How is Gender Studies hard?

Someone somewhere, of course, was mocking Gender Studies majors for taking an easy course because they couldn't hack liberal arts.  I made the point that the Gender Studies classes I took were significantly more difficult than my computer science classes.  Someone then asked me why I thought that was, and I came up with an answer:

First, high academic Gender Studies wrestles deep inside post-modernism, and in resistance to post-modernism, and post-modernism is notoriously challenging. Second, like many fields it has its own language, in an attempt to avoid some of the ambiguities and over-generalizations implicit in ours. Thirdly, the subject is personal for every person studying it, and indeed for every other person in the world. All of this makes readings and discussions rough as we confront our defenses and personal hurts. This subject can never be theoretical. On top of that, some theorists go out of their way to use poetic language or other Brechtian techniques to try to challenge the hierarchy of knowledge production implicit in the papers they are writing, and at that point most people start going cross-eyed.

I don't think the field, as a whole, can ever be easy. We are trying to disrupt things we learned to do when we were 4 months old and complicate identities we acquired before we were three. We are challenging the "naturalness" of social organizing principle that persisted for millennia. Gender Studies involves reinterpreting ourselves, while simultaneously resist the temptation to read too much into our individuals lives and experience. It literally questions everything.

This difficulty is not an accident. The very fabric we live in evolved to make it hard to ask these questions. If it were easy, this social order would have fallen apart under the ever-present resistance to the violence needed to maintain masculine domination. If the field were easy, it would have destabilized the equilibrium already.

To make matters worse, we still lack theoretical or mathematical tools that support the characterization or disruption of emergent systems of this complexity. Math is bad at feedback. ("Gender Studies: more robust than Macro Economics" would make a pretty good t-shirt, actually.) So Gender Theorists rely on a combination of quantitative and qualitative social science techniques, while again simultaniously trying to critique those techniques and highlight the forms of individual knowledge erased in an attempt to establish a comprehensible taxonomy.

This doesn't mean that Gender Studies is impossible, or that a 101 class is going to be harder than any other class with essays. A teacher's job is to lead you through the work, and there are a lot of good resources now that can help. You don't get everything at once. You aren't going to start with the most post-modern or DaDaist scholars. Like with physics: no one starts with string theory. First, you will learn the basic principles, supported by evidence and easily testable, and only then will you begin to delve into the structures that generate those principles.

The difference is that bloggers don't claim that because position=velocity*time, physics must be trivial.