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Harvard student: Why are people making fun of me for majoring in women’s studies?

January 29, 2020
Students in a new class on feminism learned about leaders in the struggle for women’s rights, such as social activist Gloria Steinem who fought for decades for women's reproductive rights.
Photo: Dori Jacobson-Wenzel/Harvard University archives

Harvard freshman Orlee G.S. Marini-Rapoport begs in a Harvard Crimson op-ed: Stop Criticizing My Concentration Choice!

I’ve shared with people both within and beyond Harvard that I intend to pursue a joint concentration in History & Literature and Studies of Women, Gender, & Sexuality, and I’ve been met with some unexpectedly inconsistent judgments about the practicality of concentration choice. And quite frankly, I’m already tired of it.

Marini-Rapoport’s emotional exhaustion–and her exasperation with her classmates’ repeated mocking her choice of academic field–began as soon as she hit the Harvard Yard this past fall:

I’m already tired of fellow students commenting on how “lucky” I am to be interested in subjects that they assume are easier, less stressful, or supposedly permit grade inflation to a greater extent than other departments. I’m already tired of fellow students assuming that courses which are strictly content-based, such as math courses, are inherently superior to those that allow for, or even encourage, the inclusion of personal experience or subjective analysis in the pursuit of constructing more nuanced arguments, as many humanities courses do.

Now, I thought that Marini-Rapoport was just kvetching for kvetching’s sake until I got to this paragraph of her op-ed:

And I discovered just how hard WGS would be after reading two sentences of Judith Butler in a class this fall. Until you have read Judith Butler at midnight in preparation for a midterm, let’s not talk about how I should appreciate all the “free time” I have without 3-hour organic chemistry labs.

Judith Butler! She’s the “philosopher and gender theorist whose work has influenced political philosophy, ethics, and the fields of third-wave feminist, queer, and literary theory” (says Wikipedia) since she began teaching at the University of California-Berkeley in 1993. In 1998 Butler won first prize in the scholarly journal Philosophy and Literature’s fourth annual Bad Writing Contest for this deathless sentence:

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

So, yeah, I’d rather sign up for an organic-chemistry lab myself.

But that still raises the question: Why shouldn’t her fellow Harvard students make fun of her for picking a major that requires her to read that kind of gobbledygook?

Posted by Charlotte Allen

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