Differentiating Women’s Studies from Gender Studies

Differentiating Women’s Studies from Gender Studies

Gender has been an essential part of studying sociology. Gender defines a person’s roles and often positions in society. Sociologically, gender is seen as a critical aspect in looking at society as the way a society treats the people in society based on their gender often determines the type of society it is. For example, in a Conservative Patriarchal society, women are expected to be submissive and are not given positions of power. Here, studying gender influences a person’s life in society. However, it must also be noted that in such a society, women are oppressed and hence studying them as a separate group helps understand how women are influenced by their gender in society. In order to understand that one must know the difference between gender and women’s studies.

Differentiating Women's Studies from Gender Studies

Defining Gender Studies

Gender studies aim to look at gender and how it defines roles for people of people in society. With the predominance of patriarchy in almost all societies, with very few exceptions, gender studies aim to look at how the power imbalance between genders in a patriarchal society, wherein males have more power compared to other gender identities. Gender studies also look at the binary, which states that males and females are the focused identities. However, gender has been known to be a spectrum rather than a binary. Hence gender studies look at how the genders that do not fit into the binary are placed in a patriarchal society. Gender studies focused on how gender identities play out in impacting a person’s acceptance and existence in a specified society.

Defining Women’s Studies

Women’s studies focused on women and their struggles in a society where men are inherently more powerful as a result of the patriarchy. Women’s studies look at a woman’s status in society as a viewpoint, where women are often omitted when conducting sociological research which is generalised to the entire population, the omission of the women leads to a lack in understanding women’s perspectives which are drastically different in a patriarchal society in comparison to men. Women’s studies as a discipline use various theoretical frameworks on gender relations to create an understanding of women’s lives and places in various societies and cultures. However, a critique of women’s studies is that due to the primary focus on women, it becomes “anti-men”. However, activists and sociologists looking at women’s studies justify it as being pro-women. Women’s studies is an essential tool in looking at the evolution of women’s rights and status in various society. Here the primary focus is to understand the various feminist movements and activism, which helped in the upliftment of women. Studying the historical women’s feminist movements helps look at the historical approaches used to help in the upliftment of women.

Feminism in Women’s Studies

Feminism is an interdisciplinary approach to issues of equality and equity based on gender, gender expression, gender identity, sex, and sexuality as understood through social theories and political activism. Feminism is an advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. Although feminism has received critique in the modern-day for being biased towards females, it must be acknowledged that the bias exists as a result of the imbalance in power between the males and females. It also emphasises on creating awareness of patriarchal control, exploitation and oppression at the material and ideological levels. Some aspects of focus that feminism focuses on are women’s labour, fertility, sexuality in the family, at work and society. Feminism has a long history which began with the first wave of the feminist movement, which was The Seneca Falls Convention.

The Seneca Falls Convention is crucial when looking at the beginning of the women’s feminist movement. The Seneca Falls Convention was a two-day convention for the social, civil and religious rights of women. The meeting was held between the nineteenth and the twentieth of July 1848 at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls. The convention was also significant as on the first day; it allowed only women to attend the convention. This meant that women could discuss the various forms of patriarchal oppression faced by them to create an understanding of the need for a feminist movement. The second day was open to men which allowed men to understand the oppressive aspects of their gender and how they played a role in the patriarchal society. The convention also made eleven of demands in the society which excluded women. However, all demands were passed but one which was the right to vote. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was one of the organisers of the convention and had a significant role in creating the eleven demands and stated that the need for such conventions was “the right for a woman to be as free as a man”. Since the convention, feminism has evolved from the critical examination of inequality between the sexes to a more nuanced focus on the social and performative constructions of gender and sexuality.

The Seneca Falls Convention created what is known to be the first wave feminist movement. The movement has evolved with society and catering to diverse areas of women’s struggles through time. The movement continues as the gender power imbalance continues to exist in a patriarchal society. Feminism has been used as a tool in women’s studied to aim for an equal society. Feminist critiques of the patriarchy are used in women’s studies to show the imbalance in the power dynamics between men and women. Feminist studies which look at feminist aspects of women’s studies, focus women but still acknowledge gender and use comparisons to men and patriarchy. However, while feminist studies include the study of men, women’s studies only focus on women which allows for a specific yet essential way which is woman-centric.

Importance of Women’s Studies

While gender studies look at inequalities in a society it primarily focuses on social practices and differences, women’s studies look at how women are influenced by these factors and how the intersectionality adds to their oppression as women in the society. Looking at women’s struggles, it must be acknowledged that along with their gender, the listed factors also play a role in their oppression. For example, a woman of colour will face intersectional oppression due to her status as a person of colour as well as that of being a woman whereas a white woman will be exempt from the intersectionality of her race. While gender studies look at the inequalities of power, women’s studies look at using the understanding of power differences to deconstruct the patriarchal structure. By understanding the differences and discovering the discrepancies of patriarchy, women’s studies attempt to change the conception of gender. Gender studies view women as an oppressed group, which often gets omitted in research studies. In contrast, women’s studies push for equal research which is not biased by gender hence allowing women to be studied at for not just their gender identity hence creating space for women to be included into intellectual and political discourses. However, women’s studies studied alongside gender studies can prove to hold a tool for diminishing gender disparities while also uplifting and empowering women. Hence, genders, as well as feminist studies, can use women’s studies for inputs on women-specific research that creates an active inclusion of women in research.


Butler, J. (1988). Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory. Theatre Journal,40(4), 519-531. doi:10.2307/3207893

Patel, V., 2015. WOMEN’S STUDIES VS. GENDER STUDIES. Research Horizons: International Peer-Reviewed Journal, [online] 5, pp.85-87. Available at: <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303741960_WOMEN’S_STUDIES_VS_GENDER_STUDIES> [Accessed 13 June 2020].

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Shubha Arvind is currently pursuing a degree in Psychology with an Open Minor at FLAME University. Her passion for culture studies, sociology and film and she aims to focus her minor around them. She actively participates in discussions and hopes to make a change. Her hobbies include playing the violin, swimming and art.