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Toward A Woman Centered University

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 2 months ago

Adrienne Rich:  TOWARD A WOMAN-CENTERED UNIVERSITY (1973)

The hidden assumptions on which the university is built comprise more than simply a class system.  In a curious and insidious way the ‘work’ of a few men—especially in the more scholarly and prestigious institutions—becomes a sacred value in whose name emotional and economic exploitation of women is taken for granted.  The distinguished professor may understandably like comfort and even luxury and his ego requires not merely a wife and secretary but an au pair girl, teaching assistant, programmer, and student mistress; but the justification for all this service is the almost religious concept of ‘his work.’ (Those few women who rise to the top of their professions seem in general to get along with less, to get their work done along with the cooking, personal laundry, and mending without the support of a retinue.)   In other words, the structure of the man-centered university constantly reaffirms the use of women as means to the end of male ‘work’—meaning male careers and professional success.  Professors of Kantian ethics or Marxist criticism are no more exempt from this exploitation of women than are professors of military science or behavioral psychology.  In its very structure, then, the university encourages women to continue perceiving themselves as means and not as ends—as indeed their whole socialization has done…

I have described the kinds of ad hoc teaching that might take place under university auspices.  As a research institution, it should organize its resources around problems specific to this community; for example, adult literacy; public health; safer, cheaper, and simpler birth control; drug addiction; community action; geriatrics and the sociology and psychology of aging and dying; the history and problems of women and those of people in nonwhite, non-middle-class cultures; urban (or rural) adolescence; public architecture; child development and pediatrics; urban engineering with the advice and consent of the engineered; fold medicine; the psychology, architecture, economics, and diet of prisons; union history; the economics of the small farmer—the possibilities would vary form place to place.  The ‘community’ is probably a misleading term.  In act, more large urban universities have man communities.  The ‘community’ around Columbia University, for example, is not simply black and Puerto Rican, but white middle-class, poor and aged, Jewish, Japanese, Cuban, etc.  A sympathetic and concerned relationship with all these groups would involve members of the university in an extremely rich cluster of problems.  And the nature of much research (and its usefulness) might be improved if it were conceived as research for, rather than on, human beings…

It is likely that in the immediate future various alternatives will be explored.  Women’s studies programs, where they are staffed by feminists, will serve as a focus for feminist values even in a patriarchal context.  Even where staffed largely by tokenists, their very existence will make possible some rising consciousness in students.  Already, alternate feminist institutes are arising to challenge the curriculum of established institutions.  Feminists may use the man-centered university as a base and resource while doing research and writing books and articles whose influence will be felt far beyond the academy.  Consciously woman-centered universities—in which women shape the philosophy and decision making though men may  choose to study and teach there—may evolve from existing institutions.  Whatever the forms it may take, the process of women’s repossession of ourselves is irreversible.  Within and without academe, the rise in women’s expectations has gone far beyond the middle class and has released an incalculable new energy—not merely for changing institutions but for human redefinition; not merely for equal rights but for a kind of being.   

toward woman centered univ.doc 

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