The gender studies degree, in detail


It’s easy to look at a degree printed on a sheet of paper and say “that’s all crap,” and one degree (of many, to be sure) that often receives such scorn is the Gender Studies (or Women’s Studies) degree. Does it deserve this treatment?

Well, Arizona State University, noted for turning higher ed into a boiler room operation, offers a Gender Studies degree, and generously lists the entirety of the degree requirements online. They’re not the only school that does so, and I assure the gentle reader that similar degrees at other schools are very similar in course requirements.

So, let’s take a look at this degree.

Total Hours: 120

A mere 120 college credit hours is required for this degree. This is fairly light. I initially chose my mathematics degree because it only required 128 hours, and many degree programs require over 130 hours. Doing the math for a 4 year program with 2 semesters, this means a Gender Studies student should be taking 15 credit hours a semester, and most students should take more if they intend to graduate in 4 years.

I point out that many students are “guided” into taking 12 credit hours a semester. It isn’t until their 2nd or 3rd year that they realize they’ve been given terrible advice, dooming them to being on campus 5 or more years, even if they fail no courses (and many do fail, because our colleges systematically admit students who demonstrably have no academic interest and/or training).

The very first semester here includes two courses the Gender Studies student must take. There’s a 1 credit hour “ASU Experience” course. In times past, a student would be offered an afternoon of “orientation” where they would be told the main landmarks on campus (library, where to get food, etc) as well as how to get/call for help or whatever. Now, they pay $1,000 or so to get that information by taking an “our college experience” course.

The very first gender studies course for all students is “Women, Gender, and Society.” I find the name interesting. In math, classes are called things like “Calculus” or “Statistics” or “Differential Equations,” and I bet the gentle reader can determine math courses are about from the name (if not necessarily know what the name means).

But what of “Women, Gender, and Society”? The first two words I find contradictory…if “Gender” doesn’t mean women, surely it includes women? Why the redundancy? Either way, are they not part of society by definition? The course description doesn’t provide much insight:

Interdisciplinary introduction examining critical issues in women’s studies.

Apparently women’s studies courses study women’s studies. It really seems like they could have mentioned one of those issues, seeing as they’re so critical and all. At least the words are long, so that’s something, I guess.

Maybe the more advanced courses will fill in some details. Before getting to those courses, the degree outline mentions a few “General Education” courses. Accreditation mandates that a degree have these courses, supposedly assuring that a graduate’s education includes many of the basic things and skills an educated person should know and have.

Years ago I decried that students were taking a college course called “College Algebra” which had less material than the algebra course I took in the 10th grade. Math majors get no credit for taking “College Algebra” courses, incidentally, because academic departments know the course is fake. Gender studies students need not learn the skills of students even in the 10th grade, however, as their intro math course is:

MAT 142: College Mathematics (MA)

Let’s look at the description:

Applies basic college-level mathematics to real-life problems. Topics include numerical reasoning, sets, counting techniques, probability, basic statistics and finance.

At least you can tell what’s in the course. It’s curious that ASU feels the need to tell us that this is “college-level” mathematics…other courses aren’t so ashamed of what’s in them to say that, after all. This course is typically called “Finite Mathematics”, a semi-fake at best course covering introductory material from a wide range of topics–a student can take a whole month off and still do fairly well in this type of course.

Taking a “real” college science course is pushed off until the third year, incidentally. This is a bit of a problem–a student won’t find out she’s incapable of passing a college course until sinking over 2 years of tuition into ASU. I’m sure that’s just an accident.

Let’s get back to gender studies courses, at least the highliights (the student must choose 10 from a long list). Most of these courses are 3000 level (Junior level) or higher, but one is lower level:

Gender and Society
Course Description:
Analysis of the development, nature, and consequences of gender in contemporary society.

Recall, the first course was called “Women, Gender, and Society,” and this more advanced course, to judge by the title, addresses one less topic. What? At least the description a bit more clear, I guess…but now I have to wonder what’s in the first course?

The next lowest level course has the same name structure:

Gender, Crime, and Criminal Justice
Course Description:
Women as offenders, victims and professionals in the criminal justice system.

I can’t help but suspect the “offenders” topic is de-emphasized. Note how “Gender” here is clearly used as a synonym for “women”…there is no course which specifically focuses on males, however, although I assure the gentle reader males are a big part of our criminal justice system.

I point this detail out because in math classes, particularly the undergraduate ones, we focus on the most common concepts a person might experience. For example, lines and linear relationships are covered in great deal, while functions represented as infinite series of partial derivatives not at all. Yet for some reason, there’s this weird fascination in the “Grievance Studies” fields to focus instead of the odd and unusual…I’m not sure knowledge of the arcane is more important for an educated person to know than the common stuff, but perhaps I’m wrong.

Race, Gender and Sport
Course Description:
Advanced and interdisciplinary examination of the social concepts of race and gender and their economic impact on sports in America. In-depth studies will focus on the role of regulatory agencies, the impact of these regulatory agencies have on sport as well as multiple legal issues surrounding athletics

The above course might be useful, despite the weird “X, Y, and Z” name. I feel the need to point out how no prior knowledge of any other material is needed to get into this course, and the material in this course is of no use in any other course. So, perhaps it’s useful but…if there really is a job that actually requires the above, you could just hire someone out of high school and teach them this material in 3 months, tops…there’s really nothing in the degree program which requires 4 years of training to master.
Let’s look at some of the courses for the most advanced, senior level, students. For example:

Ethnic Women Writers
Course Description:
Concentrates on selected women writers of the U.S. who are Native American, African American, Hispanic, and Asian American.

Seriously, it’s not at all obvious why this can’t be a 1000 level course, especially as there are explicitly no prerequisites. Definitely a puzzle. Let’s try another one:

Women and Health
Course Description:
Women as healthcare workers and an in-depth analysis of issues of health, illness, and healthcare for women

What a bizarre combination of topics for a course! Insofar as women are physically different than men, I completely understand a medical course focusing specifically on them (I again note the lack of an parallel course for men). But why also healthcare workers? Do cooking majors have a course on “how to make a salad, and kitchen decor”? I just don’t get it, and again, no prerequisite for this 4000 level course.

Women and Politics
Course Description:
Focuses on the uniqueness of women in modern political systems and political thought. Emphasis may vary with instructor.

I *love* the warning about how emphasis may vary with instructor. Again, this is a 4000 level course of pure introductory material…nothing the student learned in any previous course will be of use here. It probably won’t be of any use in politics, since, as per the 2016 election, simply being female (and no other factors whatsoever) doesn’t guarantee victory in an election.

For what it’s worth the history department does have a pair of linked courses, focusing on women in history. A quick look at the first one (the second focuses on post-1880):

Women in U.S. History, 1600 to 1880
Course Description:
Historical discussion of American women of diverse racial, religious, and ethnic groups and classes; focuses on changing definitions of women’s roles.

Is it my imagination, or is the description here a bit more revealing as to what goes on in the course? I suspect the history department, being actually academic, felt the need to have a clear agenda of what the course entails. Let’s finish with the highest-numbered course:

Women in the Visual Arts
Course Description:
Historical study of art by women in various media; related social, political, educational issues; representation of women in art.

This 4000 level course does at least have a 1000 level introductory art course as a prerequisite. Seeing as there could be 3 years between taking these courses, I worry a student would have a hard time remembering, much less applying, the material in the intro course, but this still makes this possibly the most academically demanding course in the entire Gender Studies (and seriously, the course descriptions make it very clear we’re just looking at women here) program, quite literally in the case of this art class.

Now that we’ve seen much of what a Gender Studies degree program entails, I still feel it doesn’t quite have the gravitas as actual academic subjects, since almost none of it requires more than a few weeks’ effort to master, as judged by the endless list of no-prerequisite “intro” courses. But I guess it’s just a matter of opinion.