The Dartmouth Observer
Monday, August 26, 2002
The Politics of a Disinterested Academy
On the topic of the Women Studies department changing its name to Women and Gender Studies, Vijay Rao writes:
"The entire 'Women's Studies' endeavor injects too many political sentiments into the classroom. Like Chien Wen, I wish academics would be less political and more 'disinterested.' However, with entire programs and departments devoted to politicized learning ('analysis of the construction of gender'?), we're not going to see a disinterested academia anytime soon."
All right, Vijay, how is "analysis of the construction of gender" so obviously political that you feel you can just assert that to be the case and expect us pinko communist wiccan feminists to agree with you? Perhaps it is political, what exactly do you mean by "political"? Tell me how it is any more (or significantly more) political to analyze "the construction of gender" than, say, deciding what empires were great and deserve to be studied. Is a disinterested acamedia one that is not interested in women and gender issues? Now perhaps you want to say that women's studies departments are politicized in other ways, such as making certain tenets the premises of their classes (which are?), and that the "analysis of the construction of gender" should be incorporated into other departments such as history, government, biology, philosophy, etc. That's a long way from saying that the "analysis of the construction of gender" is inherently politicized learning and that women's issues could be adressed in a 'disinterested' manner. Is, to take a somewhat different example, studying reconstruction after the civil war, an illegitimate political endeavor when part of its purpose is to show that a battle to have greater civil rights was fought and lost?
But let's go to your 'specific' examples. You note that the co-chair of the women's studies program says that feminists want to revise the myth that "only a male president can push the button to set off a nuclear bomb." Well, when Congresswoman Ferraro was chosen as Walter Mondale's running mate in 1984, she faced the accusation that she wouldn't be manly enough to take over as president and defend the nation. She was blamed for making Mondale look henpecked and weak. Besides, I might note that traditional gender concepts can be useful in looking at things like nuclear policy. There has been talk about the concept of 'honor' and also concepts of masculinity to think about what would be done on the brink of nuclear war. To actually launch (as oppossed to threating to launch) the weapons when you face certain retaliation and destruction isn't particularly 'rational.' If you know that the other side has already launched, then launching your weapons can in some scenarios simply be revenge and killing millions for no purpose. And there is no question that foreign policy pundits and analysts spoke in terms of being tough enough and man enough to stare down the Soviets. And as amazing as it is, male scientists would often sexualize and fetishize bombs. You definitely can't make this stuff up. Sadly the construction of gender may very political; but so is ignoring it.
On the Women's Studies honors thesis on "politics of auto-erotic stimulation.", I haven't looked at what that is about, so I don't know if it has substance or not or worthy of being the only honors thesis. Having been a government major, I know you can write something scholarly on anything dealing with the "politics of this or that topic." You can analyze the politics of something without being political. You can say this thesis was trivial (unlike most scholarship of course) and focusing on inappropriate topics (perhaps, but why?) or maybe sex is inherently political (ahh!). But can't Madonna's trangressions, whether deemed to be helpful or not, be seen as political statements, especially considering the continuation of the slut/virgin dichotomy in our society? And whatever your view of this particular thesis, it seems to me that our society's view of women, especially their public roles, is an important thing to look at, no?