July 6, 2013

What’s In A Name? Is ‘Gender Studies’ More Inclusive?

Filed under: Gender — Tags: , , , — Marley @ 11:03 am

Last fall UCLA changed the name of the Women’s Studies department to Gender Studies and I have gone back and forth as to why I believe the name change does the major a disservice.  The decision was based on the views of faculty and graduate students in the department who took a vote and decided that ‘Gender Studies’ was more inclusive of a term that highlights the ability to reach a wider audience.  Jenny Sharpe, Chair of Gender Studies and professor in English, Gender Studies and Comparative Literature at UCLA, made this statement regarding the name change:

Building on the path-breaking scholarly legacy of the first generation of Women’s Studies departments, the shift to Gender Studies marks the rich terrain of intellectual inquiry now encompassed by the field, which includes exploration of the histories and experiences of diverse women as well as studies of sexualities, masculinities, and gender systems in historical and transnational perspectives.

The change stems from UCLA’s attempt to make the major more relatable to everyone, not just women.  While I commend the attempt to be more inclusive, it seems as though actually being more inclusive needs to come from within the major and not just by simply changing the name.  Women’s Studies is an interdisciplinary field in which studies of sexualities, masculinities and other gender systems are the areas of focus; the name Women’s Studies derived out of a need to learn history and experiences of women that have been largely silenced within the dominant historical discourse. It is not a major solely intended for women, it is the study of using an intersectional lens in which to view the world, outside of male and female binaries.

As a Women’s Studies major, I have dealt first hand with the incredible amount of prejudice and stereotyping that comes along with being in the major.  References to the ‘soft sciences’ and interrogations about my character and political affiliation are typically at the forefront of the conversation.  While I believe that the change can be beneficial to those who hear ‘Women’s Studies’ and automatically think that it a male-bashing major made just for women, I truly believe that deciding to change the major’s name is somewhat of a cop out.  Simply changing the name without an in-depth look at how the department plans to make the material more relatable (or the professors less judgmental) does not magically make Women’s Studies more inclusive- if anything, it makes it more exclusive.

The first Women’s Studies class I took at Santa Monica College with Professor Melanie Klein changed my life.  It created a space in which students were given the ability to recognize the inherent erasure and silencing of women’s voices in a historical perspective and pushed us to bring women to the forefront of political and social discourse and to create change.  On the first day of class, we were given a questionnaire about the word feminist and the types of stereotypes and misunderstandings that are linked to that word.  Yes, the term feminist brings with it a slew of unwanted perceptions, questions and often times a conversation that can be quite confrontational but never once did I decide not to openly call myself a feminist because I was afraid of the backlash.  In fact, it instilled in me an even more important reason why I openly call myself a feminist- to demystify the negativity.

The same can be said for my views on changing the name ‘Women’s Studies’.  Changing the name on some level acknowledges that there is something wrong, something not to be proud of and for that I inherently disagree.  The role, experiences and achievements of women is just part of the importance of the name Women’s Studies; it is a way of understanding the world that is intersectional, embodying all aspects of the society in which we live related to gender, race, class, sexuality, age, ability, the list goes on. I graduated last month and am thrilled that despite the department’s name change, my diploma will  say ‘Women’s Studies’ because I transferred into the program before the change went into effect. With that said, it saddens me that an area of study I care so deeply about is more worried about conforming to the ideals of the dominant culture rather than keeping alive a spirit of women and men who have worked hard to see Women’s Studies accepted as a field of study.

February 17, 2011

Beyonce Dropped The F-Bomb!

I must admit that I get excited when I hear anyone embrace the term ‘feminist’, especially in the world of modern media; that is, of course, until that person refers herself as a ‘mama grizzly‘.  So naturally, when I came across an MTV interview in which Beyonce used the term to define herself, I was rightfully stoked.

I think I am a feminist in a way. It’s not something I consciously decided I was going to be; perhaps it’s because I grew up in a singing group with other women, and that was so helpful to me. It kept me out of so much trouble and out of bad relationships. My friendships with my girls are just so much a part of me that there are things I am never going to do that would upset that bond. I never want to betray that friendship because I love being a woman and I love being a friend to other women.

I have been a fan of Beyonce’s for years,  ever since Destiny’s Child’s second CD The Writings on The Wall came out in 1999.   They gave a fresh, young perspective on their experiences in the world as women and I sincerely respected their musical talent and honesty.    Those are qualities that I respect about Beyonce to this day.

There has been much debate within the feminist blog-o-sphere  about whether Beyonce’s lyrics (specifically those of Single Ladies) should be considered empowering.  Empowerment is the foundation for all feminist approaches and one might argue that for a woman to say to a man, “this is my bottom line, take it or leave it”, regardless of what that bottom line is, is the very definition of empowerment.  Clearly Beyonce is not a Women’s Studies major with years of feminist theory under her belt; however, she’s never claimed to be.  Despite the fact that she is not the first pop star to openly categorize herself as a feminist (TLC’s Chili, Lady Gaga, Ellen Page and Ryan Gosling are also on the f-train), Beyonce’s positive acceptance of a term deemed so negative by the media is most definitely praiseworthy.   Considering the fact that feminism has been (and still is) regarded as a movement that is no longer relevant, it is extremely important for celebrities to encourage a supportive conversation regarding feminism- as they can reach a demographic that otherwise wouldn’t think twice about it. Not everyone has the privilege of growing up with positive female relationships like Beyonce and I personally wasn’t able to foster my own until I took a Women’s Studies course; but the beauty is that while our phenomonologies are vastly different, we can still come together as empowered women willing and able to advocate for ourselves.

July 28, 2010

"Pretty" is not enough!

It was only a matter of time before the younger half-sister of the Kardashian clan, Kendall Jenner, joined in on the money making fun and modeled for a bikini photo shoot.  Kim posted the photos on her blog this past week and praised Kendall’s ability to do what the Kardashians do best: looking “pretty” (and reaping mega profits).

They turned out sooo gorgeous!! I am so proud of Kendall. She’s going to take over the modeling world… you just watch!

Now, where shall I begin?  I am beyond bored with the one-dimensionality of the Kardashian claim to fame.  The issue here is not necessarily that Kendall is wearing a bikini at age 14 or really even the fact that she has decided to pursue a modeling career.   The issue here in my mind is the fact that this is not surprising at all.  But then again, the Kardashian legacy is looking ‘pretty.’  The incessant downplay from the entire family  and her mother’s orchestration of the shoot doesn’t leave Kendall much room for growth outside of posing in a bikini and reiterates that the only component of self that she can have will be reduced to her looks.  I feel the same way when looking at these photos that I did when I found out the mom, Kris Jenner, was the one who convinced Kim to pose for Playboy– saddened and confused.  I was pretty surprised at the amount of acceptance this photo shoot received and am even more surprised as to why this is considered to be “typical” 14 year old behavior.  Shouldn’t her mother be trying to shield her from the inevitable dangers of the modeling world which is notorious for sexualizing girls at an earlier age and essentially chewing them up and spitting them out?


June 19, 2010

Did you forget you're a role model, Katy Perry?

Katy Perry is at the top of the pop star game with her latest single California Gurls currently at #1.   As it turns out, if you have a catchy tune no one really questions or cares about the lyrics which is in this case is good for Katy Perry because she says nothing of any substance.  At all.   This, however, shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise seeing as her claim to fame was “I Kissed a Girl”, a song that did nothing but sell a girl-on-girl heterosexual male fantasy in the form of a CD.  Go figure.  Granted, she does write *most* of her own lyrics and therefore is the only one to thank for the enlightening and empowering messages young girls are consuming all over the country right now:

California girls
We’re unforgettable
Daisy Dukes
Bikinis on top
Sun-kissed skin
So hot
Will melt your popsicle
Oooooh Oh Oooooh

To be quite frank, I don’t personally understand the appeal to her music as I find it to be beyond lame.  It is a classic example of just how devoid of originality and substance our pop culture landscape is and it does a perfect job of keeping women in an overly sexualized one-dimensional category.  It is songs like this that reinforce our ever growing need for more sheroes and a deconstruction of the messages that we are financially supporting and constantly consuming without batting an eyelash.

In a recent Jezebel post by Dodai, the pop message is explained crystal clear:

Tale as old as time: Love me; I’m pretty! Her cupcake boobs and suggestive frosting-licking are campy fun, though disappointing on some level, since the only message seems to be: I am here for your consumption. Eat me.

As if the lyrics weren’t ridiculously dull enough, the cupcake filling shooting out of her cupcake breasts left me at a complete loss, extremely confused and in search for some sort of justification.  Upon further investigation and a quick visit to Wikipedia, I learned that Katy Perry  had quite the religious upbringing, raised by two Pastors.  In fact, she started singing in her church at the age of nine and her first CD was a self-titled gospel album.   So, naturally after her tweet blasting Lady Gaga’s new video  this past week as “blasphemous” I couldn’t help but spot the irony.  I mean, it’s kind of hard to miss in a skintight  rubber dress.

The fact of the matter is that Katy Perry (lame music and all) is extremely popular right now.  Whether she likes it or not she is a popular public figure and by default a role model for young women  and girls. What exactly does it say about our present female ‘role model’ that the best she can come up with are insipid, sexually explicit lyrics that promote her as nothing more than a Candyland piece waiting to be eaten up by Snoop Dogg?