Gender Studies Research Expanded Work Is Goal at UNF

Article excerpt

As a spy working for the crown in 17th-century England, Aphra Behn risked her life for King Charles II. But even that didn't mean her services were regarded as valuable enough for compensation.

Not getting paid threw her finances into chaos and landed her in debtor's prison. But she wrote her way out of her red ink. Today, Behn is celebrated for her 1677 play Rover and forOroonoko, a 1688 anti-slavery novel.

The life of Behn and other influential female dramatists offers important lessons about gender differences and discrimination, says Miriam Chirico, a University of North Florida professor of English.

"Aphra Behn was a spy, and had really popular work, but what she wrote on--for example, her experiences as a spy--was not considered to be appropriate things for a woman to write about," said Chirico. "She was never as well-respected as the male writers."

The accomplishments of Behn and other female writers inspired Chirico to create a gender diversity course, Women Playwrights, one of several being taught at UNF this fall. The class encourages students to consider how decisions of the past affect current social conditions, she said.

The course was introduced at a time when UNF is trying to expand its gender studies program. The university has filed an application with the Florida Board of Regents to establish an official gender research center, which is a long and difficult task, said Carolyn Williams, who is spearheading the project with Anita Vorreyer-Hedges and is director of the university's gender studies minor.

Williams said that a lack of funds, space and qualified staff are some of the challenges associated with structuring the gender studies program. Once approved by the Florida Board of Regents, the center's projected $60,000 operating budget will be funded through the university, as well as grants and contracts, said Thomas Serwatka, assistant vice president of academic affairs. …