Women, who needs 'em?

To the National Post’s Editorial Board

January 31st, 2010 by Stacey May Fowles, Amy Macfarlane, and Alexandra Molotkow | 7 Comments » | Viewed 1678 since 04/15, 1535 today


Last Tuesday, the National Post published what turned out to be a great justification for the continued existence of Women’s Studies programs, in the form of an “angry, divisive and dubious” (to borrow a phrase) editorial against the discipline.

Now, the opinions expressed by the Post’s editorial board are, very often, not ours; a right-wing editorial would not normally merit a special response from us. This is different. For one thing, the paper’s official position — it bears repeating, official position — on Women’s Studies programs is outright offensive, and woefully uninformed. It states, for instance, that “Women’s Studies courses have taught that all women — or nearlyall [sic] — are victims and nearly all men are victimizers,” which should seem a careless generalization to anyone with a Women’s Studies degree. It cites dated concepts as though they’re generally accepted premises within this (apparently homogeneous) discipline. There ought to be a variation of Godwin’s Law to cover poorly contextualized Andrea Dworkin quotations.

But it would be too generous to say that the National Post’s editorial writers know little about Women’s Studies. That’s not what bothers us: ignorant stereotypes are familiar to all feminists. No, what disturbs us is that the Post considers Women’s Studies’ aims pernicious. The following quote is not, in fact, lifted from the Onion: “The radical feminism behind these courses has done untold damage to families, our court systems, labour laws, constitutional freedoms and even the ordinary relations between men and women.” Women’s Studies isn’t a corrective to an unjust society, you see — it’s a conspiracy which is responsible for such horrors as “employment equity,” “mandatory diversity training,” and “universal daycare and mandatory government-run kindergarten.” And thanks to feminism and the unbiased, professionally run, and state-subsidized education system it supports, your children may grow up believing that the differences between males and females are “relatively insignificant.”

This is, in our view, utter rubbish, and it is very much not OK. When a group with a longstanding, deeply entrenched systemic advantage — “privilege,” in the parlance of Women’s Studies and programs like it — speaks heatedly of its “rights” vis-à-vis a less privileged group, it’s usually seen as an expression of bigotry. “White rights” are generally invoked by white supremacists. The words “Jewish conspiracy” or “immigrant takeover” are surefire conversation stoppers. Heterosexuals who object to gay pride parades on the basis that no “straight parades” exist are, if not completely homophobic, not all that bright. In either case, the opinions expressed aren’t just stupid; they’re alarming. We don’t see why things should be any different when it comes to gender, and yet the “pendulum has swung” argument is somehow viable when women’s rights is the issue at stake.

It disturbs us that the Post — that any national publication — could consider such nonsense appropriate for publication. Disturbs, but doesn’t surprise. Somehow, sexism doesn’t register harshly; being a pig barely carries a stigma (in fact, you could argue that the inverse is true).

Feminists are used to responding to arguments against, and myths about, feminism with a litany of reasons why it’s still important: rape and sexual abuse; pay inequality; domestic violence; barriers to education and employment; the dearth of female representation in governments worldwide, in the professions, and in arts and letters (including, regrettably, in the pages of this magazine—we’re working on it). We shouldn’t have to; it should be generally accepted. That otherwise intelligent people need to be reminded of why the cause exists — that they find the pursuit of gender equality in any way objectionable, and feel comfortable stating as much to a national audience — is, in fact, a slam-dunk argument for the importance of Women’s Studies programs.

So, thank you National Post Editorial Board. The next time we’re called upon to defend our common sense, we’ll point to your editorial and leave our opponents to figure out the rest.