Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Inside the gender studies classroom 

In the latest issue of Reason (a favorite of my good friend Margaret) Cathy Young discusses teaching gender studies from her "individualist feminist" perspective.
Perhaps the strongest feelings emerged from our reading of The Myth of Male Power, which turns many conventional feminist arguments on their head, highlighting the ways in which both traditional gender roles and modern feminism disadvantage men. Curiously, the all-female class I had last year was noticeably more sympathetic to Farrell�s arguments than this year�s mixed-gender class; it may be that in a mixed environment the women reacted more defensively to Farrell�s often critical view of female attitudes and behavior, while the men were reluctant to take his side for fear of appearing sexist.

The students� largely sarcastic reaction to The Myth of Male Power was partly a response to Farrell�s often hyperbolic complaints of male victimhood (e.g., his characterization of high school football as "male child abuse"), perceived by most as an attempt to one-up the "victim feminists." To some extent, however, it also showed a deep-seated discomfort with the idea of men laying claim to gender-based disadvantage.

This year, right on the heels of Farrell, we read excerpts from Peggy Orenstein�s book Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love, Kids and Life in a Half-Changed World, which supported some of Farrell�s claims: specifically, that many young women want to enjoy the fruits of equality but also see it as their prerogative to be financially supported if they want to give up, suspend, or scale down their careers when they have families, and that as a result women today have much more flexible options than men. Several of the women sheepishly admitted that this claim seemed much more plausible coming from Orenstein.
There's plenty more in the article; give it a good read.