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WMST 1000 Final: WMST 1000 DE Exam Study Notes

Women's Studies
Course Code
WMST 1000
Amy Butchart
Study Guide

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WMST 1000 DE Exam Study Notes (Lecture)
Unit 01
Learning Outcomes
Explain the various projects that comprise Women's Studies
Explain how the women's studies classroom differs from the traditional classroom
Describe the central role of education in feminist activism and theorizing
Identify first, second, and third wave feminisms, and discuss why this history matters to
contemporary studies
Compare and contrast the various ways the term "feminist" is understood in contemporary North
American society
Topic 1: What is Women's Studies?
Women's Studies emerged in the 1960s, and is what we would call an "interdisciplinary" field of study.
This means that those working in Women's Studies draw on resources from a variety of academic
disciplines in their work. The best tools, including theories, concepts, and methodologies from sociology,
philosophy, psychology, history, political science, and critical race theory (to name only a few!) are
employed in the study of a wide range of issues affecting the lives of women and other marginalized
"…Women's studies is an important and exciting experience that introduces new ways of seeing both the
world and oneself. Women's studies courses investigate women's experiences, perspectives, and
contributions, placing women at the center of inquiry."
(Kelly et al, p. 8)
By taking women as the central unit of analysis, women's studies scholars are able to ask new questions,
and uncover the ways in which the experiences and voices of women and other marginalized identities
have been over-looked, under-appreciated, or even silenced in traditional academic fields of study. This is
important both for the quality of academic work that can be produced and for creating a more equal and
just society for everyone. When women's voices are left out of academic work, we are necessarily limited
in what we can know. Thus, "A basic premise of Women's Studies is that we cannot understand the world
without understanding women's experiences, perspectives, and contributions." (Kelly et al, p. 8)
In order to realize its goals, women's studies as an academic discipline has developed a two-pronged
project. It has created courses within traditional disciplines with the goal of incorporating both women
and their experiences into various subject matter. Examples of this prong would include courses like,
"Feminist Philosophy", "Women in Politics", "Sociology of Gender", or "Women in History". It has also
created interdisciplinary courses and lines of inquiry. This course is an example of the second prong. We
might also include courses in "Gender Studies" here.
How can we go about bringing these goals to life in the women's studies classroom?
A woman's studies classroom is one that works to develop an interactive learning environment. In a
women's studies classroom the emphasis is on challenging ourselves both intellectually and emotionally.
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Part of this challenge comes from the nature of the subject matter. Part of it comes from the fact that both
experience, and academic theory and method are brought together when we work through the material.
A women's studies classroom is one where the emphasis is placed on fostering what Cynthia Enloe has
called a "feminist curiosity". This curiosity is really about embracing and encouraging the questioning
of social relationships that exist between men and women, and women and other women. Questioning
these social relationships often means questioning our own social positions, and this is something that can
be quite difficult. Gender roles and the relationships that exist between men and women are deeply
entrenched in our institutions (e.g. the family, the workplace, or the law); they're part of our everyday
lives in such a way that they become taken for granted.
Feminist pedagogy is the style of teaching and learning embraced in Women's Studies. This style of
teaching is one that itself has been developed to embody feminist goals and values. This means trying to
include the perspectives of those that have been marginalized in traditional academic disciplines,
encouraging the development of academic-activist relationships, critiquing all forms of silencing,
domination and inequality, and transforming the traditional teacher-student relationship. The traditional
student-teacher relationship has been one of unequal power relations and domination. The Women's
Studies classroom wants to rethink the classroom as a more open, caring, and dynamic place.
Women and Education
Educational systems have traditionally not been welcoming places for women. Historically, they have
been limiting rather than empowering. We are taught to think that an education is going to "liberate us",
ensure we have the requisite knowledge to be able to pursue whatever career we want, and ensure we
have the resources necessary to become successful members of our communities.
So, given that both women and men in the Western world have access to education, how have women
been marginalized?
Kelly et al. point to three ways women have been marginalized in the education system. The first is
the push to "female" careers. Women are too often encouraged to pursue occupations that have
traditionally been associated with women rather than those that have traditionally been associated with
men. Most notably women have not been encouraged to pursue careers in thee fields of science,
technology, engineering and math (the so-called STEM disciplines). This is in part because of gendered
expectations of where women and men's natural abilities lie, but it is also because once women get to high
school, or university, they often encounter primarily male teachers or professors. Secondly, women are
often constructed as passive and emotional. Teachers, parents, media, and others in positions of
authority, reinforce stereotypes that women are by nature passive and emotional rather than inquisitive
and assertive. Thirdly, in the education system men tend to occupy positions of authority. Men typically
are the ones in higher-level administrative roles. This means that they have had the authority to define
what counts as "valid areas of inquiry" and "legitimate methods for knowledge seeking". In other words,
because of the gender imbalance that we find when it comes to those who have the most power when it
comes to structuring the education system, women, women's experiences, and work by those working in
Women's Studies have not been adequately brought into the mainstream education system and curricula.
"In sum, the dominant message is that human experience equals male experience. Sometimes this
message is overt, but it is sometimes so subtle and deeply embedded in the educational experience that we
are not aware of it." (Kelly et al, p. 9) All three of these factors work together to keep women's voices on
the margins of the education system, perpetuating the "dominant message".
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Challenging the dominant message
Given that the marginalization of women in the education system is not only cultural (i.e. it comes out of
gendered ideas about what kinds of academic work women are most suited to do), but structural as well
(i.e. curriculum and institutions are set up in such a way that women are not fully included), trying to
challenge what Kelly et al. have called the dominant message is complex. The situation for women in the
education system has undoubtedly improved with the introduction of Women's Studies courses over the
last 40 years or so, but there is still much work to be done.
Adrienne Rich, in her piece, "Claiming an Education" (which was originally delivered as a convocation
address at Douglass College in 1977) outlines a way of approaching a university education that offers a
new way of thinking about education, the value of education, and what is at stake, especially for women,
when it comes to "claiming" an education for themselves.
Rich suggests that we should think about what a university education really means. We should think of a
university education as more than just attending classes where information is absorbed, then memorized,
and then reproduced in tests or papers where the answer written is the one that one thinks their professor
wants to hear (or read). She wants us to rethink the teacher-student relationship in ways that allow us to
move away from this kind of educational paradigm. Her view is that we should think of the student-
teacher relationship as a contract. According to Rich, "…it implies an ethical and intellectual contract
between teacher and students" (p. 18-19) The teacher is obligated to respect the student's abilities, taking
her ideas and abilities seriously. The student is obligated to take responsibility for her own learning. The
student must take an active role in what happens in the classroom, because it is the student that has the
most at stake when it comes to what is learned and how it is learned. Rich makes the (very inspiring!)
point this way: "You cannot think of yourselves as being here to receive an education; you will do much
better to think of yourselves as being here to claim one."(p. 19) This is your education, and so you should
be an active part of it.
There is an analogy here between what Rich is arguing in the domain of education, and what women have
done throughout the women's movement. Women have taken charge and refused to be acted upon.
Women (and some men, too) have engaged in an on-going process to secure rights to vote, to education,
to legal equality, to be autonomous, etc. Rich takes the importance of remembering this distinction even
further: "The difference is that between acting and being acted-upon, and for women it can literally mean
the difference between life and death." (p. 19) This is not just Rich being hyperbolic; rather, it's about her
pointing out that women have traditionally been omitted or erased from the classroom: historically they
were physically erased, but more recently they've been omitted or marginalized from a much of university
curricula. Their voices and experiences have not been included.
Educating Girls and Women: A Matter of Life and Death?
Adrienne Rich is following in a long line of feminists and women's rights activists who think education is
central to liberation. In the developed world, educated women are less likely to suffer domestic and sexual
violence (as are their children), and more likely to be financially secure. In the developing world,
education is even more profound. According to the World Bank (hardly a feminist organization),
educating young women reduces fertility rates, reduces infant mortality rates, increases the likelihood that
the next generation of children (male or female) are educated, increases family incomes and standards of
living. The Global Partnership for Education and other groups have shown that the education of young
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