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Why Gender Studies?

From the Director’s Desk

One reason why most people refuse to participate in discussions on gender studies is because they understand gender as something that concerns women only. Therefore, as a student and teacher, I feel that the first step is to clarify that gender studies involves the study of both men and women. Gender, it has to be understood, is about a certain performance of identity, and gendered roles and norms are intrinsically woven into and practiced in our daily lives. Society has fixed standards and rules to validate both masculine and feminine identities. We are expected to perform these individual roles and reproduce the very conditions that perpetuate it. Starting with the clothes we wear, the spaces we occupy, the jobs we do, and the languages we speak, everything is gendered. This encoding of our daily life and habits directly impacts our sociocultural and economic status in society. Gender studies, therefore, is a study of production, reproduction, and resistance to norms that produce inequality between men and women. Only after this definition of gender studies is established proper dialogue is possible. Ironically, however, even though people practice gender in their everyday lives they feel awkward talking about it. This mindset poses unprecedented problems in the classroom. Therefore, in class discussions I strive to initiate students into thinking about gender as performative practices encoded since the moment of birth, or even prior to birth, through social, religious, and cultural institutions and texts.

Past Student Comments

Several former students speak out on why students should take Gender Studies courses.

My introduction to gender studies occurred when I enrolled in Dr. Virginia Husting’s Social Psychology of Gender class. I was a divorced mother of two grown children, the grandmother of one granddaughter, and a junior at Boise State University. I believed that feminists were wacky women who wanted to pretend they were men, to abandon their children, and to destroy important social structures. I had no idea feminist scholarship existed–let alone comprised a major part of the curriculum in gender studies. I expected Dr. Husting’s class to provide an academic version of “Men Are from Mars and Women Are from Venus,” and I assumed the class would be easy. Dr. Husting quickly dispelled those and many other of my misconceptions about gender studies. Furthermore, Dr. Husting’s class and the other classes I subsequently took to earn my minor in gender studies provided both personal and academic challenges that enhanced my critical thinking skills, opened my mind to new ways to analyze social issues, and helped me question what I had previously taken for granted as natural and unchangeable.

The concepts I learned in gender studies apply to many facets of life–far beyond gender issues. For example, learning about how many human behaviors and values are socially constructed rather than aspects of fixed human nature allowed me to discover how I had internalized negative beliefs about what it meant for me to be a blind person. I was inspired to challenge those negative beliefs about my blindness and share my knowledge with others. As a result of this transformation in my thinking, I completed two research projects encompassing rarely studied aspects of blind people’s lives, and I presented on my research in various settings–including two research conferences. I strongly recommend gender studies to anyone who is open to a highly rewarding challenge to their preconceptions and their academic abilities.

Gender Studies seemed like a natural fit for me. I believe in equal opportunity for everyone. However, my life experience indicated that not everyone had the same opportunities nor lived the same life. I became interested in how people built their identities in this differentiated society. Studying communication gave me an insight into perceived communication differences between genders. Gender Studies classes explained these differences as a result of the different lived experiences of each actor.

In nearly every class I have taken since I began enrolling in Gender Studies classes, there has been an opportunity to discuss perceived differences between gender in relation to a number of different topics. From humanities to engineering, I have been able to nuance discussions of gender differences with a deeper understanding developed in Gender Studies classes. Nearly every time a difference is professed I am able to interpret the difference in terms of lived experience not inherent differences.

Perhaps the single most informative lesson is: There is more variation among people than between the genders. Gender Studies has informed and enriched my college experience, both in class and out.