Changing Our Minds: Feminist Transformations of Knowledge

By Susan Hardy Aiken; Karen Anderson et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction

Today more than ever, changing our minds—changing the mind—is a woman's prerogative.

Shoshana Felman,
"Women and Madness: The
Critical Phallacy"


Telling Tales: Women and Traditional Constructions of Knowledge

On the issue of woman's relation to the traditional university curriculum, as on so many other gender-inflected issues, Virginia Woolf remains among our most perceptive commentators. Take, for instance, one of the key parables of exclusion she recounts in the first chapter of A Room of One's Own. Her narrator—a fictionalized version of Woolf herself—is visiting "Oxbridge," composite of those venerable British institutions of higher learning that for centuries were bastions of exclusively male education. Strolling on the campus one October morning, she has endured several humiliating adventures that underscore the handicap of female gender in such a setting: as a woman she may not walk across the grass plots of the college quadrangles reserved for male scholars, nor enter the famous libraries, repositories of the "treasures" of Western culture, unless she is "accompanied by a Fellow"—in both senses of the term. Having experienced repeated rebukes for trespassing on these prohibited precincts, she finds momentary solace in a luncheon, during the course of which she happens to glance out the window. There, surreptitiously crossing one of the very grass plots from which she herself was summarily ejected, is a cat without a tail, a creature whose unexpected appearance crystallizes for her all the issues of gender and education on which she has been meditating: "as I watched the Manx cat pause in the middle of the lawn as if it too questioned the universe, something seemed lacking, something seemed different. But what, . . . I asked myself. And to answer that question I had to think myself out of the room, back into the past . . . "—that past in which sexual difference, like race and class, determined education, or the lack of it; that past in which women

-xi-

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