Feminism is Dead? Nice Try Harry!

// 8 February 2008

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It’s time to strike an angry pose next to the mythical bra-bonfire, dear readers, because (yet again) the worn-out tableau of stinky old feminism finally crawling away under a rock to die is being presented in the vain hope that it might actually be true. This time, the claim is being fuelled by the apparent drop in Women’s Studies courses at British universities. The writer of the article, Harry Mount, is no stranger to this sort of rhetoric. Indeed, the last time I read one of his articles, he was lamenting the consequences of “feminist victory” and presenting the case for the so-called “übersexual” man over the “metrosexual” one.

But is he right that Women’s Studies courses are on the decline? Well, as far as I can tell, it looks like London Metropolitan may have stopped its undergraduate course in the subject but, seeing as it still offers post-graduate courses that look at forms of violence against women, I’d suggest feminism is far from dead at that particular British university.

The subject also doesn’t seem to have disappeared from the University of Oxford, Ruskin College and Lancaster University. In fact, seeing as there’s a Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies launch event happening at Lancaster University in June, I can only assume the university is not planning on killing off feminism just yet.

As Louise quite rightly points out, Women’s Studies is alive and well at British universities!

Another problem with Mount’s article is his breezy assertion that there is no need for feminism anymore:

The main feminist struggles have been won, and the more ludicrous ones – bra-burning, the insistence that all men are oppressors – have been quietly dropped.

Firstly, perhaps Mount needs to refer to the Male Privilege checklist from Barry Deutsch that Louise blogged about earlier today? Secondly, how many more times do we have to point out that the lazy bra-burning cliché that our detractors seem to hold so dear is only ludicrous because it’s actually a myth? Thirdly, the apparent “insistence” that all men are oppressors is actually emphatically rejected by a large number of feminists (as opposed to “quietly dropped”) and, more to the point, those of us who do reject that idea haven’t conveniently rejected feminism as a concept, along with it. “Why not?” is perhaps what Mount might ask, as he says:

I know no man under 40 who insists that his wife give up her job and cook him dinner every night. Who’s now surprised to have a female boss or a female doctor? And there’s not much point in studying, say, women’s politics rather than just politics, when a woman has been the most powerful Prime Minister ever.

If only the details that Mount focuses on here could truly be said to represent the whole story! Indeed, I have to admit to finding it slightly embarrassing that, even in 2008, there is still a need for feminism. Perhaps this is a clue towards why some students may not be attracted to Women’s Studies courses? (After all, you can hardly blame people for preferring to focus on how far we’ve come and deny the deeply frustrating problems that still exist.) Perhaps Mount genuinely believes we’ve made it. Then again, maybe he just hopes women will get complacent and that this will pave the way back to tradition. Either way, the idea that we have achieved equality seems, quite frankly, like bullshit to me.

Interestingly, Mount also points out that Women’s Studies is useless for “getting you a job.” Depending on where you want to work, I’d say there is sometimes a grain of truth to this one. Many workplaces are still sexist so it makes sense to suggest that a person with a highly developed and sophisticated view of inequality within society would, much like a trade unionist, be likely to be branded a troublemaker. (For the record, I’ve found my feminist activity to be well-received by employers but that’s because I know the sorts of places I want to work and actively avoid the ones that I reckon that would take a dim view of my viewpoint.) Either way, I’d say this reality is yet another reason why we need feminism to continue presenting a challenge the system.

Thanks to Louise for the following update:

Women’s Studies graduates tend to have higher rates of employment than other similar subjects because of the focus of Women’s Studies on reflection and skill identification combined with academic knowledge. They also have higher rates of meaningful work experience during their study because of the experience they are gaining on the course.

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