There are many intelligent critiques to be made of Women’s Studies, and perhaps of Ethnic Studies as well. Unfortunately, there are many shallow and thoughtless critiques as well, and maybe these get made more often. Which brings me to this post on Finnegan’s Wake.
Finnegan, who is (I think) a philosophy major, has a good point; if bullying of queer kids in school has become much less common, then that’s a very significant and positive development. Unfortunately, he concluded his post with an attack on a certain group of majors:
Last, the comment that’s going to get me into trouble. LGBTQ studies, gender studies, ______ ethnic group studies, African Amerian studies, Judaic studies, etc: I just don’t understand concentrating one’s academic life on questions of group identification. There is more to an individual than his/her skin color or sexuality, and there’s a lot more to the world than one’s own existence and insecurities. I don’t doubt that there are interesting classes to take on all these subjects, and interesting papers to be written, but as majors they suggest a fantastic intellectual paucity. If you want to spend four years doing nothing but self-reflection, well, there are analysts for that. Meanwhile, the universe contains a great many phenomena and syntheses that you don’t know about, and you will never have a chance after your undergraduate years (graduate studies being obsessively single-minded even within a given field) to do something about that ignorance.
I responded in Finnegan’s comments, but I thought I might as well cross-post my (slightly edited) response here, as well. Sometimes I wish I were Amanda; this sort of thing is better responded to with withering sarcasm, but I’m not good at that. (Of course, Amanda does brilliant analysis as well.) (Gee, why does Amanda say I
suck up to her flatter her shamelessly? I can’t imagine. She must be delusional. Poor deluded chick.)
In his comments, Finnegan wrote:
One phenomenon that seems apparent to me is that students in programs like Women’s and Gender Studies or AfAm Studies, etc., have a tendency to hermetically seal themselves off from other disciplines and from challenges to their orthodoxies.
I was a WS major (well, sort of a design-your-own major, based on economics and WS). Far from being “hermetically sealed,” WS had a huge number of courses cross-listed with different disciplines – much more so than any of the more standard majors.
There is more to an individual than his/her skin color or sexuality, and there’s a lot more to the world than one’s own existence and insecurities.
Your sneering description of what you imagine WS is like is so unrelated to the reality I experienced that it’s not even insulting; it’s just bewildering. It’s as if someone said “I could never be a philosophy major, they don’t learn anything; they just sit around contemplating how many angels could dance in their navel.” The statement speaks to the speaker’s bias and ignorance, but doesn’t actually say anything about the subject matter.
If you want to spend four years doing nothing but self-reflection, well, there are analysts for that.
Witty (well, not especially) put-downs are not a replacement for actual analysis or knowledge.
Meanwhile, the universe contains a great many phenomena and syntheses that you don’t know about…
All majors share this “flaw”; there is no major that will cover more than a tiny portion of the universe’s phenomena. I’ve known physicists and economists who have gone through college without ever reading a novel after freshman year, for example. I was initially interested in being a computer science major, but recoiled after realizing the required courses list would leave little chance to take other sorts of classes. Business majors typically have next-to-no interaction with the rest of the campus.
In fact, ethnic and women’s studies tend to be less cloistered than most other majors; at many universities, these courses are taught by professors from a variety of disciplines, hence all the cross-listing.
“…you will never have a chance after your undergraduate years (graduate studies being obsessively single-minded even within a given field) to do something about that ignorance.”
Colleges provide a structured environment for study; but it’s far from true, as this statement seems to suggest, that intellectual life ends when college ends.
You seem to think college should be a sort of intellectual broadness marathon, in which people choose majors based on trying to learn as many different phenomina as possible.
I think you’re mistaken. People should study what they’re passionately driven to study. There is intellectual richness to be found in almost any field, if you have a open mind; the silly “my major is better than yours” attitude of your post doesn’t reflect that reality.
Of course, to study just one field exclusively – whether women’s studies or philosophy or, I don’t know, French – would be kind of sad. But I think few if any students actually do this; most take classes outside their majors. Most of the WS majors I knew took minors (or a second major) in other disciplines; the same thing may even be true of philosophy majors, for all I know.