From Frontpage Magazine
Despite their vigilance in behalf of women’s rights in America and other Western nations, Women’s Studies Departments across the nation have been strangely passive in the face of the barbaric treatment of women in Islamic regimes. Numerous hours are spent in the classroom, dissecting the reasons for the ‘wage gap’ in America, violence against women and the ‘privileges’ accorded Caucasian males. But courses on the plight of women in Islamic regimes are strangely absent. Where there are a few courses that touch on Islamic women in Women’s Studies programs, the focus is often cultural and literary, while the abuses go unmentioned.
This failure to confront the abuse of women who live in Islamic countries stands in stark contrast to the mission statements of many Women’s Studies departments, which describe their focus as the inequality that women suffer in patriarchal societies. Thus the official mission statement of the Penn State Women’s Studies Department declares that “As a field of study, Women’s Studies analyzes the unequal distribution of power and resources by gender.” Why then does the Penn State department not offer a course analyzing the extreme inequalities that characterize the status of women in the Islamic world?
The article goes on to analyze the course offerings in Women’s Studies at eight universities. It concludes:
It is stunning that among the Women’s Studies departments of these eight prominent universities which openly declare that their missions are to analyze “unequal distribution of power and resources by gender” and to envision “a world free from sexism” there is only a single course on Women and Islam which speaks to these issues.
We ran this by a source who is well-informed on women’s studies in academia, and got this response.
The article is essentially accurate but also fails to understand the nature of women’s studies. It has always been biased toward the humanities (English, history, and philosophy). The social sciences are suspect due to our method (objective not intersubjective, to name one distinction). Thus, it is no surprise that “women in Islamic studies” is mostly literary/social history. Further, US women’s studies are often criticized as being ethnocentric. An occasional academic position in women’s studies will call for “Third World Women” expertise but this merely spotlights the “otherness” of non-Western women. One exception to this is that the texts for the intro to women’s studies course are always written by social scientists (in political science, sociology, psychology) and several new texts on my shelf are international/comparative in focus and the US is just one case.
So, post a rant against women’s studies as not toeing the Bush line against “rape rooms” and his mission of saving Afghani women. However, women’s studies would be the same, 9/11 or not. It is consistent. On the other hand, the women’s movement in the US is very engaged with Islamic women, to the extent that a raging critique of the feminist movement is on-going in women’s studies journals (the charge is that Ellie Smeal and her Feminist Majority Foundation’s project has orientalized Islamic women by focusing on the veil/burqa without understanding the non-oppressive cultural meaning).
Nothing about this response makes us think better of Women’s Studies departments. But we are inclined to agree that the Frontpage
article is really a bit of a cheap shot.
Labels: Academia, Colleges and Universities, Islam, Women Under Islam, Womens' Studies