By RACHEL GILES
Glitter or guns? Trucks or tiaras? Boy or girl? The rise in popularity of gender reveal parties reflect the impressive sway that this social construct has on our culture. So much of our lives are shaped by the gender we are assigned at birth, and the expectations we place on people based on gender can be restricting. Society collectively creates a rigid binary and standards of masculinity and femininity that are impossible to attain. We place limits on ourselves based on gender because society tells us to, because we don’t learn to question it. This makes it difficult for nonbinary individuals to carve out a third space outside this binary, because of the importance that we place on that masculine/feminine dichotomy. This is why every student at Mary Washington should take a gender studies course.
Adding a general education requirement is a serious endeavor, so it is not one I suggest lightly or off-hand. I believe the time and the challenge to add the requirement are worth the effort. Gender is one of the biggest aspects of how we form our identities, and we should learn how to challenge the ways we let it shape us.
What does it mean to be human outside of what it means to be male or female? How can we make space for queer and transgender identities at this university and in the world? These are the kind of questions we should be asking in order to prioritize inclusiveness not only while we are here at the university, but for the rest of our lives.
It would serve students well if UMW had a gender studies gen-ed requirement. This would give every graduate from this university the opportunity to ask questions like those previously posed, and even interrogate gender itself.
I am not a women and gender studies major, but my time in classes like Gender and Communication, Principles in Queer Sexuality and Feminist Science Fiction have been fundamental, not only to my growth as a student at this university, but as an individual.
This plea is not about an accusation of straight, cis-gendered people or men. There is something for everyone in a women and gender studies course. I am a feminist lesbian, and I have learned so much as a result of my experiences in these classes. College is all about critical thinking, and we should all take a critical eye to this social construct that we have allowed to define our lives since before we were born.
While it would be challenging to add a gender studies class to the list of gen-ed requirements, there are other ways students can access these classes and still work towards their academic goals. Women and Gender Studies 101 and 102 do satisfy the human experience and society requirement if you still need to fulfill it. Even if you have already completed that requirement, consider signing up for a women and gender studies designated class.
“I think a gender studies requirement would help broaden up people’s thinking and help them empathize with people that are different from them. You don’t have to belong to a certain group to understand where they’re coming from. When we examine gender, we get to understand that it means something different to different people. If we let people live authentically, we become a better society,” said senior Rebecca Soto.
Learning more about the ways that gender shapes our society allows us to understand one another and ourselves more. We are born into a patriarchal, homophobic and transphobic society. While progress has been made rapidly in the past few decades, there is still plenty of misunderstanding, fear, and hate to go around. Knowledge can lead to understanding which can lead to empathy, and UMW students should be at the forefront of this. I guarantee it will be an eye-opening and important part of your experience at this university.