Thought Catalog

5 Reasons You Should Major In Women’s Studies

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Shutterstock /  gpointstudio
Shutterstock / gpointstudio

Why major in Women’s Studies when you could study a more practical major that your parents would be proud to brag about with their pals? If you’re content with the idea that everything is fine as is — with women getting paid 80 percent of what men earn for equal work, and politicians arguing about birth control (birth control!) — don’t major in Women’s Studies. If you and the women you know are worth more than that, and you want to grab your beautiful, precious, wonderful life by the horns and do something challenging and inspiring and worthwhile with it, read on for five reasons to major in Women’s Studies.

What you don’t know actually does hurt you.

Two memorable responses I got as a Women’s Studies major were “Do you hate men?/Are you a lesbian?” (these are seemingly said in the same breath, which is why they collectively count as one), and “I studied women in college too… Heh, heh.” (This one’s uttered by your friend’s creepy dad or your questionable uncle.) Runner-up: “Why isn’t there a Men’s Studies?” (It’s called History.)

When I took my first Women’s Studies class, I’d often come home angry; I’d grown up with a progressive family, I was well-traveled, and I’d gotten good grades throughout school, and yet I still hadn’t heard about the Declaration of Sentiments or the Equal Rights Amendment; I’d still never questioned the stereotypes that women are bad at math and men are bad at feelings; I’d never heard of rape culture or the gender wage gap.

Every time someone asked whether I hated men (no), or whether I’m a lesbian (no, but does it matter?) upon hearing my major, I was reminded further that women’s issues aren’t getting the mainstream attention they deserve: that women are widely underrepresented in politics; that the number of sexual assaults on college campuses is staggeringly high; that women still get paid less for equal work. And the fact that WS was still obscure and somehow silly showed that there’s still a long way to go before women are considered truly equal. This gave me all the more reason to pursue the degree.

It applies…to everything.

When you major in Women’s Studies, you study politics, theory, literature, history, sociology, and psychology, all with a feminist perspective. You discover and ask questions that no one’s ever challenged you with before: How have women been portrayed in the media and religion? In what ways do gender stereotypes influence politics and literature? How does our society compare to others in its treatment of women?

Since it covers so many different subjects, you have a broad range of job opportunities; you’re not tied to a specific field like you would be with a marine biology or accounting degree. With whatever job(s) you end up having, you can apply what you’ve learned from Women’s Studies to any situation — it’s not so much a career choice as it is a life choice; you’re adopting a new perspective that you’ll use in every relationship, every job, and every circumstance.

It’s relevant.

Have you read the news lately? It’s War on Women this, and Birth Control Access Violates Our Religious Freedom that. Women and women’s health are at the center of politics right now. Sh-t just got real. Well, I guess it got real a year ago when the House nearly shut down the government over Planned Parenthood funding. As long as people are fighting to turn back the clock on women’s rights, women will need advocates for equality, and that’s where a Women’s Studies major comes in.

Oppression knows no bounds. But the good news is that justice doesn’t either.

The funny thing about Women’s Studies is that it’s not just about women. It makes you think about layers of identity and explore how oppressions like racism, sexism, and ableism are comparable and intertwined. One of the first words you learn as a Women’s Studies major is intersectionality, which at first sounds like one of those higher-ed, elitist terms that makes you shudder and say, “No wonder Rick Santorum thinks college is for snobs!” But really, it’s a theory that examines how different forms of identity like race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability intersect and interact on multiple levels.

Majoring in Women’s Studies allows you to challenge these intersecting oppressions and address the systemic problems that create them, and it instills a huge sense of compassion for disadvantaged, oppressed groups. And we all know that compassion leads to justice.

It’s on the right side of history.

When you choose this major, you become an agent — not a bystander — in the process of bringing humanity one step closer to equality. You do it not just for yourself, but for your partner, your family, and the future. A WS degree opens doors that you may not have known were there or otherwise even comprehended. Women’s Studies explores why women are underrepresented in politics and higher-level jobs, and then it shows you how to change that — how to strive toward a more just, equal, and vibrant society.

College isn’t somewhere you go to learn one skill, and a Women’s Studies major isn’t a trade you learn in a few classes; it’s a life evaluation — a social, biological, economic, political evaluation that arms you with ideas and answers to questions on how to interpret culture and your existence within it, and how to go out into the world and make it better, more inclusive, and a hell of a lot more beautiful. TC mark

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    • 9ks7

      touche

    • http://twitter.com/iamthe0nly Jordana Bevan

      these are probably good reasons to major in women’s studies, but learning the things you learn in women’s studies (or hey, let’s not be sex discriminating and say gender studies) doesn’t like… do… anything….. probs still better to get an actually-relevant-to-the-working-world degree in something that will get you a job that pays hella money or gives you hella power so that you have the money or the influence to actually make significant social change

      • Ali

         I’m so happy that someone gets it.

      • lp

         I don’t know about this, though. For my part, I never knew the extent of the ways in which my gender, gender itself, manifested in my life, or the sheer number of consequences that it, along with all of the factors that it intersects with (race, class, sexuality), has for me, until I started taking courses in gender and women’s studies. And that whole argument about what women’s/gender studies do makes sense from an outside perspective, I suppose, but as a minor in the subject myself I totally disagree. What they do, I feel, is teach you how to _think_ about oppression, and recognize it, so that you’re better able to fight it in real life. That’s incredibly empowering, to me. I mean, how does one change something one has no words or way to describe?

        Also, I feel I should note that “gender studies” isn’t a way to be sex discriminating — it’s a way to acknowledge the spectrum that gender studies scholars want gender to be, and to defeat the male-female gender binary by providing an appellation for the discourse that those who don’t identify as simply man or woman can be included within and feel comfortable with.

        • http://twitter.com/iamthe0nly Jordana Bevan

          idk sorry you aren’t socially aware enough to recognize gender discrimination or smart enough to think for yourself or resourceful enough to use the english language (or any other language you might speak) to describe various prejudices? that’s what you just said so i don’t feel bad feeling sorry for you about it

          duh gender studies isn’t a way to be discriminating, that’s exactly why i said “let’s not be sex discriminating and say gender studies” instead of “women’s studies” because one of those subjects ignores a whole spectrum of gender identities. basic reading comprehension, come on, this was on the SAT, you had to at least not totally fail that to get into whatever college you minored in WS at

        • lp

          Sorry, that last bit was my fault — missed the “or” in your original sentence.

          Not going to touch your overwhelming defensiveness, though. Should say that I don’t feel bad feeling sorry for you about it.

        • http://twitter.com/iamthe0nly Jordana Bevan

          nbd we both want a better future for our gender/all genders :)

        • http://twitter.com/iamthe0nly Jordana Bevan

          and sorry for being a brat in my reply earlier

        • lp

           I’m sorry, too! I didn’t exactly respond maturely myself.

    • TuckerMax

      All well and good, but can you make a sandwich WHILE pregnant WHILE you’re not wearing shoes?I’m kidding of course… a pair of Slippers work just as well…

    • dumb.

      so with that logic we should all get majors in womens students, african american studies, and sexuality studies (this did exist at my university – it discussed how homo/heterosexuality has evolved over the history of the US) and any other histories of anyone who is discriminated against whatsoever and then hope that the little bit of stuff we learn that can actually be useful for a job will help us find one? oh… ok. also i’m a woman.

      • style icon

        Yes, she said that everyone should major in women’s studies because it’s more important than studying anything else.  Good reading job, high 5.

    • Anonymous

      “Why isn’t there a Men’s Studies?” (It’s called History.)”

      ohsnap.

    • <3 feminist theory

      Just had this realization re: Women’s Studies in the last several months … as a senior in college. The one class I managed to squeeze in has turned my understanding of society/everything on its head. Definitely worth it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/grc15r Gregory Costa

      Women’s studies…I’d have no problem studying you, Hilary.

    • anon

      seriously lol if your school isnt progressive enough to call it “gender studies” and simultaneously broaden and sharpen its focus to a more relevant framework in today’s society.

    • Jessica Morris

      And this is why I’m minoring in gender studies. My major in politics will bring my background in gender studies in hopefully, policy work. 

      • Angela

        My major is G.S. minor in politics!

    • Angela

      My major is Gender Studies and I chose it for the same reasons you said.  I am constantly surprised with the ignorance of  others.  In my poli sci class just yesterday, representation of women in politics was brought up.  The professor asked all 10 females in class if we thought it was necessary to have women representing us in politics.  I was the ONLY one who thought so.  One female even took it a step further. She said she was ok with women senators and reps but never thought a women should be President!  I almost fell out of my chair.  Then the class was asked if they would vote for a female Pres.  Half the class did not raise their hands!  I pray these people never have daughters.  How could someone look at their child and tell them, “You can be anything you want to be, but you are too emotional to be President.”?  

    • ben

      All true, it certainly addresses a myriad of issues. But women’s studies also introduces its own set of prejudices that one has to be careful of. Think critically about everything, even your own attitudes.

    • Chelsea Butler

      This was a lot better written and well thought-out then “Why You Shouldn’t Major in Women’s Studies” (the Coles notes of that one is basically “People won’t take you seriously”- which, ironically, is exactly the problem WS is trying to address). Good article. I’m not a WS major, but I’ve taken a couple classes and learned a lot.  

    • Anonymous

      Counterpoint: Don’t major in women’s studies if you’re going to be taking out massive loans to go to college. History majors can have a tough enough time getting a good career going after undergrad, majoring in women’s studies isn’t going to make paying down those loans any easier.

    • Danaynay

      Your degree doesn’t really matter. You’ll probably end up working in an office anyway.  Just study something you’re interested in and do well. Better yet, seek real-world experience outside of school. That way, when you’re sitting in your cubical reading TC post-college, your education will feel a little more validated.

    • Nikki

      Usually I like to comment with something that will add to the discussion of the article, but I am seriously distracted by the irony of the ads surrounding the article…

      “KILL your wrinkles…” “7 Phrases not to tell a crying woman…” “1 Trick of a tiny belly…”
      WS Majors, I know you’re working on it, but you seriously need to get these bloody ads out of here…

    • felicity

      Beautiful. 

    • Guest

      What happened to serious majors, like Math, Engineering or Biology?  You want to close the gender gap?  Gain some hard skills that are going to leave the men in your dust.  Sitting around and studying how women have been mistreated historically is propagating a victim culture- not creating equality.

      • Rachel

        ^Exactly!

      • http://twitter.com/neusdadt Arbie Baguios

        Society needs people who are academically trained to diagnose our current situation. You wouldn’t even know what ‘patriarchy’ is, and that inequality existed if it weren’t for the scholars who studied society and pointed them out.

        Of course we need women mathematicians and women engineers, too. But, more than that, we also need women sociologists and women professors that will help change the minds of young people borne into this highly patriarchal society.

        Do you really think female mathematicians/engineers/biologists would get jobs over male mathematicians/engineers/biologists? Patriarchy is a self-fulfilling prophecy and we need to change that first.

        • Kevin

          Your point is way off.  Young women today get into colleges at greater rates than their male peers, they graduate with a higher rate, and they earn more money than their male counterparts before the age of 27.  There isn’t a bias against women that is institutional- else these facts would not be true.

          Patriarchy is not a self-fulfilling prophecy- but filling high paying jobs with the most qualified candidate who has the deeper skill set is.  Fluffy majors like Sociology and Women’s Studies can teach you about the injustices of the world, but diverting your attention from earning degrees that can really improve your skills make them a Catch-22.  If you choose to study Chemical Engineering, you may never understand what injustices exist, but you are far less likely to encounter the injustices since there is strong demand for your skill set.  My critique as it specifically applies to Women’s Studies is that the “research”, for lack of a better term, is obtuse and blame oriented- it doesn’t lead to improvements.  By diverting the attentions of bright young minds away from fields that could minimize or eliminate many of the problems it claims exist, the Women’s Studies major propagates a cycle of its own importance.

          As for the victim society comment- if we focus on where we have been wronged in the past and not where to improve ourselves, we propagate a victim society.  If I got hit by a car today and decided to blame it for all of my life’s shortcomings, I have become a victim.  There are, of course, other ways to deal with things.  Collectively, and this is not only about Women’s Studies, we view conflict through the eyes of victims first, and attempt to blame all of our failures on other things.  Eventually, dynamic individuals rise up and lead.  Steve Jobs didn’t sit around lamenting his cancer.  George Washington didn’t sit around saying that he could win the war if only the winter at Valley Forge weren’t so difficult.  Marie Curie didn’t complain that she could characterize radioactivity if only she were a man.  People today are far too quick to pass the buck- take some responsibility and believe in yourself, remarkable things will happen.

        • CB4SN13

          Fluff majors like sociology and women’s study? It really depends on what you define as “fulfilling” jobs. To you, it is a high paying job. But believe it or not, there are people that believe in social justice issues, and are happy to work towards it, despite it not being “monetarily fulfilling” as you would call it.

          Majoring in Chemical Engineering does little in decreasing the likelihood of encountering injustice. Your entire spin on it is based on the the capitalist ideal. Issues exist outside of the economy. Why are women considered sluts when they sleep around, but a man is considered a stud? Why are single-mothers discriminated against, marginalized, and punished economically, when it takes a man to impregnate her? Why are women constantly objectified, and taught to be a sex object? Majoring in Chemical Engineering doesn’t address any of this.

          Also, studying the processes that has led to inequality is not as useless as you think. If you don’t know what is oppressing you, then how can you fight back? You assume that people can avoid inequality by studying a “practical” major. But this takes no consideration of the structural forces that are constantly taking effect on everyone.

        • http://twitter.com/neusdadt Arbie Baguios

          You lost your comment’s credibility when you said “Fluffy majors like Sociology and Women’s Studies…” Sorry.

        • Sahadisara

          ‘There isn’t a bias against women that is institutional- else these facts would not be true. ‘

          Oooh magic, I bet those statistics totally can’t be ambiguously interpreted to suit whatever bullshit you’re trying to spew. This is TRUTHGOSPEL right here. You realize that the women could just be busting their asses more because they’ve had to fight this institutional bias, and it’s paying off? Or maybe the dudes are lazier when it starts to count because they haven’t had to deal with bias? Or that pretty much a gazillion other factors could come into play here? 

          Also, LOL WHAT THE FUCK  ‘ If you choose to study Chemical Engineering, you may never understand what injustices exist, but you are far less likely to encounter the injustices since there is strong demand for your skill set.’ Please go die in a fire. Your plan to solve the world’s problems is to a) marginalize all of them and b) ignore them by getting a different job. Does that sound rational at all? If you were the ruler of the world for a day, this is really the best idea you’ve got? We here in the Real World are trying to educate each other and talk shit out, to evolve emotionally and mentally so we can MAKE TIME MACHINES LIKE WE WERE TOLD WOULD BE HAPPENING BY NOW. 

          ‘My critique as it specifically applies to Women’s Studies is that the “research”, for lack of a better term, is obtuse and blame oriented’

          Aww, you think it’s stupid and boring and it makes you feel bad because you happen to play the ‘Bad  Guy’! This is JUST like Reverse Racism huh. I HATE that!!@!@#3224

          Rather than getting all offended because you happen to have been born a man and don’t have to deal with the very valid issues these studies concern, you should be happy that you were allotted such privilege. Don’t badmouth something because you’re not interested in actually learning about it, you’re obviously uninformed and it’s embarrassing every time I have to see all these pre-pubescent, half thought out ideas of ‘dis how the world worx u guyz no rry i red n article on da internet n ITS TWUE’ (that’s what you still sound like in my head even with your attempt at sounding all intellectual-like. Pro-tip: that doesn’t work well when your argument is a piece of Swiss cheese.)

          We’re never gonna get to space with people like you holding society back. Humanity needs to learn about peace, equality and respect so it can stop with the temper tantrums and power hoarding. As you can see being technologically advanced and literally having a map of the universe in our hands is completely wasted because SOCIETY can’t keep up. We’re just running our potential into the ground because people refuse to get with the program. ugh, you’re ridiculous. 

          “By diverting the attentions of bright young minds away from fields that could minimize or eliminate many of the problems it claims exist, the Women’s Studies major propagates a cycle of its own importance.” Uhh.. yeah, most subjects have to do that to some extent if they want to EXIST. You’re suggesting that WS is completely invalid, useless, etc and that’s not for you to decide. Obviously an entire mass of students and professors and whoever the fuck else runs the show thinks it’s relevant. You should probably talk to them about its merits first if you’re going to banish it 4evr. You come across as so creepy and controlling… ‘all bright young minds must choose the professions and live their lives as I see fit’ perhaps that’s why you aren’t fond of Gender, Women’s or Social studies… you’re an authoritarian. You just want things your way. How boring.

          ‘As for the victim society comment- if we focus on where we have been wronged in the past and not where to improve ourselves, we propagate a victim society.’

          And if we focus only on moving forward and blame our victims before we blame the perpetrators, patriarchy will continue to be a self fulfilling prophecy. Buddy, honeyboy, your misogyny is showing. Women’s studies does not mean ALL WYMN TAKE OVR WURLD or anything relatively close or scary. It means we address the fact that we got left behind and we try to figure out how to rehabilitate ourselves back into society to be perceived the same as everyone else. We must then address the ways that we’re treated differently to do so. Delving into Women’s, Gender, Social studies can all be considered ways to combat social injustices. Rather than squirming with uncomfortable feelings that you can’t pinpoint or not knowing how to communicate the problem to a society that doesn’t see certain REAL problems as an issue. You have to understand, BECAUSE of your privilege there is probably a lot of shit you haven’t dealt with or though about or considered and you may be unknowingly perpetrating harmful social conventions because you don’t ever see the other end of it. Maybe on your end it’s acceptable, funny, sexy, just NORMAL seeming to you (and we’re talking race, gender, financial status, all inequality here), but on the other end of the spectrum it can be completely the opposite. It’s about respect. Respect that there could be shit you’re not aware of, at the very least. If you don’t want to major in WS that’s fine but respect someone else’s decision to, being judgmental isn’t going to get us anywhere. They put the ‘why not to take WS’ article at the end for a reason.

          ‘If I got hit by a car today and decided to blame it for all of my life’s shortcomings, I have become a victim. ‘

          Wait… what? You became a legitimate victim as well as victimizing yourself, you mean. Besides the fact that you’re sort of dissing anyone who has gone through a traumatic, life changing accident and DID let it impact the rest of their life (yay victim blaming, I’m guessing you haven’t dealt with a lot of hardship or met many people with legitimate empathy) you’re apparently saying that women (and men sympathetic to them) are victimizing themselves for attempting to gain insight into their socially influenced self perception and the way that society itself perceives them. WHICH BTW IS NOT ALWAYS FLOWERS AND KITTIES AND WE DON’T LIKE BEING ASSOCIATED WITH THOSE CONSTANTLY EITHER MMK You marginalize the entire group of students and professors dedicated to this and mark them as ‘unnecessary women sympathizer self-victimizing fluff heads.’ Score, high five bro, lets go get a Bud Light and talk loudly about how ‘that fat ugly bitch i fucked was such a dead fish in bed’

          ‘Collectively, and this is not only about Women’s Studies, we view conflict through the eyes of victims first, and attempt to blame all of our failures on other things. ‘

          Oh oh wait wait, so this is YOU viewing conflict between people that support Gender/Social Studies and yourself through your own victim-eyes, victimized by ~collective society~ and trying to blame your personal failures (being uninformed about this subject and the REAL, “HELLO THEY EXIST GO LOOK AT THEM GO TALK TO WOMEN THAT TALK ABOUT THEM OR JUST REGULAR WOMEN IT’S ALL IN THE LADIES YALL” ISSUES) on ~the wrong studiez~ or ~wymen~ or ~victimizrs~
          Thank you for clarifying. 

          ‘People today are far too quick to pass the buck- take some responsibility and believe in yourself, remarkable things will happen.’
          As long as you’re born with juuuuust the right amount of privilege. Impoverished children, hear this? Just take some responsibility and you can make remarkable things happen! GLBTQ folk, did you know, DID YOU KNOW THAT IT ONLY TAKES RESPONSIBILITY AND BELIEVING IN YOURSELF TO ACHIEVE YOUR DREAMS OF NOT BEING ALIENATED BY SOCIETY?!?! I didn’t know that BECOMING A BIOLOGIST is the answer to the world’s SEX TRAFFICKING PROBLEM WOAH WOW GOLLY THE INSIGHT

          BLLALRHARGARH o_____O

        • Iacb

          Um, “Patriarchy is a self-fulfilling prophecy” if you let it be. That’s how self-fulfilling prophecies work, after all.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1543667486 Rochey Apryll Castro Natividad

        It is not propagating a victim culture. Rather, it is a direct way of addressing the issue of gender inequality and most importantly resolving so-called gender wars.

        • sdasdsad

          tl;dr- “The best way to advance technology and make time machines and explore space is to educate people in the liberal arts and not STEM majors, my useless liberal arts majors is that important to society even tho it rightfully seems like it doesn’t contribute shit, how dare you want women to become scientists and engineers instead of getting a womans studies degree and working at starbucks serving psuedo-intellectual idiots like me”

      • lp

         Can’t fight what you can’t understand. And when it comes to your thing about victim culture, well, how is telling women to just shut up and deal with it any better?

    • Anonymoose

      oh god my sides, this is just so inane and what a ridiculous major and waste of money. Work to make change through innovation, hell why isn’t there a major movement in African American studies or Hispanic American studies? why women? it’s impractical and you should all just drop out 

      • Kat

         Hate to break it to you, but there ARE major movements in African American studies and Hispanic American studies. Maybe they don’t get as much media attention, but they exist. Every university I applied to had one or both of those things. And “working to make change through innovation” is a hell of a lot easier said than done if you have no tools or are not educated on the issue in the first place.

    • Goranson

      Regarding your remark about “men’s studies”, the differences between “women’s studies” and “history” other than gender is that women’s studies is largely an advocacy subject clothed in academia. There are plenty of male issues that aren’t talked about at all, in the media or in academia because men simply don’t have the same advocacy groups women do. I’m talking about issues like genital mutilation, prison rape, domestic violence (in which male victims are much more likely to be marginalized or ignored), men getting harsher prison sentences than women for committing the same crimes, men being victims of violent crimes at a much higher rate than women, and men having to register for the selective service.

      And before someone responds as if bringing up male issues is some kind of affront against feminism, I have no problem with feminism. It’s an advocacy group for a group of people who have been marginalized for much of history. However, some feminists have constructed a narrative that all the benefits and all the oppression of gender roles have fallen down on men and women respectively, which is untrue. I’m simply bringing that fact to attention.

      • Adie

         The thing is all of these issues you mentioned are a result of patriarchy. Women’s Studies focuses on breaking down the patriarchal norms, which would benefit men as well.

    • No

      man up.

    • Anonymous

      So deftly articulated. And the number of counter-arguments here just proves to show that the issue + subject area has to be pushed more to the forefront

      • Guest

        The author is clearly conflating the importance of women’s rights ect vs. majoring in women’s studies.

    • 9fag

      gender studies, enjoy cleaning my house future maids

    • Kat

      I am a woman majoring in Neuroscience. This is obviously a very “relevant” degree by anyone’s standards. But suggesting Women’s and Gender Studies is not relevant is ridiculous. It’s only irrelevant if you think sexism doesn’t exist. When I look at my own department and how other women are treated in it, I see blatant sexism. I would not have the tools to deal with it within the context of my skill environment if I did not have resources provided by the Women’s and Gender studies department and feminists of the past. If these things go unstudied then women are discouraged from studying “important” things anyway. Each of these majors has their place and I don’t think it’s fair to call someone else’s course of study irrelevant just because you’re a science person and you have this silly idea that science is more important than anything else. Even if women are graduating at a higher rate, it does NOT correspond to the number of women in important/powerful roles in the workplace, making the wage gap VERY far from bunk. The same goes for Queer and Sexuality Studies, which has given me tools to work against homophobia that I see in my department. Of course don’t accept anything you learn in any course unquestioningly. I think taking a class in Women’s and Gender studies has made me much better at questioning things, even within the feminist movement itself. 

    • LaTourista

      Oh lawdy I can’t stand this victimizing bullshit. 

    • Mike

      While I agree that discrimination (all of it – sexism, racism, ableism, etc.) exists, I think the problem lies in the fact that rather than try to treat everyone as equals, we actually end up segregating people more and more.  You said that Men’s Studies was in fact ‘History’ class.  So why have a Women’s Studies class if there IS no Men’s Studies?  Why not instead persuade the History lecturer to include more historically-pertinent women in the lectures?  I saw an interview with Morgan Freeman where he was asked about Black Week.  He said he didn’t want it, because he’d rather everyone looked past the colour of skin, instead of pointing it out.  His question to the interviewer went something like: “Why isn’t there a White Week?  Or a Jewish Week?  Do you want one?  No?  Then why should we?”

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