Feminist professors go ballistic when observers such as your humble correspondent report that the constituency they are appealing to finds women’s studies irrelevant, if not ridiculous.
“Does the typical woman graduating from college have the information she needs to make decisions that will improve her chances for long-term health and happiness?,” the Independent Women’s Forum’s Carrie Lukas asked in a recent column in The Washington Examiner. “Probably not.”
“Chances are she’s been given a lot of bad information– much of it in the name of political correctness.” Lukas, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism, will speak at an Accuracy in Academia event on the evening of June 6th from 6:00 until 7:30 PM.
Imagine how feminist professors feel when they hear the same thing from the girls they are trying to reach and teach. You don’t have to use your imagination, though. Just read the dispatch from the front lines of academia that appears in the latest Chronicle of Higher Education.
“As that distinction between feminisms suggests, a generational conflict is currently being played out on college campuses,” Suzanne Ferriss and Mallory Young write of the apparently raging controversy surrounding so-called ‘Chick Lit.'” For some of us who identify ourselves as feminist professors, the concerns of young women represent a betrayal, not only of our academic work, but of our life’s work.
“Why are they worrying about their appearance more than their education?” Ferriss is an English professor at Nova Southeastern University. Young is a professor of English and French at Tarleton State.
“Understandably embittered at the rejection of their most cherished ideals, many professors prefer to ignore or dismiss student’s concerns, and certainly prefer not to teach the literature they believe glorifies what they so strongly resent,” Ferriss and Young explain. “As for the students, they often start out bemused by their teachers, inexplicable bitterness and end up frustrated and disappointed.”
From their point of view, the choice between becoming, say, a neurobiological surgeon without kids or a pharmacist with a family is a very real one. And those are just the girls that sign up for the classes.
“The academic conflict between the second- and third-wave generations is by no means limited to literature departments,” Ferriss and Young report. “We hear laments about similar disagreements from colleagues and students in history, sociology, communications, and the sciences.”
But at a time when popular literature and culture of almost all forms have been accepted by the academy, the struggle is particularly apparent in the response to chick lit.
This is a genre that includes works such as Bridget Jones’s Diaryby Helen Fielding (1996). The novel became a popular film in which Renee Zelwegger played Bridget.
“Even the term ‘chick lit’ embodies the conflict: happily embraced by students, it grates annoyingly on the sensibilities of feminist professors, who see monikers like ‘chick’ as a way to demean women,” Ferriss and Young note. “As one student told us, her professor refused to use this term without making quotation marks in the air as she said it.”
“As members of an older generation of women ourselves, we do not generally identify with the chick-lit protagonists.”
Interestingly, the authors find, what the younger readers might be looking for in chick-lit is something feminist writers rarely produce- actual literature. For a sample of feminist literature, try reading some of Sandra Cisneros’ charming poetry about breaking beer bottles over the heads of barflies.
Chick lit, then, will do until genuine literature comes along but when the real thing arrives, Bridget Jones is gone. “In recent courses on classic women’s fiction and chick lit, our students came to a surprising conclusion: they overwhelmingly preferred the classic fiction,” Ferriss and Young conclude. “They weren’t completely certain if that was because of the older novels- intricate plots, subtle characterizations, memorable language or some other factor.”
But they were convinced that although chick-lit raises fascinating cultural issues, it can’t compete with the work of Jane Austen, the Brontes, Virginia Woolf, and Zora Neale Hurston. And most of their achievements predated modern feminism.
So why wait to get to the good part? Give Ellen Messer-Davidow a rest.
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia. For another take on modern feminism, come see Carrie Lukas, vice president of policy and economics for the Independent Women’s Forum, at AIA’s June 6th Pizza Party at Armand’s on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., starting at 6:00 PM.