Advertisement

Archive for Monday, May 20, 2002

Text errors diminish feminism

May 20, 2002

Advertisement

— In the days of pre-modern medicine, the adage was: Whatever else hospitals do, they should not spread disease. In these days of postmodern higher education, the adage is: Whatever else schools do, they should not subtract from understanding. Which brings us to the topic of "women's studies."

Christine Stolba, a history Ph.D. and senior fellow at the indispensable Independent Women's Forum, recently steeled herself for the ordeal of reading a lot of meretricious rubbish. The result is her report, "Lying in a Room of One's Own: How Women's Studies Textbooks Miseducate Students." It is published by the IWF, a voice for women unlike those who have hijacked feminism.

The hijackers include the authors of five widely used women's studies textbooks. Because these represent the mainstream of women's studies, they illustrate the extent to which political screeds, the cultivation of grievances and anti-intellectualism have gained academic respectability.

The textbooks' factual errors serve the "transformative" mission of women's studies the political mission of agitation and mobilization, aka "consciousness raising." However, the postmodern premise (explicitly endorsed in one of the texts) is that "no purely factual studies exist." That is, "truth" is "socially constructed," and in "patriarchal," "phallocentric" societies "factual" scare quotes are obligatory among postmodernists assertions merely reflect power relations of male domination.

So textbooks' assertions about the "wage gap" between men and women do not mention the fact that many women chose to sacrifice compensation in exchange for flexible work arrangements. Certain feminists, radiating contempt to all women the vast majority who differ with them, disparage this choice as a "mommy track." They say it is not a real choice, it is mindless adherence to imposed sexual stereotypes.

The textbooks' assertion that women have been shortchanged in medical research is unsupported by evidence and refuted by facts, such as: Women are 60 percent of all subjects in National Institutes of Health-funded clinical trials, and since spending on various forms of cancer research began to be tracked in 1985, more money has been spent on breast cancer than on any other cancer research. And women are more likely than men to have medical insurance.

The textbooks' attempts to cling to the myth of education bias against women founders on facts such as: Today women receive most bachelor's and master's degrees, and soon will earn most Ph.D.s. So stuck are these books in a time warp, one text, while rejecting the traditional literary canon (too many dead white males), recommends "I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala," a book that helped the author win the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize before it was demonstrated to be fraudulent.

What Stolba calls the "women-under-siege" theme what one of the textbooks calls the "matrix of domination" is impervious to evidence. As one book insists: "The overall effect of the twentieth century on women was neither liberation nor gender equality as much as it was change in the nature and meaning of their fragmentation."

The fact that women think they are better off is, the texts say, proof of how subtle and sinister their oppressors have become. The "internalization of society's views" "internalized oppression" causes women to have such "low self-esteem" that they are "absorbed into the male worldview." That view, says one text, is apparent in the degrading stereotype of the kneeling Native American woman on the label of Land O' Lakes butter. Really.

On sexuality, the theme of many textbooks is, Stolba says, "How do I love thee, let me count the heterosexist, patriarchal ways." The textbooks are morose about the idea that "women need men for sexual arousal and satisfaction," which produces "compulsory heterosexuality" resulting from the "dichotomous thinking" that men and women are different and represent the full range of human types. The "culture of romance"? Not good. It "entails male privilege." The "marriage myth"? Don't ask.

Fatherhood? Well, the textbooks say it is not all incest and child abuse. One textbook even finds a bright side: "At present, it appears that domineering fathers may provoke reactions in their daughters that release our feminist impulses and creative potential."

The title of Stolba's report echoes that of Virginia Woolf's splendid 1929 essay "A Room of One's Own," in which Woolf deftly suggested how many deprivations including having no "room of her own" could explain why a sister of Shakespeare would have been handicapped compared to her brother. Today a widely used women's studies textbook fulminates against supposedly phallic words and phrases such as no kidding "input," "plugs into," "thrust" and "penetrate." How feminism has fallen.




George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.