Editor’s note: The Sundial Press serves as a forum for debates about student life at Sciences Po and welcomes the expression of a wide range of perspectives from members of the campus community. We were delighted to receive an outpouring of responses to a recent column on gender studies written by second year student Aristotle Vossos. Below are two responses from third year students. The original column can be found here.
Deconstructing Aristotle’s argument
By Marcos Castellá
Little time has elapsed since the days in which I too found myself at Sciences Po dragged into a mandatory gender studies class, clawing for the earth beneath me. Shock. Terror. Rage. What kind of wicked spirit must posses these progressives as they impose this subject on me?
But the problem is that it was never like that all. The greater problem is that you can curate a campus full of cosmopolitan minds but you will still need to face the fact that a great deal of students, and yes… predominately male students, believe that having a gender studies course as a part of their curriculum is a capital punishment. No less than the solitude of imprisonment makes any free soul whimper, a course on Simone de Beauvoir or Judith Butler makes the bravest of men cower in fear as they run from ideas which are not their own. And today even the great Greek philosophers seem to sweat in the eyes of gender studies. The problem with this article is not that it doesn’t bring up legitimate concerns with the school’s curriculum, the problem is that it’s intellectually dishonest. It’s a poor attempt to disguise the contempt many feel about gender studies as a discipline and equality as a principle.
Sciences Po is a very public institution. The university essentially has in mind when designing its curriculum, the values, concepts, and frameworks of thought it finds useful for future public figures. I agree that the decision to rid the curriculum of political theory is a poor one. But I don’t agree with your problematic word choice. Sciences Po has gender studies in its curriculum. It does not force you or punish you with its inclusion. It is no more mandatory than any other course. Its inclusion is based on a judgment of values that the university as a whole believes is important for its students as many of them may one day lead public lives.
While you bring up maths, unless you were studying Calculus III before your first high-school prom, I find this literary exaggeration to be very boring. Maths is important but the singling out of gender studies signifies a bias because it’s quite clear that there is room for other measures to be taken to free up room in the curriculum, like for example the infamous arts workshop, or the group project. And even with an attempted masquerade of neutrality, your opinions on gender studies are quite obvious. As if it wasn’t public enough outside of this piece, your writing clearly reflects a total lack of interest in taking gender studies seriously as a discipline. Go ahead, play the brainwash card. You may complain of the indoctrination of gender studies but you’re awfully quiet when it comes to the indoctrination of realism, neoliberalism, and capitalism. I’m not sitting here to make a value judgment on any of those things, but I will point out that you chose courses on women’s equality and LGBT rights to pick on. You don’t need to intellectualize contempt for gender studies- studies of trauma, violence, and overcoming- because that’s the only way you can sell your argument to anyone lazy enough to believe you. You claim bewilderment, but that relationship between class and sexuality you’re struggling with is of key importance to the same political theory course you miss so dearly. Though it may be easy to understand for anyone who’s spent longer than five minutes paying attention in their seminars, perhaps it’s nice (for once) to have the rigour of a woman’s writing exceed the capacities of a man’s mind.
You focus on the “returns” of education but this is silly, come on. This is not HEC, this is Sciences Po, and you came here to think, not to simply learn to lay bricks. While the commodification of education isn’t anything new, what might be is your failure to realize that you don’t come to study social sciences just to merely cash-in. I can attest to my gender studies course as being highly important for my thinking. Many of the things I studied in gender studies such as critical theory, psychoanalysis, historiography, and literary criticism have been crucially important in my third year studies. Aside from challenging my own assumptions, gender studies has allowed me to go beyond the limits of my own experience to understand the world- politically, socially, and economically. If you were interested in presenting a balanced case, perhaps it might have been useful to specify why exactly it is you believe gender studies is useful before complaining about the intellectual value of the courses or it’s lack of insightful information and so on. There is a very weak attempt at making this piece seem objective but ultimately it fails to cover up the bias of your case.
Now for those of us who are so content as to have a series called “The Straight White Male”, I wanted to add that the backlash against gender studies isn’t a new phenomenon, it’s the last of a dying breed. So it maybe take note Aristotle. Your acropolis is crumbling like a free cookie at a gay pride parade and only a few are lethargically picking up those crumbs. To those of you believe in this project- be proud. The skeptics hate the fact that the momentum is on your side. They hate the fact that tables turn and scales tip. Ultimately while the resentment is strong, justice as a force is stronger.
Marcos Castellá is a third year student from Texas, currently studying comparative literature on exchange at Cambridge University.
On the fundamental role of gender studies in a Sciences Po education
By Chloé Socha
Today, in most countries, no matter their political institutions, middle-aged cis straight men make decisions in the name of women, transgender people, sexual minorities and racial minorities. Sure, times are changing. But not that fast. Tomorrow, men and women now studying at Sciences Po will be making decisions in the name of gender, sexual and racial minorities impacting thousands of lives across the world. Lives are being put in the hands of politicians who are unaware of the daily realities of queer folks, black women, working class women, trans people. Gender studies do give a voice to these minorities.
We are one of the first generations studying gender and its social implications. We are given tools to abolish gender discrimination, homophobia, transphobia. Learning about gender construction is the first step towards reaching equality in our societies. Teaching gender studies in Sciences Po is as important as sociology and political science. Sure it is not math nor physics, but it never claimed to be so and does not pursue comparable goals. By making it optional, the risk would be only having people already sensitive to those issues taking gender studies classes. The very goal of teaching it is to challenge everyone’s assumptions on gender, and work towards ending oppressive thinking and behaviours in one’s life and career.
Gender studies are among the rare if not only field where women, gender and sexual minorities get more than a subsection of an outline. Women scholars are overall absent from our readings. The theories we study, although fundamental, barely address the place of women in society. Social contracts were established as contracts between men, where women did not belong to the public sphere. The gendered division of the economy and labor, and the contribution of women to the economy through surplus labor have a much smaller weight in the economics we study than they have in reality. Gender studies is the one field where women’s place, issues and expected roles are addressed, where LGBTQ+ identities are acknowledged, where the binary vision of gender, from which many people are excluded, is questioned. Many of us will be making decisions and implement policies that will impact women, queer and trans people. Gender studies focus on more than 50% of humanity and deserve 24 hours of your time.
Chloé Socha is a third year student currently studying at Mount Holyoke College on exchange.
Credits: Featured Image by Chloé Joubert.