I think is important for individuals to be aware of the culture that they are contributing to, and that is exactly what this class has helped me to consider. Before the start of this semester, I spent time thinking critically about the way women are portrayed in entertainment media and in the political arena. Seeing documentaries like Miss Representation and reading the stories of pioneers such as Sally Ride and Susan Butcher help me to process what is in front of me every day: the lack of women’s equality and the objective presentation of women in media. Women’s studies is a very important topic and a quality starting point for people who want to educate themselves on gender inequality. But it is important to take it further.
This year, I have learned that there is much more to feminism and civil liberty than women’s rights. Understanding that what is most often looked critically are gender-expressive, cisgender bodies ignores a massive population of even more marginalized groups was the foundation of my education in this class. We started the year by discussing the gender and sexuality binaries. But what about the people who do not fit either side of those spectrums? Not only is the fight for their rights largely hidden from the public, but their invisibility is also exacerbated by a lack of representation in mainstream culture. My eyes were opened to the identity of asexuality, the hidden struggle of transgender individuals, and even the experiences of Vanderbilt students who I interact with on a day to day basis. While understanding identity and sex within our society as a whole, I also learned how to consider the individual who is negatively affected and further marginalized by society’s binary thinking and social ignorance.
Where I grew up is a very progressive part of the country. Though I have been exposed to stories of discrimination and ignorance of people who don’t identify with our culture’s assessment of what is normal, I assumed those narratives were very unusual. One of the most eye-opening parts of the semester was when we heard from the panel of Vanderbilt students. It was then that I truly understood the reality of some of my friends, peers, and fellow human beings. Learning that I have been blissfully ignorant of the fact that a large portion of the LGBTQIA community experiences extremely direct hate and discrimination was probably the largest teaching moment for me this year. Though I consider myself an open-minded person, I am contributing to this culture of ignorance that is so rampant in our society.
In terms of sex and our society, we have considered the way that these already alienated individuals are denied agency over their own identities and how their sex lives (or lack thereof) are limited by a culture which has a narrow-minded idea of what constitutes sex and intimacy. Taking what I have learned further than just the classroom and understanding how my daily actions are perpetuating our one-track mind about gender, sexuality, and sex is the most important lesson I have learned and have only just begun to genuinely understand.
In other words: thank you for helping me open my mind!