UniSA students to study gender, sexuality and representation

UniSA is taking a forward-looking approach to offer an inclusive, safe, but challenging space to think about the roles culture plays in notions of femininity, masculinity, gender, sexuality, and identity. (Image Source: Popsugar Australia)

By Rebecca Gaitaneris | @bec_gaitaneris

You don’t need a master’s in gender studies to understand inequality between the sexes. However gender studies has become one of the most popular university courses around Australia.

We are in a period in which much change is occurring regarding attitudes to gender and sexuality. Every week stories concerning gender and sexuality continue to make headlines, with issues ranging from violence against women to sports. 

The University of South Australia’s new action plan to tackle equality between the sexes has been established through the introduction of their brand new elective course: ‘Gender, Sexuality, and Representation’.

Aiming to create a university community where all students, staff and visitors feel safe, supported and empowered to be who they are, this is the first elective of its kind at UniSA.

Course coordinator Dr Naomi Merritt said the new elective will give students the opportunity to develop the ability to critically analyse and contextualise representations of gender and sexuality across a variety of media and art forms, including visual arts, photography, film, television, advertising, performance, popular music, fashion, and digital cultures.

The course will encourage students to consider the ways in which cultural artefacts and their curation reinforce or challenge dominant beliefs about gender and sexuality.

“It is important to be able to contextualise our current social and cultural climate by understanding the history of these issues,” Dr Merritt said.

“I believe the world would be a happier and kinder place if more people developed an inclusive and accepting attitude where diversity was celebrated, rather than being something to be feared or merely tolerated.”

Performance group Hot Brown Honey. (Image source: Mardi Gras)

Dr Merritt said she noticed a significant number of her students developing art projects that were concerned with gender and sexuality and decided that a course dedicated to these issues would be a welcome addition to the university’s elective offerings.

“I am glad to be able to bring this course to students who are keen to study these themes.”

Journalism and creative writing student Nahum Gale believes the new elective course is an “excellent” contribution to the university’s offerings.

“I certainly think these topics are important and should be taught in schools and universities,” he said.

“Our world is developing through more niche and tighter diversities and in order for anyone to navigate it all respectfully, we must be taught at a young age how to approach these modern ways of life.”

Mr Gale’s eagerness to enrol in the new course stems from his “keen interest in understanding the feminist mind and the toxicity of masculinity”.

“I still have a lot to learn and understand about this brave new world we are slowly entering,” he said.

Paris is Burning, directed by Jennie Livingston, 1990. (Image Source: / Film Daily)

Journalism and professional writing student Chelsea Shepherd believes the introduction of the Gender, Sexuality and Representation course is a great addition to the university community.

She believes it is important that different sexualities and gender minorities are represented in popular culture.

“Every day, we as a society are learning more and more about gender, sexuality and representation,” Ms Shepherd said.

“I hope that in general, people are becoming more accepting of diverse genders and sexualities in society.”

Like Mr Gale, Ms Shepherd also believes there is still much to be learnt about these topics.

Mr Gale believes issues regarding gender, sexuality and representation in society are not getting the recognition it deserves.

“They are tough topics to understand and accept, but they should be given the utmost respect in investigating,” Mr Gale said.

“Gender may be biological in origin but it truly has become a social construct deserving of a reassessment and a complete restructuring to comprehend its evolving nature.

“People have grown out of the need to be sanctioned off to a particular ‘type’ of human being and instead have come to embrace the idea of just being a human being … full stop.”

Dr Merritt believes a unique aspect of the course is having the opportunity to visit several South Australian cultural institutions to hear from experts working in the cultural industries about issues concerning gender, sexuality, and representation.

“This connection with industry is valuable for students, as they will be applying theoretical ideas and making connections between what they study, the broader world, and the industries they may end up working in,” she said.

As a journalism student, Mr Gale understands that his chosen career path will be about making connections and interacting with a diverse range of genders and sexualities, and he must learn how to properly address and understand them.

Mr Gale believes that as more and more people become expressive and prepared for the world to see them as they “truly are”, the need to strictly bind one’s self to systematic sexuality is not a necessity, “not that there ever was a necessity.”

In order to be expressive, Mr Gale believes representation is a crucial ingredient needed to fully understand its entirety in order for the effects of gender and sexuality to be truly felt in society.

“I am very proud of the inherent good in people to attempt an understanding of difference…to understand what is different to your ‘normal’ is the first step in eliminating the idea that there is such thing as a normal – there isn’t, there never has been,” Mr Gale said.

“We must understand people … to move into a brighter future of acceptance and equality.”

For more information about the Gender, Sexuality and Representation course, head to the UniSA website here.

If you or anyone you know has questions about, or feel like you need support related to, sexuality, gender or representation, help is available. Get in touch with Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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