Feminism/Non-Violence: Feminsits vs. Scholars Discussion/March 1998


>From Linda Grant DePauw Minerva Center MinervaCen@aol.com 05 March 1998


[Ed. Note: This discussion is an off-shoot of original Feminist and Non-Violence query by Linda Grant DePauw.]

Thanks to everyone who responded to my query on this subject [Feminists and Non-Violence]. What I have learned is that there is, indeed, a great variety among self-identified feminists. I thought list subscribers might be interested in a final word on the subject from my home institution, The George Washington University.

A conference titles, "Activism and the Academy: Ongoing Dialogues" will be hosted at GWU on March 27-28, cosponsored by human sciences, women's studies and American studies programs together with the departments of English and Anthropology. The graduate student who is the conference coordinator makes a distinction between feminists and academics. She is quoted in the "Hatchet ", the school newspaper, as saying, "There is a huge difference between feminists and scholars. It is a difference between being on the street and sitting in an office doing schoolwork."

Responses:

From Noreen T. O'Connor noreen@gwu.edu 05 March 1998

I'm one of the organizers of the Activism and the Academy conference which will be held here at the George Washington University on March 27-28. Although I'm not the one who was interviewed for our school paper, I do have a sense of what my colleague Rachel Reidner (who was interviews) thinks of "feminism" and "activism" issues, especially in regards to the conference. I think the quote that the Hatchet writer used and that Dr. DePauw quoted for us here is probably out of context and too simplified.

From our contacts with a wide range of people putting together the conference, we've found there are definitely feminist activists and feminist academics and activist academics and more ranges of identities in between than you might think. We are trying to open a dialogue that we hope will be useful on this topic at the conference (which includes many feminist activists but also many people involved in other types of activism as well). I'd like to encourage people to attend! Our program is available at http://www.gwu.edu/~activism Best regards.

From Kathy Bates k1bayes@aol.com 05 March 1998

...I think your graduate student colleague is frustrated with what can be seen as feminist scholarly "chat" and the lack of committed "political" activity this might suggest. But does political have to be - visible in public - "on the street?"
I think feminist resistance comes in many forms.

I see another side: Academics leave their offices. The feminist professors (in English, History, Women's Studies, Philosophy) who are teaching me (a graduate student in history) teach students who go on to be teachers themselves in primary and secondary education. Some are activists in a local feminist bookstore, one makes feminist films about local groups (her film about the experiences of women involved in very patriarchal, anti-abortion religious groups is hair raising!), and others are involved in lesbian community issues.

They're teaching me -a former clerical worker who plans to use her history degree to clarify some issues that involvement in labor issues has raised for me. Is there really such a "great wall" between all feminist scholars and feminists "on the street?"

From Ruby Rohrlich rohrlich@gwis2.circ.gwu.edu 07 March 1998

I think it is very possible to be both a feminist and an activist. I personally know many women and some men who are both.

From JoAnne Thomas x93thomas2@wmich.edu 07 March 1998

Re: Linda Grant DePauw's quotation from the conference coordinator...

I am quite disturbed by the ivory tower sentiments suggested here, While academics do spend a great deal of time in the office, we also have "street" lives and relationships, not to mention the way the "street" finds its way into our careers and academic relationships. A case in point is Heide Campbell-Shoaf's experience as a first year graduate student when her historiography professor couldn't imagine why studying women might be interesting or important...Indeed, as a masters student I had a well-meaning professor call me a "girl historian" (I was 40) and reassure me that I need not try to compete with the male graduate students--in a year in which I won the departmental writing award and delivered papers at two national conferences. There are feminists and non-feminists in all job descriptions. Very real faces and lives exist behind academic work; to categorize academic's political and social activism by their intellectual work is meaningless.

From J. H. Raichyk MRaichyk@aol.com 09 March 1998

...This is addressed to the issue of the distance between feminists on the street and those in academia. Having worked both sides of this line, I feel less animosity but I have to point out several instances where I feel that the academic feminists have let the street down badly. Whether this is because of fear-induced myopia or some other kind of battle fatigue I don't know, but these points will drive the wedge deeper as they become more widely realised. It would be much better for group cohesion if these issues were addressed by both sides together, so here are the problems I've seen:

In the area of employment opportunity, I attended a presentation by a sociologist who detailed the means currently being employed by top management to exclude women from their ranks...namely their work is too important to the success of the company to be jeopardized by having to deal with women, since these issues make them uncomfortable. The academic simply did not see the implications for the street folks. Would you encourage your daughter to pursue her dreams of success in that world, isn't her life worth more than another drop in the statistical bucket? The fact that these men are knowingly bringing into the inner circle more men who see things their way says that her generation is being used as cannon fodder in this struggle for equity, if we continue down the road we've been travelling.

This is not an isolated example. There's data available, analyses coming from gov't tallies, and other think tanks that say the number of *good* jobs in the corporate world over the next 15-20 years will be substantially less than the number of graduates the schools are producing. (See _Shell Games: Corporate America's Agenda for Academia_), and this is known to groups who purport to advise young women. Yet these groups are still encouraging young women to continue down the same old path, when they will be distinctly disadvantaged...when these young women want to have children, the competition/availability problem will crush any chances they had hopes for. We should be giving them better, more realistic guidance. Maybe the street group needs to speak up.

Which brings us to the other problem. The current textbooks used in college classes that study childhood development have a political blindspot that the street folks sense or fear but they won't be inclined to track down the original research (_Children at Home & in Daycare_Clarke-Stewart, Gruber, and Fitzgerald). If they did, they'd discover that the high marks given to quality daycare are pure *spin*, that the actual results are more consistent with the conclusions Israeli researchers came to several years back...namely the children in daycare from a young age or for more than 20 or so hours per week grow up to be more distant from their families and have more problems in intimate relationships than those who are home-raised. (_Twenty Years Later_, Rabin and Beit-Hallahmi.) These are very clearly problems that plague our society and we're ignoring the evidence while the American research even has indications that these problems will get progressively worse if we don't reverse the course.

Will we continue till there's a backlash? We don't have to! There's clearly a better alternative. We, in our academic roles, can provide young women (and young men) the opportunities to learn how to create their own work so they can build as much or as little of any option that suits them. In our street roles, we can support and organize networks for them to tap into as they pursue their individual forms of self-employment. I've tried the former and found it enthusiastically accepted (at least as much enthusiasm as student life allows.) I'm working on the latter as well and will be passing along results as it develops.

With this change in strategy, women could dramatically alter our landscape in a very brief period of time. At the very least we should be more open with them about the forecasts and analyses. Dealing in propaganda, academic or streetside, is no service to our daughters or our sons. I look forward to exploring these issues within our group and hope we can flesh out a better strategy than our current direction. You can also write me directly...Thanks.

From Michelle Kilbourne kilbournemme@conrad.appstate.edu 09 March 1998

Re:...>I am quite disturbed by the ivory tower sentiments suggested here.<

Me too, but for a different reason. That is, sometimes the university IS the street. Certainly, there is a lot of activism necessary both in and out of the classroom. For example, male and female students who want to know why we spend "so much time" on women. A male colleague who said less than two years ago that the department had "never had any good women [who are] historians." Administrators who met with male and female students to discuss rapes on campus and spent the entire session implying that women were "asking for it" by focusing on what women should or should not do to avoid being raped. Continued inequities in pay, perks, and so forth, despite recent increases for women. I could go on. And on. For pages.