November 24, 2008

In Your Face Feminism: Is it For me?

This is probably the world's most self-indulgent post, but, am I a sell-out if I switch to sociology for my PhD? I want to make this disciplinary switch from Gender Studies reasons, which are valid. I want to be able to work in more than one department when I am looking for jobs, and sociology is probably more marketable than Gender Studies. I could totally teach in a Women's Studies department with a sociology PhD, but I don't think the reverse is as true. Secondly, there seems to be more funding available for sociology PhD students. I'm not saying that's how it should be, but it still effects my decision. Thirdly, I want to do my PhD in a relatively large department with lots of infrastructure, and this is more readily available in sociology. These are all valid reasons, but want I wonder just a little bit is, even if my PhD research is steeped in gender theory (which it will be), am I a sell-out? Is there a subconscious part of me that wants this switch simply because I don't want to be known by my friends and acquaintances as 'that gender studies girl' anymore?

When I came up with the idea to apply to sociology programs, I was relieved at the thought of not being attacked for my discipline to the extent I am now. I'm always being asked, 'Gender Studies? What's that?' Or, I'm being told, 'Sorry for being a man then.' Yeah, these comments are ignorant, but there is a part of me that's fed up with dealing with them. As a sociologist, I could do the same research and use the same theories, but there would not be this same reaction. Girls I know who've made the switch from Gender to sociology don't face the same prejudices as sociologists. So, on a psychological level, I think I'd feel much safer. I wouldn't constantly have to worry if telling people my academic specialty would lead them to berate me.

It's understandable why I would be sick of dealing with the prejudices levelled at me as a Gender Studies student. It makes sense that wearing my identity on my sleeve like this and then dealing with constant abuse because of it might get old. It might even be a natural human react to feel like wearing my academic identity on my sleeve might be a dangerous idea, and to consider finding a way out. BUT, am I weak for actually wanting to take this way out? I haven't just considered an exit, I'm making steps to take it, and no, the constant insults aren't my only reason for wanting this switch, but it scares me that they might be more influential a factor than I'm allowing myself to consider. Am I too weak to be a full-time feminist? Am I too weak to challenge stereotypes regarding feminism and gender theory on a daily basis?

Could I challenge these things as a sociologist? Or is there a provocative service I perform by admitting that I'm a Gender Studies student, not being apologetic about it, and allowing people a glimpse into the discapline by getting to know me. Most people I know who are skeptical about Gender Studies at first don't hate me when they get to know me. Some even say they think of feminism and Gender Studies differently after getting to know me and realizing these aren't threatening concepts. Personifying feminism has always been something I've taken enjoyment out of, even though that enjoyment has come with a lot of distress. Will I miss that joy of everyone assuming I'm a feminist the minute they meet me? The luxury of not having to 'come out' as a feminist? I might. Would that loss be ANOTHER reason NOT to make the switch?

I want to be in sociology in part because I don't want feminism a part of my identity I can never take a break from. I don't want my feminism always on full display, making me vulnerable to ignorant people who don't get it. At the same time, I DON'T want to switch into sociology because there are just as many times when I DO want my feminism to be one of the first things people are confronted with about me. I want that 'in your face feminism' just as often as I want a break from it...

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