Is Feminism Finished?

Jennifer Roback Morse
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Posted: Apr 02, 2007 11:18 AM

I hesitate to proclaim the death of feminism, since it seems to be alive in the public square. Men are still being persecuted on trumped up rape charges. Fathers are still being kept out of their children's lives. The abortion lobby is still whining about crisis pregnancy centers. But judging from my recent debate at the University of Virginia, I'd have to say there ain't much intellectual life left in the old feminist corpse. (You can read the text of my prepared remarks here.)

At the debate, sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, and the Network of Enlightened Women, I made the argument that the taxpayers of Virginia should not be asked to pay for the support of an ideological department that supports the political interests and activities of left-wing women. The taxpayers should equally fund a Men's Studies department, or a Life Studies Department, to provide gender and ideological balance to Women's Studies. My opponent, Amy Richards, co-founder of the Third Wave Foundation, did not dispute the claim that Women's Studies departments are ideological. Instead, she offered two defenses of Women's Studies. First, students who don't agree with the ideology can learn critical thinking by having their preconceived ideas challenged. Second, students who do agree with the ideology can feel good about themselves.

You don't need Women's Studies for the former objective: old-fashioned liberal arts distribution requirements served exactly that purpose. Students learn logical and critical thinking through philosophy, math and economics classes. And the second objective is not a legitimate aim of an academic department. Students shouldn't be going to classes to feel good about themselves.

The defender of Women's Studies made a couple of serious admissions. When a student asked why a particular class at the University of Virginia on gender differences was no longer cross listed in Women's Studies, the speaker demurred, saying she needed to know all the details. So I asked her directly: if a proposed class included Harvey Mansfield's Book, Manliness and Steven Rhoads' book, Taking Sex Differences Seriously in the curriculum, would you support its inclusion in the Women's Studies program? She said yes. I imagine this will be news to Professors Mansfield and Rhoads.

She argued that marriage was nothing more than a civil contract. I think she thought this was a devastating point in favor of an invent-your-own approach to marriage. So I asked her: should we enforce marriage like a real contract, and abolish no-fault divorce, which imposes no costs on spouses who renege on the most basic marriage responsibility of fidelity? She said she favored ending no-fault divorce. I told her I was glad to hear it.

Despite the lack of intellectual heft displayed at this debate in defense of Women's Studies, there are over 750 such programs around the country. Their left-wing graduates join the ranks of opinion-making and policy-making professions, including the media, academia, government, women's magazines, private foundations, the judiciary, and human resources departments. Wherever gender issues are discussed and decided, women's studies graduates play a dominant role, subsidized unwittingly by the tax dollars of janitors and cooks and cabdrivers and garbage collectors. It is time to end the One Party System of Gender Politics. It is time that conservative women as well as men of all political persuasions had a seat at that table.

Or, just shut down the Women's Studies Departments.