Can you feel it? The wash of admiration that fills the room when an M&T student announces what they are studying, or the approved nods of their peers when a Whartonite proclaims he is studying finance? And of course, since dual degrees are especially lauded, triple points for those who have ever even considered transferring into one.
Penn hyperfixates on certain schools and majors. The emphasis on Big Tech or the desire to go into consulting after graduation is nothing new. In the most recent 2021 Penn Career Services report on post-graduate outcomes, consulting is listed as one of the top two industries students go into after college.
Last fall, Lexi Boccuzzi wrote an article about utilizing the Penn curriculum to explore what it means to be a holistic student. Most significantly, she argues that the resistance against taking certain classes — in her case, economics — is “a detriment to not only yourself, but your ability for civic participation as well.” Similarly, Penn should encourage its students to take a gender and women’s studies class, especially in today’s cultural backdrop: The landmark Roe v. Wade decision which exposed the inadequate medical care for marginalized identities, and Andrew Tate’s social media presence incited the hostile, misogynist mobs already looking for absolute male supremacy.
On one hand, Penn’s student body’s gender demographics are becoming more equal. Last year, Wharton surpassed a historic milestone of over 50% women in its MBA Class of 2023.
However, this enormous leap forward does not erase the University’s long history of centering cisgender white men in higher education. Penn enrolled women as early as 1876 — but the incessant issue of inconsistent support for marginalized identities still percolated.
So, yes, Penn was one of the firsts to admit, but let’s not forget that the reason why we have the Penn Women's Center is not because of the University’s moral imperative, but due to the impressive work of student activists requesting for a safer space for women on this campus. So as we celebrate our victories, we must also deeply analyze what we can be doing more.
Enter the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Department.
This field of study opens a door for students to critique this integral part of Penn’s culture and history, and it provides us with a lens to better scrutinize the salient political, social, and economic issues of our time.
Moreover, because the patriarchy precedes the existence of colonialism and capitalism, studying it is vital to understanding the sociopolitical context of today.
The field of study can also be cross-referenced with other fields of study, for example, international affairs. Being a marginalized gender identity in one country does not mean that they would have the same experience in another. And like with most majors in the humanities, we can examine human relationships and how they evolved over time.
Perhaps society could benefit from students making more active, collective approaches to understanding women and marginalized identities. Fueled by this notion, we could reach more profound conclusions and solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues. Then, we could commit to reforming our systems: How would we provide women with better medical treatment, when we do not disregard their pain as hysteria?
Perhaps we would also then have more empathy for all marginalized identities in the workplace, or advocate better for victims of assault and battery. How do we reconcile the individual roles of marginalized identities with the roles of the institutionalized systems that perpetuate oppression and discrimination?
I concede that there are feminist thinkers that alarm others when it comes to studying gender — but the exceptional thought is that feminism is and has consistently evolved to ground itself in its present reality. There exists consensus that the movement leans left; often taking gender and women's classes is conflated with pushing a particular political agenda. But I refute this — instead I am advocating for students to examine the deep history of the patriarchy, and decide for themselves what they make of it. Students investing themselves in this field of study could benefit from the bulk of theory necessary to deeply analyze the way they interact with the systems that dominate their worlds. Reading Judith Butler, Angela Davis, bell hooks, and the rest of the dubbed “feminist canon” could provide students with the right tools to upend long-established bigotry and make them better activists and leaders.
Compiled masses of literature, creative nonfiction, and cultural theory can point to and help us dissect the complicated history of what being a marginalized gender identity is like in America and the worlds beyond the United States. Partaking in the Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies Department, even if it means taking just one class, will lead us to recognize the restraints of our patriarchy, what it perpetuates, and how we can strive to be a better society by uplifting our marginalized communities. All we have to do is step up and sign up.
CATHY LI is a College sophomore studying English and design from Brooklyn, N.Y. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.