10 things women’s studies taught me

Courtney Young is a lover of gender equality from Canada, and a former UNICEF Voices of Youth intern (check out her profile here). Courtney is a graduate of two Women’s Studies programs and is currently pursuing a degree in digital communications.

 

  • I am a privileged white, educated Canadian woman.

One of my most memorable Women’s Studies classes involved an article called “The Invisible Backpack.” It honestly changed the way I looked at the world, allowing me to recognize my privilege as a white, educated, Canadian (Global North) woman.

I don’t have to worry about finding a band-aid to match my skin tone. I can turn on my TV and see my race represented. I can enter a store without worrying about being followed or harassed.

I have learned to check my privilege.

 

  • Committing to gender justice also means committing to equality in all aspects of society.

Intersectionality is a key part of understanding feminism.

It’s a big word but a simple concept. It means that when we think about or commit to gender equality, we also have to think about the ways that other societal factors play into someone’s life experience. As a white woman, my daily experiences are different from those of a transgender woman. Just as a black man experiences life differently from a black man with disabilities. Factors like race, gender, age, ability, and sexuality all intersect differently, creating a multitude of ways that we experience the world.

Committing to gender equality, or identifying as feminist, means that you recognize that you are also committed to ending inequality in all areas of the human experience.

 

  • Feminis(m)/(t) is not a bad word.

I once told a sales person that I was pursuing a Master’s in Women’s Studies and Feminist Research. His response was, “well, as long as you aren’t one of those feminazis”.

Um, I’m sorry. What?

This is just one of the many negative stereotypes still associated with feminism. Let’s shatter a couple of them right now, shall we?

  • Bra-Burning Man-Haters: First, bras are expensive. Why would we ever want to burn them? Secondly, how does a commitment to equality and justice translate into hate? It doesn’t.
  • Angry: Damn right we are angry. And you should be too.

Women’s studies provided confirmation that my feelings of frustration and anger over gender injustices were warranted.

 

  • It’s okay to have an opinion. The stronger the better.

I’ve always had strong opinions (just ask my mom). Women’s Studies just helped me articulate them. As a young university student I struggled (and still do) with the task of balancing my emotional frustrations while keeping my cool, being well-informed, well-spoken, and witty all at once.

Finding a voice is part of growing up and when I entered the field of Women’s Studies I found myself growing more and more confident in my beliefs, passions and opinions. I had words to explain what I was thinking. I had facts and stats to back up my disappointment at the way our legal systems, governments and schools dealt with pay inequity, women in leadership and sexual assault. And I had the opportunity to finally share those opinions, stats and passions with those around me.

 

  • The world is a pretty crazy place.

There’s a lot of hardship, inequality, and negativity in the world right now.

Women still make 79% of what men make. Young women and girls are often denied access to basic education. Young men and boys are faced with societal pressures to act tough and manly. Women on university campuses are at increased risk of sexual assault.

But for every negative experience, trend or statistic there are countless activists, women and men, who dedicate their lives to creating change. Stories of change and kindness are not always told. But they are there and feminist activism reminds me of those untold stories every day.

 

  • Self-care is critical.

It’s easy to get drawn into dark hole of the Twitter trolls or to get overwhelmed by the multitude of problems our societies face (see item #5).

Activism can be draining, and remaining optimistic can be difficult. Women’s Studies can be a pretty heavy subject. I’m not going to lie, it can be pretty depressing sometimes. And dwelling on the things you learn can take a toll.

You can’t solve all of the world’s problems at once. But in order to even try to accomplish that task, you need to be healthy and happy. You need to take time for yourself.

Watch that Mindy Project episode from last night. Write in your journal. Grab a coffee with an old friend. Go for a run. Play fetch with your puppy. Bake some cookies. Play those mindless video games you love so much. But please: take a break.

 

  • Women’s herstories have been left untold. It’s our job to uncover them.

One of my Women’s Studies professors was also a historian. She taught me to always think about the way our histories and pasts have been experienced by women. About the way that our history textbooks feature the accounts and experiences of mostly men.

It is our responsibility to uncover stories that have been lost and to share today’s.

Someday, the year 2016 will be part of a history text. I hope it talks about how 2016 was a landmark year for Canadian women in politics. I hope it talks about how thousands of young women and men took to social media to fight for their rights and raise awareness for causes like #BlackLivesMatter, #AskHerMore and #RefugeesMatter. I hope it includes the many voices of women from all over the world.

I hope that herstory is told.

 

  • There are so many ways to contribute to change

There are so many ways to fight for equality. Change isn’t going to happen without people like you and me, doing what we can to make the world a better place.

Don’t feel constricted by your understanding of activism. Women’s Studies showed me that there are a multitude of ways to channel our passions into something productive. Write a blog (hey Voices of Youth!), volunteer at a local non-profit, join an activist group on your campus. Find the activism that is right for you.

 

  • We’ve got a lot of work to do.

We see the headlines, we read the stories. We still have a long way to go.

Gender equality is going to be a lifelong project. It involves challenging stereotypes, breaking barriers, acknowledging experiences and changing laws. But it’s worth the work.

 

  • Women are pretty badass.

I think this one speaks for itself.

But if there is one thing I have taken away from my educational experience with Women’s Studies, it’s that there are innovative, passionate, smart, funny, creative, strong women all around us. And I have learned to be thankful for those in my own life.

Happy International Women’s Day to all of those women.

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Comments:

  1. Wonderful post, Courtney. These are excellent lessons and things we can and should apply in our lives, 365 days a year.