From the moment I declared my second major in gender and women’s studies and started to share this information with family, friends, and strangers, I have been haunted by a single question in an astounding array of manifestations:
“So… what do you do with that?”
My responses have ranged anywhere from a detailed, in-depth explanation of the variety of non-profit, governmental, and inter-governmental work I could do with the addition of my international studies degree, to “whatever I want to do with it.” The point is, I could sit here for hours and list out any number of jobs that would benefit greatly from someone with a degree in gender and women’s studies, but that’s not particularly interesting to anyone and nowhere close to the reason I do what I do.
No one invests time and money in a gender and women’s studies education because they think it’ll land them a great job in a great city and make them successful and wealthy and famous; they do it because they care, because they know there is something fundamentally inequitable about the way our current system is structured. I have met amazing, brilliant peers in this program, and they have been the foundation of my support system throughout my undergraduate career as we work for stronger coalitions and activism on campus. I am not in this major because it is easy (another assumption about this field), but because it has given me a powerful set of theories and practices to take into my life in whatever profession I decide to pursue.
I have seen firsthand how my gender and women’s studies background can come into play during my time as the Gender Equity Fellow for CCESL. For this experience, I am paired with a faculty member from the Colorado Women’s College and support them in their work developing interactive gender equity labs. These focus primarily on the experiences of women in the workplace and hope to show employers a nuanced view of the invisible struggles that femme and women employees may have to grapple with in their everyday lives
The creation and implementation of something like the gender equity labs we are creating is a long process rooted heavily in theory born out of the lived experiences of women, queer folks, trans folks, and femmes. Over the past few months, I have put my critical thinking and gender theory skills into practice by researching anything and everything that could be relevant to the project, from single mothers’ time use, to (lack of ) access to healthcare, to the impacts of gender stereotypes and roles in the home and workplace. While it would be far easier to just put something together from basic assumptions and understandings of women’s experiences, by rooting the project in research we are ensuring that these women are understood as people with agency, not just victims of an unjust system. It would also be far less effective; without research to support our statements, it is unlikely that any argument for substantial policy change would be taken seriously.
Feminist theory is uniquely positioned to be implemented into community-engaged work. I would argue, in fact, that it is necessary that an intersectional feminist perspective be integrated into any and all community-engaged work if it is to be as ethical and effective as possible. An intersectional feminist approach requires that researchers, such as myself, are aware of their own positionality and identity in relation to others, and understand the power relations and potential impact this may have on their research and community work. I have been able to bring this perspective to the other fellows I work with, having productive conversations and forming coalitions around ensuring that our community engagement is as ethical as possible. My gender and women’s studies degree is not useless, is not a waste of time, and is certainly not an easy path. Putting feminist theory into practice is essential not just for my future career, but for the success and efficacy of community engagement.
Katy Constantinides is a fourth year undergraduate student majoring in International Studies, as well as Gender and Women’s Studies. As the gender equity fellow for CCESL, she is assisting the Colorado Women’s College in the creation of interactive gender equity labs designed to promote the reimagining of home and the workplace. Katy is passionate about promoting the well-being and empowerment of marginalized communities by working to deconstruct systems of privilege and oppression, and her work is deeply rooted in intersectional feminist theory and queer theory. Outside of her work as a fellow, Katy is part of the Collegiate Council on Gender Violence Topics and is currently writing her senior thesis in International Studies. In her free time, she loves to sing with her a cappella group, read, and write mediocre poetry.