Tuesday, September 9, 2008


So I was listening to the radio, and caught a bit of an interview with Stanley Fish, who's written a book called Save The World On Your Own Time, the premise of which appears to be that colleges and universities should focus on teaching how to critically analyze material and abstain from attempting to instill "moral character" in students.

The Fox News crowd has an argument that dovetails with this; that higher learning institutions are infested with radical liberals that are indoctrinating Your Kids to become flag-burning atheist gay-marrying abortionists or worse.

While I'm not as hysterical over it as the right, I think it's actually a valid claim. Fish himself seems to be fairly liberal, so it's interesting to hear him voice similar concerns (in what I think is a far more rational manner).

You may or may not agree. But if it's true that universities and the teachers that staff them are attempting to mold the moral and political shape of their students rather than simply giving them the tools to think critically (in a truly academic sense), it has some interesting implications for other things.

It got me thinking about some discourse by and about fangirl feminists. Much of the terminology (as well as the writing style of many bloggers) has an academic taste to it: "patriarchy", "privilege", "I'm not here to teach you Feminism 101"; there's a lot of terms used in these discussions that I, personally, have never heard used in common parlance, at least not in the way they're used in feminist discussions. And there's a good many of them that come off sounding young-ish, if not in writing style, then in the inflexible self-assuredness that comes from being young and knowing that your opinion about everything in the goddamn world is the one right and true opinion.

I don't really have an issue over it being right or wrong, but it makes me curious enough that I wish I could insta-poll the blogosphere and find out how the fangirls skew in age and education. A more esoteric poll would seek to find out where the roots of their feminist awareness lie; whether they came to certain conclusions on their own and did their own searching and analysis apart from academia, or whether it was spoon-fed to them by some professor with a mission. Certainly academia seems to have bled into the discussion regardless of the route taken.

If there is any fault in framing feminism in academic language, it's that the basic concepts ("Feminism 101", if you will) can be difficult to convey to those not familiar with the jargon, limiting the message's effectiveness if one insists on speaking in an academic manner.

In fact, the phrase "I'm not here to teach you Feminism 101" itself comes across (to me, at least) as somewhat condescending: you are not worthy of conversation unless you already understand (and stipulate to) certain core concepts. This bypasses any question as to whether the core concepts themselves are flawed; but aside from that, it's an odd sentiment coming from people that (you'd think) have a vested interest in communicating with (and convincing) other people.

Sure, if you only want to discuss things with other like-minded people, so as to reassure yourselves that your positions are flawless and beyond critique, you can take that route. Anyone who wants to spread their wisdom to others and have it not simply roll off like water on a duck's back should (I think) be very prepared to teach Feminism 101, or ANYism 101, for that matter. Everything is new to someone once, and maybe it's not your job to teach them, but who will teach them, if not you...?

No comments: