Finally, my Women’s Studies class launched without a hitch. Last summer, I was scheduled to teach a section of WS101 at Montgomery College, but the enrollment was too low, so the class was cancelled. This summer, because of last week’s power outages around the DC area, the drop/add date was pushed back, which gave the chance for more students to enroll in the class. I’m very pleased. Of course, I was also a little nervous. I’m not new to Feminist theory — as you well know — nor am I new to the material taught in WS101, but I’m certainly new to a classroom made up of mostly women, teaching them about Feminist theory, through scholarship that’s important to me but which some might say I have no business teaching.
This fear over the issue of “ownership” comes from an experience I had in graduate school. I went to school with an Indian woman who works in African American studies; she was often shunned (even banned) from voicing her opinions, interpretations, and ideas in class because African American literature did not belong to her, some said. She soldiered on, did her work, earned her Ph.D. and now publishes and teaches in her field. I’m sure some of her colleagues in her field still resent her.
My graduate school professors taught me many subjects that didn’t match their bodies (for example, American Indian lit by a white woman). Through their example, I learned that what matters above all is the scholarship, not the body. This morning, my students re-affirmed that teaching. I gave them my history, the work I do, the conference presentations I’ve given, and then we got to work: we launched into definitions, histories, discussions, and questions. It seemed they didn’t care that I’m male. (However, when one male student walked in, thinking about joining, they told him it would be interesting to hear a male perspective in the class.)
I’m excited about this class. I’ve been reading and re-reading, writing and preparing, listening and observing with WS101 in mind. If day one is any indication, the small group of women (one man did join at the end) will provoke new thoughts, new talks, and new tasks even for me. Maybe at the end of the next five weeks, I’ll ask what they thought about Women’s Studies being taught by a professor who isn’t a woman. I’m sure my first impression is right: they didn’t care or they barely noticed.