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As a child, I utterly rejected the color pink. My identity before middle school was all tomboy, a disdain of all things frills and sparkles, a rejection of what is traditionally feminine— the classic I’m not like other girls mentality. At a very young age, I internalized the notion so prevalent in society that being feminine means to be lesser than. The process by which we learn how to interact with one another while we are developing, called socialization, played a major role in this.
Though I was blind to more explicit forms of sexism and misogyny as a child, how American society labels its children is crystal-clear. Think of the differences in toy aisles at major retailers. The “boy” section has variety, multiple colors, toys like puzzles and building sets that foster engineering skills. The “girl” section is shades of pink, dolls, kitchen sets, and the like (although the situation is much better today than it was in the early 2000s, as toymakers and retailers attempt to move away from these stereotypical displays). But I didn’t want to shop like Polly Pocket, or be a damsel in distress, or even worse, “play like a girl.” So I tried to be as least “girl” as I could.
- Caitlin Joyce
It took me many years to realize that the association between femininity and weakness was a fabricated social construct of gender. There’s nothing biological or inherent that tells us pink is for girls and blue is for boys, or that women should behave this way, men should behave another.
Flash forward to today, I don’t think my decision to minor in Gender & Sexuality Studies last semester surprised anybody. Ever since high school, I have always been outspoken on issues of sexism and homophobia, trying to figure out my identity as a young woman in a society with a lot of ideals and expectations of what young women are supposed to be. I was full of unbridled energy as I transitioned from a girl into a young woman. It was a gradual eye-opening process of realizing the faults in how we shape our identities.
Coming to Arcadia was a big change. I was used to being the “token feminist” in my high school classes, but now in the Sociology Department, I find so many people with common interests. I loved reading more about feminist theory and applications of sociology, so I started taking electives that not only qualified for my major, but also fed my interests. I’ve taken Gender & Society, Sex & Society, The Family (an anthropological perspective on the variety of family units in different cultures), and Coming Out (a university seminar, which I wrote about here). While selecting my courses for this spring semester, my adviser mentioned to me that I only needed to take one more course to earn the minor, which is why I’m now taking a criminal justice course titled “Women & Crime,” which explores the treatment and experiences of women offenders or professionals within the criminal justice system. I didn’t plan to minor in anything, but my own passions led me to it!
My favorite thing about taking classes in the Gender & Sexuality Studies curriculum is that there is a big focus on intersectionality, a theory that considers various attributes of humanity, such as race, class, ability, or religion, and how those identities overlap and affect the individual or group’s experience in society. We also don’t just focus on femininity and women. To truly understand gender identity and how it affects our social standing, we must also analyze the lives and experiences of masculinity and men as well to comprehend the full picture.
There are many misconceptions and sometimes a stigma against a Gender Studies minor, fueled in part by confusion over how such a degree would be used. It’s not as linear as graduating college, getting a job in a gender studies office, and doing gender paperwork from 9-to-5. It’s more like earning a degree in a skill set— being able to analyze and understand the functioning of society from a perspective of human sexuality and gender identity. Having this minor will also help me qualify in fields that directly involve gendered concerns, such as being an educator in issues of domestic violence prevention, a case worker, a counselor, or a researcher.
But the most important thing that an understanding of gender and sexuality helps me do is be an advocate for equality for all people of any identity.