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Women'S Studies - Definitions

gender science study subordination

Women's studies is the study of women and gender in every field. Its basic premise is that traditional education is based on a study of men—usually upper-class, Caucasian, educated men—while other groups of men and all different groups of women are erroneously subsumed under the category "mankind." Early on courses drew especially on history, literature, and sociology, but they quickly expanded to the other humanities (philosophy, religious studies, comparative literature, art, music) and the social sciences (anthropology, political science, economics, psychology, geography). Science and technology have been slower to embrace women's studies, but biology, math, technology, computer science, chemistry, physics, and medicine have all begun to examine their assumptions for sexist bias, and courses in "gender and physics," "women geologists," or "sexism and science" are de rigueur in most programs.

Over the years the term itself and the naming of the enterprise have been contested and changing. The first name was "female studies," but "women's studies" quickly found more adherents. The name "women's studies" has been criticized for its ambiguous apostrophe (the study of or by women?), for its (supposed) assumption that all women can be studied together, and for its "hegemonic narrowness" that does not take into account transgendered or lesbian identities. Some programs have changed their names to "gender studies," "women and gender studies," or "feminist studies." And of course in the exporting of "women's studies" around the world, various languages are unable to translate "gender" or "women's studies" in satisfactory ways. It is safe to say, however, that all permutations share some commonalities—that women matter and that their own assessment of their experiences is the starting point for description and analysis; that the history of women's subordination is differently experienced but commonly shared; that the elimination of that subordination is a common goal. The concept of gender as a social construction that reflects and determines differences in power and opportunity is employed as the primary analytic category.

Women'S Studies - Origins [next]

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