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Research Master Social Sciences

Blog Amsterdam Research Centre for Gender & Sexuality Studies

Nina van Douwen

Ever since I was little I have felt a strong incentive to fight against injustice, and to change the world for the better. This was, although this may sound strange, one of the reasons I choose to enroll in a research master, as I believe in the power research has to address relevant topics and trigger change. I never questioned whether or not I was a feminist, and in recent years I found myself more and more interested in topics related to gender inequality. When I choose the course ‘Gender and Sexuality’ as an elective in my master’s program, I was not quite sure what to expect but the course taught me much more than only the theoretical insights gender studies has to offer.

Nina van Douwen
Nina van Douwen

I anticipated on the course giving me many theoretical insights, but I did not expect it to also change my perspective on the world outside of academia. Through its intersectional focus, gender studies emphasizes many issues besides gender inequality. This made me more sensitive of various contemporary issues in our society and has opened my eyes to some of the dominant structures and processes we deal with every day. While I felt I had always been aware of (gender) inequality, this course made me see the many ways in which inequality can manifest itself. In a sense, the course complicated the way I look at our world. While accepting that gender is socially constructed might be easy, it can have many (personal) consequence. From starting to wonder why you decide to put on make-up in the morning, it let to me questioning what part of who I am is really “me” if our society has such an effect on our behavior. Although I quickly abandoned this line of thinking, studying theories on gender and sexuality did lead me to question behavior and ideas I previously perceived as “normal”.

As a student enrolled in a research master, I struggle with the relation between research and activism. I am passionate about the topics I study and want them to be discussed both inside and outside academia. To many researchers and research fields, however, this appears to be problematic. As I discovered while taking this course on Gender & Sexuality, feminist research does not shy away from activism. In fact feminist researchers believe their research should aim to bring about change in society, and actively try to do so. Gender studies is the first branch of research that really makes me feel like I’m contributing to something more than building theory.

Gender studies’ link to activism and feminism also means that it is a topic almost anyone has an opinion about, and it rouses a lot of emotions in pretty much everyone you discuss it with. I realized this quite soon after I started with the course when several people either tried to debate my reasons for choosing it (‘Are you a feminist then?’), felt the need to tell me that men and women are ‘simply different’, or questioned why I decided to study gender inequality in the Netherlands when it is ‘no longer a problem here’. While this can be tough, people’s responses often made me realize even more why it is important to study these kind of topics: because there are so many people unaware of the inequality still present in our society.

Ultimately, following this course, and all the experiences that came with it, has really motivated me to conduct research in this field. Most feminist research is relatively qualitative in nature. As a student who is learning to carry out mixed methods research, where one combines quantitative and qualitative research methods, I hope I can contribute to the field especially by using a different approach. As such, the course has given me an interesting topic to explore during my Master’s program and maybe even beyond.