Why broadening gender studies is necessary - Macleans.ca

Why broadening gender studies is necessary

It is no longer just about the women’s movement


Princeton University is taking the right approach when it comes to revamping their women’s studies department. The program, previously known as Study of Women and Gender, will now be called Gender and Sexuality Studies after a unanimous vote of the department’s faculty.

The latter half of 2009 saw many similar moves by Canadian universities. Queen’s University renamed their program Gender Studies, while Simon Fraser University’s program is now called Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies. Catherine Murray, SFU’s program chair, hit the nail on the head regarding the titular change movement:

“We’re not abandoning women’s studies, or saying the women’s movement is dead. We’re saying things are changing. It’s about moving forward, staying ahead of the game and recognizing the need to include broader discussions surrounding gender,” she told the National Post in late January.

The National Post found itself in hot water a day later when their editorial board tried to claim that “these angry, divisive and dubious programs are simply being renamed to make them appear less controversial.” The national response only proved that discussions around gender are still necessary.

Women’s studies are important, and the firestorm that surrounded the Post in January proved just that. But there’s also room for other discussions that surround gender and sexuality to be addressed as well. Princeton’s latest move is showing us that it has no intention of reducing its focus on women; they are simply including more voices. The department is keeping most of its original course names, but adding some new ones to address a wider scope of gender issues that are part of modern discussions.

It’s about evolution.

“The newly renamed Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies at Princeton will continue to address each phase of the field’s development, maintaining its historical commitment to the specificity of women’s experience while offering feminist analytic tools across disciplines,” program director Jill Dolan told the Daily Princetonian.

Women’s studies programs first came on the scene over 40 years ago — the first at San Diego State University in 1970 — to address many of the same concerns that are facing other areas of the gender discussion now — gay, lesbian and transgender people are just some examples of the groups whose voices now need to be heard. At first, it was the result of pressure from women’s liberation movements to include female perspectives in education. Modern discussions around “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and “It gets better” are proof that gender discussions are still an important part of our daily lives.

“The first women’s studies programs were created as scholars attempted to re-examine history, literature, anthropology, psychology and other subjects, and to explore the missing perspective,” explains an article on About.com. And today, it’s more missing perspectives that are propelling the expansion of gender programs at universities.

Margaret, a Maclean’s commenter, sums it up beautifully: “I would love to see the day come when women’s contributions (and the contributions of people of colour, alternative sexualities, etc etc) are given the same airtime as the contributions of white men. Until that day comes, we need programs such as women’s studies and first nations studies to bring other perspectives to higher education.”

And while detractors like the National Post’s editorial board will always be around to try and stop those perspectives, universities are right in rising above their ignorance and trying to lend a hand to bring them along for the ride.


Why broadening gender studies is necessary

  1. While I am happy to see women’s studies programs broaden their perspective, I’m disappointed to see that they still don’t consider the male gender to be worth studying. The idea that all men are somehow advantaged relative to all women is an illusion.

  2. i second stewart’s comment. after 20 years of man hating and denial, these clowns consider it controversial and progressive to include gay people whilst oblivious to males. it is not who’s in our institutions but the nature of institutions that makes them time capsules to another era such that they become ivory towers unable to even notice the true cutting edge of history that left feminist analysis behind a generation ago let alone keep up with evolving people who won’t apologize for outgrowing pseudo liberalism as well as traditional society.

  3. First of all, the reason we fight so hard for women’s studies is because male studies have been going on for centuries – it’s why we call it “his”tory. Secondly, gender discrimination is why the majority of the world’s poor are female, why worldwide they are generally paid less than men, why they make up two thirds of the world’s illiterate population, why women and girls are 79% of the world’s sexually trafficked individuals, and why acts of violence kill more women between the ages of 17 and 44 worldwide than malaria, cancer, traffic accidents, and war combined (stats from http://www.unwomen.org/facts-figures/). In other words, being born female has disadvantages that span cultures, classes, races, and ability levels.
    However, you bring up a good point that not all men have the same kind of advantage with respect to each other, and some racially/religiously/sexually/etc. marginalized men do experience discrimination that places them at a disadvantage to privileged women in their community. I’ve found in my time as a women’s studies student that departments are recognizing more and more how constructions of gender affect not just women, but men as well. The name change reflects that we attempt to incorporate different perspectives – including those of men who perform differently from the prescribed behaviour of what a man is.
    There is an understanding that sexuality, race, class, (dis)ability, etc. all shape the opportunities one has/how one is viewed by others, and that the disadvantages that come from that are not reserved exclusively for women. In general though women do experience greater difficulties, even in communities where all else is equal, simply by virtue of being female.

  4. My understanding is that “history” is from the Greek “historia” meaning learning/knowing by way of inquiry. If this is so, would it not be a distortion of the truth to say that “history means “his story”?

  5. My apologies. What a pity I can’t edit my post to remove that (admittedly inaccurate) sentence, since starting a discussion about etymology was not my intention…