The Fiamengo fiasco
On March 7, English Professor Janice Fiamengo delivered a lecture at the University of Toronto titled “What’s Wrong with Women’s Studies”? The lecture was hosted by a campus group called the Men’s Issues Awareness Society and sponsored by the Canadian Association for Freedom and Equality (CAFE). Predictably, Professor Fiamengo faced a campus conformity squad of radical feminists, and her lecture was almost derailed before it started when someone pulled the fire alarm. You can see the whole thing here.
She fared better, however, than men’s issues guru Warren Farrell, whose lecture at UofT on November 16, 2012 was picketed by some particularly vile feminist drones, who prevented a significant number of people from attending.
Militant feminism on university campuses is of course not a recent or unusual phenomenon, but I used to think it had reached its peak (or nadir) in the early 90s and would eventually subside. However, it seems that it has become more radical, even as feminism has become a pillar of establishment thinking in Canada, and there is nothing more dangerous than a political orthodoxy whose representatives believe they are under attack. (I do understand that this is exactly what feminists think of those who champion the rights of white males.)
I listened carefully to Professor Fiamengo’s talk, and I agree with almost everything she said. Feminism has become exceedingly dogmatic and dismisses vast realms of human thought and experience, replacing it with a Manichean worldview of good versus “the patriarchy.” As I see it, feminist criticism is flawed at root, and its growth in academia, and particularly in English programs, has provided shelter for a host of lesser critical ideologies, like post-colonial, black and queer studies (feminism being the Queen of them all). Of course, the study of gender, colonialism, race or sexuality in literature or elsewhere can lead to fruitful scholarship. Feminist criticism, however, is not really scholarship, but rather a form of political praxis. The same might be said of Right Scholarship (interpreted as scholarship of the political right), I know, but with Right Scholarship the scholarship comes first, and is bolstered and protected by political praxis. With feminist scholarship, the scholarship is often secondary, and the objects of study are usually uninteresting when not invested with political meaning.
One thing that never occurs to feminists: if the patriarchy is so all-powerful, maintaining control through both physical violence and disciplinary power/knowledge (Foucault), why did it let feminism rise to such heights of influence, so that now it may be said that feminism is the dominant discourse in our society? Was feminism really that strong, or was the patriarchy simply weak? Did the patriarchy feel its time was up, and choose death by feminism? Can it be said that behind every feminist stands a man who is not only letting it happen but also providing the impetus? Those are questions for another post, perhaps.
Some of the men’s rights supporters are a little hard to stomach. When I hear the word ‘equality,’ that’s when I reach for my, um, iPad, to compose a polemical blog post, and I think we must pay careful attention to the idea of equality that gets bandied about by men’s rights groups like CAFE. Men and women are qualitatively different, with different dispositions and different needs. Men and women flourish as human beings in often starkly divergent ways. Even under a pro-feminist political regime like ours in Canada, women still gravitate toward particular jobs, professions, and social roles by nature and not by force or inequality of opportunity. To demand quantitative equality among qualitatively different groups of people is an old ideological trick used to justify oppression. To achieve a 50/50 male/female split among engineers, for example, would require a draconian limit on the number of males allowed to enter Engineering programs. Anyone who supports employment equity must remember that when quotas used to be enforced regarding the number of Jews allowed in medical school, it was not because Jews were seen as students of lesser quality, but because it was feared that the percentage of Jewish doctors would exceed the percentage of Jews in the population at large. It was an employment equity measure. Let’s not play that game by creating a men’s movement modelled on feminism, demanding an impossible equality among men and women.
In any event, I encourage you to listen to Fiamengo’s talk and check out her blog at PJ Media. Readers of Right Scholarship (few as they are) will be especially interested in posts like “Manufacturing Racism: Academic Hiring and the Diversity Mandate,” “Captive Minds: Conformity and Campus Intellectuals,” and “Can the Humanities Be Saved?” Fiamengo does seem to like David Horowitz, whose motives I think are suspect, but we can forgive her for that. When you are facing so many enemies, you can’t be picky in choosing friends.