What is Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies?

Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies is an area of academia that focuses on, somewhat obviously, gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. In GSWS, critically examining the world around us with regards to power, privilege, and marginalized groups and identities is at the forefront of all topics. Gender and sexuality are typically the primary points of entry into course material, but the significance of intersecting identities is also a prominent academic purpose. At its core, GSWS as a subject examines the pervasiveness of sexism/misogyny and other oppressions in our society and culture, and attempts to deconstruct these structures to better understand them.

GSWS is a Multidisciplinary Field of Study

One of the factors that makes Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, and particularly the GSWS department at UVM, so interesting and complex is the way in which it ties in many different subject areas. Our department, although it has been steadily growing over the last few years, is still quite small. One consequence of this is the fact that many of the professors teaching GSWS courses are often teaching cross-listed courses and might even primarily teach in another department. GSWS classes are commonly cross-listed with classes in history, political science, English, philosophy, health, theater, classics, or environmental studies.

What this means with regards to writing in the discipline is that required writing for a GSWS class might look very different depending on the specific class you are taking. That is to say, the way you formulate your argument, the type of argument you create, the terminology you are expected to implement, and the citations you are asked to use may vary greatly depending on whether you are writing for a GSWS/History class or a GSWS/Sociology class or a GSWS/Philosophy class. Many professors, because of the interdisciplinary nature of the department, will be flexible regarding preferred citation methods, but they often will be expecting a particular paper structure or focus related to their primary realm of academic writing.

All that being said, there are similarities that can be seen across disciplines with writing pertaining to GSWS. The theory and perspective will often look similar across disciplines, even if the details and formats of the paper differ.

What Skills and Abilities are Required to Write in this Major?

  • GSWS writers must possess strong research skills, with an ability to identify up-to-date and credible sources.
  • GSWS writers must be able to implement feminist and queer theory in writing and research. Research assignments often ask a student to research a particular topic related to the class material and evaluate it through a feminist, queer, or gender-studies lens. In other words, rather than researching information and just synthesizing it, students are asked to add a significant amount of their own evaluation through a particular lens to whatever topic it is they are researching.
  • GSWS writers must be willing to explore all sides of cultural norms, activities, and behaviors perhaps previously taken for granted. They must be willing to be vulnerable and regularly practice introspective writing: GSWS is a reading- and writing-intensive realm of study, and much of the course writing is directed at personal reflection.
  • GSWS writers must keep up with changes in terminology and theory. This is central to being a credible actor in the field. Whereas in some subject areas the material changes over decades, in GSWS the accepted material is evolving constantly.
  • Language is important to GSWS for a number of critical reasons. First of all, the language largely used in the field attempts to be inclusive and incorporate a number of marginalized identities into discussions/readings. GSWS terminology stresses a breakdown of binaries and existing rigid “dualisms.” The majority of our everyday language has been built around and by dominant identity groups in society. Problematic and/or oppressive language tends to exclude those who do not hold dominant societal positions. This includes womxn, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, people of color, immigrants and refugees, (dis)abled folks etc. The terminology used in GSWS takes back the forgotten identities and people. GSWS attempts to re-inscript marginalized people into everyday language and life.