Breaking the Silence
After the Falland Before
Paula England, sociology professor and director of the Womens Studies program, wrote her Ph.D. dissertation in the early 70s on the pay gap between the sexes. I searched all these social science journals and found maybe ten articles that had been written over the previous ten years. There was plenty of information on womens wages in the census data, she points out, but nobody thought it was very important.
Academia had not focused until the 1970s on the study of women and gender, asserts Demie Kurz, codirector of Womens Studies. The study of history and sociology and psychology was really the study of mens history and mens sociology and mens psychology. Thirty years ago, there were few female professors, and the curriculum was virtually silent on the experience of half the population. It wasnt penis envy, as Freud suggested, that women suffered from; it was the enforced stilling of their organ of speech.
Today, Kurz notes, its hard to keep up on gender studies in your own field, and what started out as scholarship from a female perspective has branched into inquiries along gender, race, and class tributaries in almost every academic discipline. Gender is a major organizing principle in every society, she explains, so the way most of us see it is that gender is integral to anything you study.
Womens Studies at Penn
About 75 courses a year are offered in Womens Studies; most are cross listed with other disciplines. Around one-third of the undergraduate student body takes at least one of them. A major and a minor as well as a graduate certificate are available in Womens Studies, but England says the program is more intent on spreading gender-themed courses throughout the curriculum. I think it would be very helpful for students education if they could reconsider some of the stereotypes they hold or the beliefs they were socialized with that might not be very helpful to their own development or to their kids development.
Dana Barron, Gr95, is the associate director of the Alice Paul Center for Research on Women and Gender. She calls the center a bridge that supports the conveyance of data and other information from academia to policy makers and advocates working to improve the lives of women, children, and families. She believes that gender study, like writing and understanding quantitative data, should be a basic competency in a liberal arts education. Graduates who leave without taking a Womans Studies course or doing research that uses gender as a lens of analysis have not fully learned their discipline, she contends. Without thinking about that stuff, youve left out something fundamental, not just to what youve majored in but to the way youre going to live your life.
Gender can determine your salary, what you think your role and your partners responsibilities are in parenting and in establishing a career, how you think about yourself or about political issues, and how you behave in almost every area of your life. Once you start thinking about things in terms of gender, Barron points out, they start to look differentand so does your place in the world.