When it comes to gingers, I’m a pretty moderate version of the redhead rage stereotype. I don’t have an easily reactive temper, I have considerable composure, and most of the time I feel like my soul is almost completely intact.
But there are days when I feel the fiery rage of my Irish forebears boiling in my – sometimes – soulless bodily framework, and I know that anyone who meets me then would surely believe in demonic possession.
The most recent target of this rampage was a YouTube video I came across while on a deep internet spiral. In the video, a man approached students on a college campus and asked them what they thought was the “most useless major.” Of course, almost all of the answers were “gender studies”. The few responses that weren’t were other humanities majors, such as creative writing and philosophy.
As a double major in English Literature and Fiction Writing with a double minor in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies and Korean, I am a quadruple threat of “uselessness” from the humanities. I’ve been asked countless times what I can even “do” with an English degree. People have told me all my life that my interests and passions aren’t valid.
A quick Google search of “most useless majors” yields lists upon lists of humanities and liberal arts majors. Very rarely does a STEM major appear on one of these lists. Society has ingrained in our brains that pursuing the humanities is a waste of time and money – but it’s not.
Studies in the humanities bring immeasurable value to our world. STEM can help us understand how our world works, but the humanities help us understand why our world matters.
There is a societal misconception that STEM majors are simply more difficult than humanities, and therefore worth pursuing further. While STEM majors certainly aren’t easy, neither are my graduate-level literature courses. The reason I’m able to maintain a high GPA isn’t because my major is “easy,” but because I’m passionate enough to work hard to get it.
A friend of mine, who is studying English Literature in pre-med, recently told her mother that she questions pre-med. Her mother’s response was that if she chose not to go to medical school, she should go to a “cheaper school” because her degree in literature was not “worth” the tuition.
When it comes to the “uselessness” of majors, there seems to be a consensus – STEM majors make money later in life, humanities majors don’t. This sentiment is surely not wrong. In fact, the average humanities major win around $52,000 per year, as opposed to their engineering counterparts who earn around $82,000 per year, as of 2015.
But – and I hate that it’s something I have to declare because it seems so painfully obvious – money isn’t everything.
Most “useless” major lists have set their parameters monetarily. A list States directly that “A degree is labeled useless when the employment rate is low, the debt is high, the lack of opportunities and the waste of time.” None of these criteria take happiness or life satisfaction into account.
I took Calculus 3 and Differential Equations my senior year of high school. These are tough math classes, but I worked diligently and did well. After high school, people asked me why I chose to major in English if I was so good at math. And the simple answer is that I love it. In STEM, the high salary opportunity attracts many people who may not like studying, but have been told that STEM is the only degree “worth” pursuing. So some people struggle because they don’t study what they are passionate about. Humanities majors are happy – and the happiness is worth it.
The happiness of humanities majors persists despite their low salaries. There is a common misconception that because humanities students earn less money, they must lead more unhappy lives. In fact, a study by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences showed that in 2019, 90% of humanities graduates were satisfied with their lives, at about the same level as other majors.
How can his diploma be useless if it makes him happy? Are we really mature in the society where we live in such a capitalist hellscape that earning less than $60,000 a year makes life unsatisfying?
I am not naive. I understand that while money doesn’t buy happiness, being financially stable makes happiness easier. Yet I also know that if I went into a field that I don’t like because I could make $100,000 a year, I would be absolutely miserable.
The humanities bring immeasurable value to our world. Philosophy makes us question the meaning of being here and living. Art expresses life through individual perspectives. Music, literature and performance help us connect with others and see the world through diverse lenses. These are the aspects of our society that encompass our culture. Without it, who would we be?
As its name suggests, the human would be nothing without the humanities.
Now I want to speak directly to all the humanities majors reading this. The next time someone tries to devalue your degree, allow yourself to get angry. Stand up for your passion, maybe even write a 6k character column in response to a single YouTube video that set off an internal bombshell of pent-up liberal arts rage.
Turn your rage into art, music or literature. That’s a valid answer. Because, yes, your middle finger matters. Yes, it is valuable. Yes, it is worth your time and effort. Humanity as we know it would be nothing without you.
Anna Fischer writes about women’s empowerment, literature and art. She really likes bagels. Write to him at [email protected].