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Scholarship As Propaganda

Marx said the point is not to understand the world, but to change it. Was he the first Gender & Women's Studies department chairman?
A mind is a terrible thing to waste (extender_01/Shutterstock)
A mind is a terrible thing to waste (extender_01/Shutterstock)

Look, I’m not posting this as another “get a load of those krazy kampus lefties” item, and if you’re tired of this kind of topic, I don’t blame you. If this triggers you, stop reading. I want you to consider this seriously, though, and not just in light of the Trump election. It is the text of a letter addressed to the students at Villanova University, published in The Villanovan, a campus newspaper. Read this

To the students of Villanova University:

A letter from the co-directors of gender and women’s studies

By Dr. Catherine Kerrison & Dr. Timothy McCall

On November 15, 2016

The national election results shocked many Americans, but women were particularly devastated. Initially, analysts pointed to unprecedented turnouts among rural, non-college educated men to explain Hillary Clinton’s defeat. But according to the Washington Post, it turns out that 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump, many of them middle class and educated. Why?

There is no need to reproduce here the vulgarities, invective and swagger about having committed sexual assault, uttered by the President-elect and by some of his supporters. We have all heard, seen and read them. Worse, since the election, they seemed to have unleashed an open season of attacks on women around the country. Women have been grabbed on the street and told that this is what life will be like under Trump. Muslim women have had their hijabs ripped from their heads. On our own campus, black women have been subjected to racial epithets and one was physically assaulted in the tunnel by white men chanting the name of the President-elect. Why would women vote for a man who would be in a position to normalize and institutionalize those views at law?

There are several reasons:  the workings of gender, patriarchy and race are thoroughly tangled, complex and insidious.

First, there are rewards for women who do not challenge patriarchal authority and who do not make themselves obnoxious by demanding the full human rights and sovereignty of self that (white) men command. Such women are not besmeared with epithets and hatred. Indeed, they can enjoy real material benefits in their associations with men.

Second, American history is replete with examples of white women who have cared more about preserving racial superiority than about achieving gender equity. During slavery, white women saw themselves as the moral and intellectual superiors of enslaved women, possessed of a capacity for rational thought that they denied all slaves.  In the nineteenth century, white women abandoned black in the struggle for suffrage, to forge alliances instead between northern and southern white women.  In the twentieth century, white feminists overlooked entirely the different concerns of black feminists, and when it was time to write the history of those movements, black women were largely omitted.  On Nov. 8, 2016, black women again did the heavy lifting for women:  94 percent of them voted for Hillary Clinton.

Certainly many female Trump supporters would emphatically deny that they are sexist or racist. They voted on other issues, they insist. But in their vote for a candidate who openly expressed those ideas, they affirmed that ultimately sexism and racism did not matter as much as other issues.   A little sexism is okay.  A little racism is tolerable.

It’s hard for women not to take this personally.  Smart, hard working, ambitious women on this campus saw that a smart, hard working, ambitious woman with decades of experience was defeated by a man with no record of public service, whose crude language dehumanized and objectified women.

But there is a way to fix this, and we’re going to do it together.  We can change this trajectory of patriarchy, misogyny and racism.

You are important. Take a Gender and Women’s Studies course in your field, so that you will understand how gender permeates the work place you are preparing to enter. Be informed, so that armed, you can fight ignorance.

There is an awesome group of gender and sexuality scholars at Villanova who stand ready to help.  Stop by their offices to talk. Go the GWS website for their names and for other resources, both on campus and off. You are not alone. We believe in your intellect, strength and goodness, and we stand in solidarity with you.

So much for the idea of independent scholarship. These two professors see their department and their field as explicitly political, and themselves as organizers who “stand ready to help” mobilize women and others to “change this trajectory of patriarchy, misogyny, and racism” by voting for progressive candidates. “Hitherto, philosophers have sought to understand the world,” said Marx. “The point, however, is to change it.”

As presented by the co-directors of the Gender & Women’s Studies Department, their field is not about scholarship, but about propagandizing. I wonder: do people inside the academy understand what this looks like to people on the outside? One of the department’s faculty is Catholic theologian Katie Grimes (whose perennial specialty is condemning the Catholic Church as white supremacist), whose post-election analysis denies that the white working class exists. There is only one defensible way women can vote, according to the leadership of the Gender & Women’s Studies Department at Villanova University, and that leadership offers itself to educate young women at the university out of their prejudices.

Again: I’m not trying to poke fun at these people (though heaven knows I have done so before). This is serious. People like these radical professors are feeding the alt-right. If you politicize the academy, and tell people that the only reason they disagree with your radical views is because they are evil bigots (racist, sexist, anti-gay, etc.), and you in turn shout down and shame and no-platform ordinary conservative voices, you are going to be left with nobody but those who welcome your hatred, and thrive on it.

More broadly, what kind of university allows a department to become nothing but a training ground for ideological militancy? I would never pay for my kid to study in a program where this is what passed for teaching and scholarship, even if I agreed with the ideology the professors were trying to pound into my kid’s head. This is like being a fundamentalist and sending your kid to study paleontology at North Tupelo Bible College — except it costs between $48,000 and $62,000 per year to attend Villanova to get your Gender & Women’s Studies degree.

Seriously, if this is the narrative that people inside the liberal arts tell themselves, no wonder they don’t understand this country outside their bubbles, and no wonder they think that militant Trumpkins are mustering now to round them all up and put them in abandoned Wal-marts turned into detention camps, and be fed nothing but Frito pies. If the student body at North Tupelo Bible College is formed intellectually by a crackpot narrative, well, that’s a shame for them, but those kids are not likely to enter the American establishment. Graduates of universities like Villanova? That’s something different. A high school teacher e-mailed the other day to remark on how the promiscuous deployment of the word “privilege” among Millennials of his acquaintance functions as a magic word to stop all deliberative conversation. What students educated (“educated”) like this are learning how to do is not to think, but to emote with political skill. This has consequences.

(And if you’re wondering, I didn’t go searching for that; a Villanova alumnus and Trump voter sent it to me.)



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