“What is women’s studies?” you ask.
In short, women’s studies is the study of women – their lives, their works, their struggles, their accomplishments, their desires and fears, their future. In length, it’s much, much more – at least for me. Women’s Studies is the rejection of eighteen years worth of indoctrination. It is the shedding of a decade of willful ignorance.
I was raised believing that a women’s place was in the home. No, my parents would never have said, “A women should be in the kitchen bare foot and pregnant” but their disdain for working moms and feminists was clear. I was also raised in a Christian home where the man was head and the woman was submissive. “This models the church’s submission to Christ and to act any other way is a sin,” I was taught. Women were not allowed to preach or even lead prayer in church, teach to a co-ed group nor have any say in adult leadership (women were free to teach and lead male children). My exposure to feminism was through my Christian school, Focus on the Family, and people like Rush Limbaugh. Needless to say, my views were really skewed.
Even though I had a negative view of feminism, I couldn’t have given a definition if I’d been asked but I’d certainly not have guessed it to be anything like the one bell hooks gives in Feminist Politics: “[F]eminism is a movement to end sexism, sexual exploitation, and oppression.” If you had told me that was feminism in a nutshell I would have agreed wholeheartedly. But I didn’t know that definition (nor any other) and, as far as I’d been taught, there was no need for feminism any longer. Women had been “given” the vote, we’d complained enough that we’d been allowed into previously all-male schools and careers and now all was equal and fair. There was nothing left for feminism to do.
Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards’ essay, A Day Without Feminism, revealed to me how wrong that line of think is. No child care? I stay at home with my daughter but I can’t imagine a world where there is no other option. I was appalled to find out that the National Honor Society will rescind a girl’s membership if she gets pregnant. (What happens to a boy if he fathers a child?) The Pill’s side effects were horrifying. The double standard of curfews for college women but not for men made me furious. I was fascinated by the fact that women weren’t the only disregarded ones. Baumgardner and Richards write, “The absence of women’s history, black history, Chicano studies, Asian-American history, queer studies, and Native American history from college curricula implies that they are not worth studying” (A Day Without Feminism, in Women’s Voices Feminist Visions. 2009). I was shocked by what they said about newspaper want ads being divided into “Help Wanted Male” and “Help Wanted Female.” The restrictions placed on a married woman’s ability to secure financial services was mind-blowing.
By the end of the article I was furious. Furious that my mom had never talked to me about this. Furious at myself for never questioning the status-quo. Furious at society for making this information so easy to hide. Furious at the universe for being indifferent. Furious at the fact that change happens when people make it happen and those people are people like me.
Then I got scared. I realized then what Women’s Studies meant to me. Women’s Studies was going to be my own personal revolution. My world was shifting and I didn’t know what was going to happen and I didn’t know how it was going to look when it was done and I didn’t know if I was ready but more than anything, I knew that this was the right road. I knew that hiding from the truth was not the answer. I knew that facing this thing head on was the only way to be true to myself and all that I hold dear.
Women’s Studies is the study of women – their lives, their works, their struggles, their accomplishments, their desires and fears, their future. I am a woman and therefore, Women’s Studies is the study of me – my life, my work, my struggles, my accomplishments, my desires and fears, my future.