I’m re-reading Professing Feminism, by Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge. It’s become a new talking point and favorite with the anti-feminism crowd, which makes me laugh a little. I first read it years ago, in the ’90s. It was part of the foundation for my involvement with the original Butterflies and Wheels. I’m friends with Daphne Patai.
It’s not an attack on feminism. It’s about women’s studies programs, not feminism as such. The two are not identical, to put it mildly. There is (ironically) a lot of anti-intellectualism in women’s studies programs, and that’s what the book is about.
One sentence raised a question I often think about, and suggested a new (to me) way of framing it.
What needs to be investigated is whether students are at all receptive to reasoned arguments against the basic tenets of their own framework or, to the contrary, have learned to deploy various criticism-deflecting strategies in an effort to keep their acquired ideas inviolate. [p 176]
The part I think about is which basic tenets we mean.
Put it this way. Say the most basic tenet of all is that people should be treated as equals – the translation of the Declaration of Independence’s “all men are created equal.”
I think it’s easier for me (for example) to be receptive to reasoned arguments against that tenet than it is to be receptive to reasoned arguments against the tenet that women are not
equal inferior to men, perhaps especially when the reasoned arguments come from men.
I bet you can see what I’m getting at already.
It’s easier to have a calm disinterested “reasoned” discussion of abstract issues than it is to have one that has to do with one party thinking the other party is inferior and subordinate.
Just for one thing, if one party is inferior and subordinate then how can both parties have a reasoned discussion? A reasoned discussion takes place between equals, not between innate superiors and their innate subordinates. A discussion like that assumes equality. Not equality of knowledge or intelligence, but just plain equality.
I think it would be hard to do. I think it would be very difficult to be receptive to reasoned arguments that I am inherently, because a woman, inferior and subordinate, coming from people who argue that they are, because men, inherently superior. I think the same applies if you substitute other, similar categories – race and all the rest of them.
I think, in a way, that’s an idea that people need to keep “inviolate” in order to thrive or flourish. It’s a very very difficult tenet to treat as negotiable or even subject to reasoned arguments against it.