This article is informed by my experiences teaching women's studies and specifically feminist theory to predominantly female and male students offering Women's studies. As a mainstream academic discipline at the University of Buea, housing the only such Department in Cameroon's Higher Education system, this study uncovers the broader polemics regarding gender and women's studies.
Against the backdrop of a patriarchal society, this study attempts to account for the shifting strands on masculinity and femininity and gender transgressions as played out by students taking women's studies. It also analyses the notions, misconceptions and stereotypes that characterise the discipline of women's studies, specifically at the University of Buea, a replica of the cultural mindset across Cameroon, largely perceived as a female bastion. Borrowing from Derrida's concept of deconstruction, this paper situates inherent biases, contradictions and the mediations surrounding the discipline. The standpoints of male and female students are sought on their reasons for taking women's studies, how they are perceived by their peers in the University of Buea, the stereotypes and labels they are christened with and the ambivalence that surrounds women's studies as a field of scholarship.
The study concludes that women's studies is largely construed as a 'women's affair' and a "no go" area for males, on the pain of being considered effeminate while the female students are seen as fully 'empowered' and, therefore, a potential threat to the patriarchal order. Yet the survival of women's studies as a discipline rests squarely on how it can be viewed by society at large.
Keywords: Deconstruction, Women's Studies, Gender, Stereotype, Masculinity, Femininity, Patriarchy
Situating the strands in masculinity and femininity
The identities we have as women or men throughout our lives are not fixed or absolute but multiple and shifting (Cornwall and Lindisfarne 1994). As many have argued, historiographically speaking, academics has focused on men until very recently, reflecting a belated recognition that men also have gender identities (Cornwall 1997), which are subject to change (White 1997). Feminist anthropology has provided ample evidence to show that western understandings of gender, and of biology, are not universal, but particular and culturally specific (Moore, 1998 1993; Strathern, 1988; Guijt and Shah 1998, Wood 1999; Erturk 2004). Understanding gender as a binary concept has become an uncontested tool of analysis within mainstream development theorizing (Erturk 1997a, Goetz 1997).
While this conceptualization is misleading, it is necessary to re-examine the concept of gender for its analytical underpinnings in relation to the discourses on women's studies as a nascent field of scholarship. The premise that gender is the social organization of presumed sexual differences and that it defines the roles and identities associated with femininity and masculinity and their entitlements, provides such a starting point (Goetz 1997 and Wieringa 1998). The thrust of this study is to situate the perspective of Cameroon where the patriarchal structure remains intact and the use of gender synonymously with women can serve to conceal the latter before they have a chance to become visible actors in public space. Connell (1987) differentiates between 'hegemonic' and 'subordinate' masculinity to capture the differential access men have over power and social privilege.
In most of Africa social constructs associated with gender are diverse and subject to constant negotiation and alternatives in every day life as there are plural and fluid in diverse societies of the continent. The dominant gender identities and their patterned interconnectedness are embedded in the patriarchal legacy that manifests itself through particular relations of 'domination and subordination' depending upon the specific cultural context (Johnson 1997). For Hooper (2000:59) 'it is important to know thine enemy ...' while Cornwall and Lindisfarne (1994) are preoccupied with the gendered struggle taking place at the top of the social hierarchy.
From the vignettes of the present study, patriarchy is conceptualised as a determinant of 'manhood' with men's greater visibility as breadwinner and women as some marginal and invisible force (Braidotti 2000). Trapped in plural masculinities, female positions also vary. All femininities are subordinate to hegemonic masculinity at any given time and place. With global restructuring, the patriarchal gender role too is restructured and ruptured as masculinity diversifies, becomes modernized and in some cases, transformed (Grant and Newland 1991, Connell 2000, 2002; Hooper 2000; Kimmel and Kaufman, 1995). Bandarage (1997:17) sees patriarchy as a system attributing female subordination to restricted access and control of means of both production and reproduction in the private and public spheres, though emerging contradictions have challenged the traditional notions of patriarchy (UNDAW 2001: 30). Within the Cameroonian cultural context, this paper strives to diagnose the perception the University community and the larger society have of male and female students offering women's studies. It also seeks to determine the attitudes of peers to students, and especially male students offering women's studies. In this connection, the reasons and motivating factors that account for the engagement of those pursuing women's studies as a field of scholarship are unravelled. The study examines the impact of the institutionalisation of women's studies on the university community and beyond.
The objectives guiding the study were reinforced by the following assumptions: 1)The enrolment of more students and especially male students in women's studies can change societal misconceptions of the discipline; and, 2) Male and female students taking women's studies classes are tagged with stereotypes depicting either the lack of a masculine or feminine identity by their collegiate peers and by the community at large. 3) The future of women's studies as a discipline hinges on how well societal misconceptions are addressed.
Context of the Study and Concept of Deconstruction
Based on a structured interview schedule, in-depth interviews were held with all male students in the Department of Women and Gender studies (about 10% of the entire number studying women's studies and other mainstream courses) and parallel interviews with ten female students at undergraduate level totalling 40 in each of the levels. It should be noted that women's studies is a double major degree course which spans four years. Students study women's studies alongside mainstream subjects from the Departments of Journalism and Mass Communication, Sociology, Law and Economics and Management (options being Economics, Banking and Finance, Management and Accountancy. Graduates from the department fall in one of the following combinations: Women's studies/Journalism and Mass Communication, Women's Studies/Sociology, Women's Studies/Law, Women's Studies/Economics and Management.
Parallel interviews with female and male students were meant to cross-check for the …