Why does the field Women's studies take the possessive s?

And why is it not the case for "Archaeological studies", for example?

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    A conjuncture, because that's what this sort of question calls for: presumably because there doesn't exist a satisfactory enough adjective (womanly studies?), unlike in the latter case. The alternatives, therefore, become effectively restricted to women studies and women's studies. And now the choice between the two is arbitrary. Perhaps woman studies and woman's studies are also eligible competitors. – user3395 Nov 23 '19 at 12:12
  • The way I understand it is that women's studies is the field/subject that only women can be part of/are allowed to take. – Norbert Nov 23 '19 at 13:10
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    @Norbert Nah, anyone can take a women’s studies course. – snailplane Nov 26 '19 at 18:39

The examples are structurally different. "Archaeological" is an adjective, and it modifies "studies."

  • Archaeological studies = Studies related to archaeology
  • Experimental physics = Physics studied by performing and analyzing experiments (as opposed to theoretical physics)
  • Organic chemistry = Chemistry of organic compounds

All three cases have an adjective followed by a noun.

"Women" is a noun, not an adjective. In this case, we are using the possessive to act like an adjective.

  • Women's studies = Studies of subjects related to women.
  • Women's rights = The rights of women.

As best I can tell, this is a unique case. There is no adjective that means "concerning / related to women." The word feminine fails because it means "having qualities commonly associated with women," so that "feminine studies" sounds like the study itself is feminine; but men can pursue women's studies. (However, contrast with feminine hygiene.) Likewise, "womanly" and "female" fail, the latter because it suggests a study of the gender itself rather than of peripheral subjects experienced by or concerning women.

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