Monday, August 25, 2008

'known in the darkest clubs for pushing ahead of the dames'

(Image: The Women's Studies course in question.)

Roy Den Hollander, an "anti-feminist" lawyer from Manhattan, who has previously sued nightclubs for offering ladies' nights, is now suing Columbia University for offering women's studies courses, based on the argument that they use government aid to preach a “religionist (sic) belief system called feminism.” He's also trying to have parts of the violence against women act declared unconstitutional. All of this to protect us "guys", who have "been raked over the coals by females and this culture." Columbia has given no comment. Probably a good idea.

If you read the suit, (and really, why would you?) you'll see that he's making the old argument that if one really, really believes anything, it becomes a "religion". Admittedly, most academic disciplines suffer from holding certain unquestioned beliefs, and women's studies is certainly no exception. But, by framing the issue in such an idiotic way (seriously, does anyone honestly believe that women's studies classes are akin to religious rituals, like the Temple of Doom, with co-eds ripping out the hearts of frat boys before a statue of Gloria Steinem?), he's made it impossible to take any of his critiques seriously. This is not a serious lawsuit, and it shouldn't be taken seriously. He's not a serious person.

And this is exactly the sort of anti-academic drivel that makes academics so prickly about the much-needed critiques of their own disciplines. Academics could all stand to be much more self-critical, myself included. Good lord, it can be a stifling discipline! I'm all for letting some light in and fighting the sort of lock-step thinking that grows in those little Petri dishes known as university departments. But academics won't become more self-critical because the know-nothing party rants and raves at them from the bleachers.


The Pagan Temple said...

I won't comment on the merits of the lawsuit, or lack thereof, but I kind of see his point about the idea of the "religion" quality of not just the feminist group, but of a good many movements. "Cult-like" might be a better way of putting it.

It requires a certain adherence to dogma, and often revolves around a figurehead whose word is more or less revered. So I see where he's coming from, but I don't think it's a valid point for a lawsuit.

After all, you could make the same claim about science, psychology, or even the legal and medical professions, to an extent. They all contain their orthodoxies, their dogmas, a code of ethics to which one is absolutely expected to adhere, etc. Any variance from said orthodoxies is viewed oftentimes as "heretical" and can lead to "excommunication", and so on.

There used to be a guy that used to be a rabid anti-feminist, who would appear on all the talk shows. He would always wear a skirt. Not a kilt, mind you, but an actual woman's skirt, and he had a full beard.

He would always say he had a constitutional right to wear women's clothes and do anything else women did, just like women demand to-well, I guess you get the picture.

He was hilarious, but he always looked pissed off. I think that was probably the funniest thing about him, in fact.

Holly said...

Can we back up just a little and discuss in more detail how science is like a cult? Because I'm not totally clear on how, say, the function of gravity or light or whatever is existing through force of belief. The laws of thermodynamics aren't called laws because Newton said them, and all hail Newton...

If you're talking about communities of (for instance) scientists, I could see this argument functioning, but ANY social order can function as a religion does, and not all of them DO, or we wouldn't know the difference.

Is there a masculinist movement? I'm going to guess no, because masculinist makes my spell checker angry. Let's start one.

The Pagan Temple said...

Well, some people would say the "patriarchy" is kind of cultish (a word that is making my spell-checker angry), I guess. But yeah, I was talking about the communities, not the inherent realities we all know. One plus one is always going to equal two. But then again, all cults are based on kernels of truth, to a point.

Politics is another example of cult like adherence to orthodoxy in the form of political parties. Some people will tell you that communism is a religion, for example, albeit a materialistic based one.

Rufus said...

I think that all communities can become exclusive and a bit cultish. And, I agree that political movements seem to be particularly vulnerable to that. But, for me, there's a difference between saying that a group is a bit cultish and saying that they now constitute a religion without actually knowing it. This is why I'd imagine the lawsuit will be thrown out.

I don't know about masculinism, but there are "men's rights" groups that are seeking to overcome the oppression that men face in America. But, if the worst example of "oppression" they can come up with is that some bars have ladies' nights, who needs them? To be honest, they seem like wimps to me. Actually, it's a whole other can of worms to open, but I'm pretty skeptical that American society can be sweepingly characterized as "patriarchal" either. Of course, it certainly has its patriarchal pockets and people- especially in religious communities. And they tend to be more onerous than bars holding ladies' nights.

I guess the biggest question I have would be if feminism is esentially cultural or political, and also whether the courses are cultural or political. Not that it makes much difference in terms of the lawsuit because I still don't get the impression that the courses are rooted in religious beliefs. But, to be honest, the extent of my knowledge of these departments is that they tend to be interdisciplinary- hence the "studies" in the title.

The Pagan Temple said...

Complaints about bars having ladies nights are wildly misplaced. I don't think there would be valid claims to any kind of lawsuit over something like that. That's a private business decision. As long as no one is being unfairly barred or discriminated against, that would be like suing gay bars, or Goth bars, for catering to a specific crowd, which they do all the time on a regular basis, not just one night a week.

Feminist studies in a university might only be problematic if they are teaching feminism as a dogma, as something that you have to adhere to and believe in. Then it crosses the line from studying the movement and its potential long term impact, to a demand for obedience to a particular philosophy.

It's like somebody teaching evolution in schools. No one really insists that you believe in the theory of evolution, and really, how can they make you believe in something anyway? The point is they expect you to be familiar with the theory, know and understand the basis for it and the evidence that supports it.

Feminist studies is a similar I guess. They want students to be familiar with the social and political forces behind it, not necessarily to agree with all aspects of it.

By the way, that's a cool picture. I might steal it from you at some point.

Holly said...

In my experience, the best professors do not use a lot of "Some people believe..." or "One theory is..."

They use a lot of "The situation is this."

That's dogmatic. That is how feminism is taught, because the people who teach it aren't lukewarm about it.

A long time ago, I investigated St. John's College in Annapolis, and was told that there was an outcry that the women formed a women's coffee hour discussion group thing, so the men declared that they had issues to discuss as well, and established the men's milk & cookies hour discussion group. Not long after that, both groups decided that if everyone stayed on topic, the groups would be open to anyone of any gender who wished to attend. That struck me as a good thing.

Rufus said...

I do agree that the best professors are passionate about what they believe in. I suppose I don't consider it to really be dogmatic unless they are completely unwilling to entertain other points of view. And people like that really don't belong in a university teaching position anyway.

Admittedly, there are some things that are not really up for debate, such as the existence of gravity. But, when it comes to... well, issues of debate, intellectual life requires hearing each other out.

So, I can definitely see where a course wouldn't go well if you were required to hold specific opinions just to function in the class. But I also don't see a problem with people having passionate opinions.