ASU professor expands gender standards

Women and gender studies professor Breanne Fahs has spent much of her career learning the role of bodies and the gender-centric expectations associated with them and how they affect social inequality.

“If we’re seeing inequalities play out in the school, education system, workplace, in the home, I want to look at how these inequalities show up in the body,” she said.

Her research has come out in different forms, one of the most well-known being her extra credit assignment involving body hair.

In this experience, Fahs encourages students to reverse these gender roles, having her female students keep their body hair for 10 weeks and male students remain clean shaven for 10 weeks.

The success of this experience for her students won her the Mary Roth Walsh Teaching the Psychology of Women Award, through division 35 of the American Psychological Association.

“Bodies can be a canvas to inequalities for people, as well as resistance to the inequalities like with the body hair (experience),” she said.

The assignment received a lot of media attention this summer, and it was criticized by some conservative media outlets, Fahs said. However, all of the participating students were very positive about the project.

“It seems really clear that people are more sensitive to body hair, when this normally isn't an issue,” she said, “I've been doing that assignment since 2007, and the students really enjoy it. They've always had positive responses.”

Political science alumnus Michael Karger took three courses with Fahs while at ASU and had positive things to say about the experience.

“I’ve taken the hate speech course, Psychology of Gender and Critical Perspectives on Sexuality,” he said. “I was first intrigued by the topic of hate speech and then I was very engaged by her as a professor. She’s a very good professor, very engaging, and gets students involved in her courses.”

Karger said he was able to use what he learned in class to complete the community projects he was assigned.

“Different students were in different groups and did different things, but the first project I was involved informing people about stigmatized topics like women’s menstrual cycles, and we did things like handing out tampons, pads and stuff,” he said.

Another group he was involved in went to First Friday and talked about the stigma against female masturbation.

“There was more of a push back than expected," Karger said. "It wasn't terrible or anything, but you could tell some people were uncomfortable, but that was the point of the project: overcoming the social disdain caused by differences in gender expectations.”

Karger found Fahs’s teaching and research to be beneficial in helping all students take a critical approach to understanding these issues, and better prepare them to be able to address them.

“If I had anything specific to say, it would be that her courses are meant to inspire discussion," he said. "The goal is simply to inspire students to rethink, and reconsider gender, identity and the body, and if you are able to re-evaluate your thoughts on these topics at all, she’s accomplishing her goal.”

Fahs was very proud of the community involvement of her students and in her research group, Feminist Research on Gender and Sexuality.

“We co-author articles, and go to conferences and many times the student is the first author (listed),” she said, “One conference coming up that students will get to go to is the National Women’s Studies Association conference in Puerto Rico.”

Fahs, in addition to teaching, works as a therapist and explained that many people are unreasonably uncomfortable with their own bodies, and that shouldn't be the case.

Political science sophomore Stephanie Bockrath was intrigued by the topics and atmosphere of Fahs’ classes.

“I’m definitely interested in taking a class with her. She sounds really neat,” she said.


CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a quote was taken out of context. This version has been updated to remove the questionable quote. We regret the error. 

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