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social sciences

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Women's Studies  
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Women's studies is an interdisciplinary academic field that had its origins in first-wave feminism in the 1960s. The earliest integrated programs at major universities began around 1970, though a few courses that could be considered women's studies courses were offered at colleges and universities before then.

Women's studies experienced tremendous growth during the last quarter of the twentieth century, growing from a few programs at elite or progressive universities to hundreds of programs across the United States and the world at every conceivable type of academic institution. Concurrent with the growth of women's studies programs was an explosion of research and scholarship on women and gender, which helped give the new discipline academic legitimacy.

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The legitimization and institutionalization of women's studies was one of the most important developments in the academy during the final decades of the twentieth century.

Establishing the Discipline

The first women's studies faculty had to create a new discipline: they had to write their own textbooks, compile reading lists, develop new curricula, and establish new journals. Their courses provided the first opportunity for women's lives and experiences to be studied seriously in higher education from a gender-sensitive perspective.

Additionally, faculty drew on a new pedagogy that was participatory and personal, which later came to be known as feminist pedagogy. At many of the colleges and universities that were newly coeducational during the 1970s, women's studies was developed as part of the process of incorporating women into the campus communities.

These new courses offered faculty and students the opportunity to conduct in-depth scholarly work on subjects that had previously not been a part of the college curriculum, or were at the margins of more traditional disciplines, such as domestic violence, women's roles in historical periods, and women's literature.

Moreover, given its origins in the women's movement, women's studies was from its beginnings activist in its orientation, as much committed to transforming women's roles in the world as simply to understanding such roles. Its goal was not "disinterested" academic inquiry, but the ending of oppression against women.

Indeed, women's studies' relationship to the women's movement was crucial in establishing and developing the field. The women's movement helped pressure colleges and universities to establish women's studies programs and helped establish the study of women as a worthy endeavor.

According to the National Women's Studies Association, the United States organization linking women's studies scholars, faculty, and departments, women's studies "has, at its best, shared a vision of a world free from sexism and racism. Freedom from sexism by necessity must include a commitment to freedom from national chauvinism, class and ethnic bias; anti-Semitism, as directed against both Arabs and Jews; ageism; heterosexual bias--from all ideologies and institutions that have consciously or unconsciously oppressed and exploited some for the advantage of others."

However, hundreds of colleges and universities across the United States and around the world now have programs in women's studies, and not all of them live up to these ideals.

Some women's studies programs serve as umbrellas for other academic areas, including the study of gender and sexuality more broadly. A recent trend is for women's studies to be included as part of larger programs in gender studies; these larger programs may house men's studies, studies, and sexuality programs, as well as women's studies.

Some women's studies programs offer undergraduate and graduate degrees. Others offer minors or certificates rather than degrees. Often women's studies faculty members hold joint appointments in women's studies and in more traditional fields, such as history, English, art history, sociology, and psychology.

Scholarly Issues in Women's Studies

Even when glbtq experiences are a part of women's studies research and teaching, they are not usually the major focus. Among significant topics of research in the field are the lives of women, both individuals with ordinary lives in historical periods and those who made outstanding contributions to some field of life; women's psychology, including learning styles and emotions; intersections between gender, race, class, sexuality, and disability; the role of women in science and religion, and how feminist perspectives can change inquiry in these areas; women's writing and art throughout history; social scientific study of family, housework, and gender inequality; activism and social change; and women's health.

Theoretical development is also a part of women's studies. Women's studies scholars interrogate popular theoretical perspectives such as Freudian psychoanalytic theory, Marxism, Afro-centrism, materialism, and post colonialism to bring a feminist and/or female-centered approach to these theories.

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