Why major in Women’s Studies when you could study a more practical major that your parents would be proud to brag about with their pals? If you’re content with the idea that everything is fine as is — with women getting paid 80 percent of what men earn for equal work, and politicians arguing about birth control (birth control!) — don’t major in Women’s Studies. If you and the women you know are worth more than that, and you want to grab your beautiful, precious, wonderful life by the horns and do something challenging and inspiring and worthwhile with it, read on for five reasons to major in Women’s Studies.
What you don’t know actually does hurt you.
Two memorable responses I got as a Women’s Studies major were “Do you hate men?/Are you a lesbian?” (these are seemingly said in the same breath, which is why they collectively count as one), and “I studied women in college too… Heh, heh.” (This one’s uttered by your friend’s creepy dad or your questionable uncle.) Runner-up: “Why isn’t there a Men’s Studies?” (It’s called History.)
When I took my first Women’s Studies class, I’d often come home angry; I’d grown up with a progressive family, I was well-traveled, and I’d gotten good grades throughout school, and yet I still hadn’t heard about the Declaration of Sentiments or the Equal Rights Amendment; I’d still never questioned the stereotypes that women are bad at math and men are bad at feelings; I’d never heard of rape culture or the gender wage gap.
Every time someone asked whether I hated men (no), or whether I’m a lesbian (no, but does it matter?) upon hearing my major, I was reminded further that women’s issues aren’t getting the mainstream attention they deserve: that women are widely underrepresented in politics; that the number of sexual assaults on college campuses is staggeringly high; that women still get paid less for equal work. And the fact that WS was still obscure and somehow silly showed that there’s still a long way to go before women are considered truly equal. This gave me all the more reason to pursue the degree.
It applies…to everything.
When you major in Women’s Studies, you study politics, theory, literature, history, sociology, and psychology, all with a feminist perspective. You discover and ask questions that no one’s ever challenged you with before: How have women been portrayed in the media and religion? In what ways do gender stereotypes influence politics and literature? How does our society compare to others in its treatment of women?
Since it covers so many different subjects, you have a broad range of job opportunities; you’re not tied to a specific field like you would be with a marine biology or accounting degree. With whatever job(s) you end up having, you can apply what you’ve learned from Women’s Studies to any situation — it’s not so much a career choice as it is a life choice; you’re adopting a new perspective that you’ll use in every relationship, every job, and every circumstance.
Have you read the news lately? It’s War on Women this, and Birth Control Access Violates Our Religious Freedom that. Women and women’s health are at the center of politics right now. Sh-t just got real. Well, I guess it got real a year ago when the House nearly shut down the government over Planned Parenthood funding. As long as people are fighting to turn back the clock on women’s rights, women will need advocates for equality, and that’s where a Women’s Studies major comes in.
Oppression knows no bounds. But the good news is that justice doesn’t either.
The funny thing about Women’s Studies is that it’s not just about women. It makes you think about layers of identity and explore how oppressions like racism, sexism, and ableism are comparable and intertwined. One of the first words you learn as a Women’s Studies major is intersectionality, which at first sounds like one of those higher-ed, elitist terms that makes you shudder and say, “No wonder Rick Santorum thinks college is for snobs!” But really, it’s a theory that examines how different forms of identity like race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability intersect and interact on multiple levels.
Majoring in Women’s Studies allows you to challenge these intersecting oppressions and address the systemic problems that create them, and it instills a huge sense of compassion for disadvantaged, oppressed groups. And we all know that compassion leads to justice.
It’s on the right side of history.
When you choose this major, you become an agent — not a bystander — in the process of bringing humanity one step closer to equality. You do it not just for yourself, but for your partner, your family, and the future. A WS degree opens doors that you may not have known were there or otherwise even comprehended. Women’s Studies explores why women are underrepresented in politics and higher-level jobs, and then it shows you how to change that — how to strive toward a more just, equal, and vibrant society.
College isn’t somewhere you go to learn one skill, and a Women’s Studies major isn’t a trade you learn in a few classes; it’s a life evaluation — a social, biological, economic, political evaluation that arms you with ideas and answers to questions on how to interpret culture and your existence within it, and how to go out into the world and make it better, more inclusive, and a hell of a lot more beautiful.