UAS launches women's studies

Posted: Sunday, March 27, 2005

There are lively discussions in Ann Ropp's course at the University of Alaska Southeast on the psychology of women.

Unlike courses on the Spanish Inquisition or microbes, students can speak from personal experience and observation. And they do.

Students on Friday talked about whether women and men differ in their desire for intimacy and ability to talk about feelings.

One woman joked - maybe - that you have to give a man two days' notice if you want to talk about his feelings. Men have to gear up for it, she said.

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The opposite stereotype is that if a man is too talkative, he must be gay, said student April Bowlby.

Bowlby is UAS's first, and so far only, student to declare a minor in the Women's and Gender Studies Program, which began this fall.

College programs in women's studies have become common since the 1980s, said UAS associate professor of history Robin Walz.

Some women's studies programs have expanded to consider gender in general, because it's hard to talk about women without talking about men, said Ropp, an assistant professor of psychology who coordinates the minor.

"I think that understanding gender and how it affects our lives can enrich our lives," Ropp said.

"Gender studies lets you openly ask questions about masculinity, as well as questions about women," Walz said.

Why were women historically excluded from public life? Why did men gain voting rights before women? Those are the sorts of questions the field asks, Walz said.

UAS established the program partly because about two-thirds of its students are women, said Walz, who helped create the minor.

The university, with about 900 full-time undergraduates, has small departments. It makes sense to create programs that combine the disciplines, he added.

Bowlby, whose major is social science and who may become a teacher, said the minor will help her personally.

"Women's issues really interest me a lot on a global scale, but also locally," she said. "Being able to discuss it in a classroom setting, I get other people's views."

The minor consists of six one-semester courses. Students must take an introductory course and do a senior project. They also choose one relevant course each from sociology, psychology, the humanities and history.

Students are supposed to use what they learn in one academic field to understand the others, Walz said.

"You're actually trying to think in a way that combines those (disciplines)," he said.

Students in Ropp's class will write a research paper, make a presentation on a different topic, summarize three articles from academic journals, and take mid-term and final tests.

"In a class you're really pushed to find more of the research that supports the views," Bowlby said.

On Friday, Ropp provoked comments by reading a passage from the book "Men's Lives," and by throwing out information, such as that 90 percent of people get married.

"Is there a difference between cohabitation and getting married?" Ropp asked, then listened as students carried the ball.

One woman said cohabitation is a trial commitment, but marriage is really doing it. Another woman said splitting up can be just as hard for cohabiting couples as for married couples. Who gets the dog and the compact discs? Someone has to buy new furniture and start out all over again.

"What about people who don't to marry?" Ropp asked.

They get a card game named after them - Old Maid, a man said, but there's a stigma in being an unmarried man, too. They go from bachelor to hermit, student Tanya Roust quipped.

"We're back to the same thing, where lots of people are different and gender sometimes explains it and sometimes doesn't," Ropp said.

The field of Women's and Gender Studies has a social and political agenda behind it, Walz said.

"It is by definition open to diversity and it makes that a priority. It tries to open up the social playing field. It's done in the belief that everybody gains by doing that."

• Eric Fry can be reached at

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