We have had occasion to comment on the phenomenon of college “women’s studies” programs before. No feature of the contemporary university is more destructive than these “sites” (to use the favored jargon) of politicized “transgression” (ditto). Black studies and other programs of racial and ethnic redress certainly compete with women’s studies for utter intellectual nullity. Most are little more than academic ghettos —often extremely well-funded ones—set up to accommodate the results of “affirmative action,” i.e., admission to college of the academically unqualified on the basis of some approved badge of victim status. Such programs are self-perpetuating, of course, for what are their graduates equipped to do except become “professors” of the politicized nonsense they have been spoon-fed in college? Thus we have witnessed not only college admission, but hiring, promotion, and tenure according to “affirmative action.”
Intellectually fatuous though such programs undoubtedly are, however, they have not commanded anything like the institutional importance of women’s studies, which has long since become a major presence in the liberal arts curriculum of most American colleges and universities. And the institutional success of women’s studies has led to their ever-increasing radicalization. No sooner does a college administration capitulate and establish a women’s studies program than it finds itself confronted with a fresh demand for a “major” in women’s studies; that demand granted, there are new demands for more, and more radical, courses, programs, institutes, majors: in gay and lesbian studies, bisexual studies, “transgender studies,” etc.
We were reminded of this recently when a news service reported that “Yale University is getting a sex change.” The university announced that it planned to rename its women’s studies program “women’s and gender studies” and reorganize its undergraduate offerings into three areas: women’s studies; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender studies; and gender studies. Henceforth, students graduating with a degree in “women’s studies”—whatever that can possibly mean—will get a degree in “women’s and gender studies” and their record will note their area of concentration. This will no doubt be useful for future employers: “Ah, yes: all A’s in your courses in women’s and gender studies but only a B+ in your introductory seminar in transgender bi-sexual relations.”
According to the news story, the change was largely terminological since Yale has offered a major in women’s studies for more than a decade and has offered courses in all three “areas of concentration.” In fact, though, the terminological innovation is not innocent. It signals yet another advance for those eager to transform the college experience into a laboratory for “transgressive” sexual indoctrination.
Margaret Homans, the head of women’s studies at Yale, provided an inadvertent hint of this in her comments about the forthcoming changes. “No human experience,” she said, “should be beyond the realm of serious scholarship.” Whether that is in fact true is worth thinking about: it seems to us that there are plenty of human experiences that are far beyond—or far below—the scope of serious scholarship, especially if one excludes the discipline of abnormal psychology, which is not what Professor Homans had in mind. But the more immediate question is whether most of what goes on under the name of women’s studies really qualifies as serious scholarship at all.
One important measure of the seriousness of scholarly inquiry is its disinterestedness. How disinterested are most courses in women’s studies? Consider Women’s Studies 301a at Yale, for example, “History and Sexual Identity II: Modern Cultures.” In this course, according to the course list for the 1997–1998 year, students examine “the development of modern Western cultures for the types of gender and sexual behaviors associated with the modern gay and lesbian identities.” Then there is Women’s Studies 335a, “Introduction of Lesbian and Gay Studies” (n.b., “of” not “to”), which offers “an introduction to the interdisciplinary examination of human, esp. gay and lesbian, sexual and erotic desires and orientations,” etc. Such courses are examples not of serious scholarship but of serious indoctrination.
This is something clearly recognized by Lila Arzua, a twenty-one-year-old student from Miami quoted in the news report describing the changes at Yale. The gender studies curriculum, Miss Arzua said, is “an affront to traditional education” in which “specialized weirdo classes [are] taking the place of foundational classes.” Vividly put, we thought, and entirely accurate. Professor Homans said that she hoped that “by having these tracks [transgender studies, etc.] labeled as such in the course catalog, people will sit up and listen.” We hope she is right. It would be about time.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 16 Number 10, on page 3
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