Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Round-up: What Women’s Studies Students are Thinking About

Today, I asked students in my two Introduction to Women’s Studies classes to tell me what areas of our society, in their opinion, could use change or improvement in order to promote equal opportunity and to change our society for the better.  You might be surprised by some of their answers.  During our next class, I will introduce the semester long Advocacy/Activism Project, an assignment that asks them to educate others about a women’s studies related topic; today’s discussion is a pre-cursor, a way to show them that they have a wealth of topics to choose from.

If you are interested in my thoughts as a Catholic about Women’s Studies, you can read about how I see some common goals between Feminism and Catholicism, or read my thoughts about Feminism and Respect Life Month (click on the titles to link over to those posts).

Here is a list of issues and topics my students mentioned today.  Each class also chose a topic for in-depth discussion of possible solutions.  I have listed those choices two first.

  • Time to be a good parent and the negative stereotypes about the men and women who choose to parent full time.
  • Gender roles and stereotypes about women and men in the workplace, especially regarding promotions, supervisors, and workers with families.
  • The difficulties merging reproductive work (pregnancy, lactation, child rearing) with paid work in our current business climate.
  • A culture that encourages both women and men to objectify their bodies and those of others in order to “get ahead,” make money, or for entertainment.
  • Educational opportunities for women and girls, especially in math and science, and basic education and beyond for women and girls in other parts of the world.
  • Access to medical treatment, especially for women, girls, and the poor.
  • Lack of respect for women candidates and leaders in business and government.

Several topics came up in both classes, and for the two we discussed in depth, they choose to combine some of the topics that were related to each other.  I think they did a good job of analyzing some of the major problems of our society, especially from a social justice perspective.  Keep in mind that I have not yet mentioned the phrase “social justice” or suggested that women’s studies work is similar to social justice work; they are determining that themselves.  

This particular class period is very motivational for the students, as they see how real concerns from their own lives are relevant to the course.  It is also motivating for me to see that students recognize serious problems in our society.  The next step is for them to educate others about these issues for their semester project.  Here is a round-up some of the projects my students created last semester.

One of the most innovative projects encouraged college students to object to the graphic portrayal of violence against women on television by turning the program off and writing letters of complaint to broadcasters.  This student created a website that educates about the issue, and includes a page to sign a pledge to turn off such programming.  She even created a flyer with a QRC code that links to her website when scanned by a smart phone.  Read the website here.

Another student created a Facebook page to encourage debate among rap music fans about whether the lyrics in certain rap music degrade women and to educate about rap music with positive lyrics.  See the page here.

One student created a video about societal attitudes toward “Supermoms,” encouraging viewers to show gratitude toward their mothers for all they do.  This video also addresses stereotypes and recognizes the roles filled by both working and non-working mothers.  Watch it here.

Another student chose to educate Hispanic women about their high risk for heart disease by writing information, statistics, and pointers in chalk on the walkways of a park in her neighborhood.  She also passed out flyers and talked to some of the women who were walking at the park.  See a slideshow of the project here.

Every semester, students create distinctive projects like these, and other students choose more common topics like domestic violence, human trafficking, and objectification in the media or advertising.  What I enjoy about this assignment is seeing how students develop the confidence to educate others about something they feel is important; this skill will enable them to successfully convince others to take action in the future on other issues they think are important, whatever those might be.


  1. I'll be interested to hear about their projects. Great way to start the year!

  2. Thanks, Lauran. I hope your semester is starting well also.


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