Abolish women’s studies
The New Criterion
So-called “women’s studies” programs began cropping up on campuses across the country in the 1970s. Although they started largely in imitation of the militant black studies programs that had swept the country’s colleges and universities in the late Sixties, they soon vastly outstripped black and other minority studies programs in size and influence. Today, there is hardly a college campus that doesn’t sport a women’s studies program or department. At many institutions, it is even possible to major in women’s studies.
The very familiarity of these developments has lulled many people into forgetting how odd they are. For what “women’s studies” describes is not an academic discipline but rather a knot of grievances searching for recognition. Like black studies and—a more recent phenomenon—homosexual (“gay”) studies, women’s studies exists primarily to promote a species of political solidarity. Intellectually, women’s studies has always been a terrible embarrassment. That is one reason its advocates are so truculent: like the Wizard of Oz, they must work overtime to keep up the illusion that their subject even exists. Comparing what goes on in the name of women’s studies to genuine scholarship is like comparing the “space program” said to have been undertaken by a small African country to compete with America’s Apollo missions: there were plenty of rockets, but, being made of wood, they didn’t get very far.
Sensible women know this as clearly as do sensible men. How could it be otherwise? Women’s studies addresses no definable subject matter. It advances no distinct area of knowledge. It masquerades as an academic specialty, but—again like black studies and homosexual studies—women’s studies is ostentatiously inimical to any serious scholarship. It rejects, in principle as well as in practice, the ideal of scholarly disinterestedness; it castigates the goal of objective knowledge as a patriarchal fiction; it seeks to refract all academic activity and institutional practice through the lens of a single guiding obsession: gender.
Most non-academics will snicker, and rightly, when told about the “scholarly” paper called “Toward a Feminist Algebra.” But the contention—as one leading feminist put it—that “gender is a fundamental category of literary analysis” is no less preposterous, and yet one finds that slogan accepted as gospel in women’s studies programs. If someone really wanted to do academic women a favor, he—or she— would instantly abolish all women’s studies programs and courses. That would leave a lot of feminist radicals stranded, but at least it would rescue women from this confining intellectual ghetto.
Several recent events have prompted us to reflect anew on these matters. There were, for example, the much-publicized women’s studies conferences held this winter at the State University of New York at New Paltz, which we reported on in this space in our November and December issues. These events—“Revolting Behavior: The Challenges of Women’s Sexual Freedom” and “Subject to Desire: Refiguring the Body”— belong to a grotesque fringe of women’s studies where antinomian politics blends with sexual desperation. Devoted to subjects like “Sex Toys for Women,” “How to Get What You Want in Bed,” and “SAFE, SANE & CONSENSUAL RS/M: An Alternate Way of Loving,” they underscored the pathetic as well as preposterous aspects of women’s studies.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 16 Number 6 , on page 1
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