Despite the skepticism about the "practicality" that too often surrounds the field, gender studies is an incredibly vital and relevant choice of study. An in-depth understanding of gender, sexuality, and other forms of difference and identity is essential for understanding the different forces at play in the world — particularly in our current social and political spheres. More than ever, we are pushing progressively to see gender as a social construct and identify the ways in which our world is built around patriarchal values that privilege the few and marginalize so many groups of people. Gender studies majors have an extensive understanding of the way these systems of power are created, as well as ways to fight against inequality and toward a more just world.
But, here's the practicality question: What kind of jobs can you get with a gender studies degree? The short answer: pretty much any job available to a liberal arts major. Gender studies majors are well-versed in many fields, from sociology to literature, and equipped with impeccable writing, reasoning and critical thinking skills. This makes them available and qualified for any number of jobs in media, politics or social sciences. Furthermore, a gender studies major brings a unique and valuable perspective to any field they enter and the ability to make that particular industry a fairer, less biased one.
Gender studies is an interdisciplinary field that incorporates sociology, anthropology, history and politics with a focus on gender and sexuality. Basically, this field of study is exactly what it sounds like: an exploration of how and why gender exists and interacts with the world. What is gender, and how does it affect the way the world works? Did we always treat gender the way we do today? When did gender start meaning so much to us? How have misogyny and gendered oppression impacted the way we study other disciplines? What does this mean for sexuality, and how does gender interact with and within the LGBTQ+ community? How do race and racial oppression interact with gender, and to what extent is race also a social construct? There are the questions asked and — attempted to be answered — in the field of gender studies.
Born out of an acknowledgment that the default lens through which we view and study the world centers white, male, cis-gendered, straight perspectives, gender studies was initiated by an attempt to center marginalized voices and address this disparity. Originally (and sometimes still) called "women's studies," the field initially focused on women and the issues that affected them, as well as influential women who were historically excluded from the narrative in their field.
Now, the field has evolved to become more inclusive of all genders and indicative of the wide variety in the gender spectrum. The name of the major takes different forms depending on the school, but some common titles are gender studies, women's and gender studies and gender and sexuality studies. Also, to combat the fact that the field has historically been dominated by and focused toward white women, most programs center an intersectional approach to the study of gender and incorporate classes on critical race theory or black women's work into the curriculum.
Required core classes of the major usually include introductory courses on gender, feminist theory and queer theory. The remaining majority of the curriculum is often customizable, drawn from crossover courses in the disciplines mentioned above. This makes the field extremely well-rounded and versatile, allowing each student to shape their own experience to some extent.
Like any liberal arts degree, to a certain extent, a degree in gender studies sets you up for a wide variety of career paths. Though there are many naysayers about this major and its practicality, the fact is, it is incredibly versatile and relevant to the workforce and the world, and that relevance is only getting stronger. In our patriarchal society, absolutely every industry benefits from perspectives with an in-depth understanding of gender, sexuality and how they intersect with other identities. Workplace discrimination on the basis of sex, gender and sexuality is not new. There are many, many careers where we specifically need people with a background in understanding this discrimination who are consciously thinking about how gender, sex, race, ability, etc. are impacting the world and how to make a progressive change from all directions toward equality and justice.
If you have an interest in reporting on current events and investigating stories, a gender studies degree provides you with the reasoning, research and critical thinking skills needed to be a great journalist. You can also focus on stories and issues you care about, including gender equality or LGBTQ+ issues.
The importance of truthful, ethical journalism is especially apparent in our current social and political landscape. Journalists and reporters have immense power and control over whose stories are told and how, and too often these stories have been told through a predominantly white, predominantly male perspective. A gender studies major would bring to this field an understanding of the importance of using specific language, voices and perspectives to counteract biases and disparity in our news stories, as well as the responsibility journalists have to treat issues of gender, race and sexuality with integrity and care.
Journalists' average annual salary is $40k (PayScale).
If you want to go into the field of higher education, a gender studies degree provides a solid foundation, regardless of what you want to teach but especially if you want to study and teach in the field. No matter on what level you want to teach, we need teachers that have an understanding of identity and social issues and can communicate complex ideas clearly and easily — skills gender studies majors have.
As a teacher, you also have the power to shape young minds around gender and counteract some of the socialization that leads to harmful gender roles and all sorts of biases at an early age. Teachers shape the worldview of their students, and if every teacher had some sort of background in gender studies, the world would undoubtedly be a more open, free and inquisitive place.
Teachers make an average of around $48k a year. Professors in higher education make an average of $87k a year.
Becoming a lawyer does require secondary education, but a gender studies degree can make you a great candidate for law school. You have the research, reasoning and persuasive skills necessary for the work, and once you get into the field, you can focus on law that makes a difference in the lives of marginalized communities. You can choose to practice immigration law or family law or represent LGBTQ+ and other minority clients in cases of discrimination, making a real difference in people's lives.
The average annual salary for an attorney is $83k.
Like many liberal arts degrees, a gender studies program provides you with excellent written communication skills and, probably, an extensive repertoire of academic writing. If the world of literature excites you, or if writing essays was your thing during your time as a gender studies major, you might consider becoming a writer. You can specialize in any number of genres — personal essays, screenplays, novels, memoirs or poetry — and bring to your work a nuanced take on identity and gender that might prove influential to many people.
If you have an interest in TV, film or theatre and being on the production side of the industry, you might consider becoming a casting director. The entertainment industry desperately needs a new generation of leaders dedicated to diversity in casting and representation. Hollywood has notoriously been a treacherous place in many ways for women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community, including in the casting room. The roles written for women, queer and trans people and non-white people are consistently underdeveloped, harmfully stereotypical and largely reflective of the white, male gaze.
If writing roles that change this landscape isn't your thing, maybe revolutionizing the field from a casting position is. In this role, you can ensure stories are being told authentically, by members of the community those stories come from, as we know this is how we change representation in media. Cast queer people in queer roles, trans people in trans roles and people of different ethnicities to play characters from their own community.
Casting directors make an average of $68k per year.
Human resources (HR) managers handle the experience of a company's employees, from the interview and hiring process to their wellbeing during their time at the company. A gender studies background is incredibly relevant to this field, as sexism and other forms of identity discrimination are major issues in the workplace, and being aware of them from the very start of the hiring process can help minimize biases, stereotypes, harassment and pay gaps. An HR manager who is aware of these issues knows how to look out for them and exercise their power to counteract their influence.
Depending on the level of seniority, human resource managers can make an average of $87k per year.
If you want to make a career out of advocacy — a path directly linked to gender studies — delve into the non-profit world. Join (or start) an organization that acts on behalf of a marginalized group of people or advocates for the advancement of a certain social or political issue. There are countless non-profit organizations doing valuable, necessary work that you can get involved with. As a program director, you will oversee the organization and its functioning, and a gender studies degree provides a great basis for this type of work.
As a non-profit program director, you can make about $54k on average.
Lobbyists advocate on behalf of certain interest groups and organizations to get laws passed in their favor. Use this career for good to represent activist causes, gendered issues or LGBTQ+ interests in legislation, and urge lawmakers to make the world a more just and inclusive place.
If you believe change starts in government, this career is a great opportunity to shape legislation to reflect and enact progressive change.
Lobbyists make around $73k a year.
In this career path, you can directly apply your studies in oppression, identity and inequality to use in practical, progressive ways. As a human rights advocate, you are fighting on behalf of marginalized communities for fair treatment and opportunity, which contributes to making the world a more equal place.
Human rights advocates make around $49k a year.
If you have excellent writing skills, impeccable judgment and great organizational abilities, and you want a more administrative role in the publishing and media world, you might consider becoming an editor. Gender studies majors are often equipped with the technical skills that make good editors, and the power to shape a publication gives you an authority on storytelling that lets you amplify certain voices, if you choose to.
The average annual pay for an editor is $51k.
The importance and relevance of gender studies is ever-increasing. Here's why this work matters:
Despite claims that we currently live in a post-feminist society, statistics and daily experiences have unequivocally proven this not to be true. We live in a world in which gender and sexuality matter and impact people's lives, and discrimination on the basis of gender, sex and sexuality exists in every industry. Gender studies is dedicated to understanding why and how this systematic discrimination happens, and how we can dismantle it. This may mean enacting affirmative action plans, conscious efforts to offset pay gaps or education initiatives for people who are less privileged. This effort is one that transcends all industries and fields, which makes gender studies pervasively relevant.
The way we define and adhere to rules about gender affects everyone – the people we decide are male at birth and those categorized as female. The gender binary and the roles we ascribe onto it are constricting and only produce confinement and limited potential. Definitions of masculinity and femininity put strict rules on our behavior from a very young age, preventing us from being full humans freely. The goal of feminism and the fight against the patriarchy is also one that frees men from masculinity and fights for equality on the part of all genders.
• Achieving equality takes conscious effort.
Oppression and disparity are socialized and normalized constantly. We all hold internalized biases and habits that affirm harmful systems of power that contribute to marginalization. These can be racial biases, gender biases — any kind of subliminal understanding of a certain identity as lesser or less capable in some way. It's not any one person's fault that these prejudices exist; they're built into the fabric of our society. However, we do play a part in perpetuating them, and it takes conscious effort to change, which means being aware of what's happening in the first place. Gender studies devotes concentrated attention to this effort, and the existence of the field is crucial if we are going to achieve change on this front.
Haley Riemer is a queer multimedia writer and performer interested in telling stories that are important to women. She's a recent graduate of Tulane University, and her current hobbies include drinking too much iced coffee and talking about feminist political theory at parties.
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