Please note that my response has no connection to any of the departments that I address in this article; this is only a response to the piece posted earlier in the Daily Nexus.
The feminist studies department at UCSB is a distinguished division of the humanities sector of our university. Feminist studies here is a field of discipline that provides an interdisciplinary form of teaching, as it addresses methods of sociology, history, political science and economics in order to allow students to fully grasp the ways in which our society denies access to equality from certain groups of people. The Department of Feminist Studies at UCSB is also home to the LGBTQ minor, which allows queer and allied students of UCSB to go into more detail within their studies on the oppression of LGBTQIA+ people who oftentimes suffer from the same structures of power that serve to oppress women. This department offers not only undergraduate majors and minors, but also M.A. and Ph.D. programs at the graduate level.
In his article, “The Failure in Feminist Studies,” a male student at UCSB challenges the fact that A.S. passed a resolution to back the formation of a G.E. requirement for gender and sexuality courses. Besides opposing the necessity of teaching social inequalities that women and queer people face on a daily basis, this student has also proposed that “we should be questioning why they are taught at all.” Backing up his argument with a slew of uncredited examples — which are all questionable in the way he supports his argument — and also with his experiences in a single introduction feminist studies course he took two years ago (which he also does not list), this student has challenged the significance of an entire field of study that is important to many students on this campus. To discredit an entire department based on his unsolicited and uncredible opinion that feminist studies does not provide “unbiased academic analysis,” is not only ridiculous, it is also ignorant to the fact that the queer theory class he criticizes is part of a completely different field than the quantum theory he chooses to study. Objectivity and subjectivity are both needed in order to fully comprehend how humans function within society.
Through a “scientifically” based argument that he formed after only taking one class in the entire department, this student has argued that feminist studies, which has been a field of discipline for decades, should not be taught due to these various reasons: The University should be aloof from politics and feminist studies is a field rooted in politics, feminist studies has a biased academic analysis by addressing issues such as “male privilege” and feminist studies is not scientific and lacks objectivity. To be so invested in how science and the scientific method is the true frontier of all collegiate studies, but simply use the basis of one class to influence his view on an entire field of study seems to be, in itself, unscientific. He tries to back up his arguments by proposing studies of people and monkeys, and claims that science has had a more “tangible improvement in the quality of life for women (and men) worldwide than academic feminism ever has.” Also, to say that our school is apolitical is a gross ignorance of how our own school has been invested in things like the prison industrial complex and supporting companies who fund weaponry to the Israeli government occupation in Palestine.
To say scientific studies in general have benefitted women is a gross ignorance and denial of how women have been oppressed in the name of science. Sterilizing women for birth control, eugenics, defining queer people and women as mentally ill through psychological studies and racism justified by biased biological and anthropological studies are just a few instances of how sciences have served to oppress and limit women, rather than help them, as he argues. Also, to claim that feminism has had less of a positive effect on women than science is quite puzzling, as science has always been a field of study that women have been discouraged from by our society, and many of the rights that women have today — such as abortion and suffrage — were fought for by feminists.
Here is an annotation of various sources to emphasize how science, which has definitely brought vast improvements to the lives of people through discoveries in medicine and engineering, has also served as a means of oppressing women in various ways, including violating their bodies.
These are two articles — one peer reviewed, one not — on the government-funded sterilization of Latina women through the basis of eugenics, a concept of superiority rooted in biological racism.
This is a post by an anthropology professor detailing the ways in which biological anthropology has undeniably been used to justify racism.
These are articles detailing the struggles women face in trying to prosper in a field dominated by men whilst fighting, struggling to gain equal opportunities for work and pay. Much of this has to do with how social constructs of gender limit people, which challenges how the student dismisses the importance of how society constructs gender.
These articles discuss how women and queer people have been discriminated against by psychological research with sexism and homophobia being deeply rooted into concepts of hysteria and gender dysphoria as mental illnesses.
As a feminist studies major who has taken multiple courses within feminist studies, black studies, history and sociology, I recognize that our studies do not focus on theories denying objectivity; rather, they focus on the intersectionality of gender, race and class, and the history of the United States, a country where social justice and equality were not granted, but rather fought for by the oppressed.
Humanities and social sciences are not objective in the way that subjects such as biology are, because it is important to recognize that learning about how to gain equality for people requires a different form of fieldwork than finding out if the mitochondria is really the powerhouse of the cell. To say that all of these fields need to produce work through or operate under the scientific method is completely ignorant of the fact that not every subject within academia is a science. Also, it makes little sense to criticize the presence of politics in subject areas rooted in studying how politics shaped the history and culture of the United States. History is also a field that is not objective, the same history can be taught through various lenses, and the depictions of the same history will change depending on where it is taught and who it is taught by. Literature classes are also often subjective, asking students to evaluate and analyze readings through their own lens to appreciate the art form that is writing.
Feminist studies is not the only discipline that may have subjectivity in mind when conducting research. As I have stated before, anthropology, psychology and biology have been used to justify racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and eugenics. However, only feminist studies and other majors within humanities get targeted for being “biased” in academia. Much of the bias, as this student has also discussed in his article, is there to address the ways in which education itself has been taught through a Eurocentric and male-oriented lens. To not challenge these institutions that are rooted and situated within our own forms of academia is, in itself, not objective. Our society will always have an inherent bias favoring men, straight people and white people; to deny this fact is to deny that we have been taught in a way that gives privilege to some groups over others.
Subjectivity also does not affect important feminist studies topics such as male privilege, because it has been proven time and time again that men are granted access to certain privileges that women do not have in the same way that white privilege oppresses people of color. To deny that, especially from a male position, is very much the subjective position as it is easy to deny that certain forms of oppression exist when they are not directly affecting you. Feminist studies often calls upon subjectivity in responding to societal injustices; however, that does not mean research conducted by feminists is biased or not objective. To say so is a fallacy, and feminism has always been challenged by ignorant people who think that women are ruled by emotion and that subjects their logic to inaccuracy. When you devalue a field, you are also devaluing the scholarship of everyone who has contributed to it.
The most fascinating thing to me is that a white male student challenging the need for a feminist studies department, while also denying the existence of “male privilege in groups,” seems to very much be exemplifying the exact concept he is challenging. Also, using a study about monkeys to claim that gender is part of nature, without addressing how gender roles contribute to the oppression of women in science fields, is not only a reach, but an incomplete argument. This student also insists that because trans people resist socialization, the effects of socialization are moot, as he claims that trans people in their resistance prove social constructs aren’t true. The main point of social constructs is that they are invalid, but they serve to have real life effects on people, such as how trans people are seen as “inauthentic.”
I would also argue that science is a field that is actually unchallenged, and the idea that science and objectivity should be able to trump an entire field of study shows how we prioritize science over humanities. A department that occupies one floor of a building will not demolish the reputation of a science based school, especially considering that our campus is building a new structure for engineering when feminist studies take up so little space that they often have to be taught in life science, chemistry or other science buildings.
To be strictly objective in humanities means ignoring the fundamental aspect that people living in a society will not always adhere to science and logic, as societal influence, human consciousness and “nurturing” will also have dominating effects on people. While objectivity is important to academia, academia must also stretch beyond education into our lives to create change within the societies we live in. To restrict education to solely objective scientific research limits people who exist in a society much more complex than just the subjects of within science.
Science is important; as a society we already know that. However, the justification of humanities has always been denied and challenged by people who do not see its importance within a human society that extends far beyond what science can explain on its own. The function of general education classes is to allow people to extend beyond their seemingly monolithic forms of study into other theories and fields that can expand their knowledge of themselves and the world around them.
As a former biology major who also used to believe that science formed the basis of the world, after taking a diverse array of G.E. classes and switching majors, I can now see that the Earth reaches far beyond its mantle and core; as people who live on it we need both humanities and science, objectivity and subjectivity to fully understand everything there is to know. These categories do not have to be binaries, because no form of study is ever actually exceptional or unique. It is essential to learn multiple forms of study, as everything is interconnected just like the matter that we are comprised of.
Dear author of “The Failure of Feminist Studies,” you cannot reduce how much feminist studies matters as a discipline simply because of an opinion, one rooted in the subjectivity you so easily challenge in your own piece. It seems the only thing “laughably misnamed” is your article itself, as feminist studies has never failed me; it has only championed complex narratives that address multitudes of disciplines, allowing students and scholars in our field to comprehend the world around us in a way that science by itself cannot even begin to interpret.
P.S. Also, someone is bound to play devil’s advocate on the importance of citation since I emphasized that, so yes, I did co-opt Pay Mon’s article title: “White Fragility at UCSB,” because I felt that these issue were connected (especially since they are both responses to the same person).