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May 26, 2008 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

An open letter to Victoria University – Please don’t mess with Gender & Women’s Studies

It would appear from my graduation ceremony last week that Victoria University highly values a liberal arts education. The graduation speaker congratulated us on choosing to study the arts as they are the backbone of any critical and creative thinking. The irony of this speech is not lost as I now find myself for the second time this year writing a submission to fight against proposed changes to humanities departments at Victoria University; changes which would be tantamount to closing down these subjects. I first fought for the value of film studies and now I fight for the value of Gender & Women’s Studies.

The proposal risks losing the Gender & Women’s Studies major by: Requiring GWS academics to teach courses in Education despite the subject area being a minor part of their current teaching. Setting a 16 student minimum for 300-level and BA Honours course enrolments Move GWS classes to the Karori campus

Why is this bad? GWS academics would have to teach outside their subject knowledge. It places GWS squarely with education and ignores the fact that it is an interdisciplinary subject covering history, politics, economics, media studies, sociology, literature, anthropology etc etc. Setting this minimum limit on course numbers will mean course are cut, the GWS department will shrink (not grow), and postgraduate numbers will drop off (we currently have 12 PhD students, pretty good I reckon). It would decrease the number of undergraduate students who currently take one or two gender studies papers along with Politics, English, film, theatre, etc, as they would have to travel away from the main campus for one paper.

Anyone following the film school debate will be bored by now, as I’m repeating similar arguments don’t move the department to a school it doesn’t fit with don’t cut courses and expect a department to grow

Why is it important for Gender & Women’s Studies to be a separate department?

It is the only subject which combats a phallocentric way of thinking, which puts women as the frame of reference rather than man. It is the only subject about and for women. And in a world where women are still the main victims of violence, where women earn less than men, and where being a woman is not valued equally, there is still a place for feminism and there is still a place for gender & women’s studies.

Gender & Women’s Studies has recently chosen to incorporate how the social construction of both femininity and masculinity harms both women and men, and that these forces work in tandem.

GWS critiques objectivity, re-reads history, values women’s personal experiences, is highly engaged with critical theory.

I came to gender & women’s studies in my fourth year of university frustrated at the lack of depth that gender issues had been covered in my previous subjects (English, film, theatre, media & classical studies). Gender & Women’s studies provides a way to cover gender issues in depth, and so that ‘gender’ isn’t covered because that lecturer has a particular interest in it, until they leave.

If the success with the film school has proved anything, students can make a difference. I urge all (not just Gender & Women’s Studies students) but all humanities students to fight.


About the Author ()

Well hello there. Eleanor was the Theatre Editor in 2007, now she writes the Women's Column and just generally minces about the Salient office. Eleanor is currently an Honours student in Theatre (with a touch of gender). She also has a BCA in Marketing but she tries to keep that on the d-low (embarrassing, because she loves academic integrity and also perpetuating the myth that she's a tad bohemian). If you've got a gender agenda, woo her by taking her a BYO Malaysian. She lies, if you show any interest at all she'll probably tackle you in the street and force you to write a column.

Comments (1)

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  1. Kerry says:

    Excellent coverage of the issues, Eleanor.
    I’ve got some pix of the protest at Coll of Ed last week if you’d like them.

    Or you could grab them from the Women’s Group FB page…

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