The Gender Divide in Colgate’s Women’s Studies Department

I have encountered a total of five male-identifying individuals in the three Women’s Studies courses I have taken at Colgate University, and I anticipate I will find a similar skew in the WMST classes I take next semester as well. As a Women’s Studies minor, I find it important to explore why it’s a rarity for men to pursue classes in this department. Let’s unpack it.

I first noticed the gender divide in Colgate’s WSMT department during the first week of classes in the fall when there was only one man in my Biology of Women class. This class primarily studied the biological and social aspects of women, with a focus on reproductive healthcare. Similarly, there were no male-identifying individuals in Gender, Sexuality, Society and only a few in my Introduction to Women’s Studies class.

My first hypothesis is that male students think, “not my problem, not my fight.” I worry that many individuals think that Women’s Studies classes are just for women. Specifically, I think men are scared off because these classes discuss issues that may not be relevant to them. In a general sense, it is logical that the majority of individuals who care about reproductive healthcare access, women’s rights and gender inequities are the people primarily affected: women.

However, contrary to what many of my peers might believe, it is important to recognize that women’s studies classes don’t just talk about “lady problems” or vaginal health. Instead, my classes have primarily focused on society’s sexual hierarchy, and the ways that all individuals contribute to it and are affected by it. Having taken a few Women’s Studies classes with primarily all women, I think that many of our conversations would have been even more productive with the presence of different viewpoints, specifically those offered by men. 

In talking to some of my male peers, I have found that social stigmas surrounding masculinity have an increasingly large influence on individuals’ choices to take Women’s Studies classes. It is partially because there is an incorrect notion that these classes spend their time talking about “pussy power,” when in actuality they serve to educate and initiate awareness. Additionally, I believe that there is a level of social fear and judgment that men believe they will experience in a Women’s Studies setting. Thankfully, based on my experience, classes in Colgate’s gender studies department are safe spaces for all individuals and diverse classrooms would be highly beneficial. 

In my Introduction to Women’s Studies course, we discussed the strongly held belief in our society that only people affected by gender issues can enact changes to these constructs. So, it would make sense to leave these problems to women, right? That’s what I originally thought; now I recognize that it’s impossible to “let women handle it” because women don’t have the same privileges and opportunities as men do. Consequently, I think men opting out of women’s and gender studies classes, for any of the reasons I discuss, will only decrease the pace at which progress is made. 

Gender inequities are not simply feminist issues; they are everyone’s issues.