The value of Women’s Studies

This National Post article has caused quite a stir in Canadian media in the last week. It’s about Women’s Studies and why it doesn’t belong in academia. I’ve read a lot of the blogs, comments and letters to the editor about the article, and I wanted to add another voice.

First, I’ll concede that our system is not perfect. There are a list of issues that need to be addressed (i.e. custody laws, affirmative action), but I believe the list of problems we have now is better than the one we had 50 years ago.

Instead of slinging mud at the people and their opinions, I wanted to share the reason why I believe Women’s Studies is worthwhile.

Fundamentally, feminist research has brought forth a simple truth from which everyone can move forward. And that is the difference between sex and gender.  (While one’s sex is absolutely biological, many of the “masculine” and “feminine” traits we perform are learned and reinforced by our upbringing and social experience.)

This research is valuable because it undercuts what people believed to be inherent in both sexes. Instead of thinking men and women are born in complete character opposition, research and analysis has shown there is a continuum of masculinity and femininity. In fact, some characteristics overlap.

In a culture that enjoys finding differences between sexes, Women’s Studies aims to show that maybe we’re not as different as culture would have us believe.

Why is difference a bad thing?

Difference is not a bad thing. It’s a great thing. We can learn from each other’s differences. Unfortunately, when humans see differences, we tend to believe one is better than the other—and, historically, we act on that belief. And if that “better” or “worse” quality is associated with one’s biology, it gives license to systemically oppress, underrepresent and patronise entire groups of people.

From my experience, Women’s Studies is not a method of brainwashing or men bashing; rather, it takes the focus off our difference (which gets enough publicity) and onto our sameness (which rarely gets any publicity). It is a vehicle to bring men and women together under the umbrella of multidimensional humanity.

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