To the everyday people I encounter– my parents’ co-worker, the friend of a friend, that one politics department alumni, and a handful of people in my extended family,
Stop asking me what I’m going to do with my Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies major.
When I declared a double major in History and WGS, I began preparing myself for your inevitable side eye stares and incredulous looks when I explained what I study at UVA. I’m still not sure which major gets more hate—WGS suggests I’m a “brainwashed” elitist or a “bra-burning feminist” to some, and a liberal savior to others, like I alone carry the torch of a progressive American future. History just suggests I’m too stupid to major in anything else.
I realize WGS– and history, to an extent– may come as a surprise to you. I’m animated and competitive, like any good politics student. I could have aimed so much higher!
What you don’t realize is that politics departments have their limits. Politics is a qualified endeavor– only those with the power to participate in it on a professional level are platformed. Crucial aspects of the world around us are out of its realm of analysis.
Unlike the politics department, WGS devotes time to intellectualizing sexism. Politics departments tend to dwell on theories regarding government practice. They simultaneously forgo thoroughly investigating the political undertones of lived experiences. Politics isn’t only Rawls’ theories on sovereignty and liberalism– its when someone tells my friend that she “owed” a guy sex. When I’m called a “bitch” for being outspoken. Political ideologies are salient in the daily experiences of marginalized people. They dictate how we occupy public space, how we’re spoken to, and what people assume we’re capable of.
The WGS major has established a community of people who see politics where others see non-issues. That there’s a reason why I put my keys between my fingers at night, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the “biology” of women’s weakness. My days are filled with conversations that understand the sheer weight of seeing discrimination in its varied forms, and the infuriation of being limited in adequate responses.
I’ll give you an analogy– when I was on a migraine medication called Topamax, I had a side effect where I “searched” for words, but couldn’t quite find what I was trying to say. I’d start sentences, trying to describe something, then get lost. Sexism before my WGS education felt the same. Small moments of injustice went nameless, even though my head and my heart knew something was very wrong. Generations of women at UVA have shown me they see it too– and there are words for those phenomena. Lateral oppression and purity culture and victim blaming and settler colonial patriarchy– it’s all there.
Contrary to popular belief, we do academic work– my classes don’t resemble group therapy or complaining about men. We analyze social ideologies, political theory, media representations, philosophy, and historical literature. Just because it doesn’t have the same name recognition as Batten doesn’t mean I’m not putting in equal hours.
So, given that my academic career is actually demanding, I’d like to give you space to consider that maybe, just maybe, the reason you look down on WGS is because of its subject matter.
When you roll your eyes at my major, are you rolling your eyes at how “easy” it is? Or are are you rolling your eyes at the thought of giving academic space to gender-based discrimination? And what do you think that says about the necessity of WGS academics?
I’m a History and Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies major. And ultimately, I don’t want your opinion on it. When someone says they major in Biology or Computer Science or Economics, you don’t immediately question the validity of their field. No one sighs “oh” in a sing-song voice, glancing quickly down and stifling laughter, when someone says they’re in the Architecture School. All I ask is that you treat my pursuits as equally valuable as those of my peers.
Give WGS and the academic community behind it the respect they deserve. Because who knows– maybe you’d learn a thing or two from one of my classes.
All the best from sunny Charlottesville,