This is the one post I never wanted to write. People who know me, and regular readers of this site, will already know that I am not a feminist. I am, in fact, quite critical of feminist theory at times. I resist making this a big issue on this site for two reasons: first, emotions can often run high when it comes to identity politics (of which feminism and feminist theory can play a significant part), making it very easy for a poorly-worded sentence to cause a colossal misunderstanding, and second, feminism remains a useful movement, and feminist theory a useful set of tools for a variety of fields; I don’t like limiting my tools, and criticizing something too much on the Internet can do that. But this thing, this stupid, stupid, embarrassing disgrace brought to us by the Editorial Board at the National Post has left me no choice but to articulate my position as clearly as I can, because the absolute last thing I want is to be grouped with those ignorant jackasses.
There are legitimate arguments to be made criticizing Women’s Studies programmes. Lack of rigor is a complaint I’ve heard from serious scholars, both male and female, from other disciplines. I’ve even seen examples of it myself, when a former partner of mine was taking Women’s Studies courses and became extremely frustrated by what she felt were academic standards well below what she was used to in her primary field. Most importantly to me, however, is that such programmes, while admirably dealing with an extremely broad set of social and theoretical issues, quite clearly privilege a particular theoretical framework and point of view. This isn’t a problem in the hard sciences or certain professional schools, but it’s more than a problem in the arts, social sciences, and interdisciplinary studies. Degrees are for fields of study, not points of view. I think folding Women’s Studies into something more inclusive, like Gender Studies, would allow for a more diverse and therefore robust programme, a diversity that feminist theory helped bring to my own field, English Literature.
I think the above paragraph constitutes a reasonable critique of some of the problems (or perceived problems) with Women’s Studies programmes as they now exist.
This bullshit from the National Post does not:
The radical feminism behind these courses has done untold damage to families, our court systems, labour laws, constitutional freedoms and even the ordinary relations between men and women.
Women’s Studies courses have taught that all women — or nearly all — are victims and nearly all men are victimizers.
Divorcing men find they lose their homes and access to their children, and must pay much of their income to their former spouses (then pay tax on the income they no longer have) largely because Women’s Studies activists convinced politicians that family law was too forgiving of men. So now a man entering court against a woman finds the deck stacked against him, thanks mostly to the radical feminist jurisprudence that found it roots and nurture in Women’s Studies.
Over the years, Women’s Studies scholars have argued all heterosexual sex is oppression because its “penetrative nature” amounts to “occupation.” They have insisted that no male author had any business writing novels from women’s perspectives; although, interestingly, they have not often argued the converse — that female writers must avoid telling men’s stories.
I’d be curious to see the Post‘s research into how judgements in family court have changed with respect to husbands and fathers, or how patterns have shifted with regard to awarding custody in various jurisdictions across Canada. It would be equally interesting to see how—or even if—those number correlate with the growth of Women’s Studies programmes in those same jurisdictions. The Post has cited no numbers, no Stats Canada documents, no independent surveys, not even any anecdotal evidence. Surely if there is a clear culture of “radical feminist jurisprudence that found it roots and nurture in Women’s Studies,” then Canada’s most obsessive-compulsive bureaucratic wing must have data on it somewhere, and no doubt the Post‘s crack Editorial Board has ferreted it out. Perhaps they simply forgot to cite it.
It would also be interesting to find out what educators they spoke to about the pedagogy involved in teaching Women’s Studies, and what course materials they perused, and from which courses and institutions, that led them to describe the programmes as courses deliniating women as victimized and men as victimizers. Unfortunately, the Editorial Board doesn’t see fit to tell its readers. The course material I have first hand experience with, from Laurentian University, is far from being so cut-and-dried, and though I did not always agree with the approaches or conclusions, offered a highly nuanced set of theories about human interactions that presents ethical and intellectual challenges (in many senses of the word) to both men and women. Perhaps the Post felt their readers would not be interested in this information.
I know I’ve been hard on the Post in the past for having less than stellar Books coverage, but lately they’ve improved tremendously with The Afterword, matching and often even surpassing coverage at the Globe & Mail. They seem to have no trouble covering Russell Smith with little apparent controversy, an author who has more than once used female protagonists or written from a woman’s point of view (including a pornographic novel, under a female pseudonym). But of course the Editorial Board is talking about the academic world. Well, that’s something I happen to know a little bit about. You see, before I ran out of money, I was actually an English Literature student, training to become a university professor. You don’t see much of it coming out here in this blog, but I like to wade hip-deep in hardcore theory and academic criticism. Academics love gender reversals in protagonists; there is a tremendous amount of work to be done studying not only the standard literary techniques, cultural and theoretical implications, but also issues of gender identification, authenticity of voice or even appropriation of voice, basically a truckload of the fun things that keep academics writing papers and teaching interesting, though-provoking classes. George Elliott Clarke’s libretto Beatrice Chancy focuses on the experiences of a young black woman in 19th Century Nova Scotia, and is a favourite teaching text of feminist and non-feminist professors alike. Not only is it not frowned upon for this acclaimed poet to be writing in the voice of a female protagonist (well, partly, at any rate), the book is among the most lauded on the many curricula that use it.
(And as for the sex as “occupation” bit, let’s just say that the women I know, feminists or otherwise, make their own choices based on knowing they have the power and freedom to explore their sexual identities, and have control over their own pleasure, over their own sexual relationships and destinies. The ladies I know are fierce, and I can’t help but wonder how the Post‘s Editorial Board has gotten these notions stuck in their heads. Perhaps they’re projecting. The world may never know.)
In short, the Editorial Board of the National Post has apparently done no research into their claims (or none it wishes to share), and frankly doesn’t know shit about literature and how it is studied or taught in Canadian classrooms, regardless of the ideological leanings of the professor or the programme. So what are they on about? Here are a few other quotations from the screed—er, editorial—that might shed some light:
Their professors have argued, with some success, that rights should be granted not to individuals alone, but to whole classes of people, too. This has led to employment equity—hiring quotas based on one’s gender or race rather than on an objective assessment of individual talents.
Executives, judges and university students must now sit through mandatory diversity training.
They have pushed for universal daycare and mandatory government-run kindergarten, advocated higher taxes to pay for vast new social entitlements and even put forward the notion that the only differences between males and females are “relatively insignificant, external features.”
So this, really, is what’s got the Post hot under the collar. Most of this seems like pretty good ideas to me. What it looks like is incremental (and in the case of employment quotas—something I actually believe undermines equality—hopefully temporary) steps toward finally enacting the equality promised on paper in the Charter. The Post is pissed off, it seems, that women are being recognized as people. It’s no wonder the National Post Editorial Board doesn’t sign their names to these pieces. I too would be ashamed if I’d contributed to this poorly conceived mess. There is a difference between disagreeing with aspects of feminism, and outright misogyny. The Post‘s editors are clearly incapable of recognizing it.
My challenge to the Editorial Board of the National Post: sign your names to this document and face the public shaming that is your due, or shut the fuck up entirely, you smarmy fucking cowards.
I apologize if this post has been a bit rough, unpolished, or emotional; I’m not a professional journalist. But then, judging by this editorial, neither are the members of the Editorial Board at the Post.