Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

An Incomplete Herstory

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

An Incomplete Herstory

Article excerpt

AN INCOMPLETE Herstory

When Women Ask the Questions is a provocative, yet deeply flawed publication that purports to annotate the creation of women's studies programs within the American academy. Noted as "the first comprehensive account of women's studies," Marilyn Jacoby Boxer presents an incomplete history of the discipline in its maneuverings through the patriarchal elitism of institutionalized discourse.

While it may stand as a healthy exposition of a movement whose confrontations and challenges of societal gender norms, attitudes, and practices changed global consciousness forever, sadly -- although pertinent insights do abound -- When Women Ask the Questions is inextricably mired in White supremacist dogmatic conventions and philosophies.

Certainly, When Women Ask the Questions has several strengths. First, Boxer dearly establishes that women's studies' greatest contribution to intellectual process is its deployment of women, and therefore gender, as a posited and constructed category. Its establishment demanded a realignment and re, designation of intellectual modalities and actualization. This "revisionism" challenged canonical paradigms via an inclusion of experientialism, intuition, and emotionalism, which had ripple effects in curriculum development and implementation, language inclusion, research methodologies, empowerment initiatives, cooperative mentoring models, and paradigmatic conceptualizations.

Most potently, women's studies advanced the notion of "gender" as category, which dissected systems of socialized power constructions explicit "and" implicit within "all" American institutions.

Nevertheless, Boxer's book lovingly recounts the early efforts and struggles of institutionalization. Numerous agonizing debates and conflicts occurred as women's studies sought self-definition as "a department, interdisciplinary program, or a discipline." These theoretical dilemmas of placement and application divided the movement as several factions espoused the fear that inclusion within the academy would lead to a subversion of the feminist agenda by its traditionalist critics. Boxer articulates these dilemmas with extreme clarity and thoughtfulness.

However, the book truly reaches its zenith with Boxer's constant explication of the internal collision arenas within the discipline itself. Indeed, the central conflict involving the creation of women's studies existed in the philosophical differentiation inherent within "feminism" and its multi-various applications. The author readily recounts the, sometimes, vitriolic dialogues between "radical feminists and cultural feminists, essentialists and social constructionists, cultural feminists and poststructuralists, motherists and feminists. …

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