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Prof. Jane Juffer, director of the feminist, gender and sexuality studies program, discusses Women's History Month.

March 9, 2021

Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Director Jane Juffer Discusses Women’s History Month

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The legacy of feminist movements — from the call for women’s suffrage to the Women’s Liberation Movement and #MeToo rallies — stand as a reminder that Women’s History Month is a story of more than just gender. Issues of race and sexuality are emblematic of March’s intersectional history. 

Prof. Jane Juffer, literatures in English and director of the feminist, gender and sexuality studies program, spoke to the complex history of Women’s History Month in an interview with The Sun. She commented on the University’s efforts to inform its students about the importance of gender studies, as well as the necessity of a curriculum that addresses its complexity.

“One of the most important things is  to say that gender studies is really not just about women,” Juffer said. “That was the mistake that feminism made for many years, just assuming all women were the same,” referring to third-wave feminism, a 1990s backlash to the second-wave’s privileging of heterosexual white women. 

Now, cries for racial equality and gender rights reveal the progress the feminist movement has made. 

“The field of feminist and queer studies now is so much more efficacious and inclusive,” Juffer said. “That’s not to say that women per se fall out of the picture. It has to be intersectional.”

Before becoming an associate professor at Cornell just over a decade ago, Juffer was the director of Latino studies at Pennsylvania State University. Juffer’s passion for social justice began long before her career in academia; as an undergraduate, Juffer worked as a freelance journalist, reporting on the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Still, her academic work is imbued with her activist ideals.

“When I think about what it means to be a feminist, I think more about not just about women, but about social justice in general,” Juffer reflected. “For me, my academic work has always been about how do we make the world a better place.”

Juffer acknowledges the distance between university life and life after it, leading her to ask what it means to be an activist with the academy. For Juffer, part of the solution lies in the privileges a liberal arts education provides. 

“I would hope that, in my wildest dreams, every Cornell student would take a class specifically about gender and sexuality,” Juffer said. 

Juffer added that department directors in the humanities are trying to organize a required course that would provide a foundation for issues of identity. 

“[The course] would have to be intersectional. It would have to be how do you think of identity as comprised of these multiple subjectivities?” Juffer said. “Gender, race, sexuality, class, religion. I would want every student to understand the complexity of identity. At the same time, I would want them to recognize some very basic tenets about gender and sexuality, critique the assumption that there are two genders and obviously education about consent.”

Juffer would want this course to “maintain the sense of complexity and nuance” that comes with the confluence of so many issues in order for that understanding to pervade outside of academic thought. 

After editing a collection of essays written by millennials about how feminism circulates in the professional world, Juffer noted that the authors commented that is rarely the case.. 

“The more that we can do in a complex way to help students enter the so-called ‘real world’ equipped to deal with those issues, I think, would be great,” Juffer said.

Asked what is the core reason teachings on equity are not carried outside the bubble of academia, Juffer responded with one word: capitalism.

“[It’s] the idea that everything has to be shown to be profitable in some way,” Juffer said. “If you really want to get a job that [makes] the world a better place, you are going to have a hard time taking care of yourself, because it’s such a burnout.”