By Cindy Hsu
It is quite odd to me that people think gender studies is a bullshit major.
When speaking about gender studies, there is often a perception that it is just a woman’s major focusing on female empowerment. Considering it to be a “woman’s major,” we also think of gender studies as something easily politicalized such as gender issues. But this political capability is exactly why Gender Studies is important. Not just because it shows how people are truly interested in it, but also because the more polarizing a topic is, the more important it is to establish intellectual conversations about it for better understanding.
Otherwise, we will all be living in the dark – ignoring the impacts of gender policies throughout our lives.
The idea that gender studies is just about women in itself is extremely ignorant.
Most people are exposed to ideas about gender as early as infancy. Moms and dads surround their newborns with pink or blue toys according to their gender. An ironic fun fact, though, is that pink used to be a boy’s color while light blue was associated with girls in the 19th century. Even a foundational aspect of gender such as color association is not as straightforward as it initially seems; people know much less about gender than they would like to think.
Gender is a core identity marker used by people to place themselves in cultural and societal constructions. Division of gender even comes before racial and class divisions, starting from the most basic level of a family dynamic.
So, do we really believe that gender issues have a negative impact on “privileged” men? Whether you are a guy feeling depressed, but refuse to ask for help because you are afraid to destroy your “alphaness”, or a woman trying to fulfill beauty standards yet worried that you will be taken less seriously due to your “girliness,” gender studies can be used to to prevent tragedies and help you become more comfortable with yourself.
Moreover, gender studies is so much more than studying the binary division between men and women. Since gender runs deep in our culture, language, behavior, and relationships, these gender issues are relevant across different fields whether it is biology, sociology, STEM, political science, or the arts. Whatever major you may be in, I can assure that gender studies is a foundational aspect of it.
What if you think you fit into the “straight gender narrative”?
If you are comfortable with gender norms, good for you. But you still cannot escape the potential harms of gender labels.
In the world beyond college, gender dynamics, biases, stereotypes, and idealisms will continue to be prevalent. Studies have shown that stereotypes are self-confirmatory. If a boss has a gender bias on performance levels, there are various ways in which the boss would encourage or discourage someone based on their gender (such as assigning works that stereotypically fit into one’s gender) even if they don’t notice that they are biased. Those who are encouraged will be more likely to work harder and perform better while the discouraged will be more likely to perform poorly—just as the boss “predicted.”
Because society decided to look at people with the context of gender before individuality , we learn to encapsulate an individual’s characteristics in relationship to our ideas about gender. Thus, learning about gender studies will allow us to unpack how these identities affect us beyond our anatomy. Philosophically speaking, if humans are so civilized, why do we still use the control of our bodies as a way to establish dominance? To think about it further, if gender or our “hormones” really constitute so much of our entire personality, aren’t we all just a bunch of hormone reactions at work? What does it mean to have a sense of self so dependent on the idea of gender that is imposed upon you?
On top of preventing psychological harms caused by gender norms, gender studies can also save lives. For example, although heart disease is the #1 killer for both men and women, women are likely to be dismissed for having it. Common stereotypes that heart disease is a men’s issue has blinded some doctors and cost them lives. Gender biases in health care and medicine are killing people of any gender identity and if this is not corrected in the future, this has the potential of affecting you as well.
Like healthcare biases, the scope of gender issues reaches society from top to bottom; from detailed daily interactions and family dynamics, to large scale economic issues. Connecting social issues with how gender plays a role could help people dig deeper into the problem. For instance, when speaking about the economy, one should not ignore how women’s participation in the workforce affects the GDPs. When speaking about racial justices, one can discuss how black women experience discrimination in a form that comnined both racism and sexism(from black men too).
Even women’s empowerment movements need to learn gender studies from the man’s perspective since many of these movements have trouble escaping from the patriarchal obsession of masculinity. Although society stresses that both qualities are essential and have their shortcomings and benefits, masculinity has in aggregately been attributed to more advantageous values or characteristics than femininity. I sense that things associated with femininity are also things that are comparatively disadvantageous to things associated with masculinity. Therefore, we see the trend of “I’m not like other girls.” Tomboys and badasses—women who act like men—are glorified while men who act like women—the “sissy”—are stigmatized. No wonder why all those “woke” female empowering-superhero movies are all about masculine womens like Captain Marvel. (Ha! Giving a hard punch = intelligence and supreme power!)
I am aware that the benefits of gender studies cannot be merely summarized in this article. In short, the ideas one could learn from gender studies will unlock capabilities for people to progress their quality of life. To provide all students with the chance of taking gender studies, colleges should incorporate gender studies into specific departments such as gender studies GE courses for the music school, etc. With these courses, students can learn how gender influences fields related to their discipline. Moreover, they should encourage students to take those classes by providing GE-based benefits for taking the courses to open more opportunities.
Finally, gender studies allows us to relocate how we perceive reality.
Growing up in an East Asian setting, gender stereotypes and norms are entrencit and everywhere. Paradoxically, belief in the norms encourages us to conform accordingly, which in return makes the belief come true. When I moved to California, many of those ideas felt debunked—and without having people racing to judge your individuality based on your gender all the time—I feel so relieved.
Still, many gender norms prevailed and we are still obsessing over the labels of masculinity and femininity, of dominance and submissiveness. But does a 100% male or 100% female person actually exist? Perhaps you should consider taking a gender studies course to find out!