By Aristotle Vossos
Every Wednesday at 1:15pm I go to my gender studies course. And every Wednesday at 1:15pm I wonder what the point is. Why do we spend the same amount of time in a gender studies class as we do in our core classes? Why is this a mandatory class while second year students do not even have the option of taking a mathematics course?
Before you bring out the pitchforks and torches, let me explain myself. Gender studies is not a useless subject. The gender studies classes taught at Sciences Po are often interesting, and a good deal of students would benefit from some exposure to them. But they should not be mandatory. Why are gender studies more important than mathematics? Students enrolled in the economics concentrations receive less exposure to mathematics than a fifth-grader. And Sciences Po, supposedly renowned as a political science institute, no longer offers a proper introductory course to political theory in the first year and there is no pure political science concentration. Therefore, I take issue with gender studies classes at Sciences Po for two main reasons: for the importance that is given to them, and for how they are taught.
Gender studies classes are afforded the same amount of time as all other classes, including our concentrations, and they are actually given more importance over other courses because they are mandatory. This begs the question: Why is gender studies so important? Why has the administration decided to favour gender studies over mathematics or political science? There is no clear answer. Mathematics is arguably far more useful than gender studies and is one of the few subjects where what is taught is indeed a fact. It cannot be argued whether the Pythagorean Theorem is valid or not. And having a proper grasp of mathematics is far more useful than discussing the role of women in the Egyptian revolution. Does this mean that we should not study the role of women in the Egyptian revolution at all? No. But this should not take precedence over mathematics, or political science for that matter.
Most gender studies classes are taught almost as indoctrination courses. Whatever is discussed in class is taken for granted, when in reality it is not. There is little discussion as to whether the topics being taught are valid and class discussions are rarely centered on whether we believe a certain author is right or not, or whether what is being discussed is even true. The texts used in some gender theory courses are incredibly vague, making statements such as “class and sexuality are inextricably linked”, without providing any concrete proof or examples. It would be akin to a text in a history class claiming that France played an important role in the American Revolution, without offering any examples of analysis. And in such history classes, we are at the least given a brief overview of opposing opinions to the main school of thought.
Moreover, we are usually only offered one opinion on each subject. For gender studies to be a truly useful course, we should be reading pieces from dissenting authors. This does not mean we should read texts that argue that women are subhuman and should spend their lives bearing children and caring for them. But we should be reading Steven Pinker. We should be exposed to more moderate opinions. We should be exposed to women who argue that they have faced little harm because of their gender, and then discuss intersectionality. We should discuss whether company policies that call for the hiring of more women are what is really needed. We should debate the value of a gender equal cabinet. We should be allowed to use the ‘critical thinking’ that we are supposed to be using at Sciences Po to form our own opinions.
The classes differ so much in their content that some are akin to law classes while others discuss women in French literature. There is no one general syllabus to be followed, and each group of twenty-something students enrolled in each class ends up with vastly different experiences and knowledge from their peers. So, what is Sciences Po trying to accomplish? If it is trying to give us a basic introduction to gender studies, then we should all be taking an ‘introduction to gender studies’ class. If it aims to deepen our knowledge and understanding of gender studies, then we should first have been introduced to it.
Either way, as it currently stands gender studies courses are being given excessive importance and delivering abysmal returns. As they stand, they should not be mandatory, but rather offered as electives. There is no good argument as to why they should take precedence over mathematics or political science courses. A large part of the material that is being covered could easily be integrated into other courses to complement them, rather than being taught separately. And above all, if Sciences Po truly believes that these courses should be mandatory, it must fundamentally restructure them and offer them alongside mathematics and political science courses. As they currently stand, gender studies courses offer little to Sciences Po students.
Aristotle Vossos is a second year student who likes to criticize Sciences Po and anything Sciences Po related. When not doing that he likes to criticize France. And when not doing that he’s either drinking or sleeping. The Straight White Male runs the second Tuesday of every month.
Illustration: Clara Pratelli//The Sundial Press