Disciplining Feminism: From Social Activism to Academic Discourse

By Helly, Dorothy O. | Women's Studies Quarterly, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Disciplining Feminism: From Social Activism to Academic Discourse


Helly, Dorothy O., Women's Studies Quarterly


All stripes of feminists need to read this book, which is written lucidly, compellingly, and in a narrative style that accommodates intellectual analysis. Whether readers agree or disagree with her arguments, they will have to acknowledge that Messer-Davidow writes with feminist passion. As a participant-activist in the earliest years of the second wave of feminism and as a graduate student involved in community and campus activism, she took part in the new feminist caucus at the Modern Language Association (MLA) and spent two years as an administrative assistant to her university president as he tried to make institutional change happen. Having taken part in the feminist determination to change the elitist ways of the academy and transform its disciplines, she asks, "[HI ow did it happen that a bold venture launched thirty years ago to transform academic and social institutions was itself transformed by them?" (1).

Messer-Davidow believes that proponents of "feminist studies" (the term she uses throughout) started out to bridge the academy-community divide but ultimately failed because their efforts to secure a place in the academy ultimately subjected them to the rules of exclusivity and inequality that govern universities. Seeing feminist studies as increasingly "formatted as an academic discipline" (13), she concludes that its initial political agenda for social change has been lost. Academic feminists read, teach, do research, and write about social activism, she laments, but they no longer do it.

Part I provides a sharply etched picture of how the disciplines historically edged out women who were not seen to "fit in" to their disciplinary order. It then explores the universities' defense of their traditional exclusionary practices of sex-discrimination.

Part 2 shows that despite the growth of feminist studies, in terms of thousands of courses and hundreds of programs, the wage gap for women faculty persists. They remain clustered in lower prestige disciplines, lower prestige institutions, lower faculty ranks, and part-time positions. Feminist efforts have led to curriculum transformation projects, the establishment of campus-based feminist research centers, a national association of feminist scholars, and women's caucuses in every disciplinary association. Yet increased numbers of women faculty and women students have had no radical effect. Feminist presses and conferences have only made it easier for mainstream disciplinary arenas to resist and ignore feminist scholarship and to keep feminist studies marginal. Maintained on scant budgets and usually restricted to offering only introductory and senior courses, programs have had to rely on discipline-approved crosslisted courses over which they have minimal control. Instead of sponsoring outreach into the community, feminists in the academy at best only teach about such issues. Only feminist theory, which continues to expand, remains truly interdisciplinary. But, in Messer-Davidow's words, feminist theory only generates "streams of knowledge particularized according to their identity, disciplinary, and/or political positions" (212). On top of this, the challenges of poststructuralism have further reduced social change to the "workings of signification" (213).

In Part 3, Messer-Davidow compares feminist social change efforts with those of the new conservative movement that has grown steadily in America. Well-funded, professionally managed, and using all the services of modern information technology, conservative organizations by the 1990s had formed tightly networked lines of communication at the national level, offering summer leadership institutes to train the next generation of young conservatives for future roles in government and media work. The nearest feminist equivalent Messer-Davidow found was a statewide curriculum integration effort, the New Jersey Project, but it focused on the higher education sector within one state. The better-funded conservative organizations have sought to inculcate a fairly homogeneous set of male and female students from all over the country with an appreciation of the "superiority of the American system" (240). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Disciplining Feminism: From Social Activism to Academic Discourse
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.