Privileged students, particularly male-identified students, in women’s studies classrooms have been a population of study previously. Many feminist educators have encountered resistance from a male-identified student in their classroom. Scholarship has been done that analyzes the discourses around how male privilege is invoked by men in women’s studies classrooms. This study defined defensive learning with specific acts of disengagement that hinder privileged students, particularly male-identified students in Gender and Women’s Studies, from taking classes that are considered “feminist,” and from learning about systems of privilege. A series of semi-structured interviews with six male-identified students who were enrolled in women’s studies classes was conducted. The purpose of this study was to go in-depth on how privileged students learned and thought about privilege, privilege’s role in defensive learning, and men’s participation in feminism. The findings suggest that the participants identified as feminists, thought privilege should be widely taught to all students, particularly more privileged students, and that they would benefit from Gender and Women’s Studies course content. Conversely, my study suggests that feminism being demonized in popular culture and misinformation about Gender and Women’s Studies, as an academic discipline, can dissuade many privileged students from enrolling or participating in feminist and social justice projects. Recommendations for increasing enrollment in Gender and Women’s Studies, teaching privilege, and avenues for future research are also discussed.


Ana Perez

Committee Member

Shannon Miller

Committee Member

Kristen Treinen

Date of Degree




Document Type



Master of Arts (MA)


Social and Behavioral Sciences

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.



Rights Statement

In Copyright