Friday, April 13, 2007

I am a Pregnant Feminist

Today I stumbled across a student blog, wherein I was referred to, affectionately, as a "pregnant feminist." Mind you, I am not offended by this characterization; after all, it is quite accurate. But, in juxtaposition, to his description of my male colleagues, I am bemused. I am the pregnant feminist with heart, while my colleague SteveG is the smart and funny prof who talks about physics. Of course I am going to have to reflect on this. (Now I know the student is going to read this and perhaps be horribly embarrassed, but let me stress that I took your comments to be sincere, flattering and respectful).

I just can't help thinking about how easily it is to become the "pregnant feminist" professor. From one standpoint, it is almost an oxymoron, since rabid right wingers don't expect feminists to procreate. I recently got a flyer slipped under my door claiming that abortion was the worst genocide on the planet (and claimed more deaths than the Iraq war). So, from that point of view, it is good to be the pregnant feminist, if only to dispel the ridiculous stereotypes that feminists hate children.

But, then I am lead to muse on the emphasis that I am a feminist. While anyone who reads this blog and knows me personally is clear that I am a feminist, I have certainly never proclaimed my identity to be such in my Kant and the 19th Century course. Of course, the reason this student has correctly surmised that I am a feminist is most likely due to the fact that I included the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft, J.S. Mill and Elizabeth Cady Stanton on the course syllabus. I wanted to make clear that the 19th Century was not "owned" by male thinkers, and in fact what a century in which massive social and political shifts occurred, the abolition of slavery, the industrial revolution and worker's rights, and the beginning of the suffrage movement.

We have read: Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, Jeremy Bentham, Mary Wollstonecraft, Auguste Comte, J.S. Mill, Soren Kierkegaard, Karl Marx, C.S Pierce, William James, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Friedrich Nietzsche: that is two women and 10 men. But the ratio is just enough to mark my identity as a feminist. (Although this isn't quite fair, since probably the student in question figured out my feminist identity via my blog).

I am, rather, taking off from his description of me to muse, out loud, about how the other students in the class see me precisely because I am have introduced them to 18th and 19th Century texts on the education of women, equality of the sexes and the evil of sexist oppression. When we enter into these discussions in class, I wonder if the students think this is somehow extraneous to what is important about 19th Century Philosophy? (Those of you in the class, what do you think?)

If they do, it is surely a product of the irresponsible ways in which the canon of Philosophy has been constructed (see Mary Ellen Waithe's "On Not Teaching the History of Philosophy"), since without doubt women philosophers have existed since the inception of Philosophy and philosophical discussions on the equality of the sexes and the nature of oppression have long existed as well (see Waithe's 4 vol. anthology, History of Women Philosophers. Martinus Nijhoff.) Unfortunately, these conversations have to be reinvented almost every decade/century, since women's voices get marginalized, lost, left out, and thereby forgotten.

Hence, when I do my small part to reclaim some of these women in my History of Philosophy courses, I am "pregnant feminist."