Books by Daphne Patai

Released: Nov. 2, 1994

Two academics raise disturbing questions about the practices and goals of contemporary classroom feminism. Using interviews with faculty in self-imposed ``exile'' from women's studies programs, many of whom prefer to remain anonymous, Patai (Spanish and Portuguese/Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst) and Koertge (History and Philosophy of Science/Indiana Univ.) trace what they see as the ``progressive deterioration'' of feminist pedagogy into a ``parody of itself.'' The women interviewed level a series of charges against their colleagues: Too many women's studies programs silence or shun dissenting voices while purporting to celebrate difference; they subordinate teaching and learning to activism and pass propaganda off as scholarship; they are riven by white, black, and lesbian factionalism; they brainwash or browbeat impressionable students into conformity with a narrow set of approved beliefs. Students also are taken to task here. One professor, who has left women's studies for a history department, laments the willful ignorance she saw in some of her students; another, a social scientist, reports that students in one seminar ``launched an all-out assault on me for having men on my reading list.'' However, the anonymity and acknowledged alienation of the chosen speakers, coupled with the book's anecdotal form and lack of quantification, make it impossible to determine how pervasive the problems really are. And the authors, who portray themselves as ``true'' feminists writing out of deep concern for the direction of women's studies, often appeal to elusive terms like ``professional decorum,'' ``civility,'' and ``proper academic procedures'' that are habitually invoked to beat back dissent in universities. Nevertheless, the book is rife with points of contention at times so compelling and well articulated that they sound a wake-up call to feminist women in academe. Read full book review >