Best Practices for Integrating Masculinity into a College Sexual Violence Course

Power + Control over Women = A Hegemonic Man. Connell (1995, p.77) defined hegemonic masculinity as the design of gender practice, which perpetuates patriarchy, the dominance of men, and the subordination of women. In our society, men aren’t able to escape hegemonic masculinity and those men who don’t fit the criteria conform to avoid being labeled as “not a real man” (Hatchell, 2006; Heasley, 2005).


Therefore, when teaching a course on sexual violence the following question arises: how can one integrate masculinity studies into the curriculum? Women and Gender Studies courses tend to follow a feminist pedagogy (focus on women; analyzing misogyny/sexual hierarchy), whereas masculinity studies follow a social constructionist pedagogy (power as a negative social structure), which goes against feminist thinking (Beasley, 2013). The best way, therefore, to integrate masculinity into a sexual violence course is through utilizing what Johnson & Weber (2011) termed genderful pedagogy, which is a combination of feminist pedagogies and gender justice practices. In particular, genderful pedagogy is based on inclusivity, plurality, and heteroglossia (diverse points of view, most common in novels;, which are three teaching ideologies that invite creativity and new ways of conceptualizing gender, especially masculinity (Johnson & Weber, p.154).

Dr. Riggin (2014, p.425), a professor at Penn State Erie, described five of her instructional methods for teaching a course that she created on sexual violence.

  1. Feminist perspective enabled Dr. Riggin to talk about gender socialization and social learning theory, how gender roles influence rape myths and victim blaming, and more (Riggin, 2014, p.426).
  2. “Walk the Walk” entailed Dr. Riggin telling students how she is an advocate for feminism and victims of gender violence from her writing and service work in the community and on campus (Riggin, 2014, p.426).
  3. Sitting Down with Students to minimize physical reminders of the power differentiation in the teacher-student relationship. Dr. Riggin thought it was particularly important to sit down during student presentations and class discussions (Riggin, 2014, p.426).
  4. Guest Speakers who interact with survivors of sexual violence in different capacities, such as police, counselors, medical professionals, and advocates, were invited to class. Dr. Riggin included guest speakers because sexual violence prevention education utilizes an ecological approach (Murphy-Geiss, 2008).
  5. Creating a Sense of Safety by preparing students for possible triggers and providing resources for those who get triggered, increasing students’ sense of control by providing optional experiential exercises which encourage self-disclosure, communicating clearly about the possibility of vicarious traumatization and how self-care is necessary (Black, 2006; Durfee & Rosenberg, 2009; Riggin, 2014, p.428).

Therefore, when dealing with challenging topics such as masculinity and sexual violence, there will most likely be students’ in the class who are resistant. For example, in a sexual violence course, men may have strong feelings of always being targeted as the perpetrator and feel like feminists are not giving them a fair chance. The best way to handle resistant students’ is to utilize a pedagogical approach such as genderful pedagogy to show how men lack in race, class, and sexual identity privileges, including how boys and men pay a price for their masculinity (Guckenheimer & Schmidt, 2013). In sum, below is a list of suggestions for best practices in integrating masculinity into a college level sexual violence course.

Best Practices for Integrating Masculinity into a College Sexual Violence Course

  • The classroom should be set up in a circular seating style to promote equality among the participants and instructor, as well as, equal interaction and participation (Gilbert, Sawyer, & McNeil, 2015, p.88; Riggin, 2014, p.426).
  • Genderful pedagogy allows for the concept of gender, specifically categories of masculinity, to be critically analyzed, while at the same time being fluid and negotiable to allow opportunities to understand gender and sexuality without bias (Johnson & Weber, 2011, p.149).
  • Establish ground rules on the first day of class (Durfee & Rosenberg, 2009). Some examples include, ‘Step up if you have not contributed something in class, step back if you have been contributing a lot to allow others the chance to step up”, “What is said in the classroom, stays in the classroom (confidentiality)”, and “Be quiet while someone else is speaking”.
  • Provide of a list of crisis services in the local area for students, such as women centers and hospitals (Durfee & Rosenberg, 2009).
  • An instructor with a background in feminism, masculinity, and/or victims of gender violence is preferred and will be viewed as more credible by students (Riggin, 2014).
  • Share information regarding the limits of confidentiality before students self-disclose so that students can decide what information to disclose. (Durfee & Rosenberg, 2009).
  • Personal Choice & Self Control: Inform students of their right to participate based on their own comfort level and give students a prior description of what to expect before showing traumatic material. Strongly encourage students to practice self-care (Black, 2006).
  • In-Class Resourcing: Utilize “classroom resources” as a part of the lecture, such as projecting a picture of a serene setting for students’ to view throughout the class to take their mind off the trauma (Black, 2006).
  • Titration of Exposure: based on the idea that exposure to traumatic material is more manageable in smaller “doses” and returning to a sense of grounding prevents students from becoming overwhelmed by the traumatic material (Black, 2006).
  • Critically examine course material to ensure that the material does not objectify victims or marginalize any groups (Durfee & Rosenberg, 2009).
  • Develop a balanced reading list that doesn’t focus only on victimization (Durfee & Rosenberg, 2009).
  • Order the topics to be discussed so that theoretical or conceptual material are discussed first and more challenging class discussions and/or material are brought in later when students have developed a relationship with each other and the professor (Durfee & Rosenberg, 2009).
  • Include guest speakers who are experts in different areas who have experience interacting with sexual violence survivors (e.g. police, medical personnel, counselors, advocates, lawyers; Riggin, 2014, p.426).
  • Five forms of resistance in the classroom to be aware of: 1) disguise of openness, 2) the false comfort of concern, 3) social constructions of the innocent victim, 4) distance objectivity, and 5) psychologizing sexual violence (Betram & Crowley, 2012, p.64)

Overall, masculinity is a topic that cannot be left unturned in a sexual violence course and is also a topic that should get more than just one day in a 15-week undergraduate course. Masculinity should, moreover, be delicately woven into a sexual violence course to promote a better understanding as to why masculinity influences sexual violence and creativity in how to turn society into a gender just society (Johnson & Weber, 2011, p.149).



Beasley, C. (2013). Mind the gap?: Masculinity studies and contemporary gender/sexuality thinking. Australian Feminist Studies, 28(75), 108-124. doi:10.1080/08164649.2013.761949

Betram, C. C., & Crowley, S. (2012). Teaching about sexual violence in higher education: Moving from concern to conscious resistance. Frontiers, 33, 63-82.

Black, T. G. (2006). Teaching trauma without traumatizing: Principles of trauma treatment in the training of graduate counselors. Traumatology, 12(4), 226-271. doi: 10.1177/1534765606297816

Connell, R. W. (1995). Masculinities. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. Durfee, A., & Rosenberg, K. (2009). Teaching sensitive issues: Feminist pedagogy and the practice of advocacy-based counseling. Feminist Teacher, 19, 103-121.

Gilbert, G. G., Sawyer, R. G., & McNeil, E. B. (2015). Health education: Creating strategies for school and community health (4th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones and   Bartlett Learning.

Guckenheimer, D., & Schmidt, J. K. (2013). Contradictions within the classroom: Masculinities in feminist studies. Women’s Studies, 42, 486-508. doi:10.1080/00497878.2013.794061

Hatchell, H. (2006). Masculinities and violence: Interruption of hegemonic discourses in an English classroom. Discourse: Studies in the cultural politics of education, 27(3), 383-397. doi: 10.1080/01596300600838843

Heasley, R. (2005). Queer masculinities of straight men: A typology. Men and Masculinities, 7(3), 310-320. doi:10.1177/1097184X04272118

Johnson, S. P., & Weber, B. R. (2011). Toward a genderful pedagogy and the teaching of masculinity. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 19(2), 138-158. doi:10.3149/jms.1902.138

Murphy-Geiss, G. (2008). Bringing the facts to life: Facilitating student engagement with the issue of domestic violence. Teaching Sociology, 36, 378-388

Riggin, M. H. (2014). A feminist, ecological, safety-centered approach to teaching about gender violence. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 38(3), 425-429. doi:10.1177/0361684314525725