Is your acquisition of knowledge affected by gender constructs?
Despite the fact that universities in industrialized nations are dominated by a female student population, there still seems to be a gender divide that exists in terms of educational experience. Fields of study are denoted by their underlying ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ nature, targeting not only the state of teaching but also of knowledge within each subject area.
The greatest dichotomy between the two gendered ideals seems to be evident in the Arts department. Arts and Humanities, as a whole, seems to be the most egalitarian discipline in its approach to education and gender. On the surface, there is no overt push for any single gendered norm, with each being represented. Utilizing contemplative thought, rational diagnostics, and verifiable research as its backbone, the Arts and Humanities department has no blatant stereotypical connotation. However, this perspective is quite altered when looking at the individual disciplines within.
Women and Gender Studies is known to be dominated by women and, as such, has been stigmatized as a ‘feminine’ area of study. At StFX, it is taught by women to predominantly female students, about matters that are seen to affect women most acutely. Because of this reputation as a ‘female’ subject, there is a discomfort for men who might also be interested in the intersectional dialogue that occurs, ironically contrary to the very principles that the discipline attempts to uphold.
However, despite this stigma, women and gender studies does show the range of gender identity, including a represented gendered voice that is otherwise lost in many other fields. As a discipline, its ideal is equality and a deeper understanding of what gender means in a social construct, such as in university life.
Philosophy at StFX seems to present the exact opposite problem: it hosts only male professors who are teaching ideas created – for the most part – by men. When women are even discussed in these classes, it is for one of three reasons: they are mentioned only in passing with little weight given to their ideas, they are attached to a more prominent male philosopher, or else only to say that they are wrong for some reason or another.
There is a lack of representation for anyone who is not male, or else anyone who does not fit the Western ideal. Many students can make it to their fourth year in this department without hearing a single “her” or “she” uttered. This lack of representation within StFX’s philosophy department can lead to disillusionment among female students who do not feel that they are treated as though they have the same authority as their male counterparts.
This is not to say that it is only in the Arts department that these issues of gendered education are present; indeed, in the Sciences, Business and other faculties, there are evident problems of representation and equality that need to be addressed.
This is also not to say that anyone should avoid taking classes in any of these departments; we need to continue taking courses and developing our knowledge as students while also understanding the nature of that knowledge. We just also need to be aware of the gaps within our education, constantly challenging the university and ourselves to notice what is lacking in our learning. It is imperative that we do not become complacent to these issues, ensuring that varied voices are encouraged and listened to through our educational experience.