Let’s play a quick game of word association. What is the first thought that comes to mind when you hear the term “women’s studies”? How about feminism?
It has been my experience that when I speak of such topics, shock and irritation fills the air, and an off-color joke told by either sex about women ends the conversation. These two concepts, for many individuals, are hazy areas of tense confusion that have become branded with negative stereotypes revealing the true ignorance of many.
When I declared my major to my family and friends, a silent yet noticeable panic broke out as all seemed to worry about the type of future and life such a degree would procure. The colorful responses I received included, “I didn’t know you were a lesbian. Wow!” “Your ex-boyfriend must have really screwed you up!” And my favorite, “I guess you’ll be majoring in PMS!”
Apparently, this was only the beginning of the bombardment of negativity that fellow women’s studies students, feminists and I would be receiving. The stereotype for such an individual seems to be an “angry radical lesbian man-hater who burns her bra and has no use for a lady shaver!” First of all, I still shave, wear makeup, and as for my sexual orientation, that’s none of your business nor does it truly define who I am.
However, those of you who associate women’s studies and feminism with equality are absolutely correct. A simple flip through the book, “Women: Images and Realities,” a WS 200 course textbook, one can quickly become educated about these supposed controversial concepts. Women’s studies focuses on the woman, including her personal experiences, views, and contributions to the world around us.
It is an interactive and empowering experience, expanding the minds and lives of students in order to leap across traditional barriers into more fulfilling lives. Feminism is a social movement that demands action and a loud voice to break the silence of oppressed females everywhere. It addresses issues concerning equal rights, discrimination due to race and class, challenges sexism and patriarchal domination, demands egalitarian relationships of all types, and gives women the support they need to take control of their own lives and bodies. These are all issues that need to be addressed, yet they are all avoided like the plague by not only men, but women as well.
After countless explanations like the one above, I am still left in awe as I hear the response of others to the idea of a women’s studies class.
No, we do not spend our class sessions male bashing or plotting to overthrow and enslave the male sex. Keep in mind that we insist upon equality and cooperation in relationships. For those who feel that the titles “women’s studies” and “feminism” automatically block one’s involvement due to the ownership of a penis, this is not so. Several men are involved in these courses. In one of my favorite articles by Michael Kimmel, “Men and Women’s Studies,” he explains that women’s studies brings the idea of gender to the table and “makes men visible.”
Oftentimes we allow ourselves to become what Ellen Neuborne describes in “Imagine My Surprise,” as “programmed.” Men and women do not realize that actions, discrimination, and privileges are a part of them due to sex, race, or class. This is a product of a world that has strongly dictated to us that there are gender roles we are destined to fulfill whether we are aware of this brainwashing or not.
A man is more than a penis and a “sperm donor,” while a woman is more than a pair of breasts, a vagina, and a “baby incubator.” We are more than what these physical differences and the regurgitated gender roles tell us we are. Our sex and gender should not crucify and separate us, but rather allow us to compliment one another. We are all human beings and individuals capable, as well as deserving, of it all.
That is women’s studies and feminism.
Jessica Aulestia is a junior women’s studies major.