What Fresh Hell is This?
Marooned in women’s studies, grad student Eric Adler learns the women’s studies nod.

At first, the class was very entertaining indeed. It met in the women’s studies seminar room, a cozy chamber bedecked with drab posters championing a suitably multicultural array of women whose careers could bolster student self-esteem. One poster, for instance, lauded Anita Hill’s “courageous testimony before an entirely white, male Senate judiciary”-not, I submit, the kind of pedagogical tool one will find on the walls of other departments at Duke. The instructor also appeared to have a distinct interest in the emotional well-being of her students. At our first meeting she told us that each class would commence with an opportunity for class members to present announcements concerning women-friendly topics: upcoming lectures, stray comments on recent events, etc. As she smiled widely at the beginning of our first class-a smile so emotive it seemed dangerously close to tears-I scolded myself for fearing that the course might degenerate into a totalitarian nightmare.

And I couldn’t claim that I wasn’t learning anything. Only midway through a series of introductions each student was compelled to offer the other participants, I gleaned a feature of women’s studies classes as yet undetected by their critics-something I like to call the “women’s studies nod.” As each classmate blandly recited a few factoids about herself, the teacher and many of the other students-clearly more informed than I on matters of women’s studies decorum-began vehemently nodding their approval. These were not nods that merely relayed agreement. Rather, they appeared to have a psychological, almost spiritual, import, as if the nodders were saying, “I don’t simply agree with you, I support you.”

And the nods proved to be an almost universally appropriate response to classroom banter. When a student bemoaned the evils of patriarchy, the class responded with a round of “women’s studies nods.” When the professor hastily employed the phrase “subaltern counterpublic,” the students-as if they knew what that meant-offered another series of affirming nods. When the instructor informed us that, thanks to her family’s frank discussions of gender, her sons put their hair in pigtails and beg to wear dresses to their elementary school, those hip to women’s studies convention nodded even more fervently.

In fact, the nods were but one of the many features that rendered the class interaction so dissimilar to those of my other courses. I immediately realized that this was not a traditional academic environment. On the contrary, the class appeared to be a combination of romper room and an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. At our first session, the only other male in the class confessed that he, as a man, necessarily “oppresses” all women, adding that he was intrigued to have an opportunity to explore the ways in which he “doubly oppresses” all minority women. Another student, after offering a typically banal introduction, said that she desired to compose a master’s thesis on the subject of Chicano drag queens. When the professor queried her about this choice, she said that she had chosen the project because it wouldn’t require spending time in a library. No one else in the class seemed to find this remark noteworthy.
~Spring 2001

Where’s the Beef?
John Dizard carves up vegan feminism.

We guys watch James Bond to find out what would happen if the weird, tormented guy in the back of the class grew up to become a villain intent on world domination. Now, if we want to know what would happen if unhinged, underemployed, angry, female, English majors were to try and take over the world, we have The Sexual Politics of Meat.

Mind you, Carol Adams figured there’d be guys like me. Criticism, which she refers to as “textual violation,” is compared to rape (for feminist writers), or lynching (for black women writers). “A vegetarian writer may express feelings about textual violation by referring to images of butchered animals and raising the issue of dismemberment.”
~Winter 2000

Rapists Feminist Allies
Deidre Raver asks what is NOW doing in bed with these guys?

This past summer a seven-year-old girl was brutally raped by a fifty-seven-year-old deranged man who later told police he was infected with HIV. Lured to a secluded, abandoned building in the East New York section of Brooklyn, the man raped and sodomized the girl. Her brother, meanwhile, was beaten, tied up, and forced to witness his sister’s rape. After the man’s arrest, the defendant refused to be tested for the AIDS virus by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office. Incredibly-but not unusually-his refusal to take the test was permitted.

Under New York’s privacy laws-as well as those of many other states-a person accused of rape cannot be involuntarily tested for the AIDS virus until he is convicted of the crime. For a rape victim like the little girl in Brooklyn, that can mean months of waiting in fear for her own test results.

Surprisingly, the feminist organizations that have worked hard to make rape a prominent women’s issue, vowing that they will “no longer be silent” about this most despicable of crimes, are uncharacteristically silent when it comes to defending victims against HIV-infected rapists. . . .

NOW’s opposition to HIV testing is symptomatic of its approach to rape in general. NOW and feminist groups against violence tend to view rape as a social disease rather than a criminal act. Because they believe that most men are capable of sexual assault, it follows that they believe rapists are not intrinsically worse than most men.

These groups have therefore traditionally lobbied for solutions like “education” and “crime prevention” rather than stiffer punishments for serious sex offenders. These programs also have the added benefit of steering millions of dollars of public funding into the coffers of their organizations rather than into, say, prisons. . . .

This multi-million-dollar focus on education, at the expense of punishing and incarcerating offenders, will ultimately punish the victims-and not just the victims of rape.
~Autumn 1996