There is a total of 7,021 post-secondary institutions of education in the United States. 2,870 of those are undergraduate schools (colleges and universities) that offer bachelor’s degrees. 221 of those schools, or ever so slightly over 7.7%, offer a Women’s Studies or Gender Studies major, so students at only less than 8% of four year colleges in America can get a degree in what is, essentially, feminism. Of course, it isn’t as if every undergraduate student at those 221 schools is studying women’s issues; in fact, very few are. Women’s and Gender Studies are certainly not on the list of the Top 10 most popular majors.
So why is this such an understudied subject? With rampant inequity, skewed hierarchies and imbalanced power structures abound, why isn’t everyone studying gender-focused issues? Many people seem to think we live in a post-patriarchy already, but between the wage gap, rape culture, gender performativity constructs, and impossible beauty standards for women, I think you have got to be living in an alternate reality if you think this world is post-patriarchy. Other people simply don’t care. Either they think it’s good enough as is and we shouldn’t push our luck, or they believe that someone else will take care of it, or, worst of all, they think we don’t have a right to complain about issues in our society when things are worse for women elsewhere in the world, as if extreme suffering in one locale negates moderate suffering in another. Even most of the feminists I know aren’t Women or Gender Studies majors. I myself have an interdisciplinary major that is comprised of only about 40% intersectional feminism. I know a feminist who studies opera, another who studies neuroscience, another who will study education, and many other feminists studying things which are far removed from feminism. While these are all super cool majors, and an 18 year old girl studying neuroscience is amazing, I just can’t figure out why it's not more popular. It’s not even a top minor. If we don't have people studying feminism, keeping the history of the movement alive, feminist politics may diminish, and clearly, we can't have that in light of the many recent plagues on reproductive rights. If we are not constantly educating ourselves and others, we run the risk of allowing our interests to be swept by the wayside.
The reason I am so baffled is because of how applicable feminism is to so many, if not all, facets of life. There’s even a really awesome article on the top 5 reasons why Women’s and Gender Studies is the best major.
So what do we do? Well, we study feminism and women’s issues as much as possible. We encourage others to do the same. If you’re looking at schools, look at their catalogues to see what kinds of courses they offer in subjects like women’s history, gender, and sexuality. If you have extra space in your college schedule, throw some courses on feminism, or gender studies in there. If you need to declare a minor, don’t be dissuaded from choosing Gender Studies because of the stigma surrounding feminism; if anything, choose it because of the stigma that we so desperately need to eradicate. If you’re out of college, maybe take some courses at your local community college, or online, or encourage your children to study feminism. There’s a lot more that can be done with it than you might think.
Images courtesy of the Feminist Wire and Google Images.