Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Sexism in Scholarship

Since blog against sexism day is actually TODAY, I’d like to extend some of my thoughts from yesterday. Yesterday I talked about the lack of women leadership in the emergent church (and really the Christian church in general, although the situation is improving). That thinking led me to some related thinking about women in the academy.

The situation here has definitely improved drastically, and especially in the humanities. Women undergraduates outnumber men in most colleges. Representation in graduate programs and publications seems to be relatively equal. The place where things seem a little less even, though, is in the realm of theory. Even when we are discussing contemporary theory, it seems male authors dominate. Of course, we can expect older theory to be male-dominated – women didn’t have the access. But how come the 20th century theorists we use are also almost exclusively men. Well, one reason is that women theorists tend to focus their theorizing efforts toward gender and feminist theory. This is certainly a worthy persuit and one that needs to catch up. But I think it leads to the unfortunate consequence that feminist theorists are ghettoized to their own courses or one week in a general course, and that women scholars feel almost expected to have an interest in gender theory. Not that this is bad – gender effects all of us and it’s important to have bright scholars working on these things. The question I want to raise, however, is when will we be able to move beyond identity politics and have scholars bring their varied perspectives to other problems, working together instead of in their own genderized realms? I think this is already starting to happen, and many of the really great women scholars in my field are great examples. I don’t think we will ever need to stop talking about gender issues, but hopefully more other things will also make it onto the radar from time to time.

friends blogging against sexism: Kristen, Matt, Jon


joshwall said...

I think something else to add to the conversation is the relegation of male scholars to deem all work by women feminist. I think its something that feminist scholarship has partially created for its, as you noted, but I feel like alot of it is being created by male scholars, whether or not we readily admit to it.

It strikes me that if a woman writes a piece (or constructs a theory) that in any way shape or form talks about gender, then she is labeled a feminist. I don't think male feminists have this issue (I'm assuming we could agree that men can be feminists) nor do men who write about male-ness have this issue (seen in the field of masculinity studies).

Also I think the resolution for this will take time... we need to debunk the basic understanding that all female scholars are feminists scholars... and we need female scholars who are not feminists. I think it'll take time and more scholars who are NOT as interested in the issue of gender. Or at least that's what I'm thinking, right now, who knows maybe things will be different after a cup of coffee...

bethany said...

or maybe we can make a distinction between scholars who are feminists and scholars who do feminist scholarship. Because I consider myself a feminist (obviously) but not a gender scholar.

joshwall said...

I like the distinction you make there, are you then saying that you align yourself with work that is libratory for women without being interested in work that focuses on the construction of gender? More on the practicalities of a feminist's life than the theories that create the social structures we live in?

Its just an interesting distinction that I haven't heard fully parsed out before and I'd like to hear more about how you distinguish those two poles.

bethany said...

Josh, I think you understand me. My intellectual persuits are, generally, not gender-focused, but because of the time we live in and the fact that I am a woman, gender issues are rarely if ever divorced from my concerns. I guess I would suggest that men AND women can bring a feminist sensibility to any subject. Let us not just have feminist scholarship and regular scholarship, but all scholarship influenced by feminism.

jimmy said...

I think it's important to note that the reason we need feminist scholarship, or scholarship from a feminist viewpoint, is because of the history of male domination, and the history of the domination of the male story and the male narrative, in our culture for so long. The reason we notice it and call it "feminist" is because "masculinist" (is that a word?)scholarship is regarded as the normative experience; as the academic culture shifts steadily toward a more egalitarian understanding (as I believe it is, slowly but surely) such labels will either be out of place or be applied much more evenly (requiring, perhaps, a better word for "masculinist").