Women’s studies courses were born from the Women’s Liberation Movement in the mid-1970s during what feminist scholars call the second wave of feminism.
According to the Berkley Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, the field materialized with the goal of bringing women’s experiences and knowledge to the forefront of education.
Katie Blevins, a University of Idaho professor in the college of letters arts and social sciences, has been teaching in women’s studies courses for six years. She currently teaches an upper division journalism and mass media course titled “women in mass media.”
Blevins said women’s studies is an important aspect of university curriculum.
“I think (women’s studies) is important because it’s challenging assumptions,” Blevins said. “It teaches us to reflect on society as a growing organism.”
Diversity in student population and in critical thought is a highlight during a student’s time on campus, Blevins said.
“I think from a liberal arts perspective, we want students exposed to different ideas,” Blevins said. “It’s the idea that — let’s talk about something that is fundamental to the identity of the entire world.”
Leontina Hormel, an associate professor and the director of the women’s and gender studies program, said there are 20 students currently enrolled in the program with a minor. Around 20 to 30 students have steadily enrolled in the program for the last several years, she said.
Hormel said though sexuality is not in the title of the program name, she said the university plans to add to the name in the near future to more thoroughly explain the complexity of the study.
“Even if it’s not yet in the title, we certainly try to approach the intersectionality of women and gender with sexuality.”
The majority of women’s and gender studies courses at UI are dominated by females.
“I think that it’s compounded — there is a negative association to feminism,” Blevins said. “I think feminism has been challenged and constructed in negative ways.”
Blevins said the negative connotations surrounding this course of study might outweigh the benefits for some students.
“People are concerned that they’re going to have to participate in a negative experience or be judged for participating,” Blevins said.
She said this negative association toward feminism may contribute to both men and women straying from participating in classes in women’s and gender studies.
Dawn Amos, a first year UI student, is an active participant with the UI Women’s Center.
She said there is not as much incentive for students to apply their education to gender studies because of the lack of future career opportunities.
“I would say the reason that people don’t go into gender studies is because they don’t believe that it is an employable study,” Amos said. “With the political climate that we have it’s a pretty controversial thing to get into.”
Women’s and gender Studies is available as a minor at UI, but it is not offered as a major.
Hormel said the women’s and gender studies minor may not carry the full weight of a major, but it allows interested students to understand how those studies interact with their major.
“We major in the sociology and psychology courses, but this helps to better understand how women’s, gender and sexuality are examined in those studies,” Hormal said. “It is a more holistic view.”
This does not stop students from having an interest though, Amos said.
“I have some professors that I talk to in sociology and psychology, and they told me that the enrollment for women’s studies courses have shot up,” Amos said. “While people may not want to minor in Women and Gender Studies, they’re interested in taking the classes.”
But Amos said she does agree there is a “negative stereotype” against women’s studies classes that may turn students away from wanting to participate in the courses.
There is a “radical feminist or liberal image” attached to gender studies and Amos said she believes students shy away from those in order to avoid being called “Femi-Nazis” or something similar.
The judgement that may come with being a part of courses such as Blevins’ “Women in Mass Media” can be difficult for students to move past.
“When (students’) friends ask ‘Oh, what are you taking?’ and you say ‘Women in Mass Media,’ there’s kind of this recoil like, ‘oh why are you taking that,’” Blevins said. “From that perspective, (students) have to overcome that public perception.”
Before Blevins began teaching specifically Women in Mass Media, she taught a course more thoroughly centered on gender and race in the media. She said it was a fairly balanced class of men and women. Still, the female population in the course dominated the male population. Blevins said she attributes this to the fact that within the humanities, there are generally more female students taking part in humanities majors.
“In my class, since it is upper division seminar, and because it is directed towards feminist theory, that definitely limits some people’s interest in it,” Blevins says, “Overtime, I’m hoping that if (students) want to do really interesting critical cultural work, this is the way to do it.”
Hormel said the program gives students a chance to broaden their education and engage in the highly controversial political climate.
“This is one of the opportunities that students have to look at how disciplines approach issues that revolve around women, gender and sexuality,” Hormel said.