You may have read in this morning's Dom-Post about the axing of gender studies at Victoria University. The university claims that other faculties will offer similar courses instead, and that "The university has developed considerable strength in gender studies across a number of faculties and programmes." Well, the last list I saw, put out in the earliest round of socalled "consultation" on gender and women's studies to prove that the programme wasn't needed, included anything that even mentioned "male" and "female" - for example, courses in tourism, because they gathered tourism statistics by gender. That is not gender studies.
Vic has been trying to get rid of gender and women's studies for a long time, and now it has succeeded.
The online article includes a vote on whether there is still a place for gender studies at universities. So far votes are running strongly against, and the associated comments include some very nasty stuff.
Gender and women's studies programmes are the only programmes in any university which focus explicitly on the operation, meaning and significance of gender as such, not simply as an aspect of something else, such as the history of labour. In other words, they deal with an absolutely central facet of human society, but one which was, until very recently, completely ignored in university curricula, save in the form of deeply rooted and sometimes explicitly voiced assumptions about women's inferiority, whether in science, maths, literature, art...or simply their physiology.
While a number of papers offered in various other programmes at Victoria do use gender as a category of analysis, none of them are able to provide the intellectual framework that enables students to “make sense” of gender in the way that a dedicated gender studies programme does. Without such a programme, of course, it also becomes impossible to major in gender studies and make further contributions to this field – an effective way of removing a much-needed New Zealand perspective from the international academic conversation.
Yet as we are reminded every day, gender is a complex, contentious, constantly shifting aspect of human society which must be made sense of in order to understand what is happening today and what has happened in the past. The study of gender is not an interesting optional extra, to be dealt with only as and when individual staff in other disciplines wish to consider it as part of what they teach.
I keep imagining young women, 20 years in the future, coming across dusty shelves deep in the library stackroom full of late twentieth and early twenty-first century books about women and gender, and being astonished to discover all this knowledge and analysis that they had no idea had ever existed. So then they start a new feminist movement - what would it be, the third wave? the fourth? And they start delving into the history and significance of gender, which has completely vanished from the university curriculum, now devoted solely to employment-related training courses....