DIS Workshop Explores Gender Roles

Helle_CroppedIn this post, Helle Rytkønen, Program Director of Communication and Prostitution & the Sex Trade programs, gives us insight into the experience of this past fall 2013’s gender bender. By jumping out of the classroom and into Copenhagen, DIS students dove out of comfort zones and headfirst into course material!

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Gender and sexuality studies is a growing academic subject at DIS, with several related elective courses currently running and a new program starting next fall. Workshops outside of the classroom are a signature piece of our academics at DIS, and give students access to the resources of Copenhagen and the city’s local experts: Last week DIS faculty led students to Vesterbro on what was a great example of a co-curricular event using Copenhagen as a classroom!

FA13 Gender Bender Workshop (5)On Wednesday, 125 students from six elective courses that broach gender and sexuality from the perspective of psychology, communication, anthropology, and queer studies came together for an experiential workshop in the form of a Gender Bender Burlesque Party.

FA13 Gender Bender Workshop (18)Students attended the workshop in the nearby neighborhood of Vesterbro and transformed Warehouse 9 and Block 66, some of Copenhagen’s most interesting queer spaces, into a dancing, laughing, and learning laboratory where theories learned throughout the semester were brought to life. In particular, the event invited students to experience and reflect on the ways in which gender is socially constructed through behavior, clothing, naming, etc.

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Members of Vesterbro Drag helped students dress as drag kings or queens in costumes hired from the Gay House in Christiania. DIS faculty discussed drag’s history and place in feminist theory and Vesterbro Drag shared their own stories. “I do not dress in drag to try to emulate a woman. I wear a dress and a beard and that may challenge our notion of what bodies should look like, but that’s how I express my identity,” said one member when presenting to DIS students.

FA13 Gender Bender Workshop (37)A dancer introduced students to the history of burlesque dance and to the burlesque scene in Copenhagen. She emphasized the importance of using burlesque to celebrate one’s own sexuality and body – regardless of what it looks like – rather than to please others. “This is not about having a perfect body and seeking approval of your sexiness from the audience. Forget them – this is about being proud of who you are, so find your inner beauty and let it out!” she told them. And so they did. 30 students were tutored on and performed an impressive routine with gloves flying left and right.

“I was initially skeptical when I was assigned to the burlesque group because I do not approve of any objectification of the female body,” said one student. “But after I heard what burlesque is about, I went all in and loved it!”

FA13 Gender Bender Workshop (39)After the dance and a catwalk, which DIS faculty members also participated in, students and faculty reflected on the experiences of embodying a different gender and sexed identity. Many students remarked that the event made them even more aware of how they use clothing, body language, and gestures to code and decode others’ gender and sexuality.

There was general agreement that the event was not only fun but also thought provoking and might very well turn into a new DIS tradition! Classes that participated in this event were:

Alongside these electives, the newest DIS program, Gender & Sexuality Studies, will begin in the fall of 2014. The program will offer a core course, LGBTQ in Europe, with a short study tour to Southern Sweden and a week-long study tour to Berlin.

All photos by Thomas Cato Photography

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