Monday, June 7, 2010

Women's Studies is Not "Easy"

Some things really tick me off. Any time I hear the phrase "no homo" I experience a semi-blinding fury. Overtly sexist TV commercials (thank you Super Bowl) provide me with endless anger issues. Spiders, both terrify and anger me.

But one thing that will always send me into a (righteous) fury - people who major in Women's Studies because it is "easy."

To the unknowing eye, Women's Studies may seem to be an easy major. People tend to think of biology, physics, math, or other physical sciences when they are asked which fields are difficult to major in. While each of those is difficult in its own way, so are the social sciences. Most social sciences require a great deal of abstract thinking and theorizing, which can be very difficult to comprehend (hence while people dismiss it as "over-thinking"). Women's Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Queer Studies can be exceptionally challenging because they require questioning every aspect of society that a person has experienced in their life. When you take a Women's Studies (or Ethnic or Queer) class, you are challenged to rethink the history you grew up with, the cartoons you watched, your family dynamics, what your parents told you about the world. You can't read books or watch TV the same way. Once you've begun to unlearn the status quo, you can't go back to accepting it.

Majors and classes specifically focused on oppressed groups such as ethnic minorities, women, and the LGBTQ community also serve as a call to action against institutional discrimination. Classes and majors devoted to women, race, and sexual orientation give you the tools to fight what at times can seem like a never-ending battle against discrimination, hate, bigotry, and violence. You’re supposed to get mad. Mad enough to change things. Whether that’s escorting at your closest clinic or calling out a friend on a racist joke, you start trying to change the world you live in. These majors don’t track the changes in a chemical reaction, they track and create change in society.

Because Women’s Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Queer Studies are subversive in their very nature and prepare their students to be as well, a person can also experience negative ramifications from friends and family for their work. I’ve lost friends over my beliefs and what I’ve learned in my Women’s Studies classes, and I have to maintain a tongue-in-cheek attitude around extended family because they aren’t used to my political nature. While my immediate family is supportive, they are concerned about my well being and possible career stability. They also have a spectrum of differing views on political issues, which leads to heated arguments and sometimes tense feelings around the dinner table. And I know others at my school and in my field who have also stood up for what they believe in, only to have it impact them negatively in their personal life.

So in reality, Women’s Studies and other subversive majors are anything but easy. They require immense personal dedication, sacrifice, and perseverance on behalf of their students in order to work for the improvement of society. These aren’t “just get your degree and graduate” fields; they are responsible for preparing a new wave of social change. When people approach the field with the idea that a Women’s Studies major is just an easy way to graduate, they can potentially hurt the field more than they contribute. Those of us who are dedicated, sacrificing, and persevering have to work twice as hard to pick up the slack left behind by those who just want a degree. Women’s Studies is NOT an easy major.

Photo Credit: sidewalk flying on


The Don of Time said...

But thank you for being one of the many who have taken on that challenge and will never give up.

Sara Pressey said...

Thank you for writing this post-- I completely I agree. I find it frustrating when people to choose to major or minor in a field that they do not really care about. I have a family member who decided to minor in Women's Studies her last semester "for fun." Her occasional jokes on the subject matter frustrate me. Likewise, I have felt the sting of others' disapproval of my views. Subversive subjects are definitely challenging. Again, I really enjoyed your post!

Danielle said...

It's possible those students will radicalize as they continue WMST, and I think it's still important for folks to get that kind of social justice perspective. Imagine what could happen if every college or high school student enrolled in women's studies classes.

Kaylene said...

Thank you so much for this. I minored in Gender & Women's Studies at the University of Arizona, and nothing bothers me more than when my peers joked about how it being "Easy A." Those were some of the hardest classes I've ever taken in my life, and I'm proud of the As that I earned and the knowledge that I gained.