Integrating Women's History into other History Classes


Query From: "Karen L. Cox" <karen.cox@murraystate.edu> 30 Oct 1997

Dear H-WOMEN subscribers,

Recently, I assigned some outside reading that dealt with women for the course I am teaching in World Civilization. A student in the class commented that his friend told him "your teacher must be a woman." I find that many students feel as if I have some agenda because I attempt to integrate women's history. I understand that this may have something to do with the rural/traditional background of my students, but I would like to have feedback from those who have had similar experiences with students who are reluctant to learn women's role in history.

From M_Raymond@compuserve.com Fri Dec 5 12:16:10 1997 Date: Fri, 7 Nov 1997 23:43:38 -0500
From: Maria Elena Raymond <M_Raymond@compuserve.com> To: Melanie Shell <melanie@h-net.msu.edu> Subject: Responses #1/ Integrating Women's History into other classes, Re (6)

[The following text is in the "ISO-8859-1" character set] [Your display is set for the "US-ASCII" character set] [Some characters may be displayed incorrectly]

Responses:

From Kathy Parker <kparker@pop.greenepa.net> 31 Oct 1997

To Karen Cox who asked about experiences with students who question the integration of women into history courses, I have a similar situation at a small school in western Pennsylvania. I have always told them at the outset that my purposes are to explore the interdependence and differing perspectives of all peoples in society, so that necessarily includes women and minority groups, as well as white men.

It is a drag, I know, when you are confronted with that kind of resistance. It is best, I find, to be positive, and completely unapologetic about it. Do they want the full picture (as much as is possible) or only one slice of it? Good luck.

From Lee Whitfield LWHITFIELD@BINAH.CC.BRANDEIS.EDU 31 Oct 1997

Dear Karen,
I taught "Europe Since 1945" at Brandeis summer school and endured similar comments. A few of the students criticized the course for addressing women, believing that gender analysis had nothing relevant to do with the welfare state, 1968, or the women's movement, multicultural Europe, and the important issues concerning the history of the period. Shocked though I was to have this response at Brandeis, I recognize that the students had, in fact, little orientation to such "trivial pursuits" in other European history courses prior to this summer. Otherwise, they would not have found this aspect of the course so surprising! Good luck and keep up the good work.

From Kelly Allen KellyA1042@aol.com 31 Oct 1997

If you think you have it rough, try doing it in high school! Luckily, most of the new textbooks coming out have a great number of women featured in their materials and they make a point of addressing minority and female issues like never before.

I did my Master's thesis on incorporating women authors into the American Literature classroom (high school) -- believe it or not, it's still tough to fight against Fitzgerald, Twain, Hawthorne, Faulkner et. al. Our curriculum in English has not changed as much as we would like to think it has.

The best thing is just to keep doing what you are doing. One author I featured in my thesis stated that there is a cycle of integrating women into a curriculum that takes up to 100 years to complete! We are still at the stage where women are the oddity and we only feature the "freaks" -- those who did something extraordinary. Only until we can weave their experience in seamlessly, including the everyday experience, will the cycle be complete. If you give up, the cycle will never progress, so keep it up. You are doing a good thing! Male students always tend to feel that women are getting too much attention if they are only getting HALF of the attention in a classroom (see Sadker & Sadker, the AAUW report on women, etc.). I think the same goes for curriculum. You are fighting for change and that is never easy. So keep it up. Eventually, the reception you got WILL go away, but not if we back off for fear of being criticized. We are half of this country's population (and worldwide). We have every right to have our stories and our experiences to be recognized. Don't listen to your male students. They've had an influential voice for a long time. See what exploring women's history does for the voices of your female students. Also-see Paul Lauter's work on changing the canon we teach with. It's very illuminating.

From Michelle L Marshman <mlmarshman@exodus.nnc.edu> 31 Oct 1997

Karen,
I empathize with you in regard to the reaction of students toward the integration of women's history into survey courses. I am experiencing the same reaction in a college in which the students are similarly from a rural/traditional background. I teach the Western Civ. series and I have integrated themes of women, family, and sexuality into the course. This fall, I had a rather intense response from five male students. They complained to me that I was "pc" and a "revisionist"; they informed me they "wanted just the facts, ma'am" (their wording). I found myself trying to justify women's, family, and gender history as legitimate historical fields, first to them and then (to my dismay) to myself.

In response, I find myself holding the students to an even higher level of performance in these areas on exams and in papers. I don't know if that is the proper response. It is a difficult situation altogether.

I too would appreciate advice from "weathered" historians.

From Laura Tuennerman-Kaplan laura@umrpc.com 31 Oct 1997

I had a similar experience to Karen just the other day -

I am teaching a survey history course, US to 1865. During a review session I was trying to get my students to think of Bacon's Rebellion and I said "ok, now what do I always talk about in class" (meaning Bacon's Rebellion which is an event I use as an example of many things) and right away one student spoke up and said "women."

I thought I was doing a really balanced job in my teaching but obviously by bringing women in some students feel that I am always talking about women.

From Heather Munro Prescott prescott@ccsua.ctstateu.edu: 31 Oct 1997

Karen's message could not have been better timed. I had a very frustrating discussion of Elaine Showalter's _These Modern Women_ in my graduate seminar on the 1920s the other evening. The women in the class liked the book (in fact one called in sick to say how sorry she was that she wasn't going to be there to discuss it). Many of the men in the class felt attacked and could not see why feminists were all worked up, especially wealthy women who had other privileges. Then the discussion degenerated into a criticism of present-day political correctness.

This was quite disappointing to me since the students who were critical of feminism had no problem identifying with African-American writers and artists in the Harlem Renaissance and their struggle to overcome racism. A similar thing happened a couple of years ago in a 1930s seminar when we discussed Susan Ware's _Still Missing_.

Ironically, my undergraduate students are much more receptive to discussing gender issues, even in the "regular" history classes -- i.e. U.S. survey. Maybe it's a generation gap, since the undergraduates tend to be much younger.

I agree that we just have to keep up the struggle!

From M_Raymond@compuserve.com Tue Dec 9 10:56:00 1997 Date: Fri, 7 Nov 1997 23:43:48 -0500
From: Maria Elena Raymond <M_Raymond@compuserve.com> To: Melanie Shell <melanie@h-net.msu.edu> Subject: Responses #2/Integrating Women's History into Other Classes, Re (6)

[The following text is in the "ISO-8859-1" character set] [Your display is set for the "US-ASCII" character set] [Some characters may be displayed incorrectly]

From Kolleen M. Guy <kguy@lonestar.jpl.utsa.edu> 31 Oct 1997

I imagine that the response of your students is not all that uncommon. I, too, experience this each semester since I assign a work by a woman author and another by Alex Haley in my World Civilization course. There have been semesters when students (all white males) have come to me and explained that they were going to drop my course before the end of the first week because of my clear "agenda." What I have discovered in talking with students is that they have, for the most part, never had a course in history that was either taught by a woman (the high school football coach as history teacher still exists in many places); or that discussed issues of class, race or gender.

In my most recent course,only 5 students out of a class of 91 learned about the slave experience in high school; none had heard anything about socialism except that it is bad; and none had learned about any women except for the wives of certain presidents. My African-American students were told in high school that the teacher did not want to talk about slavery because they might feel uncomfortable. So, from their perspective, it does look like we have some kind of agenda--for some that agenda is good, for others bad.

My solution is to address it head on. I talk about history, the use of sources, changing interpretations, etc. I bring in examples of text books from the 1950s, which we use for comparisons. All of this helps them to rethink the past and their view of history. I hate to admit it, but the thing that has helped the most to end this fear of the "agenda" is the fact that my male colleagues have adopted the same texts.

From Jeanette Keith <keith@planetx.bloomu.edu> 31 Oct 1997

I have very much enjoyed this thread. I have not had much complaint about integrating women into the survey classes. But years ago, when I first began to teach US Women's history here, one of our better students quipped that that wouldn't take long, would it? Our school is 60 percent female (which may tell you something about Pennsylvania), so the majority of students in most of my survey classes are female. They perk up when we begin to talk about women's history in the survey. The guys don't seem to mind. One of my most memorable students was a career Army guy-- a Vietnam vet-- who took women's history with me after having had the survey. He did quite well in the class until the last two weeks, when the cumulative evidence of sexism just overwhelmed him and he burst out in class: "Look, none of this is an accident! Why aren't you people out in the streets with guns! Why aren't you rebelling?" All the women in the class just turned and looked at him...

I think that some of the resistence you feel from male students has nothing to do with your teaching, and everything to do with "student life." Here at Bloomsburg, orientation sessions have included reading "I Never Called it Rape," and sensitivity sessions on all kinds of racial/sexual issues. I think it is easy for young men, especially white ones, to react to this not by becoming more thoughtful and sensitive, but by becoming defensive. There ought to be some better way to teach people to behave. But by the time they get to you, they figure that when women are mentioned, they're going to be told what rotten human beings _they_ are. So they shut down, since they know the story anyway, right?

From Belinda Ray <womenshistory.guide@miningco.com> 31 Oct 1997

To all who have already responded to Karen Cox's letter re: the difficulty of teaching women's history in a classroom, and to any who still intend to respond:

There is a section of my website (Women's History >>http://womenshistory.miningco.com<<) which is dedicated specifically to educators and provides resources to help them integrate women's history into their classrooms. I think that it would be fabulous if I could include your comments as a support mechanism for anyone attempting to discuss women and meeting with the same difficulties. I do not want to do so, however, without getting permission to use these comments. If anyone who wouldn't mind having their letters used could email me off-list to give permission I would greatly appreciate it.

email: womenshistory.guide@miningco.com Thank you very much! If you're interested, you can view the "Classroom" section of my site at:
>>http://womenshistory.miningco.com/library/weekly/blclass.htm<<

I should have any comments I am given permission to use up and running in the "Bright Ideas" section within the next week. Also, if anyone knows of any women's history online resources that would be of particular interest to teachers, please feel free to let me know.

From Penny Kanner <pkanner@ucla.edu> 31 Oct 1997

I strongly suspect it may be their fundamentalist Christian background, which as we know can lead to a great deal of reactionary hostility towards women's issues (as in Paul's "thou shalt not permit a woman to teach). Stepping outside of this framework to the concept of women's issues as human issues can sometimes help, as can getting the students to discuss their thoughts about what history authentically is. If a history course excluded women as subjects, would it be therefore justified to say "Hah! your teacher must be a man!"--thereby assuming that male teachers naturally interject "their own agenda" into teaching? What other minorities of religion, class, race, or other category do some of your students belong to, so that perhaps--if they are asked to imagine a history which categorically excludes mention of them--they can begin to recognize these representational problems?

From Debra Schneider <debschne@uclink4.berkeley.edu> 31 Oct 1997

Karen Cox and others,

I do not have an answer to your question about reluctance to learn women's history, but a sort of "piggy-back" question. I am working on a qualifying paper on teaching social history in K-12, the issues and concerns of teachers and the ways school and community pressure can make teachers self-censor the history they teach and fail to teach social history at all.

Can anyone direct me further on this topic? I have read all of Nash's work on the National Standards debate, and Stearn on social history, and some Scott on women in history, yet it is rare for any author to acknowledge the K-12 consequences of social history teaching. Thank you for any input.

From Regina Lark <lark@scf-fs.usc.edu> 31 Oct 1997

It is refreshing to see that I am not the only instructor "criticized" for incorporating the "other" half of the population in my history survey courses! Each semester one or more male students remark that I talk about women too much. So far, not a single woman student has complained. And, along with some of the other responses I've seen on this topic, I too begin the first class explaining my beliefs about why women will be an equal part of the lectures, class discussions, and readings. Issues concerning gender are also incorporated into the syllabus.
Thanks to everyone for making me feel like I am right on track! From M_Raymond@compuserve.com Tue Dec 9 10:56:09 1997 Date: Fri, 7 Nov 1997 23:43:59 -0500
From: Maria Elena Raymond <M_Raymond@compuserve.com> To: Melanie Shell <melanie@h-net.msu.edu> Subject: Responses #3/ Integrating Women's History into Other History Courses, Re (6)

[The following text is in the "ISO-8859-1" character set] [Your display is set for the "US-ASCII" character set] [Some characters may be displayed incorrectly]

From Sandra F.VanBurkleo svanbur@sprynet.com 31 Oct 1997

In my American constitutional and legal history courses, as I try to weave women's experiences with government and freedom into the fabric of the course, students often respond with thinly-veiled (and sometimes overt) hostility, particularly the ones (both male and female) who think they're headed for law school and want to know only "useful stuff" (one kid actually said this).

I've done a number of things. None of them are entirely satisfactory; but all, in their way, chip away at the icy facade of resistance. For example:when the pencils all fall (you can hear the taps as the pencils all hit the desktops more or less simultaneously) when you stop talking about, say, Chief Justice Roger Taney and begin talking about the confiscation of married women's property at marriage, I have stopped, sat down as if to confide, and asked the students to talk with me about their decision to grant the subject no significance. Some are quite stunned by this kind of NOTICE of their behavior, because of course they don't realize they're doing it.

A second strategy: In seminar and in lower-division classes, I have asked students who haven't done the reading (because it's ONLY about women) to think about what they're assuming about ME. I tell them about a conversation I really had with a male colleague at Ohio State, who said that, when HE talks about gender relations, his students assume that he's ENLIGHTENED, whereas when I do the same thing, I'm assumed to be speaking from bias or self-interest. This can lead, on a good day, to some really important talk about how sex and gender work in society. In my experience, in sum, the only way to deal with this is to turn it into something constructive IN THE CLASSROOM.

From Belinda Ray <womenshistory.guide@miningco.com> 31 Oct 1997

Dear Karen--

I had a similar experience when teaching British Literature to Juniors in high school. One of our themes was a discussion of the Woman Question, and there was enormous resistance to any discussion of women's roles historically from not only the male students, but also many of the female students. The males students labeled me everything from a--gasp!--feminist(which they saw as a terrible thing) to a "dyke" and felt that I was rewriting history to try to make women appear more important than they actually were. Many of the females simply remained silent in class, not wanting to be similarly labeled.

In reading their responses in journals, however, which the students knew would be private, I realized that many of the females in class were actually enjoying the discussions and feeling somewhat empowered by them even if they didn't dare to participate yet. I also found that the "hostile" males were a small (though vocal) population in the class, and that the male students who were quiet were either surprised at their peers' reactions or indifferent to them.

The ways I decided to handle it were: A) to persevere despite complaints because I felt the information and the discussions were important and perhaps the students would have a different perspective on them later in life, and B) to tackle it head on and tell them I could feel their hostility and was interested in knowing where it might be coming from. Some of their answers were interesting and, I must say, quite understandable. We had a good discussion regarding the phenomenon that any positive step taken by one group is often viewed as a setback to other groups (i.e., white Americans feeling threatened by the advancement of black Americans, heterosexuals feeling threatened by gay rights, etc.). This discussion transcended gender and seemed to make the students open up a bit more. I still felt some hostility, but it was more than balanced by the female students who became more vocal as we continued in other pursuits and the ones who came up to thank me at the end of the year for "giving them a voice". Best of luck--hang in there.

From Suzanne Thurman <sthurman@mesa5.mesa.colorado.edu> 31 Oct 1997

Karen,

I can sympathize fully with your experience in trying to integrate women's history into the survey. Although I never experienced resistance when I lectured on women in my American history surveys at Indiana University or even, to my surprise, at the University of North Alabama, I have encountered some strange behavior among male students now that I am teaching in the "egalitarian" west (Colorado). I make it clear at the beginning of the semester that I am a social historian and, as such, focus my attention not just on "traditional" history but on the minority groups--women, African-Americans, and Indians--who have generally been left out of that history. I give a very balanced coverage of American history, but I have noted resistance (albeit quiet resistance) on the part of some male students whenever I talk about women. As soon as they hear any lengthy discussion of women or women's issues they put their notebooks away, fold their arms, and stop listening. In fact, in one class, every time I lecture on women a guy (a different one every time) from a group that sits together, gets up and leaves. This is the only time that this happens. Maybe it's coincidence, but it doesn't seem that way. On the other hand, I have had male students tell me after class that they enjoy the lectures on women because they have never heard anything like it before. Win some, lose some, I guess. Like other respondents have said, we just have to keep doing what we're doing, and hopefully someday students won't see talking about women as an anomaly.

From Marlene LeGates mlegates@capcollege.bc.ca 31 Oct 1997

I regularly get similar respones in my history classes (for example, "All we hear about is women. Why can't you deal with something we can all relate to?" )even though I include gender as one of the stated topics of the course. I deal with it quite deliberately. About halfway through the course I ask them if they have noticed a gender bias. Then, when some poor student has denounced the material as having been all about women, I ask them to study the course outline and tell me in how many classes of the total I have mentioned women. This year, for example, it was 4 out of 11! That stuns them. Then, I explain that the gender bias is in fact quite the opposite. The fact that women appear as a special group helps me to make my point. I also have a wonderful cartoon I show which has two large library stacks of books by men, philosophy on one side and literature on the other, with a small women's studies table in the middle and a guy complaining, "Women, women, all I hear about is women!"

From Kriste Lindenmeyer <KAL6444@tntech.edu> 31 Oct 1997

I shared my office with an African American historian who said that students sometimes complained to him that he "talked too much about black people" in his survey courses. However, I have had students complain to me that other, more "traditional" professors, "only" talk about "dead white males." So, I guess the bottomline for me is that I don't take any such criticisms too seriously. You will always make someone unhappy, because teaching history, especially the survey, is about making choices.

Teach what YOU think is significant and don't apologize for it. Nonetheless, although they may say so behind my back, I have never had a student complain that I talked too much about women or minorities in my classes. Either I'm leaving something out,or it is because I explain from the beginning that I am an American Social Historian (whatever that is) who intends to offer, as much as possible in the few hours that we "share" together, the broad American experience. Perhaps telling them what they are in for from the beginning helps to quell potential criticism.

Kriste Lindenmeyer
From M_Raymond@compuserve.com Tue Dec 9 10:56:24 1997 Date: Fri, 7 Nov 1997 23:43:59 -0500
From: Maria Elena Raymond <M_Raymond@compuserve.com> To: Melanie Shell <melanie@h-net.msu.edu> Subject: Responses #3/ Integrating Women's History into Other History Courses, Re (6)

[The following text is in the "ISO-8859-1" character set] [Your display is set for the "US-ASCII" character set] [Some characters may be displayed incorrectly]

From Sandra F.VanBurkleo svanbur@sprynet.com 31 Oct 1997

In my American constitutional and legal history courses, as I try to weave women's experiences with government and freedom into the fabric of the course, students often respond with thinly-veiled (and sometimes overt) hostility, particularly the ones (both male and female) who think they're headed for law school and want to know only "useful stuff" (one kid actually said this).

I've done a number of things. None of them are entirely satisfactory; but all, in their way, chip away at the icy facade of resistance. For example:when the pencils all fall (you can hear the taps as the pencils all hit the desktops more or less simultaneously) when you stop talking about, say, Chief Justice Roger Taney and begin talking about the confiscation of married women's property at marriage, I have stopped, sat down as if to confide, and asked the students to talk with me about their decision to grant the subject no significance. Some are quite stunned by this kind of NOTICE of their behavior, because of course they don't realize they're doing it.

A second strategy: In seminar and in lower-division classes, I have asked students who haven't done the reading (because it's ONLY about women) to think about what they're assuming about ME. I tell them about a conversation I really had with a male colleague at Ohio State, who said that, when HE talks about gender relations, his students assume that he's ENLIGHTENED, whereas when I do the same thing, I'm assumed to be speaking from bias or self-interest. This can lead, on a good day, to some really important talk about how sex and gender work in society. In my experience, in sum, the only way to deal with this is to turn it into something constructive IN THE CLASSROOM.

From Belinda Ray <womenshistory.guide@miningco.com> 31 Oct 1997

Dear Karen--

I had a similar experience when teaching British Literature to Juniors in high school. One of our themes was a discussion of the Woman Question, and there was enormous resistance to any discussion of women's roles historically from not only the male students, but also many of the female students. The males students labeled me everything from a--gasp!--feminist(which they saw as a terrible thing) to a "dyke" and felt that I was rewriting history to try to make women appear more important than they actually were. Many of the females simply remained silent in class, not wanting to be similarly labeled.

In reading their responses in journals, however, which the students knew would be private, I realized that many of the females in class were actually enjoying the discussions and feeling somewhat empowered by them even if they didn't dare to participate yet. I also found that the "hostile" males were a small (though vocal) population in the class, and that the male students who were quiet were either surprised at their peers' reactions or indifferent to them.

The ways I decided to handle it were: A) to persevere despite complaints because I felt the information and the discussions were important and perhaps the students would have a different perspective on them later in life, and B) to tackle it head on and tell them I could feel their hostility and was interested in knowing where it might be coming from. Some of their answers were interesting and, I must say, quite understandable. We had a good discussion regarding the phenomenon that any positive step taken by one group is often viewed as a setback to other groups (i.e., white Americans feeling threatened by the advancement of black Americans, heterosexuals feeling threatened by gay rights, etc.). This discussion transcended gender and seemed to make the students open up a bit more. I still felt some hostility, but it was more than balanced by the female students who became more vocal as we continued in other pursuits and the ones who came up to thank me at the end of the year for "giving them a voice". Best of luck--hang in there.

From Suzanne Thurman <sthurman@mesa5.mesa.colorado.edu> 31 Oct 1997

Karen,

I can sympathize fully with your experience in trying to integrate women's history into the survey. Although I never experienced resistance when I lectured on women in my American history surveys at Indiana University or even, to my surprise, at the University of North Alabama, I have encountered some strange behavior among male students now that I am teaching in the "egalitarian" west (Colorado). I make it clear at the beginning of the semester that I am a social historian and, as such, focus my attention not just on "traditional" history but on the minority groups--women, African-Americans, and Indians--who have generally been left out of that history. I give a very balanced coverage of American history, but I have noted resistance (albeit quiet resistance) on the part of some male students whenever I talk about women. As soon as they hear any lengthy discussion of women or women's issues they put their notebooks away, fold their arms, and stop listening. In fact, in one class, every time I lecture on women a guy (a different one every time) from a group that sits together, gets up and leaves. This is the only time that this happens. Maybe it's coincidence, but it doesn't seem that way. On the other hand, I have had male students tell me after class that they enjoy the lectures on women because they have never heard anything like it before. Win some, lose some, I guess. Like other respondents have said, we just have to keep doing what we're doing, and hopefully someday students won't see talking about women as an anomaly.

From Marlene LeGates mlegates@capcollege.bc.ca 31 Oct 1997

I regularly get similar respones in my history classes (for example, "All we hear about is women. Why can't you deal with something we can all relate to?" )even though I include gender as one of the stated topics of the course. I deal with it quite deliberately. About halfway through the course I ask them if they have noticed a gender bias. Then, when some poor student has denounced the material as having been all about women, I ask them to study the course outline and tell me in how many classes of the total I have mentioned women. This year, for example, it was 4 out of 11! That stuns them. Then, I explain that the gender bias is in fact quite the opposite. The fact that women appear as a special group helps me to make my point. I also have a wonderful cartoon I show which has two large library stacks of books by men, philosophy on one side and literature on the other, with a small women's studies table in the middle and a guy complaining, "Women, women, all I hear about is women!"

From Kriste Lindenmeyer <KAL6444@tntech.edu> 31 Oct 1997

I shared my office with an African American historian who said that students sometimes complained to him that he "talked too much about black people" in his survey courses. However, I have had students complain to me that other, more "traditional" professors, "only" talk about "dead white males." So, I guess the bottomline for me is that I don't take any such criticisms too seriously. You will always make someone unhappy, because teaching history, especially the survey, is about making choices.

Teach what YOU think is significant and don't apologize for it. Nonetheless, although they may say so behind my back, I have never had a student complain that I talked too much about women or minorities in my classes. Either I'm leaving something out,or it is because I explain from the beginning that I am an American Social Historian (whatever that is) who intends to offer, as much as possible in the few hours that we "share" together, the broad American experience. Perhaps telling them what they are in for from the beginning helps to quell potential criticism.

Kriste Lindenmeyer
From M_Raymond@compuserve.com Tue Dec 9 10:56:32 1997 Date: Fri, 7 Nov 1997 23:44:12 -0500
From: Maria Elena Raymond <M_Raymond@compuserve.com> To: Melanie Shell <melanie@h-net.msu.edu> Subject: Responses #4/Integrating Women's History into Other History Courses, Re (6)

[The following text is in the "ISO-8859-1" character set] [Your display is set for the "US-ASCII" character set] [Some characters may be displayed incorrectly]

From Barb Freeman <freeman@ccs.carleton.ca> 3 Nov 1997

Hello all, from Canada --

I am finding this thread quite interesting. From time to time I have taught a media and society course in which I incorporate historical and contemporary material on women, racial and other minorities, etc. I have had a mixed response in the students' comments on my teaching evaluations. Because this was a mandatory course taught to second year journalism students, there was a certain resentment from about a third of the class who complained about "having to learn" about this stuff and having a "feminist agenda" "forced" on them. One of my most memorable comments from a student on the evaluation feedback sheet was -- "What does gender and race have to do with journalism anyway?" Now, the rest of the class seemed to understand what I was doing and why -- basically explaining to them that the world they will be working in as journalists is a very diverse place and they have to understand that if they are going to do a good job as professionals.

The other frustration I have sometimes is their apparent lack of interest in history and its lessons. I have a Ph.D. in History, specializing in media and culture, and I teach that way, of course. I use as much A-V material as I can to help them make the connections between now and back then, and I do think it helps.

I also teach a much smaller optional course called Gender and the Journalist. I I've had men in it before but not this year. On the one hand, I'm concerned that the guys are either not interested or feel they will be put down (which is NOT my approach at all); on the other hand, I think the women are much franker about certain issues when the guys aren't around, even though the women are very much in a majority in our school and have the power of numbers. I am also blessed with a few progressive colleagues so I don't feel I am teaching in a vacuum.

Just thought you would like to know that these issues also come up in journalism and communication studies... When I do get flack from some of the students over my "agenda", and feel badly about it, I remind myself that there are other students, perhaps less vocal, who are glad of it and appreciate the effort. They have their ways of letting me know that -- I learn a lot from them, too.

From Priscilla Massmann <PMassmann@aol.com> 3 Nov 1997

This discussion has reminded me of a series of articles in the May/June 1996 issue of Perspectives that also dealt with the problem of integrating women's history into survey courses. Since I primarily teach the U.S. Survey, that article was most useful for me. The auther, Kathi Kern, discusses ways of involving students with the idea of doing history themselves so that they learn firsthand that history is more than just facts to be memorised. It is a narrative to be constructed and there are any number of perspectives that can be included or left out of the narrative, including the perspective of gender. Allowing the students to experience this for themselves through class presentations helps to deflate some of the hostility we encounter when we simply replace one set of facts with another.

Although I have been fortunate in my experiences with the survey and have not encountered much hostility from my students when I bring up women's issues, I have tried to incorporate some of Kern's ideas this semester because I want to get my students to engage with history and not just memorize facts. The students have done a series of presentations this semester on a variety of topics, and I have been very impressed with the amount of work they have put into the presentations and the quality of their analysis of the various documents I assigned.

I would highly recommend the articles in Perspectives to everyone having a problem with this issue.

From Elisabeth Israels Perry <eiperry@mindspring.com> 3 Nov 1997

This has been a wonderful thread on integrating women into the surveys (isn't it amazing we're still having these problems?), and while we've probably read enough of the very thoughtful and constructive suggestions about how to deal with the criticisms (usually from men, but sometimes from women, too!)I couldn't resist telling one anecdote: a couple of years ago I wrote a third of a new high-school US history text. One of my chapters was on the New Deal,and of course I included quite a bit of material in it on Eleanor Roosevelt(in fact, I started the chapter out with her visit to the Bonus Marchers). A reader (male, I won't say who!) critiqued it, and said: "It seemed to me that you mentioned Eleanor more than you did Franklin!" Worried for a minute, I went back to my computer and used the search function to count. You won't be surprised to learn the ratio of responses: ER got 8 mentions, FDR 48!! So, there you are. As the AAUW report on the climate for women in the classroom points out, for men, "equality" = loss, or in this case, 1/6 of 48 = bias!

From Sue Zschoche <suez@ksu.edu> 3 Nov 1997

I've been reading with both interest (and considerable empathy) the comments on the problems associated with incorporating women's history into regular survey courses. I too have experienced many of the student reactions that respondents to this query have been describing. At some point, however,I began to think that the main problem was that most of my students held an exceedingly limited notion of what history was. Accordingly, I tried a new tactic and it seems to have helped considerably. I now begin survey courses with a general discussion of "What is History?" I offer a number of definitions, but end with Carl Becker's observation that history is "the memory of all things said and done."

If history is about "everything," then the automatic question is "how do we think about everything?" I then offer my students one way to do it:

  1. There are things said and done by humans in large group interactions, or, the level of MACROSTRUCTURE (i.e., the history of government, politics, diplomacy, war, religions, intellectual systems, economics systems, legal systems, etc.)
  2. There are things said and done by humans in small, intimate group interactions, or, the level of MICROSTRUCTURE (i.e. the history family, childrearing, sexuality, gender norms and relationships, etc.)
  3. And, there are things said and done by human as individuals, or, at the level of INDIVIDUAL CONSCIOUSNESS

What I have found most gratifying about using this model is how much student discussion it generates. Without prodding, most students immediately see that what they have been told is "history" is only the history of the macrostructure -- and a very limited part of the macrostructure at that (those high school football coaches tend to do the cavalcade of president and war factoids and that's about it).The schematic also allows us to discuss the complexities involved in analyzing the way in which historical change actually works (the traditional model of high school history implied that "things change" only if a political leader takes action). And, this model also allows for a (usually) dispassionate discussion of why so many groups have only infrequently appeared in traditional historical accounts.

Most of all, I've found that this discussion tends to short circuit the tiresome "pc agenda" defense mechanism that so many of our students bring with them -- the discussion usually leads instead to the conclusion that history is a much richer subject than most freshmen have ever imagined.

P.S. By the way, the three-level schematic is something I borrowed from a piece on conceptualizing women's history written by Carroll Smith-Rosenberg twenty years ago, but I'll be darned if I can find the citation at this moment.

From James Seymour <JSeymour@tamuk.edu> 3 Nov 1997

After reading many of the messages about incorporating women into traditional (whatever that means) history courses, I noticed something odd. At least to me, it appears that only female academics or teachers are experiencing this resistance to including half the population into their courses. Is that an accurate assessment?

I'm a male historian who happens to do women's history. I always include at least one book, and usually two, about women in all of my courses, and I incorporate material about women in my lectures as well. I've never had students tell me that I am talking too much about women, although I have been roundly criticized for my "liberal" views.

Maybe, as one poster said, I'm seen as "enlightened," while a woman doing the same thing is considered to have "an agenda."

I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stifled. I want all the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

From Melody Moss mmoss@seattleu.edu 3 Nov 1997

Regarding Karen Cox's post, I have also had similar reactions from students who are surprised at some of the women's history material I include in my Western Civ. courses. I take this as a sad commentary on the lack of attention being given to women's history in many survey courses. My own position is that any required survey courses should include, AS A REQUIREMENT, a women's history component.That's not likely to happen, here, however, so I have to make do the best I can.

I generally teach two sections (35 students each) of this survey every quarter, and I usually get one or two negative evaluations at the end of the quarter that say something to the effect of "this wasn't supposed to be a women's history class." But one or two out of 70, especially concerning the conservative nature of my university (Jesuit school) is not bad.In addition, I get MANY evaluations thanking me for including women.So I consider myself to be mostly successful at incorporating women's history into the course.

My approach has been to not make a big deal out of the fact that women are "present" in every unit we do. Since we cover such a broad range of topics, including social and cultural history as well as the more traditional political and religious history, I think it just makes sense to them that they are learning about the WHOLE society. Since the course begins with the prehistoric era, I start right out with some controversial material on the origins of warfare and patriarchy. This includes some feminist writings on the possibility of egalitarian or matriarchal goddess-worshipping cultures in ancient Europe and the Middle East. I make it clear, though, that there is much debate on the subject, which has the added benefit of introducing students to historical uncertainty.

I'm curious what was meant by "outside" reading.I have chosen a textbook which includes much material on women, though written by a man, and for primary souces I have a photocopied "Reader" or "Course Packet" which includes many documents on women. So the students tend to see the material on women as just part of their required reading. Hope this is useful. I would also be interested in other's experiences with this problem.

From M_Raymond@compuserve.com Tue Dec 9 10:56:39 1997 Date: Fri, 7 Nov 1997 23:44:20 -0500
From: Maria Elena Raymond <M_Raymond@compuserve.com> To: Melanie Shell <melanie@h-net.msu.edu> Subject: Responses #5/Integrating Women's History into other History Courses, Re (2)

[The following text is in the "ISO-8859-1" character set] [Your display is set for the "US-ASCII" character set] [Some characters may be displayed incorrectly]

From: janet coryell <coryell@wmich.edu> 3 Nov 1997

Re: James Seymour's post: My husband teaches at a good-sized state university (as do I) and he does a lot on witchcraft trials in his "writing history" course for majors. Having taught the same general topics in the past, I remain envious that he does NOT have to apologize, defend, or constantly justify his inclusion of women. To him, it's as natural as breathing. For my students, it's very much a "woman thing." What I also found fascinating was the difference in perception students held in my women's history class of me after I was married! They seemed much less on guard after I was a "Mrs." than before, even tho I remained a "dr." or "prof". Now that I've got a child, it seems to reassure them even more that one can be a feminist and still get married and have children.

They are (our students) after all, being cut loose from all that has defined them when they arrive at school, particularly freshmen in survey classes.Is it any wonder they cling to the familiar the way they do? Even if the familiar is so parochial, narrow-minded, bigoted and generally illogical that it drives ya nuts?! But with any luck, as they build new connections, they will use new understandings and insights they gain from being challenged in their conventions. At least I hope so!

From Sam Goodfellow goodfels@JAYNET.WCMO.EDU 3 Nov 1997

This is an interesting question for me since I rarely, if ever, face controversy of this sort in my introductory courses. Responding to a male teacher on these issues may be different. Female students are surprised and pleased that someone is raising these issues, while male students don't really have a pat critique about a male teacher's agenda. It could also be that, as a male teacher, I am not as forceful on these issues as I like to think I am. Since I do not have to deal with the "feminist" agenda red herring,I have to confront the "liberal" question. I do this by, a) telling them that the issue is less ideological than they think and that we are talking about historical data that needs to be integrated, whether one likes it or not; and b) challenging them to incorporate information on women, slavery, or whatever into a convincing conservative interpretation.

I have, however, had students question the fact that I have offered an upper division course on European women on the grounds that I am singling out a particular group and that this is conceptually flawed.

From M_Raymond@compuserve.com Tue Dec 9 10:56:46 1997 Date: Fri, 7 Nov 1997 23:44:30 -0500
From: Maria Elena Raymond <M_Raymond@compuserve.com> To: Melanie Shell <melanie@h-net.msu.edu> Subject: Responses #6/Integrating Women's History into Other Classes

[The following text is in the "ISO-8859-1" character set] [Your display is set for the "US-ASCII" character set] [Some characters may be displayed incorrectly]

>From Suzanne Spoor spoors@gunet.georgetown.edu 4 Nov 1997

I am responding to Kolleen's response about students accusing her of having an agenda in class. Your use of materials from the 1950s sounds very effective to me; it is so useful to ground the discussion in historical evidence.To show that ALL textbooks, class syllabi, articles,etc.have an AGENDA is hard to do, but your technique seems like a great start.I would only add one thing to your comments, and that is to agree with students that you do have an agenda, to be clear about what that is, to encourage them to identify all the agendas that all their teachers and textbooks have, etc. NOT writing about slavery is an agenda, in other words. This may help students understand that by "agenda" they actually mean something about your politics that they disagree with. When they are able to articulate that with clarity, then they will more clearly see that the REASON they are not taking your class is because they are AFRAID of facing someone with your political standpoint. Yes?