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women's studiesa multidisciplinary approach to the analysis and understanding of the position and experience of women in patriarchal societies both past and present. Emerging alongside the growth of the WOMEN'S LIBERATION MOVEMENT in the late 1960s, women's studies programmes have been developed and expanded in higher education establishments in Europe and the US. Informed essentially by a commitment to feminist theories, methodologies and practice, women's studies programmes seek, via a woman-centred approach to learning, to challenge the misrepresentation of women found in traditional disciplines, including sociology. The content of women's studies courses has been shaped by feminists working within the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences. They have also been shaped by feminists working in the community, particularly in women's organizations. Thus women's studies programmes have emerged out of women's direct experience of and response to sexual exploitation and oppression. An essential aim of women's studies is to render visible women's engagement with society and culture whilst making explicit the masculine biases underpinning traditional knowledge. Women's studies programmes seek to challenge all major forms of discrimination and to question the rigid boundaries demarcating one academic subject from another. As such, they provide a radical critique of established academic knowledge and educational practice. The content of such programmes varies but most courses aim to combine a feminist analysis of women's oppression with the development of practical skills such as assertiveness training. Traditional methods of teaching and assessment are re-evaluated in the light of women's needs and links are drawn between theoretical concerns and the daily experience of women.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000