Posted on | July 23, 2014 | 27 Comments
“Can it be valid to conceptualize ‘girls’ as having certain personal attributes universally in common, except perhaps their youth relative to women? In grappling with this question, we need not to lose sight of the fact that, however different, girls’ actions are oriented toward the same or similarly structured objects that construct their bodies’ social meanings, values, and challenges as gendered. . . . Social rules and practices surrounding menarche construct gender as a principle both for division of labor and for compulsory heterosexuality, thus constituting girls in a relation of growing vulnerability to boys’ and men’s appropriation.”
– Susan Laird, “Befriending Girls as an Educational Life-Practice,” Philosophy of Education, 2002
“It has been the political policy of lesbian feminists to present ourselves publicly as persons who have chosen lesbian patterns of desire and sensuality. Whether as individuals we feel ourselves to have been born lesbians or to be lesbians by decision, we claim as morally and politically conscious agents a positive choice to go with it: to claim our lesbianism, to take full advantage of its advantages. This is central to our feminism: that women can know their own bodies and desires, interpret their own erotic currents, create and choose environments which encourage chosen changes in all these; and that a female eroticism that is independent of males and of masculinity is possible and can be chosen. We claim these things and fight in the world for all women’s liberty to live them without punishment and terror, believing also that if the world permits self-determined female eroticism, it will be a wholly different world.”
– Marilyn Frye, Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory (1983)
Last week, I mentioned that the American Association of University Women (AAUW) is pushing to introduce “gender studies” to the high school curriculum, “creating innovative spaces for young people to engage in feminism and activism, equity, and social justice in today’s classrooms.” The symposium on this AAUW program featured Ileana Jiminez, a lesbian English teacher from New York. What this indicates is that the radical theories of feminist academics are ultimately destined for the K-12 classroom — and any parent who objects can expect to be condemned as a sexist homophobe.
Consider the phrase “compulsory heterosexuality.” This phrase entered the feminist lexicon via an influential 1980 essay by Adrienne Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” which I discussed at length in April. Rich’s essay, asserting that heterosexuality is not natural for women, but rather is imposed as a condition of male supremacy, has been widely anthologized and incorporated in Women’s Studies curricula.
The phrase turned up in a Google search I did, appearing as the title of a book chapter, “Compulsory Heterosexuality as Mis-education.” The author speaks of “the psychological damage inflicted [on gay adolescents] by years of bearing witness to, or experiencing, anti–lesbian and gay prejudice in countless forms”:
They are the product of a lifetime of learning in the hegemonic ideology of heterosexism.
In practice, heterosexist ideology is instilled through numerous mechanisms. Family members initiate children into heterosexist ideology almost from birth, teaching acceptable gendered conduct as well as uneasiness with cross-gendered behaviors. This education is reinforced and expanded by religious institutions, peer groups, and the media . . . By the time children have reached first grade, they have already compiled a significant amount of data about what it means to be gay in a heterosexist society, even though much of what they have learned may well be incorrect, born of fear and prejudice rather than factual information. Schools are in a unique position to correct much of this misinformation at an early age before it ripens into anti–lesbian and gay prejudice and violence.
So, the public schools are to be enlisted to counteract this “fear and prejudice” of “heterosexist ideology”? What kind of lunatic gibberish is this, and who wrote it? This is from Rethinking Sexual Identity in Education, a 2004 book by Susan Birden, and it was originally her Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Oklahoma’s College of Education. Birden expressed her gratitude to her mentor:
While all my committee members have been engaged and helpful, I owe a life-long debt to my committee chair, Susan Laird, for she has been not only an advisor, but also a mentor of the highest caliber. A brilliant scholar, her expertise in guiding me through this entire doctoral process has been a testament to her great skill as an educator. From her comments on my first seminar entry, written some seven years ago, to her comments on the final draft of my dissertation, she has guided me through a maze of philosophic thought, nurturing my interests, pressing me to think more broadly, challenging me to think more specifically. Through it all she has demonstrated profound patience with my leaming, a committed focus and respect for my interests, accomplishing it all with the good humor of a “liver” of life. Susan Laird is both a fierce warrior and a kind soul.
Go read Birden’s dissertation, and you will find it is crammed full of quotes and citations from an all-star lineup of lesbian feminists — Mary Daly, Marilyn Frye, Janice Raymond, Charlotte Bunch, and on and on. Which brings us back to the question of exactly what the hell is going on in the University of Oklahoma’s College of Education, where Professor Susan Laird supervised this dissertation.
In addition to her position in the College of Education, Professor Laird has been a member of the faculty of the department of Women’s and Gender Studies since 1995. And her 2002 journal article, “Befriending Girls as an Educational Life-Practice,” is worth careful study. This eight-page article has 33 footnotes and cites numerous lesbian feminists, including Audre Lorde, Janice Raymond, Judith Butler and Marilyn Frye, the latter an author whose works I’ve quoted as examples of the anti-male/anti-heterosexual themes that have become commonplace in academic feminism.
“Fucking is a large part of how females are kept subordinated to males. It is a ritual enactment of that subordination which constantly reaffirms the fact of subordination and habituates both men and women to it, both in body and in imagination.”
–- Marilyn Frye, Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory (1983)
“Men have been creating ideologies and political practices which naturalize female heterosexuality continuously in every culture since the dawns of the patriarchies. . . . Female heterosexuality is not a biological drive or an individual woman’s erotic attraction . . . Female heterosexuality is a set of social institutions and practices.”
– Marilyn Frye, Willful Virgin: Essays in Feminism, 1976-1992 (1992)
Professor Laird cited Frye (although not these passages) in her 2002 Philosophy of Education article about “befriending girls,” an article which begins by relating the plot of a novel in which the young female protagonist “responds . . . with shock upon discovering this teacher who so generously befriended her is lesbian, but feels a new compassion that challenges [her] to unlearn her own heterosexism.” Did I mention that Professor Laird teaches in the College of Education, and that the title of that article is “Befriending Girls as an Educational Life-Practice”?
Yeah, Oklahoma, OK.