It is the end of the semester here at the large North American public university where I am an assistant professor, and I have some good news to share. We recently had our commencement ceremony and a (male) graduating senior and I were chatting about his experience as a philosophy major when he made the following comment: “In all the classes I took with you, you always included something from the feminist perspective or approach – even in your [freshman] class. I really like that approach. I really find it compelling. Once, after your philosophy of law class when we were discussing feminism, I sat in the quad and debated with my friend for like, five hours. And I said to my roommate as a freshman, when I was reading one of the articles you assigned, ‘Hey man, you’ve gotta read this. Did you realize every single philosopher we’ve studied up to now has been a white, economically privileged, able-bodied man?’ That totally blew my mind.”
Naturally, I was pleased, because I make a conscious effort to include this material, and I often get pushback in my student evaluations to the tune of “She has an agenda” or “She tries to push her views on you.” But you can’t mainstream something without surprising, and sometimes offending, a few people, can you?
After this particular interaction, I remembered that another one of my students, call him “D”, seemed to have had a full-on “conversion” over the past couple of years. He noted that before taking one of my classes two years ago, he “didn’t really think much of feminism,” and “didn’t think women really were oppressed.” By the following year, he stated that – and this is a direct quote “Catharine MacKinnon is my new hero.”
Finally, I just read a brilliant essay answer on the topic of Marilyn Frye’s classic piece “Oppression”. It was full of examples of women’s oppression, and showed an excellent sensitivity to the costs involved in resistance (including the possibility of retaliation, in the form of violence or other detrimental behavior). I was moved by the thoughtfulness of the writer. I was also sure the answer was written by a woman student.
So keep fighting the good fight. These young men are the next generation. And we can help open their eyes one person at a time.