Thursday, January 22, 2009

What Do Boys Have Against Early Modern Women Writers?

Or, How Do We Get More Male Students Interested in Women Writers?

In my mock interview, one of the mock search committee members posed the following question:

"I also work with early modern women, and I've found over the years that, to some extent, you end up preaching to the choir. You present conference papers to an audience of women. You teach senior seminars that are, by and large, made up of female students. How do you handle this?"

Yeah, uh...I wasn't expecting that question. Nonetheless, I provided an honest answer by explaining that the former hadn't been my experience thus far, and that I'd have to think more about it in terms of teaching, when the time comes.

Well, the time has come.

I'm team-teaching a senior seminar, "Aphra Behn & The Rise of Consumer Literature", this semester, and the first day of class revealed an entire room of young ladies and one gentleman. Yep, out of 18 students, there's only one guy. Obviously this brought to mind the question I'd been asked, and now I'm thinking about several related questions.

First, is this [all/predominently female students] a thing I have any control of to begin with? That is, the person asking the question seemed to presume that the teacher has some direct agency in preventing this situation, and I'm not sure if that's actually the case.

Second, if I do have some ability to change the situation, what can I do?

Third, why does it matter anyway? Why the urge to see a more gender-balanced classroom? I certainly wouldn't want to start pulling in uninterested male students simply for the purpose of having an equal numbers of boys and girls in the room. I believe the implicit question had more to do with the issue of male scholars (or scholars-to-be) being uninterested in women writers than the issue of gender equity in the classroom.

I don't know that I have any answers at this point, but I suspect this won't be the last time I'm confronted with the issue. Ultimately, I don't feel like it's my job to justify or market my subfield to gain a specific audience. Clearly, I want classes I teach to make, and designing appealing (nay, sexy) course titles always helps to that effect. But, I can't *make* male English majors (or any other group of students) be interested in the things I'm teaching. Again, I have no brilliant conclusions to make, but the question still lingers for some reason...

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