Gender Studies Professor of the Week!

Professor: Dr. Gerise Herndon
Department: English: I also teach courses in Global Studies and film studies.

What Gender Studies class are you teaching?

Currently I teach Masterpieces: Coming of Age—Becoming Men, Becoming Women. In fall 2012 I will offer Gender and the Art of Film; in spring 2013, I also teach Women Writing Across Cultures. In the past I co-taught French Feminisms with Lisa Wilkinson (Philosophy).

What have you learned/discovered through teaching classes on gender?

  • Cross-dressing can be legitimate homework.
  • Feminist scientists can be unconsciously biased against women in science (see Project Implicit)
  • Some scholars argue that there are five sexes (see Anne Fausto-Sterling)
  • The word “heterosexuality” did not exist until the nineteenth century (see Michel Foucault).
  • Students articulating their experiences have taught me through their embodiment of or responses to differences: those who love the same same sex, those who have experienced gender-based violence, those who advocate for justice. Students’ courage, capacity for resilience and eagerness for new ideas have challenged me to think in new ways about age, ability and faith.

Why is gender studies important?

One of the primary lenses through which humans see and experience the world,  gender is a central organizing principle in many cultures.  Gender plays a part in everything from our most individual health concerns to the broadest international political debates. While most prominent voices in medicine, music, economics, art, history, psychology, literature, and sociology have been men’s until about a century ago, women’s voices and experiences have emerged to reshape the story of humanity. Gender studies helps us understand how and why US women’s roles have changed dramatically over the past 50 years while expectations of masculinity have remained mostly the same.  The field can also inform us about how other countries have surpassed the US when it comes to certain measures of health and human rights, and NWU students can see intersections with other students. Men have a gender, too, and men also experience oppression. Gender Studies serves to educate all students: female, male, lesbian, gay, or wherever students might find themselves on the continuum. We can all benefit from examining our assumptions about sexualities, gender roles and expectations. Gender studies attends to differences  besides gender: love, sexual orientation, age, ethnic heritage, ability, class, and nationality among them. By paying attention to many layers of identity and power, gender studies complicates explanations that rely on a single story.




The photo is from the March to Break the Silence on Menstruation with the Rwanda Association of University Women. Talking about periods and buying pads has historically been private in Rwandan society; a significant number of girls start missing school in adolescence because their families can’t afford pads or because school toilets are not private, and menstruation is a source of jokes. While on sabbatical in Rwanda, I supported RAUW events as well as working with the country’s first Gender Studies program.

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