I first became concerned about the place of gender in the classics curriculum in the U.K. back in 2003, when a course that I was teaching on Greek gender was dropped by the Classics Department of Birkbeck College (University of London). Naturally, I assumed on that basis that the whole discipline was in a state of crisis where gender was concerned. This experience prompted me to undertake an internet survey of classics and ancient history courses in the U.K.; and the results made me realize that I was probably wrong: this was a personal crisis, and not one for the discipline as a whole. The survey, which I repeated in November/December 2004, does seem to indicate, however, that the picture is not a particularly rosy one. When I repeated the exercise I was somewhat cheered to discover that between 2003/4 and 2004/5 there had been an increase in the number of institutions teaching courses on “gender” and/or “women”, from 46% to 71% (from 13 institutions in 2003/4 to 20 in 2004/5). But this is certainly due in part to the practice of teaching certain optional courses in alternate years; in 2005/6, the percentage may well go down.1
An overview of my findings is presented below. I recognize that in the outlines published on websites the terminology used in labelling and describing courses is inevitably imprecise; so that identifying even those courses with an overt gender content (ones where gender is fairly clearly signposted in the course title) is not necessarily straightforward: should one, for example, include a course entitled “Sex, wine, politics and sleaze”? (I did in fact count it among those courses “where gender is pretty certain to be an issue”, but with some misgivings). Even harder to detect, of course, is a course’s latent gender content, something that I shall be discU.S.sing in the section on mainstreaming: for example, although it is difficult nowadays to imagine teaching Greek tragedy without referring explicitly to gender issues, it is certainly theoretically possible. I therefore see this survey very much as a preliminary exercise, hopefully to be followed by a more detailed and comprehensive piece of research involving examination of syllabi (obtainable from websites in only a minority of cases), enrolment figures, gender breakdown among students and teachers, and interviews with students and teachers. The year which sees the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of Sarah Pomeroy’s Goddesses, whores, wives and slaves would seem a good time to be commencing such research. How far have we actually come since this ground-breaking book was published? In the U.K., at least, we have made very little effort to answer this question.
I turn now to the issue of mainstreaming; and here I want to raise a number of questions.
The mainstreaming of gender: what is it?
In 1995, in a book on women in ancient Greece, I talked about the dangers of ghettoization involved in the “women in the ancient world” approach to history, and wrote, ‘When “general” historical studies have been broadened to incorporate the other half of the human race, then “Women in …” books will have become redundant.’ (Women in Ancient Greece, 1995, 12). One thing I felt sure about then was that if we made gender a fundamental tool of analysis, rather than a separate category of study, this would have a transformative effect on the curriculum. I still believe this; but at the time I was vague about what this process might involve, and I am probably even vaguer now.
But to look briefly at the degree in Classical Civilisation taught at the University of Leeds, its Gladiators and barbarian queens course is the only one with a reasonably overt “gender or women” content, and even this should probably be considered a marginal example; however, the curriculum does include the courses set out below - courses where gender is, or at least ought to be, an intrinsic aspect of the content. This is probably what I mean by mainstreaming: rather than doing gender, we adopt a set of perspectives where gender is likely to be an important route into the topic.
Leeds University: Degree in Classical Civilisation
Its “gender” option is Gladiators and barbarian queens; but the following optional courses are also available at 2nd or 3rd level (out of a total of 23 courses):
In courses such as these gender is hopefully treated as an important way of thinking about a society and the texts which it has produced. The courses also seem to me to represent a fairly satisfactory balance between “discourse” and “material reality”, one of the issues discussed in Barbara Gold’s contribution.
Is mainstreaming happening?
It is very difficult to answer this question without conducting more in-depth research. The range of courses offered at Leeds is certainly not unique, but it is fairly unusual. To cite another example, at a university that I shall leave nameless, in the ancient history degree Roman women is an optional course at 2nd/3rd level, but none of the others (e.g. War and society in fifth century Greece, The fall of the Roman Republic, Running the Roman Empire) has an obvious gender content. On the other hand, although they may not provide the same range as Leeds, 19 of the 28 institutions are teaching courses which I have designated as ones “where gender is pretty certain to be an issue” – and this is without including courses on literature or art which may well incorporate a consideration of the discourse of gender (e.g. Homer, Greek drama, Virgil, Myths in Greek art). Where I have been able to look at syllabi for these courses, they are on the whole quite promising: for example, Greek comedy almost inevitably includes at least one of Aristophanes’ “women” plays, and in one case a course on Virgil lists a session on “Sex and gender in Virgil”.
Is mainstreaming a good thing?
By focussing on areas where gender is a fairly obvious issue, are we taking the pressure off those areas where gender is insufficiently scrutinised, and in this way depoliticising the curriculum? Courses on “Love, sex and society in Greece and Rome” or “Magic and witchcraft in the ancient world” are well and good; but their presence in the curriculum may perhaps be blinding us to the fact that political history in particular is still being taught in very traditional ways. This for me is an unsolved problem. If, for example, we were to take the political history of fifth century Athens out of the curriculum because we consider it to be men’s history posing as universal history, most people (including myself) would think that we were missing out on something that is very important. If on the other hand we leave it in, then in my experience it is a tremendous challenge to teach it with a gender perspective.
But I would like to end with two reasonably upbeat reflections.
First, feminist education in general has put a great deal of stress on collaborative study and research; and the work that I have been doing recently with Nancy Rabinowitz has for me been one of the most positive experiences that I have had in education. I hope that we can encourage our students to enjoy the same experiences. As Judy Hallett points out in her contribution, the development of a more learner-centred pedagogy is one of the important strategies that feminist classicists in particular have been responsible for developing.
Secondly, I often feel that I have done about as much as I can with gender in Classical Greece, and that I ought to move on. But I have to remind myself that all this material is new for most of my students, and that as far as they are concerned there is still a high demand for “gender” (and indeed, for “women”). In my own experience these courses are still extremely popular (with numbers close to or at the limit for class size), and the colleagues I have spoken to from other U.K. universities say the same. But the demand does come mainly from women students. Colleagues anecdotally report a two-thirds or three-quarters majority of women students in courses on gender, and this matches my own perceptions. To me this suggests that there is also a need for “gender” among those who are not demanding it (and in particular, among male students). Perhaps this is where the biggest challenge lies at the moment.
1 These percentages do in fact seem to compare quite favorably with those for U.S. institutions, where in 2002/3 44% were teaching gender studies courses (on women, minorities, sexuality, or a combination of these) at BA level (51% at all levels). See the APA Report of the CSWMG on 2002-2003 Department Survey, on www.apaclassics.org/profmat/. The number of institutions involved is of course much greater in the U.S.