An Open Issue
Women's studies, like any not-quite-accepted area, has always occupied a rather tenuous position here. There are few enough courses taught by women, much less focused on them, and the courses on women and feminism that are offered are nearly always oversubscribed. But the recent disclosure that a Currier House seminar taught by Ruth Hubbard '45, professor of Biology, decided not to admit males raises new questions, ones that could endanger any hope of establishing serious discussion of women's issues in all traditional disciplines.
No one can blame Hubbard alone for the class's decision to limit the enrollment to women. Her desire to allow students to determine the focus of the course, giving them a choice between an impersonal study of women and biology, and a course examining women's personal experiences in the sciences--a course effectively excluding men--was an effort to allow students to participate in shaping their education, and should not be criticized in itself. The problem lies in the decision by feminists in the group effectively force out the three male students who showed up at the first meeting by stating bluntly they would not take the course if there were men in it.
All of the students involved in the discussion say it was an extremely open one, with everyone putting in his or her two bits for group consideration. Finally, each of the men withdrew of their own accord, and Hubbard offered to teach them the same material through independent studies. In effect, the group resolved the issue by settling for a 'separate but equal' policy in academics.
Had the group formulated course prerequisites in terms of background in feminist literature, it would be hard to object to an all-women seminar if only the women had that background. But it didn't. The prerequisite, pure and simple, was the personal experience of being female, a move that denied admission to a great majority of Harvard's population.
That kind of separatism in academic studies could become extremely dangerous. While we sympathize with and support women's desire to be together without men present--particularly in the male-dominated Harvard community--the brand of feminism that entirely excludes men from studying issues concerning women's experiences insures that men will never understand the feminist perspective, nor respect women's studies. Some of the women now in the course say that only by limiting the seminar to women could it advance beyond the general survey level of most women's studies courses at Harvard, an argument that expresses their frustration with Harvard's attitude toward women's studies.
But serious discussion of any issue, at least in academic terms, should include as many perspectives as possible, and denying men admission to formal courses is intellectually dishonest. If one of the purposes of women's studies is to change general attitudes toward women's roles, it is senseless to deny men--just under half of the world's population--a chance to reevaluate their ideas. Women hold up half the sky, but only half; and if there is to be any change in women's position in society, it will require a new consciousness on the part of both sexes.
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