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January 31, 2005




I think alot of the comments where from men feeling that you had somehow sold us out. A traitor to the cause.

No graduate level course is easy. Otherwise, everyone would have that degree. I think the question should be is it useful? I, honestly, do not know. A person with a degree in Women's Studies can teach Women's Studies. Or am I missing something?


[quote]Family and friends, knowing of my desire to teach, told me that a degree in Women's Studies wouldn't be taken seriously, using some of the same criticisms that the Stand Your Ground fellows used. I argued with them, knowing from my own experience that courses in gender studies were often more demanding in terms of work load than those in more conservative and conventional fields. (This is true in my own classes: ask any of my students who take my Women's History course,and they'll tell you it's much more work than my Western Civ surveys.)[/quote]

Well, as someone who faced some opposition to changing to a history major from engineering, I can relate to your sentiments (indeed the onslaught of liberal arts vs science jokes never ended or ends, aka "want fries with that"). In the end, I don't think all of the contrary advice (to my own desire) I got was necessarily wrong but then I decided towards the end that I had no real desire to go into academia/teaching.

My one wiggle would be in your comparison at the end there. I don't know the structure of the courses where you teach but when getting my degree, a specialized course such as women's history or english history (all 10 of us in a cramped room) or islamic civ is going to be harder than a general survey course such as western civ. As a student I wasn't too happy when a 100 level course required term papers.


Is a course titled "Women in American Society" necessarily a course in gender studies?

When I think of "Women's studies", I think of some people sitting in a room discussing feminist issues.

When I think of a women in history class, I think of studying the contributions that women made to their society.


I think the belief that women's or feminist studies is a bunch of women sitting around talking about feelings stems from the belief that is all women are good at. The belief that all women have to talk about is recipes and gossip is an old one. The gossip paradigm has just moved to academia is all.

Hugo Schwyzer

Darcy, the course I teach is History 25B "Women in American Society." We don't have an actual Women's Studies department at PCC; what we have are various courses in various disciplines. We call our course "Women in American Society" so that we can deal with both historical and contemporary issues.

I don't like "great woman" history. You won't get much about Abigail Adams or Harriet Tubman from me. We spend much more time talking about how ordinary women lived -- about marriage practices, medical practices, and the origins of the women's movement in abolition and temperance movements. And, of course, we spend a lot of time on the history of the body.


I understand the problem of liberal arts majors being looked down upon by science arts majors. I have a bachelor of science degree. The hardest classes for me were the liberal arts classes I had to take. I think everyone's brain is "wired" differently, so there is nothing wrong with a B.A.degree versus a B.S. degree.

I do think the perception is out there that women's history classes are a waste.
The quote from above:
We spend much more time talking about how ordinary women lived -- about marriage practices, medical practices, and the origins of the women's movement in abolition and temperance movements. And, of course, we spend a lot of time on the history of the body. helps me understand why it is a good thing.

Unfortunately, most of us only have a finite amount of time to complete the required course work need for our degree. There are many worthwhile courses that are offered but cannot be taken due to time constraints.


When I was in college, the "XYZ Studies" majors were also mostly cross-disciplinary. When I was a senior, I realized I was actually pretty close to having a minor in Black Studies because I'd taken a history course on precolonial Africa, a lit course on the Harlem Renaissance, and a music course on Caribbean folk and ritual music. I didn't get the minor because having a double major filled up my schedule, but basically the courses were like any other courses, they just happened to relate to black people. I never took Women's Studies courses but I gather it was pretty much the same.

Chris Tessone

I'm too infuriated too respond constructively to the sciences=hard, liberal arts=soft stuff conversation, suffice it to say I agree with you. :-)

But on a related note, I think someone (maybe one of the men's rights people? can't remember...) asked you to post a reading list. I'd like to second that suggestion. I'm getting into a lot of really cool feminist theology, and that's what I'm looking forward to studying if I can get into HDS, but I feel woefully illiterate in women's studies on the secular side. So I'd like to add my voice requesting that you post an introductory reading list one of these days.


"And, of course, we spend a lot of time on the history of the body."

I'm having trouble seeing how that statement relates to "Women in American Society". Sounds like bio.

Hugo Schwyzer

AJ, I mean that we focus on "body history", which encompasses everything from the history of the fashion industry to changing patterns of menarche and menopause to the birth control movement to contemporary debates over cosmetic surgery.  We use this book as a source text.

Chris, I'll see what I can come up with!


History of the body's all about how the body was viewed--how a woman's body influenced her place in the world, for instance. (Great Victorian stuff on how educated women's ovaries would decay from neglect)

Hugo Schwyzer

Yes, Maureen! I use some of Brumberg's "Fasting Girls" which touches on exactly that...


The other thing I've noticed about a lot of people who put down gender studies is that they find it personally distasteful to discuss how gender has a profound impact on society, history, ourselves. But that is just too bad, of course, because if scholars always refrained from study for fear of causing others to have to ask uncomfortable questions of themselves, we would still live in the Dark Ages.


To the extent that Women's Studies graduate degrees aren't taken seriously, I think this has a lot more to do with the structure and culture of disciplines than the subject matter. I suspect it would be a poor strategic choice for a graduate degree because more traditional disciplines are typically very nervous about hiring people who don't come from that field, while interdisciplinary departments are happy to hire people from standard departments. I strongly considered applying to two interdisciplinary social theory programs (Committee on Social Thought at U. of Chicago and the History of Consciousness at UC-Santa Cruz) because they have amazing, famous faculty and great courses. I was (correctly, I think) advised against this because these programs aren't good at placing people--there are no undergraduate Hiscon and Social Thought programs for the PhDs to teach in. And in the few openings for interdisciplinary teaching, they don't have much of an advantage over the hordes of unemployed political scientists, historians, anthropologists, literary theorists, philosophers, sociologists and so on. I think something similar might happen w/Women's Studies graduate degrees. When my dept tried to Hire a Women and Politics person, all the finalists were from Poli Sci departments. I wasn't on the search committee, but I think there is a general tendency to go that route because they want to hire "one of us." Disciplines are conservative (small c) and proprietary; interdisciplinary programs threaten both of those tendencies.

Hugo Schwyzer

That's a good point, DJW. I would certainly have had a tougher time finding teaching work a decade ago as a man with a doctorate in women's studies.


Some of the topics that Hugo touches on (eg, history of body image) would also fit medical anthropology or history of medicine/history of biology. Others (changing age at menarche, reproductive patterns and other demographics, changing family structure) could fit well with economic history. Neither history of medicine nor economic history were considered respectable fields of history until about 1950. Politics and great men were the ticket to tenure in the first half of the 20th century.


I think you are spending FAR too much time justifying yourself to a group of morons who probably have done nothing of significance themselves with their own lives, either educationally or personally...

Pay no attention to them.

Anyway, if people have something of sigificance to say, it doesn't matter whether or NOT they have a degree or what it's in...many of the signficant figures of history, have NOT had degrees anyway from Jesus Christ to Lech Walesea, a carpenter and an electrician, respectively...

Don't bother responding to these attacks...


Gender studies is a relatively new discipline.

I'm sure Hugo is confident with a lot of his ideas, but there is room for much debate. Much refinement is needed before "Gender Studies" or even Sociology for that matter is considered a hard science with established theories/models/etc (predictive ones that is).

I see a lot of self fulfilling prophesy in Gender Studies, and a lot of distortion. Particularly about the extent to which "white heterosexual males" are "privileged."

I'm not denying privilege. However, I would also argue that women have not been entirely oppressed through the history of the Western world. Indeed, many women going back for sometime exerted massive influence on the course of history.

So I guess you could say right now what Gender Studies really needs is a "scale of reference." One that can more narrowly define what constitues privilege, who really benefits from it in a measurable away, etc. Also a better definition of what oppression means and how it has changed over time.

A lot of people buy into feminism without putting forth the effort to learn about feminism in a contextual way and they have this distorted view of both genders that they project far into the past. Our perception of ourselves and of others has changed a great deal over time. I wonder, at varying times in the past, what role sex has played in that. How can we come up with a model that consistently explains these perceptions with reference to economic and political systems people find themselves in, cultural influences... Even long term weather patterns. All this stuff has an influence over the evolution of concepts through time.

BTW, Hugo, I am reading your thesis because it sounds interesting to me.


And just so I am not misunderstood. I totally respect Hugo's approach. As a pioneer, he will be challenged quite a lot... and rightfully so. This is how we refine and advance our ideas.


I once took a course in the History of Women Artists, taught by a very pro-feminist woman. In the confines of that particular curriculum, women artists were treated as the equals of the "great men" of their time... for example, Judith Leyster would be as important as Rembrandt and Elizabeth Vigee Lebrun was as famous as Gainsborough.

However, this same professor barely made a mention of these women artists in her general survey course. In that course it was all about the men... and their portrayal of the nude woman.

I would ask then if those women artists that were clearly so important "in the absense of men", really were "important" in the development of art through the ages ? And if they were (which I would agree to) why are they not taught in the general survey courses? Their exclusion only lends to the bias that studying the achievements of women artists is less academically important than studying the men.


Hugo, there is someone posting on other sites that you have slept with some of your students in the past. I hope this is not true. How do you respond to this?

Hugo Schwyzer

Anne, one possible answer is that the general ed course had requirements that the prof had to meet (at PCC, we call them "terminal measurable objectives"). For example, in my Modern Europe course, I am required to discuss the Enlightenment and Napoleon; I am not required to discuss the suffrage movement in Britain or on the continent. These requirements can drive the syllabus, I'm afraid.

The key is to get the TMOS (as we call them) changed. Make sure that if we are going to talk about the Enlightenment, we talk about Wollstonecraft. Make sure that with the French Rev, we talk about Olympe de Gouges and so forth. Happily, I am at the point in my career at the college where I have input to the revision of TMOs.

Blue Mako

I went to that forum, and some of the stuff I read made shocked me... but not in the way you probably think. stuff like this (especially the first post on the second page. As a man who values loyalty above nearly everything else in women, that post made my blood run cold...)

-_- Now that I think about it, I don't think I've ever heard a feminist perspective on female infidelity before...

Trish Wilson

Hugo: "I've been a bit stunned by the criticism (see the comments towards the bottom here) that this blog has too much of my own personal opinion.  Um, folks, it's a blog.  With my name on it.  And I pay to put it up, you read it for free.  What on earth else could be more personal?"

It's common to criticize blogs for being too personal as opposed to blogging about more "serious" subjects - subjects deigned by middle and upper class white male bloggers (and some in the media) as "important." Women and teen journalers are not considered "real" bloggers for this reason. I have a couple of links in a new post on my blog that go into this very subject.


Women and teen journalers are not considered "real" bloggers for this reason. I have a couple of links in a new post on my blog that go into this very subject.

Really? I think the blogosphere is too big for that to be true. It may be that some are, but that may also be because they spout things that are "wingnuttish?" I personally do not see that as factual. Msy be the blogs are uninteresting? May be the folks with the blogs are not getting the word out? I think the blogosphere is too big for there to be any sexism. It (for now) is the last bastion of freedom of speech. If someone has something to say that interests a large group, then he/she will have a large audience. Alot of the blogs that are bantered about are old, well-established blogs. Personally, I think anyone that sees a sexist policy in an unregulated, unfettered literary work, may be looking too hard for conspiracy theories. Even if there is sexist/agist work going on, what does one do? Regulate it? By whom? One the problems with traditional media is regulation.

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