Teaching Women: Gender in the discipline and in the classroom

Two of the courses that I teach annually are in a live-and-learn leadership program for freshman women (wlp.gwu.edu).  The two courses (Introduction to Comparative Politics in the fall and Introduction to International Politics in the spring) have about 20 students, all women who live together and take an additional course together.  In the four years I’ve taught in the program, I have started to pay more attention to ways that gender matters in teaching political science.  This manifests itself in a few ways that I think are worthwhile for others who don’t teach in a similar environment but are interested in questions of gender equality.

First, I noticed that it is not standard for comparative politics textbooks to discuss gender in any depth.  For the upcoming semester, I found a textbook that has a chapter on race and gender, which is a good start.  I will supplement it, as I’ve done in the past, with a few scholarly articles.  I tend to focus on institutional questions, mainly the variation in women’s representation across countries.  One of the group debates this semester (a regular assignment in this class) will be on the use of gender quotas.  In an introductory course, I can only scratch the surface (further limited by the fact that this is not my area of expertise), but it gives the students a foundation for thinking about gender as a comparative politics topic.

Another conscious change that I’ve made in my teaching is to strive for more balance in the authors I assign.  There was recently a great deal of blogging about the gender gap in the scholarship of political science (in particular, the excellent Monkey Cage symposium).  One suggestion that came out of this discussion was to include more women scholars on our syllabi, particularly in graduate courses.  I don’t teach graduate courses, but I think it’s valuable to present undergraduates with women scholars on equal footing with the men on the syllabus.  I am still amazed at how many of my students will still default to “he” when discussing an author’s work in class.  I hope repeated exposure to women scholars changes this default.

No doubt these are small changes (and there are many other issues related to gender in teaching and in the discipline), but if I’m teaching a group of women in a leadership program, the least I can do is expose them to issues of gender in political science and give them some tools to analyze these issues.  I’ve carried this over into other courses I teach.  I’d love to hear how others incorporate gender into their courses.

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