Well, it’s not official yet, but in a few weeks, when summer classes start, I am going to switch my major from Pacific & Asian Studies to Women’s Studies. I took my first two women’s studies classes this last semester, and while, thanks to personal traumas, this semester was far less than enjoyable, I got all A’s on my courses and greatly enjoyed the material that I covered in my courses. Being in women’s studies made me feel powerful. Let me explain why, and offer some insights into why I feel that this is the discipline for me.
The two classes I took were drastically different: Medicalization of Sex was the first one, and Word Warriors (A course on Indigenous Women’s Literature) The first one was more sociological in nature, and I did one large research project at the end where I explored one particular book’s problematic approach to the sexuality of autistic youth (Condensed version: Teaching autistic young people to be ashamed of their sexuality and only see one “proper” mode of sexual expression, victimizing autistic women who enjoy sex, and seeing heterosexual, monogamous relationships meant to end in marriage as the unwavering ideal). But the course was ultimately empowering and hopeful to me, because the theme throughout was resistance to medicalization and a belief in being able to reverse the dangerous course of action which has put the emphasis on over-medicalizing the petty problems of the middle-class and stigmatizing the bodies and minds of those who are disabled or otherwise deemed “sick” or “broken”.
The other course dealt with the themes of survival and resistance in poetry, plays, and novels written by Indigenous women. What was different about these two courses from others I had taken throughout my university career is that I was able to seamlessly blend my own experiences into class discussions, along with the class materials. In most classes in Pacific & Asian Studies, I kept my personal opinions and experiences to a bare minimum. I might, once in a while, consider my own experiences, such as when writing a paper on the experiences of displaced peoples in Asia and whether they could be compared to diaspora groups in North America, but I mostly considered myself to be more or less detached from the material. I was passionate about it, but removed.
In Women’s Studies, however, I got the chance to tell my stories and have my life experiences figure into my academic experience. I imagine there are a great deal of many scholars who are scoffing at my description of that, thinking that it makes me a poor scholar, or women’s studies a shoddy field built more on sharing feelings than doing academia, but I find the opposite to be true: Being able to use my own experiences as a disabled woman, for instance, in my Medicalization of Sex course, meant I could avoid the tragic pitfalls of other scholars before me, who hadn’t considered moving away from the medical model of defining disability. This enriched my research, as I knew first-hand what kind of language and attitudes to avoid replicating, and could actually think creatively on the topic.
What pleases me the most about Women’s Studies is the intersectional approach. I’m given free reign in this department to research how one’s experiences (my own included) as a woman, interact with my experiences in the realm of disability, race, and sexuality. So, I am hoping I will be able to do an honour’s thesis in the department, studying the topic of depictions of autistic romantic relationships and sexuality, and how a less medicalized, more inclusive model of sexuality which emphasizes happiness and personal satisfaction can replace the current de facto. Women’s Studies is the only department which allows me such freedom, since Disability Studies is such a new field in academia.
If all goes well, I would love to continue researching this, and maybe find myself at York University’s Disability Studies Master’s Department. I’ve come to life with the chance to bring topics that I love and know so intimately into my work and my passion.
Wish me luck!