A recent article, penned by the National Post‘s Editorial Board, “Women’s Studies is still with us” has the audacity to claim that Women Studies, and specifically feminism, the “radical” force behind Women Studies, “has done untold damage to families, our court systems, labour laws, constitutional freedoms and even the ordinary relations between men and women.”
This piece, ostensibly spurred by the recent changes of Women Studies departments across Canada to names such as Gender, Social Justice, or Sexuality Studies, has left me completely dumbfounded as how such regressive and hateful speech could possibly be allowed to go to print. The premise of this piece, as one in relation to the name change, is simply an excuse to attempt to legitimize sexist thought.
Not only does the story reek of white, male privilege (arguing among other things, that it is unnecessary for judges to undergo diversity training, equitable hiring practices are unfair, and that universal daycare and mandatory kindergarten (!!!) are somehow detrimental to our societal fabric) but it is a shocking display in ignorance as well. None of the ‘signs’ of damage to Canada are in any way qualified, and the article seems more like one disgruntled man’s recounting of stories he heard in the sauna of a country club than anything resembling fact: “Oh, poor Conrad!” While I am convinced none of the authors have ever attended a Women Studies course, it is impossible for me to know this for sure, as none of the authors (or most likely the single, deluded author) is named.
In my brief research trying to assign some responsibility and by extension my ire, I found few concrete answers. The National Post Editorial Board is not explicitly named anywhere on their website and while I found one name actually assigned to the position ‘Editorial Board,’ Matt Gurney, I doubt he is the only member, for that would be one bored board. A more logical source for this article would be the National Post’s Editorial staff, of which only three of the eleven members have ‘female-sounding’ names. No matter though, many feminists are male-identified— I guess they just don’t work for the National Post. I would suggest that the Post perhaps revise its employment practices, but we already know where they stand on that issue.
It is unfortunate that whoever felt so strongly about the utility of feminism did not have the guts to stand behind their beliefs. I keep hoping for the Yes Men or The Onion to come out as the authors, but that’s probably my naive hope that someone who actually thinks these things would have the common sense to be embarrassed.
I am not writing this as a Women Studies major, or even as someone who has consciously self-identified as a feminist for more than a couple years. In my younger years (and I can more legitimately cop naiveté as an excuse because by younger, I mean my teen years) I had my own issues with feminism, but I quickly changed my mind when I became educated on what the concept actually entailed. The Post should do the same, as their ignorance is betrayed in some of the most misogynist statements I have observed since accidentally watching some of an episode of ‘The Real Housewives of Orange County’. Most frustratingly, their claims have no backing-up; they endow quotation marks to unquoted sources and make sweeping claims about how feminism has damaged society but refuse to humour readers by telling us how, only naming certain aspects of our society as proof enough.
I’m sorry that I can’t take your word for it, unnamed employee of a soon-to-be-bankrupt-newspaper, but I’ve been taught to think for myself.
My majors at university are Creative Writing and Political Science, two traditionally male-dominated fields. The ‘canon’ of literature is sometimes ‘tokened’ with a woman if a teacher is feeling exceptionally generous and the paradigms repeated in Political Science are exclusively male-authored and rely on patriarchal concepts like “rationality” and systems where a state is the only dominant actor. Feminism is rarely referred to in any significant manner and usually issues like imperialism, colonialism, hegemony and capitalism are referred to in a ‘fact-of-life’ -type manner. When the complexity of these issues is broached it is in specific, controlled situations that are purposefully shielded from the general student body, and discussed only by those who would have a pre-existing knowledge and interest in them.
This perspective, I daresay, is not rare by any means in the academy.
Taking a couple Women Studies classes in the last couple years has, by leaps and bounds, enhanced and nuanced my understanding of systems of power, privilege and authority. What the author fails to realize is that Women Studies is not just about women. It is about racism, capitalism, class systems, sexism, critical thought and social understanding. For anyone to read a Catharine MacKinnon article and profess a real understanding about feminism and progressive politics and to furthermore discredit it is like me looking at a picture of a brain and calling neuroscience witchcraft.
Only, I know that I am ignorant about neuroscience. The National Post does not seem to have any knowledge about the true state of social equality in Canada, and even less awareness of their ignorance about it.
Women Studies detractors point to the increased enrolment of women in post-secondary institutes (I know, the idea is scary… vaginas everywhere!) as a sign that equality has been reached, but conveniently forget to mention that the ratio of those applying for student loans is 58% female to 42% men. They also conveniently forget that women on average still only make 65-71 cents to a man’s dollar. They mention that women are winning custody battles and men are “pay[ing] much of their income” in support payments but conveniently forget that 39% of children in lone-mother families are living in poverty, specifically because of a lack of support. Numbers of lone-parent families also increase exponentially in certain populations, especially recent immigrants, visible minority communities and aboriginal communities. Many would see this as a signal of the vulnerability of these groups, but the Post specifically targets equitable employment practices as lacking objective standing, and ignores the inequalities in a capitalist society these initiatives are aimed at healing. I guess that just isn’t convenient.
Feminism addresses the interlocking nature of systems of oppression. It teaches its students that inequality, poverty, sexism, racism, imperialism, and colonialism are all one and the same, and rely on another for their authority. If I had only learned the white, male version of history taught in the majority of academic disciplines and not expanded my knowledge to include empathy, sensitivity and awareness of the undeniable differences that exist between groups—the vast majority of which are socially-constructed and perpetuated to this day— the person I am now could never trust the person I was then to affect any sort of meaningful change.
And therein, I believe, lays the crux of the National Post’s dangerous ideological perspective. This article is less of an attack on Women Studies as a discipline as it is a belief borne from a place of hatred and suspicion, and the fundamental fear that questioning white male privilege will eventually be its destruction. This is the thought that keeps these regressive people awake at night in their suburban row houses, but this is also the same hope that motivates feminists— female and male alike.