Teaching and Learning

It’s Women’s HerStory Month: What is Gender and Women’s Studies?

Women’s Herstory Month at BMCC will take place March 1 – April 16, 2019.

As we kick off Women’s HerStory Month here at BMCC, it seems useful to share a bit about the discipline of Gender and Women’s Studies (GWS) for those who might not be familiar but are interested. The GWS AA program at BMCC is now in its fourth semester. It currently resides in the Department of Speech, Communications, and Theatre Arts, as well as the Department of Social Sciences, Human Services, and Criminal Justice. There is an interdisciplinary board of faculty from across the college who were integral to its creation and continue to recommend directions for the program.

There are many accounts of the history of GWS programs at the college level. The first program was founded at San Diego State University in 1970. GWS emerged then through feminist activism and the need to pay attention to “new subjects.” Many of these “new subjects” are grounded in the real-life experiences of marginalized groups, like women. Subjects such as domestic violence, the feminization of poverty, women’s health, and the concept of gender as it runs through all of our lives, cultures, and philosophies, are just some of the areas GWS programs drew, and draw, attention to.

GWS is one of the fastest growing disciplines, not just in the United States, but in the world. According to Michelle Rowley, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, “There are few parts of the globe that have not been touched by the exponential growth of women’s studies: There are programs in about 65 countries, including Uganda, Lebanon, and South Korea.” The awareness and critical thinking these programs have brought to countries with low ratings on the United Nations Gender Equality Index have led to legislative change and taught “the power of saying ‘no!’ to injustice.” GWS, because of the pressing issues of inequality and oppression that it addresses, is increasingly critical in our globalized world. Students of GWS learn a global social responsibility that is central to GWS, but often only touched upon or must be sought out in other more traditional academic disciplines.

Because of its interdisciplinarity and its focus on critical analysis of social structures and inequalities, GWS also provides students with excellent preparation for the swiftly changing job market. In a job market where respect for diversity, critical thinking skills, and social awareness are important skills in nearly every profession, GWS provides solid preparation. It is a major that provides flexibility and enhances skills that can be used in a diversity of professions, including counseling, therapy, social work, education, business administration, law, journalism, market-analysis, political analysis, publishing, television production, union organizing, non-profit work, research, and fundraising. One of the key benefits of GWS programs is that they prepare students to either enter the workforce or pursue further study in a range of fields. Students with an Associate’s degree in GWS will be qualified for entry-level positions in the kinds of fields listed above; at the same time, the major will encourage and ease transfer to a Bachelor’s program, the successful completion of which offers an even wider range of job opportunities.

As Michele Berger, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, notes, women’s studies programs produce students who are “civically engaged, globally competent, self-reflexive and dexterous in many disciplines” (40). The deep social justice roots of GWS help students understand how their coursework moves beyond the four walls of the classroom to translate learning into practice and vice versa.

Have an interested student? Send them our way and/or have them enrolled in GWS 100: Introduction to Gender and Women’s Studies – it is an excellent survey course for gauging interest and is the Individual and Society bucket.


Berger, Michele Tracy. “So You Want to Change the World?” Ms. Magazine. Fall 2012. Web. National Women’s Studies Association. p. 40-3.

Rowley, Michelle V. “Women’s Studies Brings Global Change.” Ms. Magazine. Fall 2012. Web. National Women’s Studies Association. p. 41.



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