A place to learn or where bras will burn?

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There once was a time where Women’s Studies were at the centre of female education. After the Second World War, many of the women that were demobilised in the female services were offered post-war education courses, like the men. However, they were offered domestic courses only; the Women’s Auxillary Territorial Service, some of whom had helped shoot down German planes on the Anti-Aircraft Batteries, were told that as recognition for their service, they could attend a household management course to help adapt back into ‘normal life’.

And perhaps that is how many of us expect Women’s Studies to be today, centred around traditional, stereotypical norms. However, that is certainly not the case, and there needs to be more awareness of the extensive research and academia that surround Women’s Studies today.

Typically it is viewed as extremely feminist to engage with Women’s Studies; however, that is not the case. The Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies at Lancaster University is ranked the top 5 in the UK and its focus is not on rubber gloves and washing up, but rather at looking in depth at fostering ‘links between academic research, and political movements for gender equality and social justice’. It is interdisciplinary because the focus is not solely on the women but on the changing perceptions of femininity in today’s society, the impact of media and the politics surrounding us.

Those involved with the CGWS have numerous research interests, ranging from focusing on feminist technoscience to religion to postcolonial studies. There is also research into studies of health and science, citizenship and women’s relation to violence and war.

In 2008, the Independent published an article stating that ‘women’s studies are alive and well’, as many had assumed the discipline was receding and that there was little interest in the topic. Louise Livesey, a specialist in the area, stated that the problem was not the lack of interest but rather that school leaders had never heard of it. Some students, then, are potentially wary of the discipline, knowing little about it and because, as Livesey stated, their only experience of feminism is shaped by what enters the media.

Lancaster University’s Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies is keen to increase the amount of interest and awareness of the courses and general research in this area. One way to get involved is as part of Hear Me Roar, looking at the politics of popular culture as part of the feminist festival. This is running through March in Lancaster with numerous events that are free to attend. The aim, with the Centre’s involvement, is to show ‘how women are represented in popular culture today, how the representations of gender impact women’s understandings of themselves, their bodies and their identities.’ It is a showcase of groundbreaking research in this field of gender, sexuality and popular culture. It makes use of numerous case studies, one of which is the success of Lancaster’s Vagina Monologues.

The Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies at Lancaster is at the forefront of academic development and is ever growing in its research. The challenge now is to get more people involved and interested and snub out the fear that they will burn their bras in front of you.

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