Why Everyone Should Take a Gender Studies Class
How Much Better Would the World Be If Everyone Took Gender Studies?
A couple of months ago, I sat down at a lunch table next to a bunch of young men from my college. Eager to make friends and meet new people, we started chatting about where we were from and what year we were in. Shortly after, I came face-to-face with the dreaded question: "What are you majoring in?" Don't get me wrong: I'm proud that I'm majoring in gender and sexuality studies. My classes discuss really complex and interesting gender topics and force students to think about the ways we can help solve some of the biggest issues affecting gender minorities. However, some of the students at my school don't seem to hold my major in the same regard as other areas of study.
After I told the group that I was studying gender and sexuality, one of the students laughed and replied, "Why do people even need to study that?" While I had experienced belittling and demeaning comments about my major in the past ("Oh, that's such a liberal topic to study," or "So you must never have to go to class or study, right?"), I had never heard one that completely ignored the existence of sexism, racism, transphobia, and homophobia.
As a gender and sexualities major, I'm constantly shocked by how many of my peers seem to be completely unaware of the importance of this field of study. Even when they're not doing or saying something that's explicitly harmful, it's clear that some of the students at my university have never been challenged to think about the pervasive ways the world has been built to discriminate against others based on their gender identity and sexuality.
Educational, political, and social systems exist differently for marginalized communities and even more so for people who sit at the intersection of these communities. Gender studies classes encourage students to think about the ways people experience microaggressions and even explicit acts of violence based on their identity. Through classes centered on gender and sexuality, students learn about how these acts of violence manifest, and how to identify instances of sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and racism. By acknowledging their existence, students are less likely to actively perpetuate these harms in their daily lives.
Educational, political, and social systems exist differently for marginalized communities and even more so for people who sit at the intersection of these communities.
Unfortunately, some of the students at my university aren't equipped to recognize these systemic issues. Once I was sitting next to a friend who's a computer science major. He was interning at a big tech corporation at the time. I looked at the list of 30 people on his screen and asked, "How many women are on this team?" He responded that he believed there were only two. I said that these women must feel pretty isolated in the company and noted that the overrepresentation of men probably discourages other women from entering the field. "I have never thought about that," he said.
That's exactly the issue. A lot of people have the privilege to never think about gender and sexuality. Given that my college is fostering a new generation of students who are going to be future leaders and innovators, the institution has the social obligation to ensure that their students are responsible, equity-minded people after they graduate. But how can that be the case if so many of these students have never taken a single class on gender, race, or sexuality?
People with multiple marginalized identities are always going to be more vulnerable to violence, aggression, and discrimination, and it's imperative that universities make this known through their curriculum. I decided to study gender and sexuality because I wanted to understand and process my own experiences with racism and sexism. After two years of studying in this field, I still think deeply about the ways that my marginalized identities interact with the social systems around me. This has allowed me to navigate the world with more empathy and understanding for those who are impacted by the same unfair systems.
As my peers go out into the world and occupy powerful positions in society, I sincerely hope they are equipped to consider and prioritize the people who face discrimination every day. The best way for academic institutions to ensure that this happens is to require a gender and sexualities class as part of the core curriculum. If everyone in society was as keenly aware of the discrimination and harm that marginalized communities face, I truly believe that the world would be a kinder and more empathetic place.