The Case for Women's Studies, August 3, 1971

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The Case for Women's Studies

There are now eleven courses on women in the regular Barnard curriculu. Their appearance has been in keeping with Barnard's academic style. Some of our faculty have had a long- staniing interest in such materials and, in the present climate, have been encouraged to offer courses where they may share this interest with students. Other faculty members have developed their interest relatively recently, but have done so against a background of intense involvement with a field where the special experience of women has clearly been ignored.

Barnard's courses on women are given in a variety of disciplines, with no major planned at the moment. Sometimes they are presented within the framework of a colloquium with a changing theme. ‘In this case, the "women" theme may be succeeded in some future year by another topic. At other times, a course will be

added as‘ a regular offering. Its fate will be determined by the

educational and practical considerations that guide departmental

offerings, along with the impalpable criterion that applies to each .

course at Barnard: Does it have a convincing life of its own? Some say that courses on women are needlessly particular- izing and parochial. Might it not be more appropriate to think of

such courses as a rearrangement of familiar materials and an intro-

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duction of forgotten or neglected materials? whether these materials occupy the center stage, as in courses specifically designed to deal with the woman factor, or whether they are in varying amounts incor- porated in existing courses, they heighten our awareness of a whole dimension of human life. Indeed, far from limiting our vision, these courses allow a more complete estimate of the range of human experience and accomplishment.

One sometimes hears the objection: why courses on women? Don't they make as little sense as courses on men? Scholars are finding that differences exist in women's experiences and that there may well be differences in their perceptions of those experiences; yet most courses center around the experiences and perceptions of males. In existing courses, moreover, attention is rarely given to the social and economic role of women and to the resulting psychological relationship between men and women, which in turn influences the nature of society and partly determines its values.

The question arises whether the inclusion of couses on women might upset our balanced curriculum and weaken its professional approach. If we acknowledge that the purpose of a liberal arts curriculum is not merely to provide pre-professional preparation for our students but also to give them an appreciation of their cultural heritage, then, in an institution where women are educated, it is our duty to give them an awareness of their legacy as women. The nature of that legacy is riddled

with problems of sexual definition. Since positive answers cannot be


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supplied, it is even more urgent to place the whole "woman question" within a multiplicity of scholarly perspectives. In so doing, our students will becme aware, not only of the variety of roles women

have played and of the social and economic necessities which may have

prompted the, but also of the characteristic dilemmas they faced andv

the resouces they called upon.

Annette K. Baxter Professor of History


Suzanne F. Wemple ‘Assistant Professor of History