About the Major

Gender, women's, and sexuality studies (GWSS) is an interdisciplinary field in which women, men, gender, and sexuality are examined by looking at various cultures and historical periods and by employing diverse methods of inquiry.

Gender, women, and sexuality students and faculty at Iowa State University
2019 Iowa State University Transforming Gender and Society Conference

Students in the major will gain theoretical and methodological tools grounded in feminist and queer scholarship. Majors will study the history and development of feminist and queer thought, as well as the evolution of the field of women's studies, with a strong emphasis on intersectional analyses — i.e., the ways in which race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, age, ability, and nationality interact.

Students will become familiar with how theorists and researchers in gender, women's and sexuality studies critically engage theoretical paradigms, such as liberalism, post-structuralism, psychoanalysis, and post-colonialism. Majors will be introduced to research methods that unearth invisible or silenced knowledge and that revisit and revise previous readings of cultural products and practices. They will study methods of feminist and queer research in the social sciences and humanities, including oral history, case studies, archival research, visual and literary criticism, survey content analysis, and field work.

1991 GWS 495 students
1991 GWS Senior Seminar Cohort

Majors will learn to ask the basic questions underlying the production of new knowledge, including: Who does research? Does it matter who the researcher is? How does the social location (race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality) of the researcher shape the production of knowledge? What is the relationship between feminist and queer research and social and political change?


Seniors from the 2018 GWSS cohort after the Senior Seminar Sex Wars debate. From left: Professor Leah Allen, Leah Barr, Elizabeth Zak, Emily Moss, Hannah Boggess, Max Pilcher, Ella Williams, Vera Kahn, Elliott Maya, Haley O'Neill, Ernie Nanetti-Palacios, and Ric Tennenbaum.

Grinnell GWSS students after presenting conference papers at the 2019 Iowa State University Transforming Gender and Society conference.  From left: Jamal Poole-Preston ’19, Madeline Peak ’21, Tucker Haddock ’21, Kathryn Stender ’21, Reina Matsuura ’19, Kyle Lindsey ’19, Mira Braneck ’19, Professor Mina Nikolopoulou, and Professor Leah Allen.

Seniors from the 1991 GWS senior seminar cohort: Dawn Akey, Sarah Deel, Rashmi Dyal-Chand, Julie Goings, Ellie Gravitz, Kristin Hajny, and Jon Wentzel. Image courtesy of Grinnell College Libraries Special Collections and Archives. 

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