“I’m a Women’s Studies Major”: The Responses

4 Mar

Here’s a sample of reactions I’ve gotten over the years to people learning I am going for a degree in Women’s (& Gender) Studies.

Longest: a woman telling me a story about how she briefly worked at a “battered woman’s shelter” and how she, apparently begrudgingly, had to deliver a washing machine to a woman out in a rural area.

Most common among my family: “So. . . then. . . what do you do with that?” There’s also a thing among my family members in which they each ask me what I will do career-wise with my degree basically every time I see them. I answer. I see them again. They ask again. I scream in my head. Repeat.

Bonus family member response. . . my far right-wing uncle who used to do Civil War reenactments (fighting for the Confederacy!), “Oh. . . we’ve got one of those in the family.” Given who he listens to on talk radio, I’ll guess that he meant ‘a feminazi’.

Most common among my partner’s family: “That’s awesome!” *asks me about my classes, internship*/*gives me birthday and Christmas gifts relevant to my interests*

Most common among non-WGS students: “Oh, that’s cool.” (With varying degrees of sincerity, usually rather sincere though.)

Most common among friends that I have lost touch with since high school: “Oh, wow. That’s pretty cool. You always were into politics and stuff.”

Most common thing for any non-student to say: *asks me to repeat ‘women’s and gender studies’*. . . *I do so*. . . “Oh, ok. So what do you do with that degree then?”

Strangest: a man in his 60s asking me at the bus stop if I was going to campus, then asking what my major was. . . his response: “Oh! Well, you’re half way there!” Hahahaha what?

11 Responses to ““I’m a Women’s Studies Major”: The Responses”

  1. octagon surgeon March 6, 2011 at 5:01 am #

    The obnoxious remarks are to be expected, but the positive responses are heartening. Bear with me here – what *do* you plan on using the degree for? I’m a hs student seriously considering going into women’s studies, but the prospect of ending up in classes full of iFems like you described in one of your previous posts isn’t appealing, and I haven’t found a lot of information about jobs involving women’s studies in general.

    • lishra March 6, 2011 at 11:54 am #

      Heh. Don’t worry… it’s only annoying to answer after I’ve already told the person eight times already. Well, personally, I’d like to work for a non-profit organization in some capacity… a government job is another idea. When I graduate, I’ll just be trying to get any little job that will sustain me though. I’ve considered getting into teaching as well, but that would probably be a later-down-the-road thing since I don’t really want to go deep into debt over grad school right now.

      And don’t worry too much about the fun fems… I think it’s just that they tend to be the more vocal ones. I’ve noticed that other students just need permission to take non-fun-fem positions… like I made the first anti-prostitution comment in a class once, and then all these other anti-prostitution/porn comments came out of the woodwork. Also, instructors that are of an older generation are less likely to be embracing the faux-liberation stuff, but literally all of my professors have been critical of the “doing whatever you want is feminist” line of thinking. And in my experience, non-white, non-hetero instructors have tended to have much more radical politics, for what that’s worth.

      Also, you really sharpen your persuasive abilities when you’re always writing contrarian essays, so that’s a bonus : )

  2. ohands March 8, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    Me too! I’ve gotten a wide load of responses (very few positive ones from people who aren’t already calling themselves feminist.) Seriously though, what is with people asking me to repeat myself? At first I thought it was because my school switched from “women’s studies” to the more inclusive “feminist studies” or because I was mumbling, but everyone seems to understand my other major (history) perfectly well.

    octagon surgeon: I’m personally not using either of my majors in my life, but a lot of the people I know who went for this degree are moving towards (usually non-profit) organizations dealing with something under the “feminism banner” (violence, homophobia, etc), aiming for a government job, going to continue with a law or teaching degree, were pursuing something to do with writing (like journalism) or wanted it while going for their other BA. In my experience that usually goes for most people getting some kind of “humanities degree”. Good luck with whichever you decide.

    • lishra March 8, 2011 at 6:47 pm #

      Hahaha… that’s so weird that you get people asking you to repeat yourself too! Either we’re both mumbling when we say it or the term “women’s studies” just doesn’t make sense to most people’s ears : ) Thanks for your comment!

    • octagon surgeon May 8, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

      Thanks Lishra and ohands for the encouraging and helpful advice!

  3. faeryme March 8, 2011 at 8:16 pm #

    Haha I love this. So hilarious. I’ve had similar experiences…! People seem to think that liberal arts degrees “track” you into one job!! I mean.. If I was an Econ or Art history major, I doubt I would get such questions! Though, the same question applies!! 🙂

  4. Noanodyne March 9, 2011 at 9:49 am #

    I love that you’re majoring in women’s studies — I see the decision to do that as being hopeful, righteous, and smart. It tells me you believe you can help the world be a better place and have the strength and courage to take on a very fraught subject. Plus, the readings are some of the toughest in university studies and can take you through the whole range of knowledge in the humanities and social sciences. Being able to form and defend an argument in such a field is a major accomplishment that takes huge critical thinking, logic, speaking, and writing skills. The major seems to outsiders to be a narrow field of study, when in fact, it gives you very broad knowledge and a range of skills you can use in all kinds of workplaces. (Your only trouble will be that you won’t be the compliant type of employee, so you might not do so well in a cube farm, pushing paper for a Fortune 500 company. Sad, I know.)

    • lishra March 13, 2011 at 1:54 am #

      Thanks so much for your praise, Noanodyne : ) I needed that!

      It really is such an interdisciplanary degree, much like ethnic studies (which is another marginalized academic track, of course).

  5. Crucial D March 18, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

    I’m majoring in Women’s Studies, too, and I have oft repeated myself to family about career goals. I think they just don’t care about the response. Similarly, I had to repeat every Thanksgiving since I was in my teens that I didn’t eat meat anymore and no, I didn’t want any turkey. It only sank into their brains when I married a vegan. Suddenly, they’re making tofu and shit.

  6. FCM March 19, 2011 at 5:52 am #

    i was a gender studies major too. i did *not* continue in this field in grad school, although i considered it. i agree with noanodyne, i believe (if its a good program and not all pomo and shit, which is a HUGE *IF* because many of them are now) its a rigorous course of study that will open your eyes, and teach you how to critically think, and is applicable across disciplines (as a way to CRITIQUE OTHER DISCIPLINES, since they are all misogynist in some way, which is not necessarily conducive to working in *any* discipline of course which is an issue).

    anyway, for me, these courses literally changed my life, and in many ways. they were the ONLY thing i found terribly interesting in college, and i wonder if i wouldve ever even gotten through college if i hadnt found them. it was all so boring, and didnt resonate with me AT ALL. in fact, i changed my major about four times before i found this one. i thought i wanted to write, so i took journalism classes and was terribly disappointed (writing for the lowest common denominator? being assigned a “beat”? no thanks!) i realized i already knew how to write, (a few writing classed helped) i just needed something to write ABOUT. which journalism doesnt (and indeed cannot) help you with. womens studies gives you plenty to write about, because you start seeing things with new eyes.

    i ultimately chose not to do anything with it “for a job” though. working in a non-profit for me was ultimately completely unrewarding (which was legitimately and devastatingly shocking to me) and NOT FEMINIST. there are no radical feminist career-tracks unfortunately. “radical feminist” is a perspective that you take with you, but i think you have to cultivate other skills if you want to actually eat and pay bills and stuff. dworkin worked as a prostitute for a time, and somehow managed to not commit suicide (or homicide) being in such dire straights. she slept on peoples couches and ate other peoples leftovers and handouts while she was writing “woman hating” and just starting her speaking gigs. i do not think i could do what she did.

    i think anonymous radfem blogging is an awesome compromise actually. you get to live in your perspective, but it doesnt pay, and it never will (since you cant make money anonymously, thanks IRS!) so you have to find another way to support yourself, and NEVER have to compromise on your perspective, as long as you keep writing on your own blog. i wonder what the original radfems would think about this arrangement?

    good luck in your studies, and with everything else too.

  7. womononajourney April 25, 2011 at 5:15 am #

    I read this post on my iPod last night before falling asleep and thought I’d come back and comment! 🙂

    For a long while I said I was a WMST major to anyone who asked. I received all kinds of responses, most which were not too kind. From a woman at the bus stop: “This is not the ’60’s anymore!” From my grandfather: “I’ve been studying women all my life.” From other lesbians: Looks of uncomfortableness and like they are “too cool” for that women’s studies bs.

    I actually ended up dropping the WMST major. Most of the WMST profs I’ve encountered are incredibly nice and supportive of me as a person, but they just don’t know shit about feminism, at least not my style of feminism. I had one prof. tell everyone in her class to go see a “feminist” pornographer who came to my school, and I had a prof. say “prostitution can be empowering!” I had to stand up to that woman and say “Um, most women in prostitution want out! The teacher honestly had NO IDEA! :-0

    So….I am a Sociology Major now. I have actually found a radical feminist prof in my dept. and all the full-time faculty are anti-porn. I know quite a few other radfems who went the soc. route and found it to be much more accepting. It’s just really sad what has happened to WMST; in many cases, it’s more anti-feminist than anything.

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