings and lectures or all my fellow students in the class. But I did change my mind about a few things, and I got a whole lot less sure about many others.

And I do think I learned to listen a little bit better than I could before. I think I learned—again, a little bit—to be humble and vulnerable enough to enter these conversations. Because it really can be painful to look and see the ways that women and so many others have been hurt by a system that privileges my body, my gender and my sexual orientation.

I don’t have any grand solutions to offer, but I do have a suggestion: men should take more gender studies classes. It takes courage to choose to listen to voices that might challenge your assumptions, your privilege and your perspective, but I believe Jesus calls us to courageously care for all of our sisters and brothers.

A list of gender studies class offered in the fall of 2018 is provided below. These classes span several disciplines and can satisfy core requirements or fit into many majors and programs, and they can also be contracted for honors credit.


ENGL 234: Gender and Literature, ENGL 372: Sociolinguistics and Issues in Language Education, HIST 256: Women and Gender in US History, PHIL 211: Philosophy of Gender, PSYC 222: Human Sexuality and Gender, SOC 250: Diversity and Inequality in the United States.

CORRECTION: The print version of this editorial left out HIST 256: Women and Gender in US History from the list of gender studies classes offered next semester. The course will be taught by professor Kristin Du Mez and will meet from 12:30 to 1:45 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.