Society Magazine

The Case for a Gender Studies Requirement

Posted on the 18 February 2015 by Juliez

Earlier this Fall, as leaves fell all over my college’s campus, something bubbled under the surface and all over Yik Yak, the popular anonymous Twitter-like app. It began as a series of “yaks” attacking our campus Women’s Center, and quickly escalated to full-on attacks on women. The yaks were terrifying and deeply, deeply disturbing — not only because of their anonymity, vulgarity, and harshness, which were all scary in their own right, but also because they opened our eyes.

They were decidedly unfunny, but many were passed off as misguided jokes. We said “this would never happen here,” and “people here don’t feel this way.” I said, “I’ve never felt unsafe before,” and “who could be here and be this sexist?” We pride ourselves on the tenets of our knowledgeable, progressive, compassionate, and thoughtful community, and we were shaken by the idea that some people might not share the majority’s point of view. Yik Yak made us realize that, even though we pretend otherwise, there are misogynists — loud misogynists — in our midst.

Over dinner one night, I found myself berating a few guy friends who were trying to convince me I was taking the Yik Yaks too hard, that I don’t have enough of a sense of humor. I love a good joke as much as the next girl, but gang rape and domestic violence won’t ever make me laugh. The Yik Yaks took some of my worst fears and made them feel like legitimately plausible threats.

Someone at my school was typing out a comparison between women and coffee grinds and laughing at it, joking about Ray Rice without understanding the implications, parodying Take Back The Night without thinking of the 1 in 5 women for whom sexual assault is not just a fear but a reality.

My college prides itself on preparing graduates for the big wide “real world,” the expanse we’ll enter upon graduation. We are required to study a foreign language, to diversify our education by taking quantitative reasoning and social sciences and practicing our writing, by learning fine arts and studying history.

You can’t graduate without dabbling in astrophysics or art history or sculpture, but you can graduate from college never having set foot in a Gender Studies class.

If we cannot even respectfully engage with one another on social media here in our protected second-home, how can we possibly be prepared to enter the world without having been exposed to the societal notions and norms that have constructed gender and sexuality?

Those of us who chose to attend liberal arts schools did so for the breadth of knowledge we hoped to receive, for the ways in which we knew we would be shaped as students, yes. Bu we also hoped to grow as individuals who would question, challenge, and critique. When we leave these schools, we should leave not only as competent employees, but also thoughtful, aware, socially-conscious human beings who know that “feminism” has never been a dirty word and doesn’t mean the women are taking over with a vengeance.

We must enroll in our required classes, so we branch out — we try physics and Shakespeare and beginning film. But students who take Gender Studies, in my experience, are extremely self-selecting. I take these classes because I care, because they capture my interests. But I’ve never been in a Gender Studies class where anyone said they weren’t a feminist, or that they didn’t believe in a woman’s right to choose, or that solving the epidemic of campus sexual assault shouldn’t be at the forefront of our national to-do list.

The students behind the Yik Yaks are protected not only by their anonymity, but also by a school that hasn’t yet decided to shake them of their ignorance. They may graduate with a year of Latin or a semester philosophy under their belts, but it’s their ability to joke about violence against women that worries me much more.

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