A Generation Later, Women’s Studies Programs are Thriving
From their origin in the late sixties and early seventies, women’s studies programs in universities have multiplied exponentially. In 1969-70, Cornell University, San Diego State College, and a handful of other colleges pioneered then-groundbreaking women’s studies programs. By 2000, some 600 such programs and departments —including nine Ph.D. programs—were thriving on American college campuses, and they have migrated abroad to universities in Canada, Europe, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and Australia, among other countries.
Whereas early women’s studies programs often focused on issues that arose out of the women’s liberation movement, today’s programs are as diverse as the universities themselves. A snapshot of three such programs reveals the diversity and breadth of twenty first century Women’s Studies departments and scholarship.
Barnard College Women’s Studies: In 1977, Barnard first accepted a proposal to adopt a Women’s Studies program, and by the 1982-83 academic year, the option of a combined major was established. In 1988, Women’s Studies became an “interdisciplinary department for students who wish to explore the basic questions raised by recent scholarship on gender and its relation to other systems of cultural/political differences such as race, class, ethnicity and sexual orientation.” Students are required to organize their studies with a focus on a traditional discipline, with a set of gender-related courses in another department, or with a concentration on a specific theme. Majors may be declared in a student’s sophomore year. A minor in Women’s Studies is also offered. A look at the spring 2008 course catalogue reveals dozens of offerings in areas ranging from Feminist Texts to Introduction to Gay and Lesbian Studies. A rich selection of electives allows the student to explore such areas as Conception and the Fetus, Gender and Nationalism in 20th Century Asia, and Psychological Aspects of Human Sexuality.
Harvard University-Women, Gender and Sexuality: Harvard’s online course catalogue notes that “the study of gender and sexuality has long constituted a vibrant and engaging field for interdisciplinary work and intellectual inquiry. At the heart of this field is the assertion that gender and sexuality are fundamental categories of social organization and power that are inseparable from race, ethnicity, class, nationality, and other categories of difference.” Beginning with the class of 2010, students may apply for admission to WGS in the fall of sophomore year. Joint concentrations with other fields of study (including English, Economics, Anthropology and at least a dozen others) are accepted. During 2007-08, a new seminar course entitled “Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, Myths of Motherhood” investigates “the social construction of motherhood in the US; cross-cultural and subcultural variations in expectations of and attitudes toward mothers, especially mothers who are often marginalized (lesbian, teenage, poor, homeless, adoptive, Black, Native American, Hispanic, noncustodial); and research on mother-blame and other aspects of motherhood, including emotional adjustment of children of various kinds and categories of mothers.” A cadre of other course offerings addresses women’s issues in areas of psychology, health, work, and even dreams.
Sarah Lawrence College Women’s Studies: Sarah Lawrence’s Women’s Studies curriculum embraces interdisciplinary scholarship that includes women’s history; feminist theory; the psychology and politics of sexuality; gender constructs in literature, visual arts, and popular culture; and the ways in which gender, race, class and sexual identities intersect for both men and women. Advanced students may apply for early admission in the College’s graduate program in Women’s History, an M.A. program which provides rigorous training in historical research and interpretation. Indeed, Sarah Lawrence boasts the first women’s history graduate program in the nation, which combines scholarship in women’s and gender studies with original research. Intriguing course titles from the Sarah Lawrence course catalogue include the following: “From Mammies to Matriarchs: The Image of African American Woman in Film, from Birth of a Nation to Current Cinema;” “Gender and Development: Politics, Violence, and Livelihoods in South Asian and African Societies;” and “Surgically and Pharmacologically Shaping Selves.”#