Find a Better Insult Than “Gender Studies Doesn’t Exist” When Arguing about Gender

Find a Better Insult Than “Gender Studies Doesn’t Exist” When Arguing about Gender May 29, 2018

Photo from Unsplash by Jeff Frenette. In public domain.

As a folklorist I’m not new to people insulting the area I chose to study, but when people employ those tactics regarding my gender studies degree while we’re having a discussion about gender, I’ve gotta wonder about whether they’ve thought that one through.

The comments on my post about Jordan Peterson’s sexism continue to grow. And more than a few of them are derogatory about my gender studies degree. Which is fine, I’m not taking the statements of trolls personally… but it seems a tad short-sighted on their end.

There are a lot of academic disciplines out there: some are newer and some older, some interdisciplinary and some not. These specializations exist for a reason, and most scholars receive extensive socialization to teach us to stick to our own sandboxes in terms of our expertise (whether everyone follows suit is another matter entirely). This is so we can work within our fields, each with their distinctive topics, theories, and methods, to make substantive claims about the world around us, whether that world encompasses literature, biology, philosophy, religion, languages, physics, art, and so on. There are niche disciplines, and new disciplines, and multidisciplinary disciplines, but they all generally exist to meet some sort of need: X thing exists, and we need a way to study it.

I don’t feel a need to justify the existence of gender studies to people who are clearly hostile to it; they’re either choosing to remain ignorant to its contributions, or loathing it precisely because it gives voice to people they’d like to keep disempowered (like women) or rather not acknowledge exist (such as folks on the LGBTQIA spectrum). That’s all to be expected.

It just seems monumentally dull-witted to be having an argument about gender – whether ideas have sexist roots; what gender-essentializing stereotypes mean for the lives of men, women, and others, etc. – while simultaneously saying The Discipline Meant To Study This Phenomenon Is Not A Thing. It’s either short-sighted, or I suppose, deliberate, in an attempt to silence some of the sectors of population listed as examples in the above paragraph.

Clearly, if you’re arguing about gender, there is a need to better understand it and study it. Clearly, if people can have disparate views on what it is and what it means for our lives, it’s a complex enough topic to warrant serious scholarly attention. Clearly, if you’re whining that the field biased, you have not been paying attention to the history of ideas in the West because holy crap, every academic discipline was created and furthered by humans who bring their own biases to the table (go, like, read some Bruno LaTour or feminist science studies).

Gender studies and related disciplines like women’s studies, and movements like feminism, exist in part to remedy the biases of previous centuries of academic study that ignored the reality of women’s lives, the existence of LGBTQIA people, and the impact of gender as a major structuring concept in many people’s daily lives. A concept from folklore studies, the triviality barrier, helps explain why the importance of gender is often lost in the shuffle: due to its association with low-status groups, it can be ignored by mainstream/dominant cultures as unimportant.

And as I’ve written regarding privilege, if the idea of something just doesn’t work for you, maybe it’s not intended FOR you. In other words, if the idea of gender studies just seems utterly irrelevant to you, just maybe it’s because you haven’t had to think about the impact of gender on your life very much. This is probably because you’ve received specific messages about gender that make it seem as though your gender is natural and given, and that’s as far as you really have to engage with it (this probably goes for your sexuality too, though I try not to make assumptions like that about people). If gender studies isn’t the rallying cry you need, you can move along without insulting it (or those who find it relevant) in the process.

Unless, of course, the whole point is to insult us. In which case, good riddance, troll.

I realize that this post will not convince anyone who isn’t already open to the possibility that gender studies might have something useful to contribute to a conversation, and again, that’s fine. It’s just me venting… and also reminding people that simply because you haven’t heard of something, or it doesn’t seem relevant to you, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bullshit.

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