Women's studies, still alive and fist-shaking

Reports of the department's death may have been greatly exaggerated.

Annsley Chapman
April 18, 2008 9:48PM (UTC)

Recent reports have sounded the death knell for women's studies programs, citing dwindling graduates when compared to the halcyon days of protests and consciousness-raising. "Is [feminism] irrelevant in today's world," The Independent wondered, "or has the quest for equality hit the mainstream?" Cultural critic Angela McRobbie even opined in the Guardian that feminism has evolved into a private passion rather than a viable academic pursuit.

Eventually the Independent got the fine idea to actually interview someone within a women's studies department. As the head of a thriving women's studies department at Ruskin College, Louise Livesey had read about the apparent irrelevance of campus feminism, and boy, was she singing a different tune:


"It's not true that it's died," she says. "I was very surprised the courses that are still running were rendered invisible, purely because it's a better story if you can proclaim the subject dead rather than just struggling. There's been a lot of comment about women's studies no longer being needed because times have moved on -- but actually the subject has moved on, too."

Unfortunately, few voices in the media have drawn a correlation between the apparent lack of interest in women's studies and the fact that the departments are often woefully underfunded and ignored by universities at large -- undermining the theory that we live in a postfeminist world where women's issues enjoy equal treatment. But it's much easier to interpret the current state of feminist departments as a sign of their superfluousness rather than a sign that the sexism that makes them necessary still abounds.

Annsley Chapman

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