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Women's Studies vs. Home Ec.

By Dan Cassino
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 4, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Dan Cassino

State Rep. Linda Gray, a Republican from Phoenix, is threatening to do away with the women's studies program at the UA, unless it gets more conservative.

It may seem like a good idea. If liberal women's studies professors are using the department as a soapbox for leftist ideas, maybe we should rein them in a bit.


Embarrassing as it is, this is one thing that the liberals got right. A conservative women's studies class wouldn't do anyone any good.

First off, a run-down on the complaints against the department.

Students in an English class cross-listed with women's studies had to go to Antigone Books to buy their required texts. They considered this a bad thing. But going to Antigone Books is an experience everyone should have. It's a cultural experience, a venture into a world far removed from most students' experiences. A place that has a unique perspective on life. A place that really likes "Xena: Warrior Princess."

These students weren't necessarily miffed that they had to go to Antigone Books, but rather, that they had to go to an off-campus bookstore. Maybe this is a problem. But there are solutions to it other than ruining a department.

Rep. Gray also took offense to a play called "The Vagina Dialogues," which was sponsored by the ASU women's studies department. Many departments at the university sponsor plays dealing with their subject matter. Apparently, Rep. Gray is upset that the women's studies department would consider sponsoring a play dealing with the concerns of women. What sort of play should they sponsor: "Anna and the King of Siam"?

The third, and biggest, complaint, is that the department is too liberal. It is. Women's studies is a very liberal department. In it, liberal teachers instruct liberal women in liberal philosophies. But women's studies can only function as a liberal department.

We're not real big liberals at the UA. But this department serves an important function. It reminds women, and all of us, that women are more than Barbie dolls. That they have ideas and concerns that fall outside of a male-dominated society. It reminds us that women are different from men.

This is the big function of women's studies. It cannot be met under a conservative department. We once had a conservative women's studies department. It didn't teach any leftist liberal ideologies or feminist authors. In fact, it taught exactly what Rep. Gray would like the women's studies department to teach: solid, conservative values. The importance of the nuclear family and of being a good mother. We called it home economics. And assuming we could find some conservative professors, we could have it again.

Maybe home economics is what we want. Graduates can do more than be housewives. They can go into rewarding careers as seamstresses, nannies or maybe secretaries.

So, some people find the current liberal women's studies department offensive. And we all find a conservative department unpalatable. Common sense would tell us that a compromise between the two is in order.

Unfortunately, compromise is worse than an extreme in this area. Any compromise would have to fall into one of two types.

The first type would be an agreement to leave the curriculum of the women's studies program as it is but have the department be a little less upfront about it. Maybe they shouldn't bring plays like "The Vagina Dialogues" to the university. Maybe they shouldn't have guest speakers come in. Rep. Gray still wouldn't like it, but at least she could ignore it. This compromise has no place in education. If we are embarrassed about what a department is teaching, we should confront the issue, one way or the other. Hiding issues because we are uncomfortable with them is contrary to the purpose of a university.

Any other compromise deal would involve putting some conservative doctrines in the women's studies curriculum. This is absurd. Can we teach a student that she is as good as anyone else, but stress the dominance of the man in marriage?

Compromises are impossible and the conservative plan would set us back to the Stone Age. I'm afraid that there is only one option left. As painful as it is to admit, there are a few things that liberals were right about.