Tag Archives: women’s studies

Clinging to “Gender”

24 Jun

Above the desk that my computer sits on (as I type this) there is a piece of cardboard that says “GENDER” on it, propped up atop a little painting. The little cutout was placed up there over two years ago after I snipped it off of a shoe box that was to be recycled.

Looking up at it, I’ve been trying to remember why I put it there, why I kept it at all. To the left of the “GENDER” thing is the binder divider label from my Women’s Studies 101 course I took my first term of college. Recently, I also hung my 2011 graduation tassel on one of the tacks that holds up the painting.

The theme obviously has something to do with my academic life over the last four years. It’s true that I studied “gender”. But why did I place “GENDER” up there and proceed to surround it by things I consider accomplishments, or things to recall fondly?

The person I was when I put that piece of cardboard up there was not the same person – politically – I am today. The Gender Studies I received was through an entirely non-radical framework, hence my former self thinking that “gender” was something to be proud of. When I finally became a radical feminist through and through (not just anti-porn and anti-prostitution), gender revealed itself for what it was. Not something to happily ponder about, “subvert” with pointless post-modern ‘individuality’. . . gender was nothing but a collection of harmful stereotypes. It needed to be abolished, not rallied around.

Yet rally was what I did. I wrote papers using the terms “gender identity” and “cis” without a hint of sarcasm. And despite my belief in gender, I propounded page after page, in one case, about how one could never define a “category of women”.

Women, that category I was studying. Women’s Studies has been replaced with Gender Studies and the growing Queer Studies (and to a lesser extent there’s men’s/masculinity studies as well). I’m almost certain I was the only one in my graduating class who knew there ever was such a thing as Feminist Studies in academia.

‘Gender’ as a course of study is less threatening to the male order because of its inclusion of men and because it is depoliticized from feminism. In an essay in “Radically Speaking”, Victoria Robinson and Diane Richardson point out that the inclusivity of Gender Studies also makes men teaching in this area seem more justified (after all, ‘men’ are a gender too!).

‘Woman’ and ‘feminist’ cannot be rallying points when ‘gender’ takes center stage. One cannot be openly proud to have studied women and feminism, but one can say ‘Gender Studies’ and be seen as somewhat legitimate. Studying gender doesn’t reveal the nitty gritty of female oppression or the histories of resistance to patriarchy by women.

I couldn’t have snipped ‘women’ or ‘female’ off of the shoe box, although only because they were “men’s”. Gender Studies (along with its kinky cousin Queer Studies) encourages women to do away with organizing politically around ‘woman’. In far too many of my courses, ‘woman’ was just a category that couldn’t really be defined. Devoting oneself to the study of women’s oppression was not enough whereas Gender was.

When people used to ask what my major was, I tended to say “Gender Studies” far more often than “Women’s Studies”, undoubtedly because I didn’t want to seem ‘provocative’. While someone might find it peculiar that one would want to study gender, at least I wasn’t involving myself overtly with women or feminism. ‘Gender’ isn’t as threatening as ‘feminist’.

I think I’m going to strike a line through “GENDER”.

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“I’m a Women’s Studies Major”: The Responses

4 Mar

Here’s a sample of reactions I’ve gotten over the years to people learning I am going for a degree in Women’s (& Gender) Studies.

Longest: a woman telling me a story about how she briefly worked at a “battered woman’s shelter” and how she, apparently begrudgingly, had to deliver a washing machine to a woman out in a rural area.

Most common among my family: “So. . . then. . . what do you do with that?” There’s also a thing among my family members in which they each ask me what I will do career-wise with my degree basically every time I see them. I answer. I see them again. They ask again. I scream in my head. Repeat.

Bonus family member response. . . my far right-wing uncle who used to do Civil War reenactments (fighting for the Confederacy!), “Oh. . . we’ve got one of those in the family.” Given who he listens to on talk radio, I’ll guess that he meant ‘a feminazi’.

Most common among my partner’s family: “That’s awesome!” *asks me about my classes, internship*/*gives me birthday and Christmas gifts relevant to my interests*

Most common among non-WGS students: “Oh, that’s cool.” (With varying degrees of sincerity, usually rather sincere though.)

Most common among friends that I have lost touch with since high school: “Oh, wow. That’s pretty cool. You always were into politics and stuff.”

Most common thing for any non-student to say: *asks me to repeat ‘women’s and gender studies’*. . . *I do so*. . . “Oh, ok. So what do you do with that degree then?”

Strangest: a man in his 60s asking me at the bus stop if I was going to campus, then asking what my major was. . . his response: “Oh! Well, you’re half way there!” Hahahaha what?

Quotable: Material Matters

29 Jan

Martha Nussbaum, from “The Professor of Parody”. . . on Judith Butler, parody, and theory without real-life application:

“For women who are hungry, illiterate, disenfranchised, beaten, raped, it is not sexy or liberating to reenact, however parodically, the conditions of hunger, illiteracy, disenfranchisement, beating, and rape. Such women prefer food, schools, votes, and the integrity of their bodies. I see no reason to believe that they long sadomasochistically for a return to the bad state. If some individuals cannot live without the sexiness of domination, that seems sad, but it is not really our business. But when a major theorist tells women in desperate conditions that life offers them only bondage, she purveys a cruel lie, and a lie that flatters evil by giving it much more power than it actually has.”

The entire article can be read here (opens as a PDF).
For a summary of the main points of the article, check out this page.

“Middle-Class White Women” & Not Getting It

7 Jan

(I know this post is quite long, but please do stay tuned for the end in which I make amusing conclusions! And hand out free candy!)

There’s a peculiar trend in my women’s studies class discussions this week. Primarily, it’s massive hypocrisy and double-speak among other students and even one of my professors. I suspect this has always occurred, but I’m just noticing it now due to my increased radicalization these days.

In a 300-level women’s studies course, we had a little refresher on what each ‘wave’ of feminism primarily worked against/for/etc. Notably, this was also the only class in which the ‘wave’ model has not been criticized, which I immediately found odd. Then came the real wackiness.

Question to class: “And what is the current, third wave of feminism about?”

I took notes on what students said so I could handily recall it all for you right now.

One woman who is notorious for her sex-pozzie, liberal feminist double-speak in other classes we’ve both taken: “Well, it’s about, like, more about individuality. Like, the individual woman, and what she does. . . and her individuality.” (Not an exact quote, but frighteningly close.)

Another woman who has shown in another class that she doesn’t seem to know what she’ll say until she’s saying it: “So, you know, like a woman can strip or whatever and it can be like a way for her to get by and make money. . . and get to the top.” (A more exact quote.)

While I understand that my fellow students, particularly these two, aren’t likely reading radical feminist books and blogs everyday like yours truly. . . have we not all been getting the same women’s studies curriculum for the last few years? While I may not have been as radical in the past, I have been anti-pornstitution and equipped with a highly-sensitive bullshit detector for quite a while. I don’t know where they are getting this from. As anti-radical-feminism as certain assigned readings have been in other classes, these kinds of mindless “feminist” talking points did not come from anything our instructors have said, nor the vast majority of what we have read. Are they all just repeating what Jezebel and Feministing have to say? (Hey, I’ve been there too.)

The professor for this class, well. . . I had high expectations. Then she got on that sisterhood/solidarity-shattering notion of “there’s no universal experience of all women”. Strangely, she then — right after saying that — said that the exceptions would be the threat of sexual violence “which is pretty universal” in women’s lives, and that women have diminished social and political power.

Excuse me?

Sure, the 25+ percent of women who have been raped by men may not have been raped in the exact same way, and the other 75 percent hasn’t been kept in absolute fear in the exact same way, but isn’t that a BIG DAMN COMMONALITY in general?

“Diminished social and political power” seems like shorthand for “women are an oppressed class”. . . that also sounds pretty universal and wide-reaching as it affects women’s lives, yeah?

The word “oppression” wasn’t spoken once by anyone, even in the discussion (for the newbies and non-majors) about “how women are disadvantaged”. There was one reference, by the instructor, of women as a “group” so I’ll give her a half point for that.

Otherwise? It was downhill from there. We got on the topic of difference between second-wave feminists and third-wave feminists. You can probably tell what’s coming. Someone mentioned Dworkin, said how feminists have been at odds about porn/prostitution, but less so now, and then the instructor said something kind of dismissive in an “Oh, that silly Andrea Dworkin – how quaint” kind of way.

The professor then added that some feminists’ interests can be at odds with the interests of other feminists, and — get this — “they can sometimes oppress one another”. NO. NO THEY CAN’T. Women are incapable of oppressing other women as women. To oppress you need both privilege and power. Women do not have structural power or privilege as women, so that ain’t happening.

Finally, the most hilaritragic claim about feminist “differences” was repeated by five students, all of whom were white women sitting in a university classroom. They all said that second-wave feminism was more focused on the needs of “middle-class white women” whereas third-wave feminism is not.

I’ll be right back. . . I need to fix a drink.

Ok. *deep breath* I’m sorry, fellow white lady students, but have you looked at your skin color lately? Or your privilege that lets you sit in this room and say all this? And going on about how feminism these days approves of things like porn, prostitution, and stripping. . .  do you know who is in prostitution? Do you think the majority of them — worldwide or in the U.S. — look like you or have your economic background? Do you think your brand of feminism helps a poor, non-white 14-year-old girl in prostitution, or do you think that your “it’s her choice” bullshit only serves to prop up her pimp?

White, (presumably) middle-class young women claiming that their feminism is just so different from that old lady feminism that focused on white, middle-class women. . . are you kidding me?

But then things actually got better. In another women’s studies course on gender and colonialism, the professor (who is not white) did not mess around with wishy-washy definitions or let this “choice” rhetoric pass for actual feminism.

We started the class with clear definitions of things like racism, colonialism, and violence. Then our professor asked us to define feminism, say what it is “about”.

Then came the broken record. “Choice, gender equality” *skip* “choice, gender equality” . . . but scant mentions of women at all. If I wasn’t so anxiety-ridden and not sure which feminism definition she was seeking, I would have said what I had written down: “the elimination of (white, hetero,) male supremacy; the abolishment of gender”.

To the woman spouting, “It’s about choice,” our professor did a fabulous omg-you’re-being-serious face. Seriously. . . “choice” doesn’t stop men from raping women, “choice” doesn’t end male supremacy. And I’m sure the instructor was wondering how choice has anything to do with colonized women.

Later, I snickered about one student (the first one quoted) getting a total comeuppance. She said — somewhat relevantly — how, at a club, she used a nongendered bathroom “and it was really cool”. Full stop. Again, awesome professor looked quizzically at her and asked, “‘Cool’? In what way was it ‘cool’? What do you mean by that?” I’m such a radfem geek. . . in my head I was like OH YEAH, hells YES she finally got called out.

So, things are looking up for that class. We’re talking about “structural” things, not interpersonal “women oppressing other women” crap. . . you know: feminism.

Conclusions:

– Third-wave, “choice” feminism leads to dangerously high levels of illogical thought, diminished capacity for political syllogism.

– Prior and current experience indicates that my women’s studies professors who are white tend to have a myopic view of what women’s liberation looks like while my non-white women’s studies professors diligently hammer home the point that systems of oppression – OMG! – actually exist.

– It is going to be a long, stressful term dealing with anti-radicals. My alcohol usage is likely to increase by 15%.

– My class discussion experiences this term might cause me to say something “inflammatory” during my graduation speech later this year, which may or may not include me shouting sarcastically about “choosing my choice”, then dropping the mic and flouncing off. Look forward to the Youtube video captured on someone’s cell phone titled “chick studies harpy loses her shit”.

The Revolutionary Words I Would Have Never Read

3 Jan

A year ago today, radical feminist philosopher Mary Daly passed away. A year ago, I didn’t really know who she was. This post on Shakesville featuring her obituary was more or less my first introduction to Daly. Commenters wrote about how liberating her writing was. Other commenters wrote that they were glad she died because she was ‘transphobic’ and a ‘genocidal cis woman’. As ‘trans allies’ learned of the ‘transphobia’, they quickly backtracked and apologized for their writing “rest in peace” in previous comments. Criticism of Melissa’s post continued even after she added an addendum about Daly’s supposed transphobia at the bottom of the post, even after Melissa said how she had been unaware of it before commenters pointed it out. Others apologized because their ‘privilege’ must have kept them from knowing what Daly had written about transsexuality. (I’m certain it wasn’t ‘cis privilege’ that kept her from reading a radical feminist book.)

Luckily, a couple other commenters noted that they would be seeking out Daly’s writing now. Some Shakesville contributors came to Melissa’s defense, noting how baffling it was that some self-identified trans individuals still weren’t satisfied after the post had been altered to reflect their criticism. What more did they want from her? To have not mentioned Daly or her death at all?

*

Before reading anything of Andrea Dworkin’s, I “knew” that she hated all men, was totally against all sex, and was generally someone to be disliked. I thought all of that was true, mainly (and sadly), through “feminist” blogs and websites. Then I actually read some of her work.

Then I read some of Catherine MacKinnon’s work. Then I read Sonia Johnson.

And then there was no turning back.

They all gave me the language I needed for understanding my own life, my oppression, and my liberation. Everything fell into place, one ‘click’ triggering the next, working towards completing the puzzle of how to get the hell out of patriarchy now.

Fewer than a dozen pages into Daly’s Gyn/Ecology, I had the words to describe my yearning to find some ‘pre-patriarchy’ self, to get back to something that I had been robbed of in the first place. . . Background. This is what it felt like to see something else, to see beyond all the lukewarm feminist, ‘queer studies’ texts assigned in my women’s studies courses.

This was going to do something, ignite something, make me finally understand it all. And this was what I have been kept from reading.

I wasn’t supposed to see it because: those angry lesbians, those man-haters, those transphobes, those feminazis, those sex-negative feminists. . .

Those. . . women.

To the extent any of these women have been mentioned in my women’s studies classes, it’s mostly been to point out what not to think and what brand of feminism to avoid. Dworkin came up in a conversation on prostitution, though in the context of our class not being assigned any of her writing. Daly was mentioned in a book for a queer studies course, but only to point out how much she supposedly hated trans individuals. The exception for a positive mention came in a history of feminist theory course, taught by a very politically active ‘second-waver’ (and co-editor of a popular women’s studies textbook). Both Dworkin and MacKinnon were mentioned in a piece by John Stoltenberg that was assigned, in which he details their anti-pornography civil ordinance. Other than this one instance of a positive mention (in more than three years of courses, mind you), all other references were to point out how wrong they were. Usually, though, their existence was just ignored.

So. Here are some women you should not ignore:

Mary Daly

Andrea Dworkin

Catherine MacKinnon

Sonia Johnson

Sheila Jeffreys

Janice Raymond

Start spinning.

What Feminism Is Not: Anti-Feminism

2 Nov

First, I have a little coming out to do: I’m a women’s studies major. Alright.

Today, in a class of mine that is mostly other seniors who are women’s studies majors, we did some small group work to discuss future employment with our degrees. One of the women brought up a friend of hers who just moved somewhere and is having a lot of trouble finding a job. This friend apparently took a good number of women’s studies classes as well. While talking on the phone, her friend said, “What do you think the women’s studies department would think of me being a Budweiser girl?”

One would hope that my classmate told her something like, “It sucks if that’s your only opportunity for income right now,” and try to help her find something else or what have you. Well, no, she didn’t say that. Instead, my classmate said something about how “feminism is all about not doing what is expected of you, and, you know, if you like wearing low-cut shirts and stuff, do it”. My classmate also told us how her idea of feminism has changed and that she now thinks you don’t have to do everything that feminism approves of (which appears to mean “what those hairy man-haters approve of”… strange since I’m pretty sure she calls herself a feminist too).

Now let’s take a moment to deconstruct the hell out of that: “Feminism is all about not doing what is expected of you”. Who is expecting you do something? What kind of power do they have to impose expectations upon you? What are these expectations? To my classmate, the problem is feminism imposing the expectation that one should not sexually objectify themselves. To me, the problem is patriarchy expecting that women should be sexually objectified (and happy about it) as a service to men .

Let’s do a super cool feminism 101 exercise. Shout out the answer when you know it. Who has more power to impose behavioral expectations upon women… is it feminism or patriarchy? That’s right… patriarchy! Good job! You win a free trip to Hagsville! You also get 100 ladypoints if you just actually shouted “patriarchy!” out loud.

Clearly though, my classmate seems to have a different understanding of things (i.e. reality). To her, it’s those feminists with all that political clout (ha!) telling her friend that it’s bad to wear low-cut shirts, therefore, her friend should rebel against feminists and their supposed expectations. Because that’s what feminism is all about… rebelling against feminism. Got it.

Actually, feminism is about ending male supremacy. Got it?