Women's Studies

From Our Readers

To the Editors of The Crimson:

Suppose a group of ostensibly well-respected scholars came to Harvard with a lengthy, detailed proposal for a new concentration, to be called White Men's Studies. The concentration would focus on "the role of white men in world history and society and their contributions to civilization." Courses would include, "The Role of Imperialism in Fostering World Development," "The Drawbacks of Affirmative Action" and "'The White Man's Burden:' European Literature as a Force for World Salvation." The reading list for the concentration would include works by Kipling, Cecil Rhodes and Winston Churchill. Notably absent would be anything by Gandhi, Martin Luther King or Leopold Senghor.

Would such a proposal receive any support? Would we not be shocked if even one faculty member came out in favor of such a concentration?

And yet this week the Faculty Council overwhelmingly approved a new concentration in Women's Studies. This proposal is no more academically viable than the proposal for White Men's Studies above, but in the entire faculty only Harvey Mansfield, to his infinite credit, opposed the motion.

The distinction between a valid field of study and a political platform is the ability of the former to allow for discussion and debate. The latter, like Women's Studies, is only a point of view or at most, "the study of a point of view by those who hold that point of view."

In a legitimate field like economics, the scope of analysis spans the gamut from radical/Marxist to supply side. The focus of economics is the arrangement of economic actors in society and their inter-relationships. Economists of different persuasions can take the same data and arrive at different conclusions, which conclusions can be compared and tested logically or empirically.

The same is not true of a political platform. Either you follow it or you don't; there is no room for different "interpretations" of the same platform.

Put simply, Women's Studies is a more or less fixed view about the role of women in society, and courses on women's studies cull the various legitimate fields of economics, history, literature and so forth to find support for that point of view.

The new Women's Studies propgram at Harvard is no exception. As Prof. Mansfield pointed out, the program is biased towards a liberal critique, as evidenced by the Women's Studies 10 reading list. One of the surest signs fo the vitality of a discipline is the existence of disparate points of view among researchers in that discipline. Yet Women's Studies professors everywhere speak with one voice. Are there any Phyllis Schlaflys teaching Women's Studies? Any Jerry Fallwells? Anyone who disagrees significantly with Gloria Steinem, Bela Abzug, et al? I didn't think so. So what makes Women's Studies any more academically viable than any other political agenda?

There are, of course, fallback justifications touted for having the concentration at Harvard. Proponents argue that six other Ivy League institutions have Women's Studies programs. But many more institutions have undergraduate programs in business and occupational therapy. Does that mean Harvard should follow suit? How many other schools have a Core Curriculum? Does that mean Harvard should disband its own core?

The real reason for the adoption of Women's Studies, here and elsewhere, is simply political expediency. There has grown up a feeling among liberal institutions that whenever a putatively aggrieved group whispers "jump," society must ask, "How high, and where do we land?" The rout before the Women's Studies adherents is only a symptom of this larger trend.

In closing, the only thing which can be said in favor of the Faculty vote is that Women's Studies is a problem which will take care of itself. There will be some interest in the first few years, but soon enough interest in the field will drop off dramatically as serious students realize they are better off in a more legitimate field. The radical feminist movement, having accomplished its goal of establishing Women's Studies at Harvard, will move on to the next issue.

Those few (perhaps three or four concentrators a year) who remain in Women's Studies are welcome to it. Saied Kashani '86