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social sciences

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Women's Studies  
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Researchers have also developed feminist methodologies for women's studies scholarly inquiry. These new methodological approaches often involve a heightened concern with ethics and coercion; a focus on the researcher's own place in the research; careful understanding of both the scholarly and policy implications of the findings; and the cultivation of a relationship of alliance between observer and subject, rather than the more authoritarian one common in some disciplines.

What Do Students Do with a Degree in Women's Studies?

Like many major and degree programs in the liberal arts, women's studies claims to prepare its graduates for a wide variety of fields, including work in not-for-profit agencies, law, policy research, education, psychotherapy, and academia. Women's studies students, like graduates of women's colleges, are also often more prepared to work in fields in which women are underrepresented, such as running for elected office or working in scientific research laboratories.

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The tenuous links between women's studies and any specific career is a problem for women's studies, as it is for other liberal arts fields. Recognition of this problem has led departments to increase the focus on internships and work experiences as part of the major, which is intended to increase the marketability of women's studies graduates.

Lesbians and Women's Studies

Lesbians were very much involved in all aspects of first-wave feminism, including the foundation of women's studies. But, as in much of the feminist movement as a whole, lesbians have faced marginalization and exclusion from the focus of teaching and research.

Women's studies was stereotyped during its early years (and still often is stereotyped) as a field dominated by lesbian separatist man-haters. In a defensive reaction, the more mainstream core of academics in the discipline worked against these stereotypes to legitimize the place of the discipline within the curriculum. The consequences of this concern with legitimacy were that many women's studies scholars, especially in the early years, focused their attention on specifically heterosexual issues, and few early women's studies courses took the existence or the experience of lesbian, bisexual, and women seriously.

Despite the prominence of often closeted lesbian scholars within the field, and some major achievements such as the scholarship on lesbian lives and issues published in women's studies journals, all too often the field itself, especially in its early years, was determinedly . Lesbian scholars repeatedly challenged the discipline to greater openness and inclusivity.

With the emergence of queer studies, however, lesbians began demanding their space within women's studies. Most women's studies departments today do offer some courses or parts of courses dealing with lesbian experiences, and some even offer concentrations in lesbian or queer studies.

Other institutions have chosen to keep women's studies a heterosexual field, either by placing the study of lesbian experience within the purview of queer studies departments or by not permitting any space to study lesbian experience at all. (This last state of affairs is particularly common at religiously affiliated colleges and universities and in public colleges and universities in conservative areas.)

Men and Women's Studies

As women's studies has become more mainstream, some male students have begun to enroll in courses and programs in the discipline. Among these are gay men, particularly on campuses where queer studies does not exist. On such campuses, women's studies courses may be the only ones with any content relating to the history and theory of sexuality.

The presence of male students in women's studies courses has created its own set of conflicts within the discipline. Some women's studies faculty have argued that women's studies in particular needs to be taught in single-sex classrooms because of male students' inherent tendency to dominate classroom discussion.

This argument is similar to that which has traditionally been made for single-sex education in general, but it is important to remember that women's studies emerged in historically coeducational public universities and newly coeducational private colleges, where single-sex education was not generally an option, and women took advantage of women's studies courses to give themselves a safe space.

On the other hand, many women's studies departments have welcomed male studies as well as male students, recognizing that the study of female experience cannot be isolated from the study of gender in general. Some women's studies programs have even offered courses tailored to their male students' interests, such as courses focusing on gay male experience.

Bisexual and Transgender Experiences in Women's Studies

Bisexual women and transgendered individuals occupy an even more marginal position in women's studies than lesbians and gay men do.

The presence of bisexual experiences in the curriculum and bisexual students in the classroom should force homosexuals and heterosexuals alike to confront their own ideas about the nature of sexual orientation. Unfortunately, however, the bisexual experience is rarely taken seriously by women's studies. In some departments and programs, bisexuality is included in courses focusing on the lesbian experience, but rarely and more often as an afterthought than as a significant phenomenon worthy of in-depth study in its own right.

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