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Why Study Gender and Sexuality?

“Girl or boy?” is often the first question anyone asks about us, preceding our own memories or our ability to speak for ourselves. In many ways, we never stop responding, consciously or otherwise. Our answers are expected to be automatic, and confined to these two options. Our female or male sex, our feminine or masculine gender, and our straight or gay desires are presumed as natural, individual facts, but at the same time, they are forced into binaries and regulated by culture at every level: in the clothing we wear, the popular culture we create or consume, the family structures we inhabit, the laws and public policies we obey or defy, and even the words we use. How do we navigate this paradox whereby sex, gender, and sexuality are taken to be fully natural but also profoundly cultural? How can we identify or alter the social inequalities built into these ways of thinking and being? In other words, how can we understand sex, gender, desire, and the complex relations among them as malleable products of culture, changing tremendously over time and across different societies?

The faculty and students in Gender and Sexuality Studies investigate these and related questions from multiple standpoints within the humanities and social sciences. Courses emphasize feminist, gay/lesbian, trans, queer, and other ways of knowing specific to sex and gender, as applied through fields like history, literature, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, film and media, political science, and public health. The program pays particular attention to how gender and sexuality intersect with race, class, ethnicity, national belonging, and transnational movement(s). In classes and in pursuing their own research, students focus on gender and sexuality as key categories of political, social and cultural analysis. For example, in recent years our students have done research on such topics as women’s empowerment and micro-loan programs in Uganda, “hook-up culture” on college campuses, depictions of trans identities in Hollywood films, medical diagnoses of female sexual dysfunction, and the effect of the 1977 Hyde Amendment on debates over abortion in the U.S.

Gender and sexuality are centrally important forces that shape every aspect of our lives:

In GSS, we ask questions about gender and sexuality in the U.S., transnationally, and in history, and answer them using research tools from across the humanities and social sciences, as well as from feminist, masculinity, LGBT and queer studies.