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The Practicality of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

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My interest in concentrating in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies is often met with puzzled facial expressions, followed by the simple, patronizing question: “But, why?” I cannot deny that this is frustrating. I also cannot deny that, before I enrolled in a WGS course last year, I was just as skeptical.

Why is studying WGS considered so off-putting? Why is it not met with the same reverence as concentrations like Computer Science or Economics?

While most people I’ve come across have not totally discounted the importance of WGS being incorporated into college education, there is a common misconception (one that I had previously held) that the decision to focus in it is not a practical one. I mean, a degree in Computer Science can get you that job at Facebook and a degree in Economics can get you closer to the Goldman Sachs dream. What can a WGS degree do for you?

WGS offers something much more valuable than a gateway to a big fancy corporate job. If you take a moment to think about it, you’ll see the world we live in is gendered. We associate different colors with different genders — blue for boys and pink for girls. We use different adjectives to describe people based on feminine or masculine qualities, such as “pretty” for women and “handsome” for men.

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At first, these examples of gender classification may seem natural and unworthy of study, but a closer look reveals how problematic our ingrained gendering system really is. By dividing our world up into these two gender categories, we begin to fit people into boxes.

Women are soft. They are kind, caring, and understanding, and while these are beautiful qualities, often they are followed by submissiveness, domesticity, and a lack of autonomy. Men are tough. They are strong, persistent, and competitive, but these characteristics can also prelude a sense of dominance or superiority over others and can lead to emotional distance or inaccessibility. But perhaps worst of all is that this rigid systematic gendering of the world leaves no space for people who do not conform to these two gender categories, excluding them from the rest of society. And most people do not not fit neatly into these gender stereotypes.

Now, it is true that we have come a long way in improving our perception of gender and gender roles. No longer is the woman confined to the house or the man expected to solely provide for the family. And no longer are the categories of man and woman the only two categories that the word “gender” encompasses. Because of these advancements, some people might argue that there is no longer a practical reason for studying WGS, but this argument assumes that gender inequality has completely disappeared, which could not be farther from the truth.

The gender pay gap in the U.S. still persists today, with women being less likely to be promoted to administrative positions and only making approximately 80% of what men make for working full-time. Unfortunately this pay gap is even worse in other countries, such as Bulgaria and Saudi Arabia. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, an estimated 20 to 25 percent of people who identify as lesbian or gay experience hate crimes in their lives. In today’s pop culture and mainstream media, derogatory lyrics about women and inaccurate depictions of the LGBTQ community reinforce the idea of their inferiority.

So, while there is certainly value in studying the aforementioned “practical fields” of computer science and economics, if we are solely focused on these academic areas, we will remain ignorant of the magnitude of the effects that our ingrained gendering systems have on society. In studying WGS, not only are we trained to recognize these flaws in our society, but we are also equipped with the tools to correct these flaws. Some of these tools include skills that are highly desirable to employers such as critical thinking, insightfulness, and, most importantly, a sense of openness and inclusion.

So, WGS is not only an immensely practical field. In movements of social equality and social improvement, it is essential.

Gabrielle T. Langkilde ‘21, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Eliot House.

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