“What are you going to do with that?” is one of the most common responses I receive when I tell people that I am trying to major in women’s and gender studies (WGST) at Mount Allison. I am sure that many other arts students experience this, and personally, the question almost always feels like an attack on the validity of my program. My passion for WGST exists regardless of what future career paths it may lead to – even though there are many.
I run into this type of questioning so often that I have turned it into a game. Any time someone asks me what I can accomplish in life with a degree in WGST, I give them a different answer. The answers range from being a professor, studying law, or working for the UN, to being a journalist or working for the federal government. The list goes on and on, and despite trying to find entertainment in this painful type of inquiry, I question my need to justify my degree based on what makes it “useful” for a potential career.
WGST is relevant to every aspect of our lives and I believe studying it makes you a better person. The program at Mt. A addresses many issues – racism, sexism, ableism, classism, elitism, homophobia, transphobia, to name just a few. It can also be studied through many different avenues, such as art, film, history and theory. I wish everyone had the opportunity to learn and understand more about the different types of oppression at play around the world.
WGST teaches us about the role that systematic oppression plays in our lives, and this knowledge then affects the way we see the world. After completing WGST 1001, I analyzed everything differently – my other courses, relationships, and day-to-day interactions and routines were viewed through a WGST lens. I was awakened to the possibility of why things are the way they are and how they could be different. This program has drastically changed my life, and its benefits are nearly endless.
I would go so far as to say that it is hard not to become a better person through the study of WGST because you are able to recognize and speak out against the oppression that different groups face. For me, this is what life is all about: challenging injustice to make the world a better place.
There have been many times in my life when I have spoken about WGST and people have responded by telling me that 1) I will never be able to fix all of the problems in the world and that 2) I will never change the minds of everyone, so I might as well not even try. While this reaction may seem extreme, I can think of at least three instances in which I was met with this exact response in the last two months. At first I found this unbelievably discouraging, but lately I have begun to understand it. Whenever someone tells me I am not going to be able to fix all of the world’s problems, I realize they are really just uncomfortable with change.
Sometimes it is easy to think that these people could be right – WGST as a discipline is extremely undervalued, which is blatantly obvious when you look at the proposed cuts to our program last year. Any kind of threat to WGST programs is devastating to me and I would not like to imagine a world where people are unable to learn about one of the most influential and relevant fields of study. As a discipline, WGST affects everyone and everything. I am grateful to be able to study what I am most passionate about, no matter what I plan on ‘doing’ with it.