Image Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office at www.kremlin.ru
Last week, the University of York Politics department released the third year modules scheduled for study in 2021/22. In the wider world, it was a week of national discourse over the experiences of women and the pervasive inequalities that exist in our society. Yet on the Politics course list, there was not a single module out of the 31 available that focused on gender. In fact, the very word ‘gender’ only appeared in three of the module information pages.
For a university politics department, this is inexcusable. In the current political climate, the omission of such an important dimension of political study seems counter-intuitive. University departments, of all subjects, need to ensure their modules represent all of their students’ interests. Not only should they recognise the importance of gender, but they should consult their students to ensure a varied course list that caters to their multitude of passions, because that is how students will come away with a fulfilling degree.
Gender is an essential lens to look at the world through. It impacts every facet of our day to day lives, and has increasingly become recognised as an important part of politics in itself; no longer resigned to a quick bullet point on a powerpoint slide about how “bigger” issues might intersect with it. There is no doubt that a focus on gender can lead to interesting and necessary discussions about the society we live in. It should not be ignored, and the snub of a gender-focused module for third year politics students should never have happened.
"All aspects of our lives are impacted by gender, and it should be recognised with a continuous presence on the curriculum."
It isn’t just politics where gender is important. Gender, and its related fields of queer theory and feminist studies, is creeping into more and more of our academia. The University of York’s Environmental Geography course includes an option on the gendered dimensions of poverty; it is essential that this drive continues across all subjects – humanities or not. All aspects of our lives are impacted by gender, and it should be recognised with a continuous presence on the curriculum. Just one glance at the news illuminates how gender is an increasingly important category of analysis in society. It is our responsibility as academics to consider how gender can intersect with other more traditional ways of thinking. Modern day society is built on systems that rely on gendered relations, so modern day university courses should reflect this too. The politics department omitting gender seems to be indicative of a wider problem. Just because gender is getting a spot on the news doesn’t mean that the academic’s job to interrogate its position in society is over.
Of course, gender can be incorporated into other more general modules. A module on war can, and should, consider how gender might affect the experiences of those living through it, for example. However, gender deserves our scholarship in itself, with gender theory being a recognised and influential field to study. It is important that departments recognise this, and ensure it is not overlooked for the more traditional topics that usually keep their grip in the curriculum. Saying that gender can be explored through existing modules, with convenors who do not specialise in the issue of gender, does not address the larger topic at hand.
Departments should make sure that their modules cover a wide array of topics that represent the interests of all students. Taking politics as an example, the options available to students fit a slim idea of a politics course – focusing on international relations with references to war and violence, or modules on classical political thought. For many students, this is not where their interests lie. The general avoidance of more contemporary day-to-day political issues is damaging, and shows how the department is not catering for all of its fee-paying students. Some might even look at the list and suggest it shows a rather male-centric view of politics, with gender courses typically, in my experience, being more subscribed by women.
For university courses to be successful and satisfying, it is essential that the module list covers a variety of interests and approaches. However good it is for a department to have specialist knowledge, this must not come at the detriment of a varied and exciting curriculum. It is vital that departments across the university allow the freedom for students to explore a multitude of interests and ideas, with the staff list reflecting this. Every subject can be looked at through many different academic approaches, and a good degree should give equal credence to these.
Of course, organising third-year modules is quite a task. The availability varies each year, as they are run by the experts in the department, discussing their specialised areas of interest. Especially at the moment, it is understandable that departments might have difficulties, with reduced levels of staffing, to run modules that normally appear on the course list. When joining a degree programme, you do so with the knowledge that advertised modules might not go ahead.
However, there are some areas of each subject that should always make an appearance. Just as an English course wouldn’t dare to avoid offering a module on poetry, a politics course in 2021 should not be excluding gender from its ranks. It might not be in the form advertised when applying to university, but we should expect to see it in some sort of manifestation. Departments across the university should ensure that consultation with all students is at the forefront of their academic decisions. This could ensure that there is a diverse list of staff, with a wide variety of interests. If there is not a staff member to run a module on an issue as pervasive as gender… maybe there should be! The potential practical struggles do not excuse that this is a deeper issue of the importance of gender and the necessity to consider the interests of the whole cohort.
I am sure the politics module list will not change for my third year. But perhaps the department, and others across the university, can use this as a reminder that gender should be a constant feature in our studies, and that any course should offer a wide array of choices. Whether that be by balancing the workload of current gender specialists, or by expanding the amount of gender specialists in the department, it is a necessary step to take to ensure all students can feel completely fulfilled in their studies.