Back when I was completing my masters, my tutor, an ageing, second-wave feminist, told me that my reading and my writing was too ‘masculine’ and I needed to be re-educated. I was given special dispensation to attend an otherwise female-only class called The Myths of Masculinity.
So I attended this class for a semester, I sat with a class of women and a stridently gay male lecturer, I learned what I had to learn, and in the essay I wrote at the end of the module I said what I had to say to get my pass. But what was interesting to me was, during lectures, people would ask questions and the lecturer would answer, or there’d be a debate amongst the class, but if I spoke, I’d be ignored. Simply ignored, blanked, like I didn’t exist.
And whenever the lecturer made some cutting judgement or remark about masculinity, the patriarchy or straight white men in general, a sizeable portion of the class would turn and glare at me. I’d become an untouchable. There was a hierarchy and I was at the bottom of the pile. Maybe I had, belatedly, learned my correct place in life. On campus, amongst these polite middle class women, the bluestockings of the literary world, a rough, northern auto-didact like me was an anomaly. So in class, I figured, I had to be seen to accept that it was all my fault, whatever he said; if the male gender had done it, it was down to me. At the appropriate moments I’d look up and nod sheepishly at whatever literary (or otherwise) crimes had just been identified by the class, crimes committed by men. Therefore, at one remove, by me.
So I played that role. The bad person. The straw man. It meant nothing to me, render unto Caesar and all that; it was just something I did to get the grade.
I can’t say I learned anything from The Myths of Masculinity, but I did learn that I disliked zealots. I disliked closed minds.
I found a lot of closed minds at university.
Ultimately I was re-educated by that class, but not in the intended manner. As soon as I got my MA I gave up academic study and began to write fiction.