Program Not Just For Women
by Jonathan Kelly
In a typical high school biology class students learn that, when a sperm and egg meet, the sperm struggles against great odds to fight its way into the egg. The sperm is portrayed as strong and virulent, while the egg is a passive participant in the process.
However, scientists discovered long ago that the egg takes on a more active role in its fertilization. The egg has adhesive molecules that actually help hold the relatively weak sperm to it, ensuring that the sperm can slowly break through the barriers and that fertilization can occur.
Emily Martin, a well known women’s activist, once wrote, “At the very least, the imagery [of fertilization] keeps alive some of the hoariest old stereotypes about weak damsels in distress and their strong male rescuers.”
It is this type of gender bias in our common cultural language that the women’s studies program at Transylvania is attempting to overcome in its curriculum, according to Dr. Simona Fojtova, Program Director of the women’s studies program.
“We [as a society] take certain scientific research for granted without examining the language, because we say, ‘Oh well, language is not that important; we need to look at the facts,’” said Fojtova, “But what feminists are also telling us is that it is very important to examine language, because language helps us understand who we are, how we interact in the world, what our place is, where our identities come from and so on,”
According to Fojtova, the women’s studies program is not just focused on women, as the name implies, but is more focused on the lens that feminism and gender studies can provide to everyone to help view the world differently.
“I chose Women’s Studies as a major because it is an interdisciplinary major so I get to take courses that discuss gender and sexuality issues from all different majors and this way I truly get a liberal arts experience by understanding how different schools of thought connect and intertwine with social and political feminist theory,” said senior women’s studies major Hannah Eberhart.
The program offers a diverse course list, which is cross listed with many other programs, such as the social sciences, humanities, education and art history. Fojtova would also like to see the program cross list more classes with the sciences.
Currently, Fojtova is considering changing the name of the program to “gender and women’s studies” to avoid some of the stigmas associated with “women’s studies.”
“Women’s studies is not only about trying to understand the missing pieces of history, of women’s contributions, and fill in the blanks in that knowledge, but it also brings other [points of view such as] to the analysis of gender, race, sexuality, class, nationality and other identity markers that we use to examine and analyze many other issues,” Fojtova said.
Other future plans include trying to establish a women’s studies major and focusing more on society’s construction of masculinity. Right now, students have to work with Fojtova and petition the Associate Dean of the College to obtain a degree in women’s studies.
Though many students may think that a degree in women’s studies makes finding work after college more difficult, Fojtova’s students have found a way. For example, senior women’s studies major Angelina Flemming is preparing for graduate school in social work.
“My undergraduate studies of both the theoretical and practical concepts presented in women’s studies will prove to be very useful as I continue my education and ultimately work in the community with families who endure some of life’s greatest hardships, such as domestic or sexual violence,” said Flemming.
Many students in the women’s studies program also go on to become doctors or lawyers. Others work with non-profit or non-governmental organizations. [Women’s studies is] a degree you can use in any field you choose to go into,” said Fojtova.