Misunderstanding Feminism and Women’s Studies


I just registered for my first Women’s Studies class! I’m super excited, of course, because I’m seriously considering majoring in Women’s Studies, but there is a downside to this decision, should I follow through. Aside from the horrible cliché of being a lesbian who goes to a women’s college and majors in Women’s Studies, there is a large percentage of people on this planet who are unclear about what exactly “Women’s Studies” entails! And I am afraid that some of those people might be in my extended family, which would complicate the annual “school-love-sports-future” interrogation at family reunions.

In preparation for that moment when I am forced to say “Women’s Studies Major” and watch the slow, wide-eyed nod, tilt of the head, pursed lips and momentary glance in any other direction, I am going to clarify what exactly Women’s Studies entails.

It is NOT the biological or psychological study of the female human being. It is NOT a club for feminists who want to rant and complain about how bad women have it. It is also NOT the study and indoctrination of man-hatred.

Rather, Women’s Studies is an examination of gender inequality in the past and the present, as well as the roles that women play. Which is to say, it is an examination of gender and how its construction takes root beneath our feet.

Why, then, is it called Women’s Studies and not Gender Studies? I’ve occasionally seen the name extended to include “Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies,” and I believe that is a more comprehensively accurate description of the field. However it is generally just called Women’s Studies because the examination of gender often follows the lives of women, since that is where issues of gender inequality usually pop up, both in history and in current events!

Consider this counter-definition of Women’s Studies (called so because it is maddeningly inaccurate) written by Bruce Bawer in his article titled “Women’s Studies and the Spread of Man Hatred.” After having just described a single instance of angry feminist protesting outside a lecture hall, he continues:

Alas, this is the true face of Women’s Studies – a “discipline” that, at its core, has nothing whatsoever to do with education in any objective sense and everything to do with the inculcation of an unreasoning enmity for an entire sex (and that includes inculcating self-hatred in young men).

He goes on to describe the young protesters as “authoritarian thugs” who are “pointlessly angry” and have been somehow indoctrinated by their professors into an “ideology of hate.” It is an excellent example of an intelligently written but stubbornly ignorant rejection of feminism and Women’s Studies.

If you read the article, you will notice that his argument centers entirely around the anger the protesters are feeling and displaying, but does not directly address any of the reasons for that anger, except to diminish them. In so ignoring those reasons, he failed to address the point of Women’s Studies and therefore failed to successfully argue against it.

If he had referenced a video in which we see a professor lecturing on man-hatred, that might have driven his point home. But he did not, which brings me to my first point.

Taking Women’s Studies classes often causes people to become angry, but the classes themselves do not teach anger. They teach awareness and critical observation. That some people become angry when they learn about the construction of gender and how harmful it can be is understandable, but that is an individual experience, not a definition of the entire discipline.

In addition, the point of studying gender construction and inequality is not to place blame on the entire privileged sex, although that is how it often manifests in students of the discipline. The point is simply to notice and understand it better so that we may take steps toward deconstructing and solving the problems!

As much as we like to believe that men are the problem (because it gives us a more concrete problem to solve), they aren’t really. Men today are also “victims” of gender construction; their constructed gender simply has more privilege, so they don’t fight it. Certainly, once upon a time, men came up with these stupid rules. But the modern man did not! Men were taught gender roles just like women were. So when feminists rage against the Patriarchy, they are not raging against men as a sex; they are raging against the abstract notion that men can have privileges women don’t, and the frustrating challenge of convincing individual men to stop taking advantage of and perpetuating those privileges, however convenient they may be.

As a personal side-note, if I may be so bold, Feminism and Women’s Studies are really the practical and relevant extensions of a broader field of philosophical theory: the construction of culture, and within that, the mythology of gender. But this is something we don’t really have a discipline for, because it’s too broad and has in its entirety no worldly application. So we break it up into manageable bits.

In the name of re-claiming our culture and escaping the limiting confines of age-old rules, we teach Women’s Studies and preach Feminism, because it is a field of philosophy which is immediately relevant and applicable to our lives.

So… I guess I should come up with a shorter summary of this for my uncles.

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15 responses to “Misunderstanding Feminism and Women’s Studies

  1. All to often words are used to mislead and misdirect so that by themselves they become unreliable in judging an ideology or movement. However, actions both direct and by proxy always tell the tale. So that the results of the actions of those who promote the intellectual virus – MEME – of the ideology of feminism have proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is an ideology of hatred directed at the male gender of the human race.

    You can continue to lie to yourself by claiming otherwise but the actions of you and your fellow feminists will always expose the lies of your words to those who refuse to remain willfully blind to reality.

      • There are none so blind – confused – as those like yourself who willfully refuse to see and understand the consequences their choices have caused others to suffer.

        Hitler didn’t see himself as evil either yet he caused the deaths of 50 million to 70 million people. Just as the feminists have caused the deaths of over 50 million people through the means of abortion and built a culture of financial rape in order to exploit the male gender.

        • Hopefully the people who read these comments will be able to see clearly the difference between a hateful attack and an attempt to educate and empower. One comes from an angry, defensive place of ego; the other from a place of hope.

    • I did not block your hateful comment because, though I may find your words distasteful, I refuse to shut anyone out of this important conversation. I understand what you mean about words clouding the truth; I often feel that way about the words people such as yourself use to bash and discredit feminism and feminists. I am curious about the “actions” of which you speak which supposedly reveal so much evil in the movement. It has been my experience and observation that feminists usually do nothing more than speak up for themselves and for women who are being disrespected, diminished, oppressed, or ignored. Sometimes feminists succeed in making the changes they seek, but more often than not, they are shut down by people like yourself who do not believe in their cause. Feminism is more of an attitude of and a voice for empowerment, so it falls mostly upon words to carry its power. It is not really a platform for action. What have you seen that is so offensive and threatening? Perhaps you could share specific examples on your blog instead of just touting the words you have so much disdain for?

      • I) Feminists promote the intentional murder of a child in their mother’s womb.

        2) Feminists used their political influence to have laws passed such as no fault divorce that have turned the institution of marriage into a massive institution of fraud that a growing majority of men are turning their backs on and walking away from.

        3) Feminists have used Title IX and VAWA to create an hostile environement for men in both college and the work place. To promote the false ideology that women are innocent victims and that all men are rapists. While ignoring females who abuse their children, murder their husbands and rape underage boys while supporting females who sexually mutilate their partners. And those who falsely accuse men of sexual crimes.

        4) Feminists have successfully hijacked and corrupted the family court system in order to create a financial rape culture in order to both exploit their partners financial resources and destroy them.

  2. Overall, I really appreciated & enjoyed this article, as I am currently encountering many of these conversations myself. However, I did want to point out one thing:

    “Why, then, is it called Women’s Studies and not Gender Studies? I’ve occasionally seen the name extended to include ‘Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies,’ and I believe that is a more comprehensively accurate description of the field. However it is generally just called Women’s Studies because the examination of gender often follows the lives of women, since that is where issues of gender inequality usually pop up, both in history and in current events!”

    Here’s the deal: I’m a transitioning AFAB gender queer (in other words, I was assigned female at birth, and while many would call me a trans* man because of my planned physical transition (hormones and possible top surgery), I don’t identify as a man, but rather as gender queer). Saying that WGSS is typically called “Women’s Studies” because issues of gender inequality usually show face in the lives of women (I’m assuming this is cis women, because it usually is) completely ignores the trans* experience, & the existence of more than one gender. Trans* issues do not show up in history & in current events as much as cis women’s issues because there is sexism, and then there is cissexism, and in the case of cissexism it’s cis men AND cis women that hold that privilege over trans* people. Furthering ideas like the one that argues that gender inequality mostly shows up in the lives of cis women according to history and current events ignores that power dichotomy. Trans* people are far more likely than cis people to be killed, raped, or beaten brutally when mugged, the trans*-directed version of gay panic is still alive & well everywhere, trans* people must be sure to come out to a potential partner as trans* in a public place lest they be beaten or killed, in a vast majority of states trans* people can still be legally evicted and fired for being trans*, trans* people must be extremely careful about their safety in public restrooms, and the list goes on. Historically, things are extremely similar. So why aren’t these things heard or talked about? Institutional cissexism. Cis people have far more power over newspapers, textbooks, archives, laws, courts and the like than trans* people. Then there’s also that a rather small percentage of people (I don’t care who you are) understand that trans* people legitimately exist (aka are not crazy or making weird decisions), even fewer understand that trans* issues exist, and fewer still understand the magnitude of those issues.

    I am not at all trying to minimize the struggle of cis women, because, frankly, cis women put up with a lot of shit. Rape culture, the patriarchy, and other such things are huge problems, and deserve a ton of attention. But these problems also negatively affect trans* people, and not only do we fail to discuss them in that context, but we also tend to ignore, dismiss, and/or minimize the oppressions and experiences unique to trans* people. WGSS have come to take a comprehensive view of all genders and sexualities because all of these things can be severely affected by things like patriarchy; rape culture; gender assumptions, assignments, and expectations, and all of them intertwine intimately with each other. Calling it “Women’s Studies” ignores the full complexity of the issues around gender in our society, and further marginalizes the already extremely marginalized groups that create the trans* community.

    • Wow, thank you for your thoughts! I do try to make an effort to address issues if transphobia on my blog to some extent, because I absolutely agree that it is alive and well and horrifying. On the other hand, such issues are not my area if expertise, per se, so I often have to rely on readers like yourself to add to the discussion.

      On the other hand, since I wrote this my perspective on the name has changed slightly. Women’s studies as a rule is extremely interdisciplinary and covers nearly all aspects of civil rights and oppression, be it racism, sexism, heteronormativity and homophobia, or cissexism and transphobia. While many issues change or become better or worse with a different identity, I usually think of most oppressed groups as being sort of “in this thing together.” So “women’s studies” can broadly refer to all races and orientations of women, ciswomen and transwomen, and the entire gender queer spectrum, because anybody who is not white, cis, heterosexual, male, suffers from some sort of oppression.

    • I find it necessary to point out that this article is about a different time & place than the one we are in today. The article is criticizing the view that in every place and every time, men are always dominant, because this simply is not the case. However, it is not, and I stress not, saying that modern day ideas that women are oppressed are false.

        • Saying that patriarchy has been a thing throughout history is absolutely accurate, because it has. If someone says the only thing that has ever been in the world or in any one society is patriarchy, that is false. If someone says patriarchy is a relatively recent development, that is also false. Feminists do frequently discuss the historical patriarchy because in our society’s recent history, or in the last FEW centuries (notice I didn’t say several centuries), that has been the predominant trend.

          • That is not what I meant. It debunks the myth of womens powerlessness in patriarchy.

  3. What exactly is the fear? Or is it with anger that many people strike out with words when feminism and feminists are mentioned?

    Please in our haste to sound proper, make a point and to be right, let us not forget that feminism is first and foremost a reaction to observation and pain.

    You talk about Hitler and very obviously with anger enforce your opinions on what feminists and their campaigns have caused but you fail to -as this author earlier said- address the reasons surrounding the feelings and display of anger.

    You even completely ignored the core point made…

    Enlightening article.

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