The few, the proud: Male WGSS majors

Back in kindergarten, most boys had a fail-proof way of explaining the workings of the female mind: cooties. Soon, though, cooties become obsolete and now — after puberty, hormones and periods — understanding women is often perceived as a hopeless task for the college-aged man.

But not for Colin Adamo ’10.

Colin Adamo ’10, one of only four declared male Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies majors, cites a “sense of community” in the major.
Kate Hawkins
Colin Adamo ’10, one of only four declared male Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies majors, cites a “sense of community” in the major.

As one of only four men who have declared a Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies major, Adamo has taken an unconventional approach to “sexuality in American society” — his self-designed track within the major — by choosing to pursue the field academically.

“There are always complaints on both sides of the table that ‘we never understand the opposite sex’ and ‘they’re so confusing,’” Adamo said. “And if you want to understand them more, why not study the subject?”

Rather than feeling out of place as one of the few males within the major, Adamo cited a “real sense of community” within the WGSS. And, he said, the major itself is key to his plans for the future. Double majoring in WGSS and Psychology, he explained, allows him to explore and understand different relationships and lifestyles — knowledge that he hopes will serve him well in his career.

“I have ambitions of working either as a sex therapist, marriage counselor or a sex educator, and I want to include within my clientele … people of all sexuality, genders and lifestyles,” Adamo said.

But given that only three other males are currently enrolled in the major, not all men on campus appear to agree with Adamo’s “why not study the subject?” attitude.

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said the major’s seeming focus on women may lead male students to believe, mistakenly, that the subject simply does not apply to their lives.

“I suspect the mere name of the major features women’s studies so prominently [that it] may make men think superficially that this major is not relevant to issues of interest to them,” Salovey said. “But given the strong focus on gender and sexuality, of course it is.”

WGSS Director of Undergraduate Studies Maria Trumpler agreed. “It takes a certain kind of strength of character in a man to say that the first word of the major on his transcript is going to say ‘women’s,’ ” she said.

But WGSS students emphasized that its curriculum does not equate women’s studies with feminism. In fact, the major offers two separate tracks: one dedicated to women’s and gender studies and the other to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer studies, which attracts many — though not all — of the male majors.

“One of the things I have taken away from my courses is not just ‘Oh, what women think,’ ” WGSS major Lea Krivchenia ’08 said. “We study all these things that other people study with gender and sexuality in mind.”

“It really speaks to something when you feel what other people have been able to feel,” Adamo agreed. “When would that be explored within any other curricula at Yale?”

‘Orgasms and stuff’

But in spite of the diversity in the field of study, WGSS is often perceived as a niche major that caters to students with very specific career interests.

Krivchenia said the major — which has only 11 officially enrolled students — may lack credibility among the student body compared to some of the larger, more established majors on campus like history and political science, which have 358 and 335 enrolled students, respectively, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

“It’s still thought of as something that you don’t really major in; like it’s interesting to study these things, but you should still major in political science or something,” she said.

Plus, Adamo said, the major is not directly relevant to most popular careers.

“It’s hard when everyone around you is like, ‘I need to go into I-banking, law school or med school — and it’s hard to do that with a WGSS major on your diploma,’ ” Adamo said.

WGSS also carries with it a certain political connotation that perhaps limits its appeal on campus, students interviewed said.

While some majors, like Adam Gardner ’09, described that characterization as “very dangerous” and “not accurate,” Andrew Dowe ’08 said his decision to choose WGSS in addition to African American Studies came “as an extension of my activist activities.”

“Both fields grew out of political movements as tools to dismantle the reactionary practices of mainstream academics,” Dowe wrote in an e-mail.

Although only 11 students are actually enrolled in the major, at least one course offered by WGSS, “The Biology of Gender and Sexuality” — more commonly referred to by students as “Porn in the Morn” — has attracted hundreds of students of all majors for many years, some for its famously explicit subject matter, others for its reputation as a “gut” class.

But some students even found this class, which has become mainstream, a bit more political than they had bargained for.

“When I first got into the class, I thought it was really open and slightly outrageous because [Molecular Biology and Biophysics professor Bill Summers] just discussed things in a very liberal manner,” said one student, who asked not to be named.

Another added, “Some of it was stuff I didn’t really wanna know, like about orgasms and stuff.”

But perhaps the most effective way of building up the major, students suggest, is through additional University resources — something they hope would lead to increased consistency in WGSS faculty members and course offerings.

“The inconsistency of personnel and course offerings produced by visiting and jointly-appointed professorships means that it is difficult for courses to develop reputations like those that drive students to intro courses in larger majors and then into the majors themselves,” Dowe explained.

Salovey agreed that the program has suffered from the loss of faculty members over the past several years.

“I think over the years we have lost other senior faculty associated with the major,” he said. “I think an increase in faculty actually involved with the major would generally be a good thing.”

More rather than less?

But while students in the major at Yale may be asking for added support from their University, at some peer institutions, equivalent programs are not official majors at all.

Deborah Nord, director of the Women and Gender program at Princeton University, explained that at her school, the subject may only be studied as a “concentration” in conjunction with another major.

“It’s meant to be done in tandem with a more mainstream discipline,” she said.

And perhaps as a result, the number of seniors who graduate each year with “certificates” in Princeton’s program dwarfs that of Yale seniors currently set to graduate with a degree in WGSS — a mere 3 compared to 10 to 15 per year at Princeton. But the number of men who graduate with these certificates is considerably lower than those who graduate with a WGSS major from Yale; according to Nord, Princeton has graduated no more than three men with certificates in Women and Gender in the last five years.

“We wouldn’t tend to have more than one per year, and there have been years when we didn’t have any,” Nord said. “It’s not a field of study that’s familiar to a lot of students on campus.”

But while offering women and gender studies as a program rather than a major may decrease visibility on campus, Princeton anthropology professor and Women and Gender Executive Committee member Rena Lederman said it eliminates apprehension that the field is irrelevant to most careers.

“The advantage of our arrangement is that, insofar as parents or students may worry about external perceptions (e.g., on the job market after college), Princeton students show that they have been doing “more” (as in: a major AND a certificate!!) rather than “less” (as in: a Women&Gender major??),” she wrote in an e-mail.

As for Yale, Salovey suggested that decisions about the structure of WGSS are best left to the faculty involved with the program.

“We might consider how to do a better job promoting the interesting topics covered in the major for men as well as women,” he said. “I think this may be an issue of increasing awareness rather than restructuring.”

Especially, Krivchenia said, since universality exists in every major, even one that seems as narrow as WGSS.

“Everyone,” she said, “has ‘gender’.”


  • Hieronymus

    "Everyone," [Krivchenia]said, "has 'gender.'"

    Hate speech!

  • Cathy MacKinnon

    "But in spite of the diversity in the field of study, WGSS is often perceived as a niche major that caters to students with very specific career interests."

    That's the understatement of the century. More accurately, the major caters to students who want to become tomorrow's welfare queens. NO employer would want to hire someone who chose a BS major like women's studies (…and no, "BS" does not stand for bachelor of science)

  • Anonymous

    This major is nothing more than propaganda. What good doe sit do our society to indoctrinate a bunch of young, allegedly bright, minds with more misandrist PC bs than the mainstream media already delivers?

    Most boys, even in kindergarten, do not think girls have cooties. Most men, now and historically, have not hated women.

    Society does not exist as some big conspiracy to deny women personal fulfillment.

  • Andrea Door King

    Take note, women's studies majors (all seven of you, that is). It's not too late to change your major. For those of you who have already graduated, don't forget to bring some extra donuts to munch on while waiting in the unemployment line at the local welfare agency: The economy's a bit tighter than usual this year, so the line's going to be extra long!

    Seriously: What do the parents of these women's studies majors think about their kids choice of major? ("My parents spent $160K and all I got was a bunch of femi-nazi propoganda!")

  • WGGStype

    Silly people, when Hillary gets elected guess who gets a Cabinet post? Someone will have to guide the new politically correct agencies sure to be developed.

  • Bill Summers

    While I appreciate the generally positive mention of my course in this article, I would point out that the characterization of the course as "political" in any way, or my stance on the material as "liberal" is not accurate (liberal,however is not a label I avoid). Because I discuss the topics of the course in a straight-forward way just as I might discuss digestion or any other physiological process does not mean that is it either liberal or political. My goal is to treat material and subjects that some might find "sensitive" with as much scientific, dispassionate objectivity as I can muster. Only by such an approach can we come to understand what science can teach us about the complexities of gender and sexuality. That a student would enroll in a course entitled "The Biology of Gender and Sexuality" and be surprised to hear discussions of "orgasms and stuff" is a bit unexpected, to say the least.

  • Really?

    The people who post on this article only to say that WGSS is a ludicrous major should really reconsider (this is coming from someone who would never major in WGSS). What can one do with this major? I don't know…grad school in psych/sexuality/public health/social work/law? Advocacy? Non-profit work? Hell, if you take enough econ courses, you could even become an i-banker (which is the only legit profession, right?). Don't dismiss academia as "femi-Nazi propaganda"…that is wrong on so many levels.

  • Anonymous

    I love Colin Adamo.

  • Colin Adamo Fan #1

    How can one boy be so ludicrously crushable? Colin Adamo, words cannot describe my love for you.

  • Colin Adamo

    For posts number 2, 3, and 4, do you go to Yale? I'm not sure any of you are very familiar with Yale's brilliant stance on it's education. Ever notice how there's no pre-law, business, or pre-med? Why is it that i-banking and internal medicine seem to be the only respectable professions for a Yale graduate? I feel like we're supposed to be the brilliant leaders of tomorrow, why waste your time in a corner office on wall street making as much money as you can when you could be out making the world we live in a better place?

    With an a degree in econ most of Yalies will go work in Goldman's, work 14 hour days and go home to their huge apartments in Manhattan.

    The brilliant people I know with WGSS degrees are in Mexico and Paris and India working with battered women or educating young girls or working with NGO's battling AIDS.

    Which one do you respect more? There's not a right answer and if you feel that the money makers are your heros that's fine, but don't dismiss the WGSS major because it doesn't bring the big bank. They're the ones who are making our planet a more peaceful place to live in, despite your misguided views of conspiracy theory feminazis.

  • Hieronymus

    "[W]hy waste your time in a corner office on wall street making as much money as you can when you could be out making the world we live in a better place?"

    Gee, Bud, I dunno; why?

    Quick question:

    Which group has done more toward "educationg young girls [and] working with NGOs [ed. note: uh, no possessive there, Yale boy; and do NOT try to cry 'typo'!]":

    A) Bill Gates


    B) Every Yale WGSS grad who ever lived, collectively?

    How about:

    A) Warren Buffet


    B) Every Yale WGSS major that will ever live, collectively?

    Who did more to get you your free Yale education?

    A) The Bass family


    B) Any WGSS major on the planet earth?

    That's RIGHT! It's "A" all the way!

  • anonymous

    @#11: Exactly. But Bill Gates never graduated from college. So what's to stop a WGSS major from following in his path? Nowadays, majors predict careers less and less. A WGSS major with an economics background can become an iBanker, while an economics major with a background in WGSS can teach about AIDS.

  • Colin Adamo

    Actually I would argue B. Thank you.

    Who do you think does the ground work for Bill Gates? Honestly, do you think Gates is the one on the ground distributing pills, educating classrooms about healthy sexual practices, counseling rape victims? I'm greatly appreciative of the big wig business guys who make it possible for those with less pecuniary focuses to get their hands dirty.

    Hieronymus, why can't we both live and be happy together. You can have a huge house somewhere and all your materialistic joys, and still be satisfied with your contribution to the greater good of the world that comes from paying my salary and my student loans while I'm out there in the streets making sure the generations that come after us are healthier and live in a world of equality.

    I don't know why you're so adamant about that or think that money is the solution to absolutely everything.

  • non WGSS majors

    I am sorry but so many of these comments are ridiculous. Of course WGSS majors can get jobs -- they are graduating from Yale. We are a liberal arts school… most of our majors are completely useless! And, I'm sorry, the argument about Bill Gates is doing more is crap. Bill Gates has had a much bigger effect on the economy than every single Yale Econ major too!

    I have loved the WGSS classes I took. I chose a major that I liked better… everyone should chose the major that interests them the most!

  • Hieronymus

    At least you admit it: "You can…still be satisfied with…paying my salary and my student loans."

    Bill Gates = profit center
    WGSS = cost center

    And do not confuse contempt for your major with contempt for your actions (or even you!).

    I continue to argue that one can pursue one's personal academic goals, however obscure or esoteric, in the broader context of less political (and, thus, more salable) disciplines.

    Someone else wrote it here, I was not the first: "don't forget to bring some extra donuts."

    One of the beauties of a liberal arts education is its flexibility. A history major with, say, a senior thesis on trangender issues in Brazilian brothels (complete with field work) can, say, start out in the Peace Corps, get into the political scene, then decide, when conditions warrant(a family, say), to hit Wall Street. No one is going to ask to read the senior thesis; no one is going to roundfile a Yale history major because of any detrimental preconceptions regarding a "chip on the shoulder" attitude or lack of seriousness.

    But I GUAR-AN-TEE you the same is not true of, say, WGSS majors.

    Perception of that and similar majors will act as albatross, fairly or unfairly, for at least two reasons: the bearer will be dismissed out of hand as too much trouble (and you won't get the interview in which to disprove it) OR seen as not clever or flexible enough to have designed an individual/interdisciplinary course of study within a traditional major.

    In other words: you have not chosen a major, but a political slogan. You have narrowed your options (the OPPOSITE of the liberal arts goal).

    Perhaps you will be happy with your decision forever--I, for one, hope so (really, I do). But, in my opinion (and that is all it is) you have curtailed your lifetime earning power. Perhaps you will never reach the limit you have set, but if you do, i.e., if you find yourself unable to provide for your needs (personal, professional, familial) and wonder why no one in industry will take you, you can look to your undergraduate degree for the answer.

    Lastly, with regard to Bill Gates and his lack of collegiate credentials: Uh, Bill was too smart for college. I am fairly sure that you are no Bill Gates (and, to soften the revelation, I submit that nor am I, nor 99% of Yalies in general).

    Good luck!

  • Another Reader

    Colin, stop conversing with yourself on the comments board of this article! I know you're just trying to seek more attention for yourself, but just get over yourself already!

  • Anonymous

    You people cannot be serious. You are all satirists right? I'm pretty sure WGSS major could, oh, I don't know, go get a masters in Sociology, a PHD in Psychology, and many of the activities that Adamo listed. These professions make pretty good money, and thus do not require Wall Street. By the way, are there any Bear Stearns employees on here? How does it feel to have no soul AND no money?

  • Anonymous

    The idea that nobody will hire a WGSS major is utter nonsense. By the time you graduate from College, your major barely even matters anymore. Most employers look at your summer internships… and on that note, WGSS majors are looked upon kindly for research assistant positions, NGO positions, healthcare positions, etc. And those things matter for graduate school. Hieronymous is right in that the major does limit you -- it limits you to academic fields, social activist positions and healthcare professions….wow, what a terrible and fiscally poor lives these people will lead! No, Morgan-Stanley may not hire you, but when was the last time that Wall Street was the only way to make money?

  • anonymous

    1. Choose a method/ theory of investigation: psychology, biochem, sociology, history, etc.
    2. Choose a field to apply that to.

    The problem with gender studies or african american studies, etc is that there is not a clear form of analysis built into the concentration. Maybe why so many people double major these fields with one that defines the method of investigation?

  • @Colin Adamo

    Lol. itt, people show they know nothing about career options for econ undergrads.

    What disqualifies an economics undergraduate student from going and distributing medicine in Africa? Nothing. What disqualifies a WGSS major from going to work for an I-Banking firm? A lot. You just have a narrower set of options.

  • Follow up #17

    You are right--if Adamo COVERS OVER his WGSS major, then maybe he can get a job.

    You see, you DO agree with what folks are saying: WGSS is a waste of time and (parents'/ Yale's) money, something to be rectified later to make a living.

    I especially like #20's succinct summary.

  • Anonymous

    I-banking… sad, sad, sad.. what a waste of a decent education