Not terribly long ago, in a place not far away, only men were allowed to attend college. This was due, in part, to the fact that men needed to be providers for their families. Usually, they were the sole breadwinners. Meanwhile, women stayed at home and gave birth to and raised children. It was a system that worked then, but now it’s just outdated. At this point, any person has the freedom to get an education as he or she pleases — provided, of course, that the person has the means to pay for it.
At some point between then and now, universities began admitting women. It was the way of the future — the pinnacle of social equality as we could conceive it. Slowly, the opportunities for women in education caught up to the opportunities for men. Finally, at last, we got the result we had been waiting for: Between 2005 and 2006, women earned the majority of post-secondary education degrees, ranging from associates to doctorates. Equality at last. (I’ll let you find the flaw in this logic.)
Along the road, the feminist movement grew. Issues of gender became more apparent and important. This cultivated the need to study gender. Out of this need grew women’s studies departments. They began popping up all over the country. To this day, the women’s studies department here at the University is alive and well. But what I fail to understand is what precisely it is that makes these studies of feminism and gender the studies of women.
There are a couple of different ways that we could understand studies possessed by women. One such way is that women’s studies concentrations or courses are open only to women. But that’s simply not true. I’ve taken a women’s studies course before. (Well, it was cross-listed as an English course, but men weren’t barred from taking it.) And my Spanish GSI from the spring term is working toward his graduate degree in French literature and women’s studies. In any case, if the major or the courses were open only to women, it would be a blatant act of sexism and the University probably would have seen a lawsuit by now.
Another interpretation might suggest that the studies are exclusively the studies of women. But this too doesn’t seem accurate when you consider that past women’s studies courses have discussed men’s health. Then there is another suggestion that women’s studies really means “feminist studies,” which really means “We want to study gender in society.”
The influence of gender in society is a thoroughly intriguing topic. And frankly, I’m shocked that it didn’t become a formal topic of study until recently. But why do we consider gender so exclusively female? Even the word “feminism,” purported to mean “equality between genders,” is rooted in the feminine. I don’t get that. I don’t think the study of gender is inherently feminine any more than pencils are inherently masculine because they are masculine nouns in Spanish grammar.
Not only does this cultural mindset that only women should be concerned with issues of gender alienate men, but it also limits the scope of gender studies. In a general sense, academia should be characterized by the idea of “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.” That’s not to say that we should take everything at face-value, but we should at least be open to new ideas and new perspectives. I see women’s studies as a field that is closed to that.
In fact, the whole nature of feminism seems closed to it. Sure, on paper, feminism is defined as an ideology in support of gender and sex equality, but in practice, what shapes it? It’s shaped by the National Organization for Women and women’s studies departments. It’s shaped by Meryl Streep’s commencement speech at Barnard College in which she seemed to insinuate that all men are guilty of sexism but are slowly adapting, and it’s “about time (laughter).” Another example is Hanna Rosin’s article in The Atlantic entitled “The End of Men,” which suggests that women are simply more adapted to a post-industrial society and thus are subsequently thriving, and that’s hardly a problem.
Very rarely do you see an organization that cries foul that men must conscript to the draft or face fines, or is outraged by the portrayal of husbands on sitcoms as idiotic. You don’t hear many people outraged that girls are consistently outperforming boys in all levels of education. Fewer recognize that men work the jobs that are among the most dangerous. Instead, they complain of a wage gap whereby women are earning less than men per year on average. They continue to attack the media for the standards of beauty that are unreasonably high and impressed upon girls. And they continue to allow women’s studies, and the idea that an entire demographic has rights over another to permeate the fabric of society.
Perhaps in the not too far future in a not so far away place, we can realize true equality of the sexes. Of course, that will never happen if we don’t do something right now. And from the look of it, no one is going to.
Eric Szkarlat can be reached at email@example.com.