“I think I figured out what my major’s going to be,” my little sister told me this past year while on a holiday break from Stanford.
“WAIT REALLY WHAT?” I asked/screamed, because when I get to talk nerdy about things like college majors, I start speaking in all caps.
“I’m going to be a Feminist Studies major.”
“REALLY REALLY REALLY?” I asked, all-caps-ing out.
“Well, it’s technically called Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, but yes, really, really, really.”
I asked her how she landed on that particular major, and she proceeded to explain that when she met with one of her professors her freshman year to discuss a possible major, my sister spitballed a couple of liberal arts majors she had been considering like English and American Studies. The professor then asked if she had ever considered Feminist Studies because she had written a lot about gender issues for that professor’s Graphic Novel Studies class (I know, you guys, I know, I want to take a time machine back to college and do things like graphic novel studies classes, too).
My sister checked out the department, which was on the smaller side, and was super excited about all the classes in the major. Most of the ones she’s taking aren’t about hardcore feminist theory. Rather, she plans on taking classes that use gender and sexuality as a lens through which she can look at arts and culture. For example, this past year she took classes that explored gender issues in Shakespeare, Greek Plays, and the Judeo-Christian Bible. As an English major, she most likely would have been studying the same texts. She could have been a classics major and studied Greek playwrights, or a Religious Studies major and explored both the Old and New Testaments. Instead, she has the freedom to explore a diverse array of art, culture, and history in a way that feels relevant, personal, and meaningful to her. Other people in her major are exploring healthcare, public policy, and international relations — all through the lens of gender and sexuality.
Feminism is a word that bends some people out of shape (and if you’ve read pretty much anything I’ve written for Hello Giggles, you know that this constant misinterpretation and stigmatization of the word drives me up the wall). When I asked my sister if she’s ever experienced any backlash, large or small, when the subject of her college major comes up in conversation, she laughed and told me that if there’s any backlash, it’s not from being a feminist studies major, but being a plain old liberal arts major. “If you’re a major at Stanford that isn’t engineering or computer science, people say ‘Good for you’ when what they really mean is ‘Wait, why?’ Arts and humanities are known as ‘fuzzy fields.'” Obviously, no one wants their field of study made fun of, but I’d much rather have my sister get some ribbing for being a liberal arts major than have her deal with some of the jerkery I’ve seen on social media in response to vocal feminism.
When I asked my sister to sum up why she’s set on Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies as a major, she did so, beautifully: “I’m a feminist major because it’s relevant to me. It’s who I am and it’s what I care about. Almost everything I study relates to me.”
I’m so proud of my sister for picking such a cool lens to look at arts and culture through. If I had that time machine from earlier in the post, I’d probably use it to go back in time and be a Feminist Studies major, too.