A friendlier feminism

Like most men, Patrick Thompson was nervous about entering the women's studies program at Yukon College. He worried there would be a lot of man bashing, and that he might not be welcome in the classroom.

Like most men, Patrick Thompson was nervous about entering the women’s studies program at Yukon College.

He worried there would be a lot of man bashing, and that he might not be welcome in the classroom.

The program was recommended by an adviser, and he’d studied under the program’s instructor, Lynn Exchevarria, in a previous course.

But he didn’t know what to expect.

The nervousness wore off after a couple weeks.

And, surprisingly, Thompson wound up learning as much about men as he did about women.

He’s the first male graduate of Yukon College’s newly renamed women’s and gender studies program in a long time.

At first, the college touted him as its first male graduate since the program began in 1994.

But they’d forgotten about Karl Dorman, who’d received his women’s studies certificate while getting his bachelor of social work in 1998.

Fortunately, the error didn’t lead to any anger, competition or violence.

Both men knew that type of behaviour is a social construction, artificially forced upon hapless males from an early age.

Dorman phoned the college and, politely, informed them about their mistake. Then he joined Thompson in Eschevarria’s small office on Thursday afternoon to discuss the program.

Dorman is now a conflict resolution and harassment prevention specialist with the Yukon government.

Back when he was in the women’s studies program there was some animosity towards men.

“There were some voices that said that men shouldn’t be there,” he said.

“Some women felt that men were the enemy.”

That type of thinking is starting to fade, said Echevarria, the program co-ordinator.

Last March, she spoke at a conference at Oxford University about how women’s studies and men’s studies need to move forward together.

“I feel that it’s really important for women’s studies programs to include courses on men as well,” she said.

“It’s about women, but it’s also about the social construction of men. Because you can’t talk about women without talking about men.”

To reflect this, and make the course more inclusive, the program was renamed.

Other colleges and universities have taken this step, but it is still fairly unusual.

The program now includes two courses on men and masculinity.

There is a general, introductory course, as well as more advanced courses on women in indigenous societies, women in the Circumpolar North, women and religion and spirituality, and women and social change.

The women’s studies program has only been in the Yukon for 15 years, and is celebrating 40 years in Canada.

The first course was offered at the University of Toronto in 1970, and the first degree program was offered at the University of British Columbia the following year.

But there have been some who have questioned whether women’s studies has run its course.

An editorial in the National Post last year blamed “the radical feminism behind these courses” for damaging “families, court systems, labour laws, constitutional freedoms and relations between men and women.”

Those who defend the programs say they are essential to an equitable society.

Women were excluded from Universities for 800 years, noted Eschevarria.

“That’s a huge amount of time and people don’t know it,” she said.

“So when people say, ‘Why do you have studies on women in history, isn’t there enough written?’ We say, ‘Well yes, but mostly written by men.’”

And while the women’s movement has come a long way, there is still a long way to go, said Eschevarria.

For evidence, she noted what a recent book called the “pornofication of North American culture.”

Advertisements and marketing have started to resemble pornography, and it doesn’t just involve adult women.

“Our norms have just dropped and dropped and dropped, so that now the sexual objectification of children has become a norm,” she said.

“The things that are for sale in clothing stores for little girls are clothes that, at one time, were used by hookers – and it’s now being sold to our children.”

When Thompson announced he was taking women’s studies, his friends made the usual jokes about getting in touch with his feminine side and finally understanding what women want.

“There were jokes, but it was usually followed up by a question about the class,” he said.

“There was a great deal of curiosity, for sure.”

While Thompson couldn’t convince many of his male friends to take the course, he did convince his girlfriend to take one last semester. It was on men and masculinity.

“That was nice having her there,” said Thompson. “But she does catch me on stuff every now and again.”

“I was watching hockey quite a bit, and she was saying, ‘Why are you watching hockey? It’s male violence and competitiveness and you’re promoting it.’

“But I like hockey,” he said sheepishly.

“You tell her that I was watching it too, along with my husband,” said Echevarria.

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