Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Then and Now in Women's Studies: My Pedagogical Bequest

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Then and Now in Women's Studies: My Pedagogical Bequest

Article excerpt

The first thing it takes to survive is friends. The second thing it takes to survive is friendly people in high places.

-Electa Arenal, "Then and Now: The Politics of Women's Studies" Conference, 2 December 2000

We need to get perspective on a university by looking inside it as outsiders in a one thousand year old medieval structure with an entrenched hierarchy. The engaged campus, in contrast, is focused on its students with a democratic pedagogy and experiential learning.

--Yolanda Moses, "Then and Now: The Politics of Women's Studies" Conference, I December 2000

I have reached a season in my life when, retired from academe and swiftly approaching sixty-five years old, people ask me to write an article here, a chapter there about being a feminist in the 1960s and 1970s; or, as Florence Howe so cogently put it, about my experiences as a "founding mother" of women's studies. Not content with our writing a chapter each for The Politics of Women's Studies, in December 2000 Howe asked us each to invite a younger colleague and gather at a conference called "Then and Now: The Politics of Women's Studies" to discuss what parts of our heritage from Then had relevance for women's studies Now. To answer that question I thought back about my career as a university professor, and it seemed that my bequest for today's women's studies teachers would be an account of the classroom techniques with which I implemented our vision of an experiential, student-centered pedagogy.

So it was that I brought my Rip van Winkle-ish self back from my midwestern home to my native New York City to join a panel of wise old feminist pioneers, noting down in my travel diary what it felt like to arrive as a "Then" in the Christmas-in-Manhattan "Now."

1 December 2000

Go out onto 81st to catch crosstown and transfer down Fifth Avenue to attend Feminist Press signing and conference in old B. Altman building. At 35th I get off onto crowded, jostling avenue, walk half block down to familiar facade of B. Altman's. Is institutional vapidity of entry hall worsened by recollection of gold and silver bells, pine swags garlanded with red velvet ribbons, aroma of perfumes and cosmetics at Christmastime in the fifties, or is grimness just typical of college buildings, however jolly their origins?

Whichever, editor with familiar white stripe across black hair bustles up to greet me before bustling off to greet others, find "Now" younger feminist I have invited and several "Then" acquaintances, so warm friendliness not absent as we repair into auditorium. Editor arises to greet us, dampening jollity of reunion with catalogue of founding mothers suddenly ill-Annette suffering from chemo, Nellie suddenly struck down with flu and can't attend, ditto Jane. Then, mourned by all, Shauna, Betty, Elaine, Judith, Carol and Juanita are dead.

Feeling of ephemerality washes over me: check arms and legs to make sure I am still here, as current of death's dark river, into which I may vanish at any moment, laps about my feet.

Sensation of insubstantiality mitigated when one feminist pioneer after another rises at podium to become radiantly energized-face brightens up, tired eyes glow, every white hair sparkles-as she tells her story about standing up against tweedy male authorities shouting at her that women have written no literature worth including in curriculum, women haven't made history, there are no women in politics, there are no women mathematicians, etc., etc., etc., while she found her courage to speak out in the same lucent precision with which she is recounting her saga of resistance and courage for us now.

Listening to those panelists, I felt enormously satisfied that we had done all that, to the extent that women's literature, politics, history, and scientific contributions are now widely included in college and university curricula. And there are a lot more women professors, aren't there? …

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