Not 'Just for Women' Anymore
I don't have one of those pictures that goes with opinion columns in The Tech. If I did, you might recognize me as one of the people who appeared on the cover of the 1997-98 MIT Women's Studies brochure. Whenever someone hears about the picture, the response is usually the same: "Why are you on the cover of the women's studies booklet?"
People ask a similar question with a similar tone when they see that I have a women's studies shirt. These questions reveal a misconception about women's studies programs, both at MIT and in general. It is widely believed that such programs and courses are mostly geared towards women.
The MIT women's studies department is one of the more extensive of its kind, and efforts are made on this campus to dispel the misconception about women's studies. In the 1996-97 edition, the cover displayed pictures of women only. This year, the department wanted to dispel the idea that women's studies is only for women. The disbelief people express when they hear that I was on the cover of the booklet reveals the underlying thoughts about women's studies. Many think that I was one of the few men they could find who had taken a women's studies class.
In fact, in the three women's studies classes I have taken, my classmates have been an equal mix of men and women. Many of the classes in women's studies are offered jointly with other departments, so some people who take a women's studies class don't consider it as such. A class may be very popular as an anthropology class, but people are reluctant to take the same class under the women's studies registration number.
To help solve this problem, other steps have been taken. Several classes in women's studies fulfill HASS-Distribution requirements, further encouraging a wider range of people to enroll. Even in a class which is not joint with another department, SP.401, Intro to Women's Studies, enrollment was about equally male and female. What, then, is the problem if many people are taking the classes, albeit with some encouragement?
The issue is that people still see differences between women's studies classes and other humanities classes, when in fact women's studies is very interdisciplinary, to the point that there are few classes offered solely by the women's studies department. Many classes have some element relating to gender. By the same token, women's studies classes are not isolated workshops on male bashing. Classes include numerous areas of the humanities and social sciences, from economics and sociology to literature and art.
In addition, the women's studies department has sponsored many programs, seminars, and lectures. It is unfortunate that some people give such interdisciplinary classes and programs a negative connotation because of their association with women's studies.
A better understanding of the true nature of women's studies can be obtained by actually taking a class, regardless of which of the many other humanities areas it may be related to. Unfortunately, the people who would benefit from a better understanding are the same people who are reluctant to take such a class.
These are the people that the women's studies pamphlet seeks to reach, the same ones who can't understand why my shirt says "MIT Women's Studies." Women's studies classes are not just for women, but also for people who don't understand the importance of gender in any aspect of our history or society. Hopefully, these people will eventually understand why men are pictured on the women's studies booklet.
Josh Bittker is the managing editor of The Tech, with a humanities, arts, and social sciences concentration in women's studies.