From academic to ‘private passion’? Angela McRobbie on women’s studies

The story of the supposed death of women’s studies in universities continued last week, with another report of the last undergraduates filing out of London Metropolitan University. Angela McRobbie, a communications professor at Goldsmiths, weighs in today over at Comment is Free.

She has some interesting observations about the continued interest in feminist issues from students:

The feminist academy I inhabit might not have women’s studies on offer*, but it is nevertheless a place of intensity, enthusiasm and experimentation. I observe a number of patterns that merit further sociological analysis. In my undergraduate classroom of up to about 100 students, of whom about 80% are female and come from around the world, there is a high degree of interest in women’s issues, including questions of gender and sexuality. This is also the case for young British Muslim women tackling questions of reconciling faith with the secular values of the university. Outside the classroom I am frequently asked questions like “What can you recommend as reading for our Muslim women’s study group on prostitution?”, or “What did feminists in the 70s have to say about the family and housework?”

So students are still asking the questions. They are also, I suspect, still studying some of these issues, as feminist analysis is integrated into other fields (an acquantaince of mine has promised to explain feminist geography to me one of these days, which I am pleased to note seems to involve Derrida). In addition, feminism is flourishing outside the classroom, if we take McRobbie at her word. Isn’t it a good thing that feminism is a part of students’ lives not just their reading lists? McRobbie has some other observations though:

Often it seems feminism has become a kind of private passion, a way of working through the intractable issues of the day in regard to sexuality, and the requirement to fulfil so many normative expectations. There is also a genuine interest in feminism from the late 1960s onwards. But so denigrated and devalued is the women’s movement that it is often hard to dislodge the assumptions that it routinely required hostility to men. In fact it is as though the thing young women most fear is being seen as critical of men. Tired of trying to counter this feminist image, I often find myself persuading them that, actually, most reasonable men had respect for female grievance and found diminishing, as they might also do today, the endless need to be pleasing to men.

* You can do a gender studies MA at Goldsmiths though.

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