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Salient. Victoria University Students Newspaper. Volume 38, No 1. March 4, 1975

Why Women's Studies ?

Why Women's Studies ?

After a considerable amount of discussion, a course in Women's Studies (WISC 201 in the University's endearing shorthand) will be introduced this year. What is the rationale for such a course? What does it hope to achieve? The articles here go some way towards providing answers to these questions.

Its academic, unreal attitude is the most striking aspect of Phillida Bunkle's lecture schedule for the new course. The whole course seems to be geared to the needs of self-complacent, academic men and women. There is very little here either to interest or help working men and women.

For a start, the lectures hardly touch on the New Zealand situation. Only 4 lectures out of 35 deal with New Zealand, and then not it ail within the present situation.

There is little in the course to help anyone understand how the problems we are facing today have arisen. Dr Sutch's excellent book on the history of women's movements in New Zealand ("Women with a Cause") is not mentioned. Nor is the present struggle for equal pay, the fight for day-care centres, the problem of married women in a recession. The premise that the struggle of the sexes is universal has removed from the course the need even to look at New Zealand. Unless this course can tie in to some practical area of the life of New Zealand women, I can see very little of value in it.

On other aspects of the course I have further objections. The required reading is far too heavy, especially for a 200 level course; seemingly important topics are glossed over in one lecture; and the ideological content is grossly excessive. Ms Bunkle believes that the oppression of women stems quite simply from the 'maleness' of men, and that it can only be overcome by raising women's consciousness, and by direct confrontation with men.

I believe that the oppression of women is indissoluably linked to society and that only by uniting members of that society who are oppressed, and by using every available means to change that society, can the problem begin to be resolved.

Even the U.N. now acknowledges that women have special difficulties living in the world, so 1975 is International Women's Year. By coincidence, but hopefully helping to ensure that we don't sink back into oblivion in 1976, a course in Women's Studies begins this year at Victoria. The main problem is that most people don't know about the course and/or don't know what "Women's Studies" means. This particular course is called "Women in Society": WISC 202 in the calendar, at the end of the Arts Faculty section. It will be six credits at stage 2 level, and the only prerequisite is 2 stage 1 credits. It is divided into three sections: The Status of Women; The Development of Women's Place in Society; and the Feminist Reaction to the Changing Status of Women.

The course has finally been approved by the Professorial Board and the Council, but only after weeks of shuttling between different committees. Phillida Bunkle, the originator of the scheme, was told to submit a lecture-by-lecture outline of the course for approval, rather than describing it generally, as is usual. The perhaps over-academic nature of this outline is the result of trying to win approval from a reluctant administration. It is possible that the lecture schedule will be improved through concentration on tutorials.

Cartoon by Rogers featuring an editor at his desk surrounded by mounds of paper

This course exists to provide information and ways of looking at things which other courses almost totally ignore. "Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with absolute truth" was Simon de Beauvoir's comment. It describes pretty well most of what we are taught at university, and the taken-tor-granted bias from which it is taught. The implicit message of what we study is "Men work, unite and make history, psychology, physics; women marry, have babies, and rear them."

A Women's Studies course is intended to swing our minds and interests at least a little in the other direction. There is an enormous need for more concrete and available information about the lives of women. The course at Victoria is interdisciplinary, including the history, psychology, politics, literature and language of women. This kind of course is closer to the "area studies" programmes (e.g. Black Studies) of American universities than to any course at Victoria right now. Unlike U.S. universities, however, there is little precedent for 'relevant', problem-centred courses. This is one reason why the introduction of this course has not been easy. Many of of the staff will not be paid for their teaching. Class size is limited. There is no money for special library books. The only way this course will become firmly established is with student support, which means basically lots of enrolments. Many people haven't even heard that this course is available; but it's not too late to enrol now, as it runs in the second half of the year. The survey of students indicates that many people are interested, but perhaps feel that this course is a bit of a luxury, a limited area, a detour from the business of real study and qualifications. But women are, after all, 51% of all people, and we can can't pretend to be learning about reality when we are presented with only one half of it.

by Debbie Jones

At the time when the Womens Studies course was still a proposal, the University Feminists conducted a survey on attitudes to the idea of having such a course.

At the time of this survey the course had been approved by all but one or two of the committee through which it had to pass. It had met with harsh criticism including an allegation that the course would attract little student interest. The survey sought to test this.

It also attempted to determine the general level of interest in women's studies - 'listening-in" without enrolment, attending unofficial study groups on the subject - as some degree courses might prohibit actual enrolment in the course (eg. BCA, LLB, BSc). It was also sought to discover what method of selection was preferred if there was over-enrolment (the course is limited to 45).

Initially the response was unsolicited, the University Feminists having a table outside the Union cafe. Later to gain better numbers and representation direct approach was made by distribution in the Library on two days. No attempt was made to get a completely representative sample of the student population and no sex discrimination was used.

Of the 250 responses, 140 were from women, 98 from men, four unspecified and eight informal. Ninety-one (37.6%) said they would enrol in the course in 1975 if it were offered. Of these 78 women were evenly divided in the reasons for wanting to enrol — general interest and feminist ideology — the 13 men indicated general interest though four expressed particular interest in an area they thought neglected. These figures make the argument of 'failing to attract student interest' dubious in the extreme.

The 149 who would not enrol gave reasons ranging from lack of time, pre-determination of courses, or heavy loading to outright hostility at the thought of the course having been established. Other comments included the questioning of the course's applicability to an institution of higher learning, the reason for women having a privileged position in having their own course and statements suggesting the course was 'unwarranted', and possibly not suitable for a serious study programme