Legacy and Respect: The Usefulness of Feminism
In a letter to students who participate in Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges' bi-college Feminist and Gender Studies department, Head of the Department Anne Dalke outlined an argument in favor of changing the program's name. She wrote,
"Our argument for re-naming the F&GS program "Gender and Sexuality" is based on 3 claims:
1. that it will be enticing for prospective and current students and faculty, because it names their personal and intellectual interests and investments (while avoiding the word "feminism," which is off-putting to a large range of individuals)
2. that it accurately represents the current state of scholarship in the field
3. that it accurately names--and invites exploration of--where the interesting questions lie."
At the date in which this statement was composed last April, I probably would have agreed with its relevancy and reasoning. I no longer accept this line of thinking, however, due to my education and involvement in Anne's co-taught class I am taking this semester, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Gender. It is ironic that I began my study of gender four years ago as a freshman vehemently against feminism, and only now as a senior taking the only class required for every major or concentrator in that field have I come to appreciate the legacy and usefulness of feminism as a theory of practice and of education.
My original concepts of feminism were that it was a theory that denounced men and elevated women beyond a fair or equitable place in society. I recognize now the stereotyping that I inadvertently allowed myself to feel. "Equating feminist struggle with living in a counter-cultural, woman-centered world erected barriers that closed the movement off from most women." (hooks, p. 53). I was one of those women who was closed off, or rather closed myself off, from feminism. I viewed feminism as a means to an end wherein women would lobby their superiority over men and treat men in the same callous, unrecognizable way in which women have been treated by men for centuries. For me, in order to demand respect, it should first be given. I wanted to embrace a theory that was inclusive of all genders and not alienating any gender, even men. In order to change the tide of oppression and miscommunication, I did not want to contribute to an "eye for an eye" philosophy that derogated any gender from its opposite's perspective, and victimized all woman and vilified all men. This stereotype that I held that feminism only focuses on women is described by Allan Johnson,
"In one sense, critics are correct that focusing on women as victims is counterproductive, but not because we should ignore victimization altogether. The real reason to avoid an exclusive focus on women as victims is to free us to concentrate on the compelling fact that men are the ones who victimize, and such behavior and the patriarchal system that encourages it are the problem." (Johnson, p....