Gender & Feminism, or “Why My Friends Don’t Call It Women’s Studies.”

I was sitting on a bus, visiting DC after only a week of being home from the glorious college town I call home. My friend, an incredibly progressive, pro-queer, pro-woman male, was rattling on about gender, and gender theory, and the majors combined in my school (Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies) failing us as a student body by taking away any real focus from the intense theories and ideas covered in each division.
I am a Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies major.
“And you know, we gotta stop calling it Women’s Studies.” He proceeded to tell me that that was all wrong, that it was what “we” were fighting against, that in a world where we deconstruct gender we shouldn’t call it feminism anymore, or women’s studies, or any of that very gendered, very womanly jazz. A large part of me agreed with him, but I couldn’t stop there. I just kept thinking about it. It is possible to be a gender theorist and a feminist!, I wanted to shout, but I realized there are some flaws there.
The truth is, feminism isn’t about the fe-male. It’s about femininity now. It’s about destroying the idea that things that are soft, gentle, and anti-masculine or empty of masculinity aren’t negative, that men can connect with other people emotionally the way women have for years and not get punished for it. And my wave, third wave, well- third wave is about all of those theories. I’m proud to be a queer theorist, queer activist, gender theorist, and feminist- and I know that because queer issues, gender issues, and feminist issues all stem from the big monster called gender, they’re all my turf.
But does that really mean we should stop calling it “feminism?” Is it really that offensive to think that a sex inherently associated with a subservient and subordinate set of gender roles, a sex oppressed from the days when colonial doctors declared us “introverted males” and defined us as our husband’s legal property, should be proud to identify as such in an effort to reclaim our legacy? Is it that bad that we’re represented by groups led by those oppressed folks, by groups like the National Organization for Women and the Feminist Majority Foundation? Is it really all that bad that women should be able to fight for their rights in a gendered society by working through gender instead of around it? (If we wait for genderless USA, we’ll be waiting forever.)
So I was left to think about this for days, weeks. I kept contemplating it, and then I started getting a little angrier.
Young women today are afraid to identify as feminists because it’s yucky and way too “old school” for them. They think we’re past that, not even in a post-feminist way. They’re buying in to all the things Rush, Pat Robertson, and everyone else in every institution and every patriarchy has sold to their avid supporters and opposers alike- that feminism is some way of pushing men down, making women superior, and opening the door for women to claim things they don’t deserve. I sat in my dorm lounge once and asked each and every female if she called herself a “feminist.”
This question gets better each time.
“I’d say I support gender equality, but I’m not a feminist.”
Oh, you’re a feminist. And that may be the most heartbreaking news of all.
It’s called women’s studies because women have faced something no other group faced, just as ethnic studies exists, LGBTQ studies exists. It’s an academic field that studies our unique struggles and challenges, what composed them, how we achieved success within them. It celebrates our fight, our still-ongoing campaigns for respect and dignity in the workplace and the doctor’s office (because God forbid anyone recognizes that yes, we’re paid less, and no, we’re not cared for properly). Men can study women, just as women have studied men for centuries. It’s still called HIStory, isn’t it? HEroes? PerSON? MANkind?
We live in a world where women are more likely to grow up with fictional sheroes than real ones; where Claire Huxtable and Pokemon’s Misty offer girls more hope than looking at a list of Presidents in a textbook or business leaders in Forbes Magazine. We live in a world where little girls aren’t told they have options, where even the most liberal families start sentences with “when you’re married with kids…” and “one day, when you have a husband…” instead of “after you graduate college.” We live in a world where women in every country are beaten, raped, intimidated, and institutionally oppressed- and a world where in some countries, it’s completely legal and socially acceptable.
So maybe we call it feminism because nobody has ever said masculinity made someone unfit to lead, and because nobody has ever celebrated the things that compose our gender roles. Maybe we call it feminism because acting like socialized femininity hasn’t been used against us for centuries is folly. I’m actually certain we call it feminism because all men are created equal- and all women have an extra fight to overcome in order to get there. And I’m pretty sure we call it Women’s Studies because for once, it might help to educate other people on exactly what this struggle is about for women everywhere.
No, I don’t have a problem with that.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

Washington, DC

A professional feminist by day and overemotional writer by night, Carmen is currently Communications Coordinator at the Feminist Majority Foundation and the Feminism and Community Editor at Autostraddle. She has spoken at various events including the National Conference on Sexual Assault, Momentum, A-Camp, and the founding SPARK Summit. Carmen has been interviewed and profiled by The New York Times, HerCampus, the Guardian, Campus Progress, Ms., Good Morning America, the CBS Early Show and other print, web, and broadcast media outlets for her work in feminist organizing and online activism. Her successful work for over five years in digital feminism - ranging from Hollaback!'s successful launching Kickstarter campaign to the viral #EducateCoaches petition on Change - has earned her the titles of "digital native," "intimidating to some," and "vapid and uninteresting." Carmen's writing has been featured or spotlighted online by Jezebel, Feministing, Bitch, and Elixher; she is also part of a forthcoming printed anthology about young feminism. In the past, she's blogged for the SPARK Movement, served as a PolicyMic writer, and was Managing Editor of THE LINE Campaign blog.

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