Miami University’s Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies is introducing a new course for the fall semester that is designed with one focus: to make students rethink what being a man actually means.
“Moving Beyond ‘Man Up’: Exploring, Deconstructing and Reimagining Men and Masculinities” is the department’s latest offering that focuses on the role of hegemonic masculinity in our society, cultural conceptions of what it means to be a man and how the problems that accompany those topics can be solved.
The new course fits into a department-wide curriculum focused on the discussion of identity and gender but is the first class to focus on a topic that cannot be completely unpacked in other courses, said Roxanne Ornelas, director of the Women’s Gender Studies program.
“All WGS faculty teach about masculinity in our classes,” she said, “but we have not offered a class that has been solely dedicated to the topic for various reasons, including a lack of faculty to teach the course.”
But, last year, Ornelas invited Kyle Ashlee and Brandon Cash, two graduate students in Miami’s Student Affairs and Higher Education program, to give a lecture about masculinity in her introductory women’s gender studies class and was impressed by their presentation of the topic.
“They did such a good job and the students responded positively to their lecture,” she said. “They both have done a fabulous job of developing their course plan for the fall semester.”
Ashlee and Cash will be teaching the course through an intersectional lens. In other words, the class will focus on not only the topics of masculinity and manhood, but draw on students’ experiences regarding their other identities, like race, class or sexuality, to learn how they relate to masculinity and gender.
Despite years of educational and practical experiences dedicated to the study of masculinity and its associated problems, the pair of instructors doesn’t claim to have all of the answers.
“We’re not experts in masculinities,” said Cash. “For me, it’s more of an opportunity to have a conversation, to provide a space where a dialogue can happen about masculinity. Kyle [Ashlee] is the resident expert on the literature and things like that, and I’m just excited to be a part of really making that space happen.”
Ashlee and Cash recognize that their authority to lead the discussion on masculinity comes, in part, from the fact that they are men. While this position may sound sexist, Ashlee and Cash explained that it is made with feminist intentions.
“I think it absolutely matters [that we are men teaching this class],” said Ashlee. “My personal belief around allyship and this type of work is that it should not be the responsibility of women who are already oppressed by patriarchy to do all the work of teaching people.”
“And,” he continued, “I think because of the privilege that we hold from our masculine and other dominant identities, we have an ability to reach people who hold those same identities…which is not fair, but it’s part of the reality.”
Although one goal of the class is to address privilege and the oppressive side effects of a patriarchal society, Ashlee and Cash plan to expand the conversation beyond privilege and discuss and validate the personal experiences of students, regarding their intersecting identities.
As instructors, they said they ideally would like to see students leave the course’s last class session with newfound perspectives and awareness regarding both their own experiences and large scale, societal gender issues.
“[Students will end the class] having thought critically about masculinity, the patriarchy, gender and about the possibilities of what the future can hold for those things,” said Ashlee.
“For me too it’s…that they understand themselves and how they fit,” said Cash. “They have a personal connection to what we’ve been talking about for the semester.”
“Moving Beyond ‘Man Up’” has no prerequisites, and Ashlee and Cash welcome any and all students interested to enroll.