If you’re a high-school student interested in intersectional gender issues and want to study them in college, a research paper is ideal for demonstrating your interest in this field. Not only will conducting academic research deepen your knowledge in the area of your choice, but also familiarize you with research conventions—methodologies, structures, ethical practices, and formatting—giving you a glimpse into the work you will undertake as a university student.
To get you started, we’ve compiled 25 great research ideas across different themes like gender and economics, gender and ecology, as well as gender and media.
How to pick the right research topic?
Selecting a research question, especially in a field as expansive as gender studies, can be an intimidating task. To streamline this decision-making process, you should consider three primary metrics:
Interest: Research is an involved and processual endeavor that lasts weeks, months, or sometimes, years! It is crucial that you study a topic that deeply interests you, and ask questions that you’re truly curious about.
Relevance: Is your independent work responding to a pressing issue in the field? What is the real-world implication of your research? Asking yourself these questions will help you root out outdated and extraneous topics.
Feasibility: Many students embark on ambitious research journeys, but have to abandon their work halfway due to practical constraints. No matter the topic, ensure that you have access to the academic and non-academic resources you need to see your paper through to completion.
Topic #1: Gender and the Economy
Historically, women, non-binary people, and queer folks have made critical contributions to the economy—both through formal work and through largely unpaid domestic labor.
As nations evolved and the framework of human rights expanded, pertinent questions were raised about the insufficient financial opportunities granted to these groups. Simultaneously, several strategies were devised to help people realize their full economic potential, irrespective of their gender identity. Although the work of grassroots activists, emancipatory movements, and progressive institutions has helped put society on the path to equality, there is much ground left to cover.
From the gender wage gap to trans-inclusivity in workplaces, there is an incredible range of pressing ideas to explore within this category.
1. Compile a modern picture of unpaid domestic labor
2. Investigate the gendered division of labor in the informal sector
3. Evaluate the gig economy in relation to the economic well-being of women
4. Explore unique challenges faced by female and non-binary entrepreneurs
5. Analyze gender differences in investment behavior and risk appetite
Topic #2: Gender and Media
From film, music, and television to social media, gaming, and photography, gender plays a massive role in the world of mass media. Given the popularity of several mass media forms, popular perceptions about gender are often shaped by what we consume, which in turn informs the kind of media we prefer to engage with. This cycle wields immense power when it comes to advancing or regressing gender equality.
In the realm of media, you can critically examine different representations of gender, dissecting their source, context, and impact. On the other hand, you can also turn your focus to the inequalities within the media industry, such as the gender disparity in positions of leadership, or the stereotyping of certain jobs as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’.
6. Trace the evolution of women’s fashion through the ages
7. Scrutinize female superheroes and their impact through a feminist lens
8. Critically analyze the effect of celebrity culture on gender norms
9. Evaluate how male vs female journalists cover women’s sports
10. Compare the effect of false advertising on girls of different ages
Topic #3: Gender, the Environment, and Climate Change
The common thread between gender inequality and global climate change is not often visible to the casual observer. However, the environmental crises we grapple with today are not gender-neutral.
Climate disaster—natural calamities, shrinking water bodies, depleting food—becomes an amplifier of pre-existing social hierarchies. According to the UNFCCC, women face ‘higher risks and greater burdens’ from the impact of climate change since their access to resources is already limited. Furthermore, the lack of female and queer participation in decision-making often prevents the formation of gender-inclusive policies for climate action.
As Matcha Phorn-in, an indigenous activist from Thailand powerfully said, “If you are invisible in your everyday life, your needs will not be thought of, let alone addressed, in a crisis situation”. Evaluating disaster prevention and management through a gender-sensitive lens can help bolster the fight for our planet.
11. Study the indigenous eco-friendly practices of women in different communities
12. Trace the rise of eco-feminism in recent years
13. Evaluate the gender disparity in climate leadership
14. Explore and present your research on the the disaster-resilience of women in rural areas
15. Scrutinize the conditions of women after climate-induced migration
Topic #4: Gender and Race
Inequality is not black and white.
With the rise of intersectional thought, there has been an attempt to understand various social and political identities, and how they come together to create interlocked matrices of discrimination and privilege. In simple words, this means that the type and degree of oppression one faces due to their gender is compounded on top of other—in this case, racial—biases
The racist prejudices born from a long and terrible history of European Colonialism intertwine with ever-looming patriarchy, creating a system wherein women of color are doubly disadvantaged. With the rise of conversations around violence against the black community, there is an urgent need to heighten the stake that women and queer people have within these discourses. Further, adopting a race-aware lens to gender issues is crucial to determining how vulnerable certain groups are to specific types of preferential treatment.
Looking at gender and race in conjunction, therefore, allows us to fashion a more nuanced vision of inequality, one that can accommodate the complexity of individual identities.
16. Explore the various disparities of race and gender within healthcare in first-world countries
17. Dissect and contrast popular media stereotypes about people of color
18. Analyze gender disparity in global feminist movements
19. Scrutinize the media portrayals of black women in sports, as well the consequent policy changes that affect athletes across the nation
20. Examine the impact of women of color within politics from a historical perspective
Topic #5: Gender and Law
From the right to own property to the right to reproductive agency, women’s position in society is mediated by an extensive framework of laws, policies, and recommendations. These frameworks can be vast and universal, as well as contextual and localized.
The relationship between gender and law is a significant one. Judicial bodies all over the world have the power to define key facets of gender, including its definition, and thereby play an integral role in both normalizing and challenging discriminatory attitudes. This includes devising strategies for the protection of vulnerable people, crafting the nuances of retribution and justice, and enacting policies that ensure equal access.
With more women and queer people striving for positions of political and institutional power, there have been keen deliberations about how to ensure that the basic right to human dignity is extended to all people.
21. How cybersecure are women online? This question can be explored from a solution-oriented manner, or simply a descriptive point of view
22. Compare various frameworks of reproductive rights in relation to women’s physical and mental safety
23. Analyze the scope of anti-discrimination laws for sexual and gender identity
24. Evaluate the use of gender-neutral language in legal documents and proceedings
25. Critically analyze the impact of Intellectual Property Laws on women in STEM
Do research with the Lumiere Research Scholar Program
If you’re looking for the opportunity to do in-depth research on various topics in gender studies, inequality, and history, you could also consider applying to one of the Lumiere Research Scholar Programs, selective online high school programs for students I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.
Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.
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