Students and Professors Defend Gender Studies

Campus conservatives, liberals criticize CPAC speech on feminism

In front of an amused, though small, audience, Young America’s Foundation spokesman Jason Mattera mocked feminism and homosexuality during a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference last Thursday in Washington, D.C.

Some conservatives on campus said that Mattera misrepresented their views on such issues.

“When liberals talk about diversity, they never mean offering students a wide variety of ideas, including conservative ones. Their version of diversity is bizarre,” he said, citing various college courses—including classes on “Native American Feminism,” “Cyber-Feminism,” and “one that deconstructs the feminist new black man”—to prove his point.

But Mattera’s comments were not characteristic of Republican attitudes in general, according to Mark A. Isaacson ’11, president of the Harvard Republican Club, who attended CPAC, but not the panel at which Mattera spoke.

Isaacson described the talk as “a few poor attempts at clever one-liners, rather than a discussion of diversity.”

“Comments like [Mattera’s] don’t accomplish anything other than eliciting some nervous laughter, and do absolutely nothing to attract new young voters or build the Republican Party,” he said.

Women and Gender Studies concentrator Andrés Castro Samayoa ’10 said he personally took issue with Mattera’s notion of diversity.

“For me, diversity is being able to appreciate and welcome various points of view,” Castro Samayoa said. “I’ve had the opportunity to study something that has expanded my horizons and allowed me to see the world in a new light.”

“It’s perplexing to see someone say that the study of feminism doesn’t speak to diversity,” he added, calling Mattera’s view on feminism narrow.

Linda Ellison, a lecturer in the Women and Gender Studies Department, said that feminism encompasses a diversity of issues that have implications beyond courses on theory.

“You don’t just read a book, take a test, and leave it in class—it’s something you can take to the streets,” she said.

According to Ellison, some of her former students have found practical uses for the feminist and diversity theories they learned in her classes.

Katherine A. Thurber ’11, who took one of Ellison’s classes last year, is planning to spend this summer in Uganda, where she will help establish a malnutrition program with the Harvard Global Hunger Initiative.

“The class gave me a new perspective on the importance of sexuality and gender,” Thurber said. “You have to look at a lot of different viewpoints to have an understanding of different issues and responses.”

Currently, Ellison teaches a class titled “Cultures of Reproduction,” and she said that conservative students in the class seem to have approached class themes such as abortion and premarital sex with an open mind.

“They are thinking about their values in a way they’re not used to,” she said. “Their belief systems are challenged, and it’s a challenge they’re willing to take on.”

Isaacson said that young conservatives should not condemn others’ perspectives.

“Exposure to a diversity of opinion, of course, is valuable—no matter what your politics are,” Isaacson added.

—Staff writer Alice E.M. Underwood ’11 can be reached at aeunderw@fas.harvard.edu.

Tags