The Sarah Isom Center for Women & Gender Studies

What is Gender Studies?

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 We get asked this question a lot, actually. Either by parents in “what-can-you-do-with-THAT” kind of a way, or by skeptics in a “isn’t-it-obvious-what’s-to-study” kind of a way. We don’t mind either question, because Gender Studies is organized around questions, particularly about how gender and sexuality affect people's lives and individual lived experiences in the present and at different times in history.  What do we mean when we say “gender”? Are we referring to biological sex? Appropriate behavior for men and women in a particular culture?  This leads to other questions—How does sexuality relate to masculinity and femininity?  Why do those who challenge conventional expressions of gender and sexuality make folks uncomfortable?  Many young people’s expressions of gender fluidity and “nonbinary” and “trans” identity have taken these questions in new directions, giving these questions a broader relevance.

Gender Studies helps us to see these issues in our everyday lives, and gives us a lens to notice things we haven’t before.  Does gender affect the medical care we receive? What we see in movie theaters?  What sizes of clothes are available in stores?  And how does it affect our study of literature, or psychology, or biology, or business? 

Here is the thing about gender studies: it’s not prescriptive.  It’s not a dogma. It is always evolving, questioning, and pushing the boundaries. Gender studies sharpens the way we see the world, and it is always adapting to new circumstances. We encourage our students to test these tools in the real world, and to question everything—including the very methodology we introduce to them. The critical skills they learn serve them well in a variety of professions.  Some become writers and designers, using media to reach new audiences; some go to law school and medical; some turn to public policy; some go on to graduate degrees in the humanities, the social sciences, and the sciences; some embrace advocacy and activism; some create nonprofit organizations. What gender studies students share is a keen analytic intelligence and an ethical commitment to a better world.

 So the question isn’t what can you do with gender studies.  The real question is why would you do without it.