Last Friday, Viewpoint writer Ben Rudgley claimed that the Women, Gender & Sexuality (WGS) department should be disbanded because it perpetuates gender divides. I do not feel that this was an informed and accurate argument. Saying that WGS should not be a major is like saying that Global Development Studies and American Studies, for example, should not be majors. WGS is an interdisciplinary major just like the ones mentioned above, and it uses a variety of perspectives to explore an aspect of society that is underrepresented in traditional study. I don’t see why someone who wants to learn about the theory behind mathematics should be more entitled to a degree than someone who wants to learn about the theory behind feminism or about cultural issues that endanger our society on a daily basis, including benevolent sexism, benevolent racism and white privilege, among others discussed in WGS courses. These are all issues that can and should affect policies and government action, and thus the major is key to our societal development. Other degree programs successfully focus on a specified outlook or group of people, and in that respect WGS is no different.
Rudgley suggested that WGS courses “place emphasis on a single gender’s achievements or role in history at the expense of the other.” But WGS courses tend to do more than just provide insight into an often-invisible group of people in society. WGS courses are about questioning everything around you, challenging students to look at the world from a different perspective.
Rudgley goes on to claim that those in WGS courses are the ones who need that particular type of education the least. He writes, “the single strength of women’s studies — its capacity to enhance recognition of female achievements in every academic field — is exposed only to those students who need it least.” As a WGS major, I have pondered this as well. I don’t think there is a person in the WGS department who wouldn’t want to see more diversity in these courses. It can certainly be frustrating to sit in a discussion with other WGS majors and feel that there is only so much we can do without the presence of those who would most benefit from a WGS course. Unfortunately, courses with “women” or “gender” in the title are so stigmatized at the University and institutions all around the nation that I believe people are afraid to enroll, writing them off as radical feminism.
So if the people taking WGS courses are the least likely to enter the courses with preconceived biases about gender, race, ethnicity and class, why have this major? Well, because some people care about these issues. A lot. And our job as WGS majors is to spur debates with those who don’t understand the intricacies of our highly gendered society and to have conversations with the people in our lives who may not agree with our opinions on these issues. It is our job to be informed members of society and to try to impart our knowledge on those around us so that they may understand the gravity of these issues in society today.
Rudgley is wrong to claim, “by teaching its students what they have already learned, the WGS major finds itself redundant.” Although I am a woman, it does not mean that I know everything about the struggle of all women in the world. It doesn’t even mean that, because I have taken one course on multiculturalism, I now know everything about the subject and have no further learning to do.
The University has a ways to go in terms of increasing equality in course offerings, the number of tenured female professors, ethnic diversity on Grounds and minority access to higher education, among many other things. Rudgley may be fortunate enough to take courses with equal numbers of female authors to male authors, but by no means does this ratio of authors on a course list mean that society is fixed. The idea that a male dominated curriculum would ever change enough to be “fair” and “equal” in including women writers, historians, journalists, etc. into all curriculum areas on its own is a utopian dream. We’re just not there yet. We need Women, Gender & Sexuality courses and we need people who are passionate about the program to inspire others to be passionate about it and to expose these issues that would not be recognized otherwise.
Alexa Allmann is a fourth-year in the College.