Friday, July 22, 2011

Global Perspectives in the Development of Gender Studies

File:A woman's eye.JPGElizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony are two names synonymous with women’s suffrage in history. They are two women who made a difference in the world of women’s rights, but at the same time, their experiences make up only a small part of women in society. 

When most people think of gender studies, they think of women’s suffrage. However, there are many other important facets of feminist history and societal impacts that make up gender studies; “The history of notable women is the history of exceptional, even deviant women, and does not describe the experience and history of the mass of women,” (Lerner, 1975, p. 5).

Gender studies was once referred to as women’s studies. However, many universities on an international scale felt the term turned students off and so women’s studies changed to gender studies. By using ‘gender studies’ as opposed to ‘women’s studies’, universities in Mexico and the U.K. were able to legitimize the study of gender and feminism, (Stromquist, 2001, p. 375). Stereotypes about gender studies have slowly begun to fade. While there are still many pre-conceived notions regarding the main points of gender studies (feminism, female history, and women’s roles), global perspectives have helped to change the field of gender studies.

            The term ‘global perspectives’ can be described as the collective voice of the international academic community on any given subject. For example, it is how the study of gender studies would differ in the U.S. and in Spain. Women are regarded differently in both countries; both countries have a different status for women, and show their expectations for women through media or cultural forms. Religious views in either country, along with the roles of high officials (queens, politicians) compared with that of other women (artisans, teachers) can produce new insights. When both the American and Spainish perspectives on gender studies are analyzed together, they can complement one another to create new schools of thought. Global perspectives in the field of gender studies has raised new questions and shaped new theories. 

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As observed by Nelly Stromquist, gender studies were once generalized by the following sub-topics: family, work, motherhood, marriage, science, the state, power, law, social class, and ethnicity. In more recent applications of gender studies, it has become apparent that there are more complex sub-topics that made up gender studies. New questions have been raised and changes in gender studies include: “marriage and divorce, educational opportunities, economic struggles of working women, female sexuality, the subordinate position of women,” (Lerner, 1975, p. 7). A big part of creating new and varied perspectives on gender studies is  remembering that while women have been largely victimized throughout history, that should not be the central theme when relating their experiences, thoughts, and roles to society.

In literature and other forms of mass media, women’s roles have been generalized. At times, it is hard to set women apart from their described roles in media from their actual lives. Though mass media is an ethereal part of life, it can sometimes infiltrate conceptualized versions of reality.  In the Victorian era, society’s expectations of women dictated a woman’s place.

Mass media is not the only hindrance to gender studies; racial inequalities in gender studies can create generalizations as well. White women do not have the market on gender studies, nor do African Americans. There are other marginalized groups like Native Americans, Asians, and Hispanics that were almost ignored in relation to gender studies up until the 1990’s (Dubois, 2003). Marginalized views are necessary to the diversification of gender studies. At the same time, Ellen Carol Dubois feels there is a danger in creating a narrow lens that focuses on the racism of early white feminist, and how feminism can be inherently racist in and of itself. Again, that is an unfortunate part of gender studies, (much like women’s suffrage and victimization), but by no means should it become the core of any gender studies curriculum.
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One more assumption of gender studies that has been renewed is the belief that U.S. gender studies have been internationalized successfully. Dubois strongly believes that that is not the case. She believes that U.S. women’s history has failed to include anything beyond our own national interests. Dubois feels that scholars in continents like Europe, Asia, and Africa will shape the perspectives needed to open up American gender studies to a fuller extent.

Gender studies is still a new field, even though it was introduced into the university system in the 1970’s. Forty years for an academic interdisciplinary field is not that impressive when traditional disciplines like history, philosophy, and literature have been part of the academic world for centuries. Given that gender studies is still in its infancy, it is changing everyday and global perspectives has a lot to do with said changes. When society is analyzed from only one nationalized perspective, the study itself becomes severely limited. In the United States, there are so many classes to be studied, both by race and class. There is much to be gained by looking at gender studies through the kaleidoscope of a larger worldview. The understanding of women evolves as each international school of thought is added to the mix. Gender studies will continue to adjust to the changes brought on by global perspectives and marginalized voices.    

Dubois, E, C. (2003, May 16). “Three decades of women’s history”. Women's Studies, 35(1).
Retrieved on July 17, 2011 from the Utrecht American Studies Network.
Lerner, G. (1975, Autumn). “Placing women in history".  Feminist Studies, 3, (1/2), 5-14.
Retrieved on July 17, 2011 from JSTOR Database.

Stromquist, N., P. (2001, June). “Gender studies: a global perspective of their evolution,


contribution, and challenges to comparative higher education”. Higher Education, 41,


(4), 373-387. Retrieved on July 17, 2011 from the JSTOR Database.  

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