The Issues (in brief):


1. Feminist & Gender Studies

Pro: This is an elastic term that aptly describes the field of feminist scholarship and gender theory; acknowledges an historical and political context for feminist study, as well as recent developments that question issues of sexuality and the construction of gender.

Con: Many students do not and will not identify themselves as “feminist” and see it as overly confrontational. Women of color, in particular, may read “feminist” as exclusively white and middle-class, while those identifying as BLGBT do not see themselves represented in “gender”.

2 . Gender Studies

Pro: It is unnecessarily “protectionist” to assume that without specifically naming “feminist” studies, a women-centered scholarship will disappear. Women’s issues have always been a part of and central to the study of “gender”; “that it [Gender Studies] doesn't actually reflect the woman-oriented status of the field is precisely what makes me want to stake out a more capacious claim for our work than has been done in the past, one that seems a little less protectionist, that reaches out more to account for a wider range of experiences.” (Anne Dalke, BMC)

Con: This term seems to elide both feminist history and queer sexualities for a somewhat opaque theory of “gender”. It seems driven by both administrative desires for “mainstreaming”: “the opinions range [on Gender Studies] from the "all inclusive" stand to a "protective" one that fears a shift away from a feminist/women oriented definition might in the long run result in a backlash and jeopardize feminist scholarship (including having to compete with non-feminist genderists for funds and resources if the legitimization to pursue feminist scholarship becomes undermined). Many also argue that women studies has always been inclusive and responsive to challenges to its intellectual paradigms, so a name change really wouldn't reflect anything new, except a more "inclusive" connotation.
"women/ feminist, gender, sexuality studies" then would seem more inclusive than "gender studies.” (Melzer, Temple U)

3. Gender & Sexuality

Pro: Eliminates "feminist", a term that seems problematic, and speaks to a history from which young women feel themselves increasingly alienated. At the same time, these women do not disavow an interest in and a need to discuss their lives as women; it's simply a term that seems to them quite dated and to speak to the issues of the '60's and '70's more than it speaks to them. Also, women of color do not "read" themselves in this appellation as "feminist" which suggests to them "white and middle-class"--especially African American women, for whom there is a distinct tradition and political history centering around the alternative identification as "womanist". As well, some might argue that "feminist" preserves and "essentialist" reading of women rather than a multiple positioning of gendering and identity.

Con: It denies an important political and social history; a philosophy; and a moral engagement with issues central to women's lives. Several opined in the October meeting that rather than elide such a history, we might better teach it; that a term some find "abrasive" might well become a cogent knowledge; that we rarely back off from what is difficult or complicated but rather see in that a challenge to be met.

4. Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies

Pro: The following statement is from the Cornell University website, describing their decision to elect this choice when renaming their Women’s Studies Program: “Established in 1972 as one of the byproducts of the Women's Liberation Movement, the Cornell Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program was initially called Women's Studies so as to explicitly name the group rendered invisible by (what was then almost always referred to as) the "patriarchy" - and also so as to highlight that it would be speaking from the perspective of the traditionally marginalized Other rather than from the perspective of the group presumed by the dominant paradigm to neutrally represent humankind (i.e., men). But the name quickly became controversial, not only because it suggested that the objects of study, as well as those undertaking the studies, were exclusively women, but also because it did nothing to discourage the common assumption that the women in question were white, middle-class, and heterosexual. To expand and institutionalize the sexuality component of the Program, a minor in Lesbian Bisexual and Gay Studies was established at both the graduate and undergraduate levels in the early 1990s. To shift the emphasis of the Program even further toward the intertwining of gender and sexuality with structures of power and inequality, in 2002, the Program changed its name from Women's Studies to Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies.” []

From Patricia Melzer, Temple University: “My (very basic) research on this topic shows that a) most programs/ depts. are women's studies, b) the second major group is women's and gender studies, c) followed by feminist or feminist and gender studies. VERY FEW are called "gender studies' - that would be a first argument against calling it gender studies. a second argument is that it simply does not reflect the status of the field - which is clearly
feminist and women oriented. the most convincing statements I've read make a case for "feminist, gender, and sexuality studies" or "women's, gender, and sexuality studies". . .Any combination of feminist/women, gender, and/or sexuality seem in accordance with both existing scholarship and the identity of the academic field. gender studies does not provide that.”.

Con: This still maintains in the designation “feminist” what will be read as exclusively women-oriented projects; it may not be clear to students the distinction between “gender” and “sexuality”.