“Women’s Studies” needs critical analysis

“The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their chil­dren, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.”

Broadcaster, father and former minister Pat Robertson perfectly sums up the delusions that facilitate the need for women’s studies. In a world where women are stripped of the right to make decisions regarding their own bodies, nevermind decisions in politics, the economy or the workplace, a field of study entirely ded­icated to reclaiming the definition of woman­hood and allowing marginalized voices to be heard is crucial. Women’s studies gained popu­larity in the United States in the mid-seventies, often considered the “academic arm” of the feminist movement. The department experi­enced global expansion during the remainder of the 20th century.

Over the past decade, many colleges and uni­versities have begun to reconsider the assign­ment of the title “women’s studies” to the field originally created in response to academia’s disregard for women’s histories, experiences and perspectives. As society’s awareness of the nuances of gender and sexual identities in­creases, it brings into question the accuracy of the label.

The evolution of the name reflects the field’s increasingly common ground with other areas of study, especially gender and sexuality stud­ies. Women’s studies is an inherently interdis­ciplinary field and always has been, and yet its strong focus on women as a distinct category had not been publicly disputed until recently.

The reconsideration of the department’s traditional name reflects a growing public ac­ceptance of non-binary differences within our society and humanity as a whole.

No matter how well-intentioned, however, the melding of women’s studies with gender and sexuality studies deemphasizes the im­portance of all three areas of academics. Their differences are as undeniable as their numer­ous points of intersection. To combine all of them into one department ensures that fewer resources are available to each section.

Some schools have made the argument that adding “gender” to the name “women’s stud­ies,” or even replacing the word “women” alto­gether, opens the field to men. Taking the focus away from women in order to allow men to maintain their masculinity while studying non-male experiences, however, is about as neces­sary and productive as the unfortunate new “meninism” movement. Education has always been more readily available to males than to female or gender queer individuals, and it is an insult to all that women’s studies scholars have achieved to undermine the needs of women in order to accommodate the comfort of men.

Women’s, gender and sexuality studies are each their own domain of intellectual chal­lenge; they inform one another and allow for growth and development within each depart­ment, and they can certainly benefit from the sharing of resources and knowledge.

But women are not yet in a place where they can be incorporated with equal representation into other areas of academia. The need for a de­partment dedicated to conversations centered around people who identify as female still ex­ists.Gender and sexuality are, of course, an in­tegral part of women’s studies. However, so are race, class, ability and numerous other facets of identity that could not possibly all be included in the department name. The explicit inclusion of gender and sexuality minimizes the impor­tance of other equally important aspects of women’s studies.

Almost all academic disciplines, especially within humanities, intersect with gender and sexuality studies; history, art and psychology cannot be properly examined without taking into account gender and sexuality. They should undoubtedly be incorporated into each depart­ment’s curriculum whether or not they are part of the name.

Erasing women as a group from the depart­ment name prolongs a long tradition of the elimination of women from history and cul­ture. Women, historically, tend to be left be­hind, and therefore it is imperative that they retain a strong presence in the department.

The name “women’s studies” by itself, how­ever, is problematic. It suggests that there is something that unites all women, and limits the reach of feminist discourse. This title ignores the system of oppressions that sexism is a part of, isolating–and therefore weakening–the is­sue.

It is important to retain the phrase “women’s studies,” regardless of any additional words: the apostrophe is an incredibly significant part of the name, in that it stands for women’s recla­mation of their own lost history. It denotes the right of women to their own outlooks, histories and narratives, uniting an oppressed group that society typically attempts to divide and weak­en.

By titling the department “women’s and fem­inist studies,” colleges and universities would encompass both the importance of the experi­ences of the group of people typically classified as women, and the wide reach of the area of study.

The inclusion of “feminism” in the name im­plies an intersectional approach to the study of oppressions, acknowledging the interaction of sexism with other oppressions. “Feminist stud­ies” inherently retains the focus on women, but allows for a broader spectrum of perspectives and histories.

It is critical, of course, to study gender and sexuality. The full extent of their complexity cannot be sufficiently explored when they are simply combined with other departments. The creation of a separate department, or depart­ments, for gender and sexuality studies would benefit every field, allowing for a greater ex­tent of interdepartmental study.

Perhaps, instead of decreasing the focus on those who identify as female in order to make room for other areas of study, academic insti­tutions should strive to incorporate a wider range of perspectives and narratives into every department.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *