March 27, 2000
Landmark women's studies program turns 25 this year
By Barbara McKenna
Since it was established, UCSC's Women's Studies Department has gained international distinction as the home of some of the country's most outstanding scholars in the field--women whose work has revolutionized many areas of academia.
To celebrate its anniversary, the department is hosting a luncheon on April 16 and a residency program in May (for details, see below).
A trademark of UCSC's program is an emphasis on academic excellence in partnership with social activism. According to UCSC Chancellor M.R.C. Greenwood, "Women's studies at UCSC has shown itself to be a world-class model for an academic discipline--deepening our body of knowledge and, at the same time, making the world a better place to live."
Many of the department's graduates have gone on to establish important community organizations, including the Santa Cruz Women's Health Center and Defensa de Mujeres in Watsonville.
A number of UCSC faculty and alumni are behind landmark gender-related work that has literally altered the scope of a number of academic disciplines, including anthropology, the arts, education, history, health, industry, law, literature, linguistics, sociology, and, perhaps most surprisingly, science.
"Women's studies challenged the idea of science as an objective field," says Bettina Aptheker, a professor of women's studies who came to UCSC in 1979. "It has shown that human beings project their own framework onto their research. As a result, we've come to realize that science is not nearly as objective as was once believed."
For example, Aptheker says, theories in the fields of physical and cultural anthropology have changed substantially in the last 25 years. Aptheker cites the work of Adrienne Zihlman, a UCSC professor of anthropology, as having altered the way we understand the development of our species.
"Traditional assumptions about early humans put forth the idea that hunting was the primary way in which people not only acquired food but also served as the engine by which humans developed and learned such skills as foresight and language. The advent of feminist scholarship challenged those notions with very solid physical evidence, which indicated that 95 percent of the food those people ate was gathered, not hunted, and that the gathering was done by women. It has also been demonstrated that the primary way in which language developed was between the mother and the child."
Donna Haraway, a UCSC professor of history of consciousness and women's studies, is considered one of the country's leading scholars in the study of the history of science. Her landmark book Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science (Routledge, 1989) transformed the way we look at the field of primatology. She demonstrated that male scholars had projected ideas about men and masculinity into their research on primates, leading to a number of questionable conclusions. One example was the belief that baboons were the primate most closely related to humans, an assumption made based on the dominance of the males and their superior size. Today it is generally believed that chimpanzees are more comparable to humans, based, in part, on the relatively similar sizes between genders and their humanlike use of tools.
Aptheker also notes that the field of history has been considerably altered because of women's studies. "Look at the textbooks in the 1960s: In the major texts that were used, there is a clear and complete absence of women and people of color," she says. "We used to be taught primarily diplomatic history--the history of wars and revolutions--which is very male-centered. But a subfield of history, called social history, has demonstrated that women and people of color have been crucial in every historical period and made major contributions."
An example of a male-centered perspective on history is the characterization of the Renaissance era, says Aptheker. "The early Renaissance was hailed as a period of great enlightenment. But this was also a time of witch hunts and the continued persecutions of women, so from a women-centered perspective this was a time of great repression and loss of rights."
Celebrate Women's Studies 25th Anniversary
On April 16 a luncheon will be held to celebrate the 25th anniversary of women's
studies. The luncheon, which coincides with UCSC's Banana Slug Spring Fair reunion
weekend, is open to the public. It takes place from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Arboretum
and costs $15 per person or $25 for two people. Advance reservations are necessary
and can be made by calling (831) 459-4324.
For more information on Women's Studies at UCSC, visit the Women's Studies Web Site.