When we talked about spaces where we felt ‘free’ last class, I instantly thought of my gender studies classes (DUH CAUSE WE’RE ALL SO AWESOME LULZ). Then I started to think about my other (mostly English) classes, and I realized that one of the main differences I perceive between my gender studies classes and my non-gender studies classes is in who speaks.

Gender studies classes are such a freeing and positive space for me- there are, as I mentioned in class, both a high percentage of queer kids as well as a general awareness of the stupidity of societal gender expectations. And in gender studies classes I’ve had, not only are there often more women than men, but the women seem much more comfortable speaking and much less apologetic than in other classes. I’m sure there are are a number of reasons for this, but let me give some examples of the kind of apologizing/discrediting/devalidating that I often hear women expressing in the classroom, and that seems to be refreshingly absent from g-stud classes:

“Okay, I could be totally wrong about this, but…”

“Well, I think- and I have no idea if this is right, but maybe…”

“This is probably a really dumb question, but…”

It’s so depressing to see super smart women constantly discrediting themselves, and I even hear myself doing it all the time. It really got me thinking about all the incredibly pervasive societal messages telling girls that they aren’t smart, that they don’t have the authority to speak, etc- see examples below- and I know this is old hat, but every time I become aware of a new dimension of an old oppression it gets me down all over again.

The essentialism v. constructionism debate is one that we gender studies majors re-learn every year (or every semester) but I find myself continuing to be shocked (AND ENRAGED) at how deeply we as a culture ascribe to such ridiculous essentialist beliefs as those which would distance a woman from her intellect, to the extent that intelligent women feel they must discredit themselves before speaking in a classroom.

-Blair Dietrick