Well, I've had several thousand hits in the last five hours. Not only has Inside Higher Ed sent hundreds to this piece on hot students and over-sharing professors, but Kendall Harmon has sent his "Kendall-lanche" my way. Jeepers. I never get as many hits as when Kendall links to me, and he sent his readers to the piece immediately below this one. Some folks are commenting there.
Kendall also had a question for me. When I challenged Christian conservatives to repudiate the likes of Fred Phelps, Kendall responded by wondering if in doing so, thoughtful traditionalists such as he might not just be drawing still more attention to the fringe hatemongers like those who follow Phelp's Westboro Baptist Church. He has a point! I should make clear that I don't expect conservative Christians to condemn Phelps by name. Rather, they can simply continue to do what I know Kendall already does, and that is firmly and publicly dissociate themselves from the far-right wing fringe that claims that "God hates fags." No need to name names -- just the need to make it clear that it is possible to oppose full legal recognition for gays and lesbians and not believe that homosexuals are fundamentally evil. For that matter, maybe I should stop mentioning Phelps by name and linking to him.
On an unrelated note, I learn from Jessica at Feministing that the University of Washington has named David Allen chair of the Women's Studies Department. Allen becomes the first man to hold such a position at any major American university. Reactions are mixed:
Nancy Kenney, an associate professor in the department, said most people are stunned.
"It's a little hard to understand how it's going to work out," she said. "Some people are disappointed."
Kenney said she respects Allen as an individual and colleague. She even finds that her own aversion to a male leader doesn't sit well with the politics she has been teaching at the UW for nearly 30 years.
"I think I'm being sexist in my interpretation," she said. "Why should I critique a person because of his sex when I fight sexism at all times?"
Melissa Pico, a UW undergraduate who is majoring in women studies, said the university could have found a qualified woman for the position who also could have served as a role model to students.
"Men can never be as personally affected by women's issues as women are," she said. "It affects our everyday life, how we treat our bodies, our careers, everything."
On the other hand:
Priti Ramamurthy, an associate professor of women studies, said Allen has an excellent rapport with students and faculty and is the ideal person for the job.
"It marks changes in the field of women's studies. The idea that women's studies is only for and about women is no longer the case," she said. "It's moved to a focus on social construction, not just of women but also of masculinity, and the changing relationships between men and women, women and women, and men and men."
For what it's worth, count me firmly in the camp (obviously) of Allen supporters! Here at Pasadena City College, we don't have a Women's Studies Department. We offer a variety of courses that tie into gender work (including three that I teach: Women in American Society; Men and Masculinity; Introduction to American Lesbian and Gay History). If we did have such a department, I see no reason why I ought not be considered as a serious applicant.
Back in January, I defended the right of men to teach women's studies classes. I'll quote some excerpts from that post:
I do acknowledge that having a man teaching women's history to a class filled with women (and always at least one or two other men) is problematic. I know just how important it is that young women have feminist role models who, in both their work and their private lives, can live out feminist principles. But higher education is not just about providing role models! It is about the principle that knowledge itself has no sex, and that all human experience is equally worthy of study by all human beings. When we limit the teaching of women's studies to women, we send the message that this subject is not, somehow, worth the time and attention of male academics. This does not mean that a male teacher confers a legitimacy his female colleagues do not -- though some students may perceive it that way. But it does mean that it is immensely counter-productive to "ghettoize" (I use that term carefully) an academic discipline by suggesting that only some folks can teach it.
I also wrote:
I know that I have male privilege in the classroom. Because I am a man, few of my students assume that my course will be a "man-bashing" course. (Some of my men's rights advocate critics are convinced it is, but none of them, to my knowledge, have sat through a single lecture.) Where my female colleagues are assumed by students to be "pushing an agenda", I, as a supposedly objective man, am considered more "fair." I've heard these comments over and over again, and I am saddened by them. But what should I do with this privilege? I can acknowledge it and withdraw from the classroom, leaving women's studies to female professors. But how, exactly, does that help things? How would my quitting further the legitimization of gender work? I think it's better to stay in the classroom, while openly calling attention to that unmerited assumption of objectivity that so many students have about male professors.
I would never want to see a world where all women's studies courses were taught by men. For any number of reasons, I suspect that women will constitute the majority of women's studies professors for years and years to come. But students need to see male professors teaching this subject too! They need to see men risking ridicule and opprobrium; they need to see men committed to justice; they need to see men professionally committed to feminism.
No, I will never know what it is like to menstruate. No, I will never know what it is like to have to choose between motherhood and career. I will never have a clitoris, I will never give birth, and my chances of being a victim of acquaintance rape are infinitesimal. But a shared biology, even a shared experience of suffering, is no guarantee of empathy; just look at the legions of anti-feminist women in public life! Yes, men like David Allen and Hugo Schwyzer can be role models too, though perhaps not the sort that Melissa Pico expects.
At the risk of real hubris, men like us send the vital signal to young men that feminism is a man's concern as well. In our public work and our private behavior, we model (imperfectly, I'm aware) what it is to live as a pro-feminist man. Our young men need to see that to know it is possible. Heck, our young women also need to know that there are men out there who do see their experiences, hopes, fears, dreams, and history as colossally important.
Hurrah for David Allen.