How UW-Madison professors built a women’s studies department that changed the university

UW-Madison’s storied Gender and Women’s Studies Department Celebrates 40 years

As if the World Was Male

Badger Insider, Spring 2016

My editor pulled the title of this piece from a quote that appears in the article, in which Judy Leavitt, who joined the UW-Madison women’s studies educator team in 1975, reflects, “I hadn’t had a single woman faculty member when I was a graduate student, nor had I studied a single thing about women. It was as if the world was male.” I remember getting chills when she first said it.

I’ve always had a twinge of regret about not taking the women’s studies track when I was at UW-Madison, so I jumped at this opportunity when Badger Insider called. I remember my first earth-shaking exposure to gender inequity at the 101 level—and I do have a history degree from this school—so I found this assignment thrilling. I got to talk to a handful of pioneers in the local women’s movement and contrast their early experiences with today’s Gender and Women’s Studies department, which remains not only relevant and necessary, but on the cutting edge of a scientific exploration of gender identity and politics. I also got to sit in on the famed and perpetually wait-listed GWS 103: Women and Their Bodies in Health and Disease course, just one among 200 students in a Sterling Hall lecture room, nearly 20 years after I graduated.

Next year, I’ll be visiting colleges with my own daughter.

(Have I mentioned lately how much I love my job?)

—Maggie Ginsberg is an award-winning freelance writer in Madison, Wisconsin

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