Magazine 2015
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
Vibhuti Patel  
Women’s Studies and Gender Studies are complementary interdisciplinary fields whose research,  
scholarship, and creative activities examine women’s lives, conditions and contributions within their historical,  
social, cultural, national and transnational contexts and explore how gender is constructed and negotiated  
within and across societies.  
Major difference between “women’s studies” and “gender studies” is this; while the former concentrates on  
women specific issues the latter focuses on power relations that determine differential impact on women  
and men. So, if you are interested in dealing with the broad issue of how gender affects people, and  
want to examine both women’s and men’s experiences, you must opt for “gender studies” (GS). If your  
primary focus is to be on girls and women, you must opt for “women’s studies” (WS). Major challenge for  
both is construction of knowledge and world-view from the standpoint of inter-sectionality of class/caste/  
race/religion/ethnicity and sex/gender.  
Key Words: Women’s Studies, Gender Studies, Feminist Studies, Trends in Feminism, patriarchy, Men’s  
Studies, masculinity.  
What is Women’s Studies (WS)?  
Women’s Studies are a science concerned about women’s equality with man and the development of  
women. WS provides an analytical tool, a worldview to understand the status of women and an alternative  
viewpoint to existing knowledge construction. It is inter-disciplinary in perspective. It signifies the importance  
of studying women, whose omission from scholarship and teaching prompted the formation of Women’s  
Studies during 1970s and acquired its legitimate space in the academia by mid-1980s after “End of  
Women’s Decade” Conference in Nairobi in 1985. Currently, WS as a course is offered for Master’s and  
Bachelor programmes as well as Diploma and certificate Courses in over 100 universities world over.  
Women’s studies as a discipline uses various theoretical frameworks on gender relations to inform our  
understanding of women’s lives and places in human societies, it emphasizes that the discipline should  
not be an ivory tower intellectual pursuit but must ensure the political, social and intellectual benefits that  
accrue from studying women. Women’s Studies is an activist and partisan discipline, i.e. it is pro-women;  
at the same time, not anti-men. (Desai & Patel, 1988). WS emphasizes the need for providing a material  
basis for women’s independence and autonomy. Important objectives of women’s studies are as follows:  
To facilitate the process of understanding, recognizing and giving due importance to the  
contributions made by women and men.  
To examine the reasons for subordination of women and for male domination.  
To empower women to attain gender justice and an effective role in all decision- making  
To evolve development alternatives with women.  
To ensure visibility of women as change agents for the enhancement of the status of women.  
To identify and understand roots of inequality that result in invisibility, marginalisation and  
exclusion of women from the intellectual world.  
To support social action aimed at equality, development, peace, education, health and employment  
of women.  
Organizing seminars, workshops, debates, talks and discussions to keep women’s concerns center  
stage in the public domain.  
Gender Studies (GS)  
Gender studies deconstruct patriarchy and subordination-domination relations between men and women  
with an understanding that gender relations are socially constructed and can be changed thro’ social,  
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economic and political intervention. IGNOU has established School of Gender and Development Studies  
that offers more than 20 courses and MA programmes with different specialisations.  
Gender studies has played crucial role in facilitating the encounter between academic pursuits and  
active involvement in developmental issues thro’ teaching, training, research, documentation and extension  
work. Gender studies as hold men accountable for their power/supremacy/domination. (Patel, 2002).  
Over last two decades it has focused on networking between groups and individuals who are concerned  
with gender issues, violence against women and children, development projects, growth models, unjust  
laws, media, decision-making, household strategies, health, women’s movement and political  
participation, gender in history and, gender sensitive counseling. The over-arching goal of gender studies  
is to accelerate the development of women and its specific goals of are:  
To identify issues and problems of women and men undertake studies relating to their roles and  
status in society.  
Use the tool of gender audit to identify practical and strategic gender needs of community/ society  
and to engender governance thro top down as well as bottom up approaches.  
To develop significant educational programmes and training modules especially those linked to  
social needs.  
To encourage programmes of research with special emphasis on applied research directed to the  
solution of problems relating to women’s development.  
To collect information and build documentation and reference material for gender sensitive knowledge  
To encourage and support action programmes for improvement in gender relations along with human  
To develop the gender aware, gender sensitive and gender-just leadership potential among girls and  
boys as well as men and women.  
To ensure gender planning, policy making and programme implementation in the governance  
structures and mechanisms.  
Discourse on Women’s Studies versus Gender Studies  
Pioneers of women’s studies such as Dr. Neera Desai, Dr. Veena Mazumdar, Dr. Shardamoni, Dr. Leela  
Dube, Dr. Sharmila Rege have raised their doubts as regards using gender as an analytical category as  
they aver that the use of the term gender fails focus on subordination of women as a result of women’s  
oppression and exploitation, injustice and structural patriarchal violence. According to them GS is  
responsible for depoliticizing of feminist scholarship. To them, even using gender as a category to study  
men, women’s perspectives, actions, and concerns can be omitted and the idea that men are the central  
actors in human societies and women the passive receptors of their actions is reinforced (Rege, 2003).  
Old guards in women’s studies consider Gender Studies was a retreat from more radical women’s studies.  
Feminists think that Women’s Studies were a compromise itself as a name, more innocuous than say  
Feminist Studies. Somehow it seems less threatening to say well we are studying women, without  
specifying that one is studying women from a feminist perspective. But since most WS programs have  
a “Feminist Theory” course, it would seem that most remain committed to some kind of feminist analysis.  
There are feminist scholars who think that Gender Studies was more radical since it held men accountable  
for their privilege and made them responsible for change along with women. But, at the same time, they  
would be opposed to the word feminist. Many male faculties have no problem with gender studies  
program because “it is not “feminist.” Most of the European Universities have established Gender Studies  
Centres and offer Bachelor’s, Master’s and research programmes.  
Gender, in academic terms, reflects a broad concept that goes beyond “women’s studies”. It includes all  
kinds of genders, which has been the principle of feminist inclusiveness. In GS Women as an oppressed  
group that we can research and study disappears. All we have in gender studies becomes different  
groups or cultures within cultures within a mainstream culture. Women’s studies exist to study women.  
While, “gender studies,” accommodates men. Women’s Studies scholar strongly believe  
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that until they have equal inter-disciplinary research that is truly gender free, they must study women and  
not gender, so that they can catch up intellectually, theoretically, and of course, politically.  
Women and Gender Studies  
Women’s and Gender Studies course has been promoted in several Asian counties (in spite of its  
unweildiness) because it encapsulates a conflict within the field and allows the conflict to get stated up  
front to students rather than being part of a hidden agenda. It allows work to proceed on the idea of  
gender as a relational system in which, in good structuralist fashion, change in one part of the system  
requires change in another (i.e. women’s state will not change unless men’s does), allows us to explore  
gingerly the area of “men’s studies,” and still maintain a place in the curriculum to view these issues  
through women’s perspective. In Women’s and Gender Studies, the study women and men, the relations  
between women, between men and between the two are done from a woman’s perspective. This maintains  
a significant and important balance. This view includes both ‘mainstreaming gender’ and ‘women’s  
room’ approaches.  
Scholars promoting GS find it impossible to discuss women as separate from social practices such as  
power inequities, differences in the role of “mother” vs. “father”, etc. According to them GS allows  
looking at gender as a verb in terms of the interpersonal and societal practices that create or construct  
women’s and men’s behavior. Gender studies helps in examining the unequal distribution of power.  
While women’s studies help in deconstructing patriarchy, as a dominant structure in our society, cannot  
be ‘escaped” in any simple way. Only by revealing the inadequacies of patriarchy can we begin to forge  
an alternate conception of gender. This argument provides justification for women and gender studies—  
that incorporates the two major strands of feminist theory structuring programs today; the gynocentric,  
essentialist view that we must focus on women, women’s language, women’s work, women’s agency,  
etc. and the poststructuralist/Marxist view that we can only forge political change by deconstructing  
traditional gender, an act of questioning traditional constructions.  
Feminist Studies  
The difference between Women’s Studies and Feminist Studies lies in the ideological framework. Women’s  
studies are about women, may or may not have a feminist perspective. While, focusing on women still  
means seeing gender as a relational term and making comparisons to men. Women’s organisations in  
India such as Jagori (Delhi), Akshara (Mumbai), Sakhi (Thiruvanathapuram) and South Asian Network of  
women’s organisations (SANGAT) and feminist groups in Malaysia, Philippines, Korea are promoting  
feminist studies thro’ workshops, summer schools or online courses.  
The strength of feminist studies lies in its challenge to androcentric frameworks and generalizations in  
scholarship and I women-centered inquiry remains critical to analytic vision. (Desai, 2006). For many  
people (and many departments), Women’s Studies is already a euphemism for Feminist Studies; a Dept.  
of Feminist Studies could/would study the whole world from the vantage point you get from assuming  
that the existing society is an oppressive patriarchy, and that this oppression causes social pathologies  
of far-reaching consequences, affecting everything from economic systems to child-raising to beliefs  
about God and meaning. It would include the study of men and boys as well as of women and girls, but  
would not have to “sneak in” a tendency to use feminist text as basic while using text such as Sigmund  
Freud more as subject matter to be analyzed and subjected to critique for its patriarchal distortions and  
how they have affected the fields of patriarchal study that have relied upon him, etc.  
Gender Studies comes about because there is plenty of social behavior to be analyzed in terms of  
gender (especially from a feminist perspective) that is not specifically about WOMEN. It also arises  
from non-feminist or possibly anti-feminist intentions to reopen gender issues from perspectives that are  
more easily taught by men or by either men or women who have no interest or familiarity with feminist  
viewpoints. The label Women’s Studies, if applied to a program or department that is essentially  
interested in doing comprehensive study of gender from feminist viewpoints, can make it hard to argue  
against such changes; and changes that start off as mere changes in program title can lead to changes  
in content and in personnel later on.  
The traditional curriculum teaches us all to see the world through the eyes of privileged, white, European  
males and to adopt their interests and perspective as our own. It calls books by middle-class, white,  
male writers ‘literature’ and honors them as timeless and universal, while treating the literature produced  
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by everyone else as idiosyncratic and transitory. The traditional curriculum introduces the (mythical)  
white, middle-class, patriarchal, heterosexual family and its values and calls it ‘Introduction to Psychology.’  
It teaches the values of white men of property and position and calls it ‘Introduction to Ethics.’ It  
reduces the true majority of people in this society to ‘women and minorities’ and calls it ‘political science.’  
It teaches the art produced by privileged white men in the West and calls it ‘art history (Patel, 2013).  
Feminist studies are informed by the following Trends in Feminism evolved during last two centuries:  
Liberal Feminists- Those who focus on the constitutional guarantees of equal treatment of men and  
women are known as liberal feminists.  
Marxist Feminists- Those who locate women’s subordination in class contradictions are known to  
be Marxist feminists.  
Radical Feminists consider ‘patriarchy’ as main culprit for women’s woes.  
Socialist Feminists believe that women’s predicaments are determined by the complex interplay  
of class, caste, race, religion, ethnicity with patriarchy. Hence the need for deconstructing patriarchy  
in a different socio-cultural, geo-political and historical contexts.  
Psycho Analytical Feminists focus on individual journeys of women to arrive at mental makeup  
and internalization of values by the people concerned. They critique Freud for its misogyny but also  
acknowledge Freud’s analysis of childhood experiences playing important role in the rest of the life.  
Post Modern Feminists contest hegemony of Meta theories and dominant discourses and bring to  
the fore the voice of the subjugated, oppressed and marginalized. They emphasize ‘decentreing’  
from the mainstream.  
Eco-feminists believe that women’s role in the subsistence economy is crucial for the survival of the  
humankind. Women have symbiotic relationship with mother-nature. Male dominated development  
models are violent towards mother earth and women.  
Black Feminists- Race is the central reality for the black feminists though they also challenge the  
patriarchal/male domination.  
Womanist- Womanism is a contribution of Afro American feminists who believe that in spite of  
barbaric experiences of slavery, subjugation and horror the black culture/celebrations have survived  
due to women’s resilience. There is a need to promote this celebrations/cultural legacies thro’  
heritage of oral histories, legend, grandmothers’ stories. They believe that the non-while and coloured  
women must be proud of HERSTORY instead of aping the white, consumerist, oppressive male  
Men’s studies  
The last three decades have witnessed an increasing interest in the study of men and masculinities as a  
result of and complement to feminism/Women’s Studies/gender studies. Men’s studies is an interdisciplinary  
academic field devoted to topics concerning men, masculinism, gender, and politics. It often includes  
masculinist theory, men’s history and social history, men’s fiction, men’s health, masculinist psychoanalysis  
and the masculinist and gender studies-influenced practice of most of the humanities and social sciences  
Kulkarni, 2014). The Men’s Studies scholars have played crucial role in uncovering the manifold  
thematisation of Indian masculinities within various disciplinary and theoretical frameworks. Man Against  
Violence and Abuse (Mumbai) and Purush Uvach (Pune) provides Masculinity Studies in workshop mode  
for students thro’ colleges and rural and urban youth in collaboration with NGOs. Students of development  
studies, cultural studies, media studies, film studies have shown keen interest in Men’s Studies.  
Women’s Studies, by design, are transformation. Women’s studies have been critical to unmasking  
androcentric assumptions that make men the human norm. The idea that gender studies holds men  
accountable for gender inequalities in power while women’s studies does not is contradicted by the  
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volumes of women’s studies scholarship that precisely do point to men’s part in the constructions of  
these systems. Part of the dispute may center in the various definitions of gender that appear in  
scholarship. They range from the social relations of the sexes (usually analyzed in terms of power  
inequalities) to “a vocabulary for power”. Given that most of the curriculum and scholarship focus on  
men, whether gender is used as an analytic framework or not, programs focusing on the study of  
women are critically necessary.  
Gender studies is a field of interdisciplinary study an d academic field devoted to gender identity and  
gendered representation as central categories of analysis. This field includes Women’s studies (concerning  
women, feminism, gender, and politics), Men’s studies, and LGBT studies. Sometimes Gender studies  
are offered together with Study of Sexuality. These disciplines study gender and sexuality in the fields of  
literature and language, history, political science, sociology, anthropology, cinema and media studies,  
human development, law, and medicine. It also analyses race, ethnicity, location, nationality, and disability.  
Gender study has many different forms. One view exposed by the philosopher Simone de Beauvoir said:  
One is not born a woman, one becomes one”. This view proposes that in gender studies, the term  
gender” should be used to refer to the social and cultural constructions of masculinities and femininities,  
not to the state of being male or female in its entirety. However, this view is not held by all gender  
theorists. Other areas of gender study closely examine the role that the biological states of being male  
or female have on social constructs of gender. Specifically, in what way gender roles are defined by  
biology and how they are defined by cultural trends. The field emerged from a number of different areas:  
the sociology of the 1950s; the theories of the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan; and the work of feminists.  
Gender is an important area of study in many disciplines, such as literary theory, drama studies, film  
theory, performance theory, contemporary art history, anthropology, sociology, economics of gender  
and development, demography of gender, gender in history, geography of gender, psychology and  
psychoanalysis. These disciplines sometimes differ in their approaches to how and why they study  
gender. For instance in anthropology, sociology and psychology, gender is often studied as a practice,  
whereas in cultural studies representations of gender are more often examined. Gender Studies is also a  
discipline in itself: an interdisciplinary area of study that incorporates methods and approaches from a  
wide range of disciplines. Each field came to regard “gender” as a practice, sometimes referred to as  
something that is performative. Feminist theory of psychoanalysis is very influential in gender studies.  
In the final analysis, both Women’s Studies and Gender Studies challenge patriarchal, hierarchical order  
and facilitate the process of mainstreaming women’s concerns. Pitting WS against GS serves the interest  
of dominant patriarchy which is oppressive for all women, men and children.  
Desai, Neera and Vibhuti Patel (1988) Critical Review of Women’s Studies Researches in India, Delhi:  
Indian Council of Social Science Research, 1990.  
Desai, Neera (2006) Feminism as Experience: Thoughts and Narratives, Mumbai: Sparrow.  
Kulkarni, Mangesh (2014) “Critical Musculinity Studies in India” in book Masculinity and Its Challenges in  
India: Essays on Changing Perceptions edited by Rohit K. Dasgupta, K. Moti Gokulsing, USA: Mcfarland  
and Co, pp. 56-72.  
Patel, Vibhuti (2002) Women’s Challenges of the New Millennium, Delhi: Gyan Publications.  
Rege, Sharmila (2003) “More than Just Tacking Women on to the ‘Macro picture’”, Mumbai: Economic  
and Political Weekly, Vol - XXXVIII No. 43, October 25.  
Patel, Vibhuti (2013) “The Dynamics of Women’s Studies in India”, Mysore: Samruddhi Foundation,  
Monograph Series-1.  
Prof. Vibhuti Patel, Head : P. G. Dept. of Economics, SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai.