5 Reason’s Why My Women’s Studies Degree Has Value
Editor’s Note: Livia is this year’s Renaissance Woman Scholar. This is her second contribution to The Renaissance Woman. Keep your eyes open for more from Livia in the coming months!
By Livia Ledbetter
Answering the question “What’s your major?” is tiresome for many college students, but it can often be worrisome or difficult for those of us working toward select liberal arts degrees.
I myself have been subjected to the following barrage of condescension when I reveal that I am majoring in sociology: “What kind of job are you going to get with that?” “When are you going to get a real major?” “You’ll never be happy/make any money/be successful in life.” “You just read books all day, try working on calculus problems for hours.”
Thus, it is understandable that I rarely reveal to others that I am planning on double majoring in women’s studies come fall. While many in my life are supportive, enough well-intentioned but discouraging remarks from close friends and acquaintances alike have made me wary of expressing my extreme passion for women’s issues with those who I know would have a negative opinion of my major.
With this being said, I wholeheartedly believe that liberal arts majors, women’s studies in particular, are not only ‘real’ majors, but have value, enrich our lives and are a necessary component of a college-level education.
Here are 5 Reasons Why My Women’s Studies Degree Has Value:
1. It is interdisciplinary.
Women’s studies draws from a variety of fields in both courses offered and course content. I have taken classes ranging from the portrayal of women in film, to sexualities, to women’s health and wellbeing. This magnificent variety gives you a taste of many different fields within women’s studies, such as academia, research, public health and counseling.
I’d never expressed an interest in the medical field until I’d taken a class about women’s health. I discovered public health is something that I would be interested in exploring further, something I never would have known about myself had I not signed up for a women’s health course on a whim. Women’s studies also allows you to make connections from a variety of areas. Women’s studies professors are often adjuncts, meaning they specialize in a different field, such as sociology or anthropology. This allows students to network with professors from a variety of different fields, opening students up to different academic areas. I never would have learned I loved sociology had I not taken a women’s studies class with a sociology professor.
Your peers will often be studying different things as well, opening up your social circle to include those with radically different interests and career aspirations. Suddenly, you are not just limited to one field, but a plethora of options, branching out in a variety of directions. Ultimately, this will help you make decisions about what you may want to do after graduation and beyond.
2. Professors prioritize your mental health.
As with any major, students are not coddled by their women’s studies professors: deadlines are never extended for frivolous reasons, assignments require rigorous work and effort, and grading is just as tough as any other class. However, women’s studies professors always seem to exude a unique sense of care for their students. They always stress self-care, campus counseling resources, and safety both to students as a class and as individuals, and integrated in course material, when applicable. Professors teaching women’s studies courses have always seemed to be the most thoughtful and empathetic, which is conducive to a healthy learning environment. One professor of mine emailed me after one discussion that dealt with particularly heavy issues to check-in and reassure me that my voice had been heard.
3. Professors care about you.
Not to say professors don’t care about their students, but I’ve found that in addition to their acknowledgement of mental health, women’s studies professors take great pains to be as inclusive and thoughtful as possible. They respect the diverse identities of their students, acknowledge when their privilege sets them back in lecturing on a certain topic and work to make classroom discussion as respectful and healthy as possible. I have never felt more respected than I do when raising my hand to speak in a women’s studies course.
4. It teaches you about hidden societal norms.
All majors have value, but the majority specialize in a certain academic concentration: financial majors center around issues such as business and the economy, STEM majors like chemistry or engineering are intensive studies of their specific scientific field, the list goes on. However, there are very few majors that teach us about the views, behaviors and prejudices we learn from family, friends and society. Women’s studies draws from a variety of texts to teach students about concepts like hegemonic masculinity, the idea that sexism is so ingrained in society’s traditions and institutions that it is rendered invisible and difficult to challenge.
Having an understanding of these sociological and feminist frameworks gives us the tools to break down certain issues that before we would have blindly and dangerously accepted. For example, learning about the unequal power dynamics and manipulative behavioral patterns in abusive relationships in both my sexualities and women’s health classes gave me the language to understand what abusive behavior and relationships were. Instead of just viewing it as a ‘personal issue,’ ‘something that happens to someone else’ or something one-dimensional, I learned to see domestic violence as a complex problem with many components, and I learned how to explain why it happens, what it is and how to combat it. Women’s studies taught me that societal issues like these do not happen in a vacuum or as random one-time occurrences, but are rather endemic of greater problems that are invisible and go unaddressed. When you learn to approach problems in this manner, you learn more about yourself and the world around you.
5. It’s fun!
There is no shame in admitting this. Studying an interdisciplinary subject like women’s studies leaves much room for exploration, which can often be enjoyable. So many aspects of college are tedious, scary and unknown. So why not take a class that you may actually love going to every day? Classes like “Women in Film” and “Feminist Writing” give students in women’s studies the opportunity to learn engaging and interesting material in an academic setting. Many of the issues explored in women and gender studies fields can be serious and heavy, so taking the time to do something more light-hearted is important. Additionally, if you have a true passion for advocacy, justice and women’s issues, then your classes will never truly feel like ‘work.’