When I decided to add Gender and Women's Studies (GWS) to my double-minor I initially expected less than positive reactions from anyone I told how passionate I am about this subject- which is already telling in of itself. I did not however, expect to be laughed at and told that I should "just read a book about it" instead of taking multiple classes within the department and spending several years of my life learning about the history of gender.
First of all, "gender" does not equal "women". Courses that have the word gender in the title are not just classes about the complaints and pains of women throughout history, but actually serve the purpose of contextualizing the history of gender relations as a whole- that includes how men interact with other men. Just like any other discipline, you cannot sum up decades of history in one, easy-to-read textbook. The history of gender and women in the world is amazingly intricate and complex, something that most people fail to realize until they step foot into a class.
From just one semester-long GWS course, Gender and Conquest in the Atlantic World (Villanova students, I highly recommend Dr. Catherine Kerrison), I am now aware that the act of historiography (how history is recorded) itself is patriarchal. This means that for centuries, women have deliberately been excluded from the historical narrative and have therefore been erased from significance. When you take the time to think about it, how many historically famous women did you learn about in elementary school? The only two I can immediately come up with are Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks. Does this mean that no other women made any meaningful contributions in America or the rest of the world over the course of thousands of years? Absolutely not.
In reality, thousands of important women are missing from history textbooks for a variety of reasons; from being ignored simply because they were women and not allowed the power to contribute, to their contributions purposefully being misattributed to men. Uncovering the influence that so many women have had on history is one of the most shocking factors that I have discovered through my GWS classes, because once you learn about the amazing and heartbreaking things women have had to do and experience over the years, it is difficult not to be outraged at the fact that they are not mentioned in "normal" history books.
I have learned that it is easier to call people interested in these topics "crazy feminists" instead of taking the time to understand why they are interested in them at all. Just because I am less likely to get a high paying job in the GWS field than I would in economics, my other minor, doesn't mean that I don't see the value of obtaining general knowledge about the world.
We grow when forced out of our comfort zones, and this character growth can positively impact all other facets of our lives. Education comes from changed perspectives, and GWS courses are guaranteed to change your perception of how the world is today. Whether you are a football player who doesn't understand why women are so universally afraid to walk alone at night or a woman who considers herself to be a "pro-life feminist" and doesn't realize that those concepts are fundamentally opposites, anyone can deeply benefit from taking a GWS course.
So, now more than ever, I urge you to be brave and enroll in a GWS course. You will not only learn a magnitude of useful information, but they can even fulfill elective or diversity credit requirements! Speak up, share your personal experiences and questions, and do not be afraid of getting uncomfortable. I can guarantee that you will leave the semester with a better understanding of the world as a whole, and why things are the way that they are today.