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January 20, 2005



B: If you were teaching Latino Male history to a class of prodiminately latino males and you were a white rich female dont you think a few students would ask what was up with that at some point?

B, maybe someone would raise a question, but really, this sort of thing happens all the time at the modern university, and it's generally no big deal. I can think of a half-dozen similar scenarios off the top of my head at the schools I've attended and taught at. Part of the last 30-40 years in the University is the story of a white male club opening it's doors to a bunch of new people. Upon arrival, those people said "hey, what about our history/literature/culture/etc? This is all interesting, valuable, worthwhile stuff and you're doing your disciplines and your universities a disservice by ignoring it!" For the most part, the initial response varied from lukewarm to hostile (academics may be politically liberal, but they're a remarkably small-c conservative bunch), but over time, more and more people have responded to those questions by saying "you're right! We shouldn't have ignored that stuff, and it is valuable and interesting. I'll start studying it and teaching it now." If that's appropriation, well, OK, but really, that's the definition of success in academia--to get others to take your ideas seriously and build on them.


Hugo, I totally support and endorse your feminism and your students are fortunate to have a caring teacher. Feminism is not just for women. And I agree, you shouldn't be a male feminist, just a feminist. And I am not a woman scientist, just a scientist.

I know there is a conflict for a lot of women in considering that men can be part of the movement. As a women faculty in science (one equally dismayed by Lawrence summers' lunacy and delighted at his embarrassed effort to remove foot from mouth), I am annoyed at male AND female colleagues who "don't get it" (and there are a LOT of women who deny it) and delighted at men who "get it".

And "it" is, we have a ways to go in the complicated area of recognizing that men and women have important differences, but are capable of similar contributions.

To me, REAL feminism isn't based on women denying or disparaging men, but meeting men as partners and equals. Are we different? Hell yes! Good thing, too. I LIKE men, I LIKE what I learn from men, I LIKE male presence in my life. that doesn't have to be sexual, and we can enjoy the difference without sex being involved. (After all, I'm a happily partnered lesbian. And I'm VERY happy being a woman, thank you.)

We learn not just from people who look like us or think like us, but people who don't look like us---who may actually think JUST like us. I don't get the conflict, we shouldn't be fighting with our brothers.

In my field, there aren't many women. I mostly work with men. I have a lot of (male) colleagues who crawled out from a rock, but fortunately I have some wonderful (male) colleagues who meet me professionally as an equal, and enjoy and celebrate our differences. They aren't afraid of liking women, but they are nothing less than wonderfully masculine.

Kinda like our host, here. I like you a lot, Hugo, and I am glad you are on our side.


I'm just amused that one has to be careful not to expose students to the dangerous notion that men aren't superior to women, but merely equal.


chris - you are right to say gender is one of the elements at the root of many problems in regard to women in society. And yes transgendered people need a space socially and academically as do gay and lesbian and so on. Feminist and women have worked unbelievably hard to create an academic space for their history and their debate, politics, arts and the possiblities of their future. But is it right to try to tent all these issues under feminist studies and, or womens studies? How far can the tent keep expanding and not lose sight of the originally contested areas that feminsits were dealing with. yes lots of the issues overlap as they should. You said you feel right to call yourself a feminist and any other word be wishy washy. that is how I think of Feminist studies. Lots of administrations and pr for schools try to play down feminist scholarship and do use gender studies as a term to appease those who woould be offended at feminist or women studies. Language is very important to and while gender studies does help to be more inclusive it forces womens studies to give something up that was a long and hard fight to get to be named as a academic discipline by some school who origin would not even let women study anything because they were not able to be students. Direct feminist study can also get lost under that expanding tent and become only a fraction of the study.
have not seen a motion to meld African American Departments into the American Studies Departments. They are listed as seperate departments. Yes feminsit can connect and be a part of all the other studies of isms and it should be but doesnt it make more sense to start expecting all the departments of academic study to bear the burden of housing, advocating and educating gender and race and class to make it part of how we live and how we teach and learn. It has not in the past so I do not think it will in the future but that is exaclty why feminist and women studies and latino studies and gay and lesbian and transgender studies and so on were created in the first place.
If femnist studies and, or womens studies are meant to house all of these disciplines i fear it will be trammpled down and eroded underneath a monstrously high pile of needy new disciplines within the education system.

And if I may say that you find it odd that someone would not consider a man a feminist we have different experiences. I respect your right to refer to yourself as such but I do not believe men should co-op the phrase. I think it shows disrespect to Feminists. In my life I have only experienced men who degrade feminists notions some to the point of threatenting and occasionally inflicting violence as a response to any of mine or my friends encouragement of our own feminism and of incorporating it into their lives. I have met men who are wonderful human beings but men who I have personally discussed or tried to relate with on feminism by speaking it or trying to live it have been extremely negative and have left harmful lessons from my attempts.


Amanda - how sad you find all this merely "amusing"


Hugo - the dictionary definitions of "uniterested" and "disinterested" both contain the same word... indifferent. While disinterested could also mean free from bias (which would then as you say make it a virtue), I hardly think that the wording of your original comment made your intention clear. And by the way, I never used the word uniterested either.

And if you think I was speaking realistically instead of hypothetically (regarding the Nazi), then indeed the gulf is too wide for us to have an ongoing dialogue on this subject. If the only way you can make an argument is to take the most extreme example and twist words around to attempt to misconstrue someone's meaning and label them the "bad guy", then this is far from my ideal of a civilized discussion.


"Objectivity is, in its purest form, morally neutral."

-Hugo, what does being objective in your lectures to your classes have to do with being morally neutral. Can't you simply present both sides to history (whether it be war, politics,etc) without trying to make some sort of moral judgement? Is that really your job?

And would it be wrong in a class about Women's history to present the facts from both sides of the table? Why do you feel the need to label yourself a pro-feminist? Its as if you hope to create some kind of myth that whatever comes out of your mouth must be the "gospel truth" because you are a known sympathizer to the suffering of women.


I think we need to distinguish between objectivity and fairness. Fairness is pretty much a requirement for all teachers all the time. Objectivity is a much bigger challenge. Your post uses the phrase "both sides." There are two? What are they? What about all the other perspectives? If you teach a class where all information is viewed from one narrow perspective, and you're intolerant of criticisms of it, that's not fair. If you choose one or two perspectives to focus on, you look at their strengths and their weeknesses, and so on, well, that's fair, but it's not 'objective'. I'm currently designing a course called the concept of power. When it's designed, I'll have a course in which we'll examine 3-4 different schools of thought on the concept. I've got about 8 different schools of thought on my list. I've got to cut it in half. Here are the criteria I'll use to do it. 1) I find the theory interesting and compelling. 2) I expect students will "get it." 3) They provide good contrasts and comparisons with each other. 4) The readings available to me to assign are accessible and of appropriate length and format.

Are these "objective" criteria? I have no idea. I don't know how to answer that question. Will my course be fair? Yes, I hope so.


Objectivity is a chimera. Fairness is a much better goal. After all, any presentation of history, issues, topics, stories, etc., is necessarily going to be selective. Journalists often use "objectivity" as a cover for simply presenting he-said-she-said kinds of stories that don't actually assess the facts of the various positions. Fairness would require asking a couple of questions to test the statements, yet that's not often done.

As a lawyer, I'm necessarily an advocate, and I want to present evidence and arguments that support my position. And I have to deal with any argument or evidence that doesn't support my position head-on. I don't make any claims to objectivity, yet what I do is similar to what someone teaching a class or writing a news story does when they present a thesis or an angle and use facts or argument or quotes to support it.

But is it right to try to tent all these issues under feminist studies and, or womens studies? How far can the tent keep expanding and not lose sight of the originally contested areas that feminsits were dealing with.

Why not? I'm sure people who started areas of study that would naturally fall under other areas in the past want to protect their turf, but a lot falls under history or business or whatever. I'm sure the more you keep studying gender as a construct, the more you see how many areas of life and history and society it affects.


I agree very much with zuzu's comment above, especially the first paragraph. Reporters do try to present both sides, but the lack of analysis often gives marginal positions far more weight than they otherwise would have had. If I were at home, I would cite some links here discussing this issue, but I am not, so I do not have those links readily available.

I also wanted to point out that I do not believe that it is possible for anyone to be truly objective. Nor is this only my individual belief, but rather part of social theory and this idea is very useful in feminist scholarship. People try to be objective, but can never really achieve it. The questions a scientist chooses to research, for example, are often shaped by unconscious bias. And this belief in and claims of objectivity can lead to more faith in the authority of science and any particular study than is merited.

These sorts of bias are easily recognized in research of the past, such as the racist and sexist biology and medicine of the nineteenth century. But these biases still inform research done today, yet the truth of the conclusions of this research is often unquestioned.

For these reasons, I not only do not believe anyone can be truly objective, I also think false claims of objectivity are harmful. It is better for us to always question and analyze what we are taught for ourselves, rather than assuming our teachers are both objective and the absolute authority on their subject and thus merely accepting everything we are taught as fact.


ZuZu - I am very very aware of how gender affects nearly all areas of life and history. That is why I am so irritated in the first place. Within the hollowed halls of academia feminist have fought and fought to carve out a tiny little space for feminists studies because the sacred institutions of education failed to incorporate it in all other areas of study. You suggest that its absolutely ok to have Feminists studies become an umbrella for a multitude of other disciplines. Why do feminist have to bear the burden of every grieved group who lacks a deparmtent. Yes we empathize and encourage their fight and will actively participate with them in their struggle and in making sure they too get a department however that does not mean feminist should give up the only little spot on campus they have. I do not advocate that feminists "hide out" or only stay within its own corner. It seems naive to think educational institutions are sacred places there is a whole more indoctrination thant education going on in alot of them. And it also does not mean feminist are not being inclusive because we think there should be
an academic space for us. And mind you that even within that tiny spot it is cut down in slivers because of the distinctions betweens different feminists the "mtvfeminism" of a majority of teens and twenty somethings and the post feminism advocates who both seem to thing women never really had problems in the first place and seem to want to ride the coattails of feminist fights for choices then make their choice to be part of very the system that feminists are fighting against, then you have the camille paglia faux feminists and if the "male feminists" fraction wasn't hard enough to deal with now and there are transgender men who mock women and feminists by assuming that because they
purchased a female form they too KNOW what it is like to be a woman and to BE a feminist. Do they know hate and violence as and identy struggle as a concept and as part of thier lives YES they do. Can they sympathize with feminists -can they be wonderful humans - absolutley!!!!!! But can a man truly know the complexity of living life as female and the very real and injust history (past and living history) of women and particularly feminist. No, I do not believe a men can do that. Would I like to believe it, yes. do I see evidence of it, honestly no I do not see it.


B, what's wrong if I'm amused by people who think that mere exposure to the idea that men and women are equal will cause the Earth to crash into the sun? Yes, it's sad. But sometimes we got to laugh, or we will lose our minds.


Amanda contrary to your notion I do not believe the earth wil crash to the sun if men are "equal" But equality and feminism is earned and worked for not just appropriated or co -opted by men ( and women) when it suits them. It is life long commitment and one can not seriously look around this world and say all is equal. (by the way I am not to fond of the human race in general we( and I mean women and men) have royally made a mess of the world.
You can laugh if you like, if fits our culture of those who think caring about injustices is trite. Ironic you feel you will lose your mind if you don't laugh at peoples convictions I feel I will lose my mind if I don't hold on to my convictions in a world where everything is just a big joke.


You suggest that its absolutely ok to have Feminists studies become an umbrella for a multitude of other disciplines. Why do feminist have to bear the burden of every grieved group who lacks a deparmtent.

No, I didn't. What I suggested was that feminist studies are actually under the umbrella of gender studies, not the other way around. Feminists, queer theorists, transsexuals and men's-studies types all have at root the challenging and examination of gender roles and constructs in society. In that way, they are similar to a history or political science department with subspecialties like Middle Eastern History and Uses of Propaganda.

Sounds like you're defending academic turf more than you're defending the advancement of the academic theory.


B, it's time for me to confess a bit of ignorance. I've only been affiliated with Universities and Colleges that have Women's studies programs or Gender studies programs. As such, I don't really know how a feminist studies department would differ. You seem to imply that these departments are too broad, and feminist studies is more specific. However, you also note that gender impacts many/all features of modern life, which suggests to me that women's/feminist studies should be broad. So I'd be interested in hearing what you understand "feminist studies" to be, and how it differs substantively from "women's studies."

Also, I'd be interested to hear your answer to this question. If you think men shouldn't be called, or call themselves feminists, do you also think that white people shouldn't call themselves anti-racists? If not, what is the difference?


Of course, a compromise as far as the name of the department goes is what was done at my alma mater (Rice University, if anyone wants to know): my degree is in The Study of Women and Gender. I asked the head of the department about the name once, and she said that they wanted to keep "women" in the name to honor the work feminists had done in getting women's studies recognition as a discipline, but they also wanted to include gender because they did not feel you could study women without studying gender as a whole.


B, my point is I'm a feminist. I'm not accusing you of anything. I meant bringing up women's station, not men's. I don't think all is equal, but it should be. Sorry if I somehow misled you.


I posted this in the wrong section so I am reposting it here - hopefully that is allowed.

“This is why I'm such a strong advocate of same-gender accountability groups.  Men need other men with whom they can open up -- first to validate the reality of their own hurt, and then to call each other to account for their own role in what brought that hurt about.  If there's one thing that both the Maoists and the Promise Keepers got absolutely right, it's that regular and rigorous self-examination in small, same-sex accountability "cell groups" is a prerequisite for real transformation.” Hugo

“In my own life and work, I value the feedback I get from women around me -- but some of that feedback needs to be processed in a male-only setting.” Hugo

Interesting in light of this thread - Bella

Hugo Schwyzer

Bella, I absolutely believe that we need same-gender space. I'm not convinced, however, that the classroom ought to be that space. I think colleges and universities must not practice that kind of exclusivity; I think church and non-profit organizations that focus on gender issues ought to.

There is a time for building alliances across the sexual divide, if you will, and a time for creating safe space with your own gender.

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