A Study of Women's Studies
CONGRATULATIONS TO the man whose opinion piece in The Crimson last week lobbed cheap shots at the Women's Studies concentration Harvard will begin next year. After that accomplishment the author broadened his superficial, bombastic attack, arguing that women cannot claim any distinctive intellectual contributions to society.
The writer deigns to allow that, "If students wish to study feminist 'thought' that's fine. It's good for a laugh." "Pitting feminist classics against genuine classics," he continues, "is like pitting yipping pups against lions."
Please, may your lion's voice ever continue to roar forth enlightenment from the pages of The Crimson. If you roar loudly enough, you might be able to sidestep legitimate argument and confrontation with feminist thinkers, such as Simone de Beauvoir, who you call "yipping"--not to mention some of your feminist classmates.
As a free-thinking woman I was disgusted by an article straining to portray a developing discipline as a vapid political concession wrested from the establishment by shrews. And clever jibes at the new concentration--like writing women's thought as women's "thought"--fall short as cutting criticisms.
I SET OUT to expose the puny, pusillanimous, question-quelching "mind-set" behind such work--and to defend the so-called "closed, feminist--and empty" minds of those who favor Women's Studies.
The opinions expressed last week make clear the need for women to assert an independent voice in society. However, I found to my mortification that in writing to defend the concept of a concentration in Women's Studies I found it impossible not to sound as closed-minded and contrived as my colleague who sees Harvard becoming "a hotbed of passing fads and vulgar idols."
While I support feminist theory and welcome its challenges to everything from sexuality to psychology to literary analysis, I now realize that feminist theory is too limited to support a Women's Studies concentration. When students concentrate in Women's Studies they will forfeit the opportunity to put feminist classics in an appropriatly wide context.
The aim of Women's Studies is to initiate controversy and change, forcing the reexamination of constraining social structures that have traditionally blocked women from self-expression. Crusades to give Hurricanes Deborah and Jean men's names--David and Jason--invite satire. But the principle behind the initiatives is not ludicrous. Today, neither protesting discriminatory treatment of women in the job market, nor exploring the proliferations of "God the Father" and other established symbols in Western society, is much of a joke.
WOMEN SHOULD be recognized as having a unique voice in society. Women's Studies is intended to recognize that difference, to allow an exchange of diverse ideas between equals male and female. This is precisely what I found in my coed freshman dorm at Harvard.
I like being an individual in a coed world. Women are often trapped within or between roles imposed on them by society. So are men. (Nonetheless, I'd be interested to see how many men feel repressed, alienated and anguished because they have been deprived of being househusbands.) The best way to combat stereotypes is through direct involvement with society as a whole.
Feminist criticism is not intended to work as a particular propoganda. It attempts to open thought through the development of new questions, new interpretations. Such an aim would be far more effective were courses on women's effective were courses on women's issues and writing incorporated into a variety of concentrations.
But such incorporation can only suceed if women's thought is recognized as equal to that of men. If men continue to sneer at women's issues and ignore the meaning behind feminist theory in an attempt to cloak themselves in superiority the result will be division, fragmentation, and separation.