Women's studies, also known as feminist studies, include various academic fields such as politics, economy, sociology, medicine, history and many others, seen through the perspective of feminism. The first courses on women were introduced as separate syllabus units into American colleges and universities when the second wave of American feminism, in the late 1960s, began to alter generally held notions of gender forever. Feminists were concerned by the fact that most academic fields either ignored, or distorted, the role of women in science. They believed that women's studies can right the wrongs of discrimination in the academic world. Open-minded faculty members and students started to volunteer in organizing courses and conferences dedicated to women's studies.
Attempts to define women's studies have struggled because of the relatively novel and often changing nature of the subject, which by 2010 was still regarded as being in development. Women's studies had yet to fully determine its subject, its methodology and its theory. Some scholars see women's studies as constant duel between extreme views — radical against socialist feminism, discourse against material reality, sameness against difference and activism against academics.
Women's studies as an academic discipline was modeled on American studies and ethnic studies, such asAfro-American studies. The first universities to include the discipline in their curriculum were at San Diego State University and the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York in 1970. Today there are 652 women's and gender studies programs at community colleges, colleges, and universities in the U.S.. In 2005-2006, 89,000 students enrolled in undergraduate women's studies program and 85 percent of women's and gender studies courses fulfilled general education requirements. In that year's intake, 4,300 students did undergraduate majors, while nearly 10,500 students enrolled in undergraduate minors Nearly 2,700 enrolled in graduate courses, and 1,076 students registered in doctoral courses.
The courses cover a wide range of topics, while literature, movies, performance art, medicine, technology, work, sexuality, aging, racism, family and education are among the most common subjects. Women's studies is often viewed as an inter-disciplinary field, as the studies are combined with other subjects which offer a deeper understanding of a more specific area — women's work in the family, women's work in cinema or feminine medicine, for example. The interests of feminist studies do not lie only in the field of sex discrimination, but also include other issues, such as race and homosexuality.
Similar to other scientists, women's studies professors can also be divided into several types. First, there are the learners, who study the ways in which women's studies view the world as a whole and as being affected by feminist perspective. Second come the researchers, who read, process, summarize and work with other data available. Next, there are the participants — the people who apply women's studies, trying to eradicate injustice, prejudice and discrimination. The teachers are the last category — those who share their knowledge and experience with other scholars, organizations and students. Women's studies often encourage students to become the center of the classroom, by engaging them in discussion and reflection upon course materials. The development of critical reading, writing and oral expression are often key to these courses.
In 1977 the National Women's Studies Association (NWSA) was established in attempt to unite all academic programs, courses, scholars and other women's studies organizations and participants. The NWSA are proponents of the idea of free, independent thinking and state as their primary goal giving each person the opportunity to develop to their full potential according to their skills and abilities, and not according to their sex, race, age or other external factors. In 2010, the NWSA included more than 300 institutional members, including college and universities departments, women's centers and non-profit organizations.