Yesterday, I got via email news of the publication of a new manifesto, the ‘Manifiesto por la inclusión de los Estudios Feministas, de Mujeres y de Género en la Universidad’. I signed it at once, wondering whether it is a good idea to launch this kind of initiative when most academics are off email because of the Christmas break. The whole text of the manifesto is available at https://portal.uc3m.es/portal/page/portal/inst_estudios_genero/manifiesto%20universidad.pdf; you can judge it for yourself and decide whether to sign it (here: https://portal.uc3m.es/portal/page/portal/inst_estudios_genero). As happens the text seems to have been published on 5 June and I cannot explain why it has taken so long to circulate, unless this is a matter of how different academic circuits work. The promoters are academics from all over Spain specializing above all in constitutional law, among them my UAB colleague Encarna Bodelón. The group is composed of 14 women and only 1 man. No comments required.
Apparently, the manifesto is the result of a second meeting in the Basque town of Oñati (the first one took place in 2005) to assess the evolution of gender-related issues in Spanish higher education. The first problem noted is that most degrees fail to meet the standards and obligations set by Spanish legislation, in particular L.O.1/2004 of 28 December, ‘Medidas de Protección Integral contra la Violencia de Género’. This law decrees that Spanish universities have the duty to promote in all their areas training and research in gender equality (article 4.7). This is further supported by L.O.3/2007 of 22 March for the ‘Igualdad efectiva de Mujeres y Hombres’.
In 2005 the same group agreed in their first meeting to demand that the new degrees included a BA (‘grado’) in Gender Studies to train ‘equality agents’, specific MAs specialised in this area, and a variety of courses within the diverse BA degrees to raise awareness on gender issues within each discipline. Also, the modification of already existing courses or subjects as necessary. Ten years later, they say, nothing much has changed and few universities if any in Spain have fulfilled the 2005 legal mandate.
This failure to comply, the manifesto claims, or, rather, denounces has resulted in, at least, two very serious problems: there have been no significant advances on equality in Spain in the last decade and official research assessment clearly punishes those who practice Gender Studies. What follows is a call for all political parties to sign a pact that supports a pro-feminist academic policy by which the dismal situation can be corrected. The manifesto urges universities to include compulsory training in ‘gender perspectives’ in all areas, the firm establishment of Gender Studies as a respectable academic area and that the persons interested in becoming ‘equality agents’ receive university training, not just professional preparation (‘formación profesional’).
My own university has an active ‘Observatori per la igualtat’ (https://www.uab.cat/observatori-igualtat/) and offers a Minor in Gender Studies open to all degrees (https://www.uab.cat/web/estudiar/minor-d-estudis-de-genere-1340778453143.html). I myself took advantage of the establishment of this transversal Minor back in 2005 to establish an elective course, ‘Gender Studies (in English)’, which is also part of our degree in ‘English Studies’. The pity is that since then I have only managed to teach it once, last year 2014-15. We also included in our MA Advanced English Studies a Gender Studies course very confusingly called ‘Postmodernity: New Sexualities/New Textualities’, a name chosen without asking for my opinion in order to complete the historically-oriented list of subjects. I have been trying to have the name changed for the last two years with no success as the MA coordinator–a woman–does not see this as a priority.
I have written a paper on the frustration I feel as a Gender Studies specialist, “Teaching gender studies as feminist activism: still struggling for recognition”, which you may read at https://ddd.uab.cat/record/126586. This frustration branches out in many directions but three stand out: the patronizing attitude used by the persons (men and women) who think that doing Gender Studies and calling yourself a feminist is a gal’s thing and not proper academic work, as noted by the manifesto; also, the difficulties to be critical of certain aspects of feminism as this creates unwanted divisions and, finally, the limitations to which one is subjected by declaring an interest in Gender Studies–by which I mean that I can lecture and write on many other things beyond feminism and gender but this is what people mainly associate with me…
I can see many people baulking at the idea of making Gender Studies compulsory in all university degrees. In my view, students should reach us already trained in gender equality, for this type of education in citizenship should be offered in primary and secondary school (and at home). This, of course, is not the case and despite some apparent advances everyone realizes that equality is not increasing in Spain–or just very, very slowly. In practical terms I’d rather students take in the first year ‘Gender Studies’ than ‘Grans temes de la Història’, yet I would defend the idea that the corresponding course operates with an even wider perspective than the manifesto proposes–the authors make no mention, for instance, of Masculinity Studies. This sub-discipline of Gender Studies, which I have been practising for years, seems to be indispensable to reach young male students, as I can see whenever I get the chance to read with them a text from this angle (say Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). As all my students know, I hope, my approach is always anti-patriarchal and gender-inclusive, as I have been preaching for years that equality can only be reached if men liberate themselves from the weight of patriarchy on masculinity.
Apart from teaching specific subjects, one very simple thing can be done within the specific area of Literature: combining men and women authors in the reading list. My oncoming course on SF includes 5 novels, 3 by men and 2 by women, and a list of 50 short stories, 25 by men and 25 by women. I am not saying that all reading lists should include men and women in the same exact proportion, for then courses on women’s Literature would be impossible. Yet, courses covering a genre, a period, a geographical area can easily attain some kind of gender balance. And one caveat: a course focused exclusively on male authors is only justified if what is to be explored is masculinity. This semester a new teacher in my Department has taught a course on contemporary American Literature with no women writers on his list, despite addressing himself to a class almost entirely of girl students. This simply makes no sense, as the list of authors does not reflect at all the nature of the Literature he has taught. And please consider that I am not taking into account the thorny matter of how minorities should be dealt with. In the case of my own Gender Studies elective, I decided to go for variety rather than focus on the binary men/women and explore other identities conditioned by gender and sexuality: gay, lesbian but also bisexual, transgender, intergender, you name it…
Now, brace yourself. I am writing this a couple of days after it was revealed that a male carer in a nursing home near Barcelona attacked on Christmas Eve nine elderly women, beating some and raping at least four of them, including a woman above 100 years of age. This 30-year-old man, a good professional with a university degree, unleashed his inner Mr. Hyde by using a combination of drugs and alcohol. All the news articles I have read stress how he preyed on the most defenceless victims but none discusses the obvious fact that his brutal conduct is an expression of pure misogyny and, indeed, part of the widespread violence against women. And this is one of the main problems: that we need to educate people to recognize what the real problems are. As for this monster’s victims I can only say that the terror they have endured is proof that we women are not safe from violence ever in our lives, no matter how long they are.
Now, please, sign the manifesto…
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