What if education wasn’t dominated by the male gaze?

The male gaze still controls the curriculum and its dissemination.

As the book Feminism in the Academy asks, “Why, in an area of human endeavor that is devoted to the exploration of new ideas has the male normative perspective been so dearly and enduringly held?”* Why, in other words, are all disciplines (except academia’s Others – Women’s Studies, Gender Studies, Ethnic Studies, Queer Studies, Sexuality Studies et al) still dominated by WMPs (white male professors), WWM (white western male) perspectives, and funded by CMs (corporate mongers) who give themselves and their lackey the biggest paychecks (Arnold Schwarz and Chancellor Reed, I am talking to you).

When considering the male gaze at the university level specifically, I am reminded of an event that occurred early in my teaching career. Old, white, male professor guy shared the classroom before mine and tended to let his class out late (hate to generalize – but why do so many WM prof’s feel their time is so valuable that they can forget about their student’s time or other professors waiting to get in to teach their classes?!?) Anyhow, when I could wait no longer I stepped in quietly and unobtrusively indicated his time in the room was up. He reacted badly, glaring and puffing in such a way I thought he might explode into some sort of hyper-masculine academic hulk right there in front of me. Once he calmed down, he decided to take another traditional WM (white male) stance – that of seducer. “That’s a really pretty necklace,” he said, while ogling my breasts. What the F?!? How can someone who supposedly has a brain (he is a professor) go from selfish macho classroom hog into to “Hey, you are one hottie” pick up mode so effortlessly?

Well, this is exactly the type of male gazing that is so problematic – and so pervasive. It does not stop at “you women are so nice to look at” though – it goes onto gaze at the whole of history, the whole of the world, as if (white, wealthy, hetero) men are first – and everyone else is secondary. It teaches pre-schoolers that “boys don’t cry”, elementary school kids about the “founding fathers” and celebrating “Columbus day” (or, as I like to call it, “Hurray! Native American Genocide Day”), middle schoolers that math and science is boys stuff, high schoolers that classic literature (and classic everything else) is ruled by DWM’s (dead white males), and college students that classes focusing on anything but white men are “special.”

Virginia Woolf is the grand matriarch of the line of argument that questions the malestreaming of education. She examines in A Room of One’s Own how women have been forcibly caged into 2nd class status and how the educational system has functioned as a prime jailkeeper for women. Unfortunately, her analysis from 1929 still holds true today. Women still don’t have “a room of their own,” let alone a classroom they can get into in order to teach their “special” view of the world – a view which includes all people, not just those with white penises. (for a great blog inspired by Woolf’s notion of Shakespeare’s sister, see Shakesville!)

*from Feminism in the Academy: The Difference it Makes, Ed. Elizabeth Langland and Walter Grove, Chicago, U of Chicago P, p.5

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