This is news?
This is one of the strangest articles I've read in a long time. Apparently, the New York Times thinks it's breaking news that gender studies (a field that has existed for about 30 years now) is actually relevant to society at large! Turns out it matters, and not just to those crazy feminists! Here's my favorite line: "Even the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a gender program." Because, you know, technology exists on its own culture-free plane. Either that or it's mostly for men. Who have no gender, right?
I think this article particularly riled me up because it reflects a certain attitude that I encounter too often in my work at the Jewish Women's Archive. At JWA, our basic mission is to "uncover, chronicle, and transmit the stories of Jewish women in America." We do this because we believe that knowing our own history - an inclusive history - is essential to understanding the world and our own potential. If we don't know and value the experiences of more than half the population, our perspective is sadly limited and incomplete.
I often meet educators who love the work we do, who praise the high quality of our resources, but who explain that they just can't use them because they're not teaching a course on Jewish women's history. "Don't segregate Jewish women's stories!" I sometimes want to shout. "Jewish women belong everywhere in the curriculum." The resources that JWA offers speak to so many central themes in Jewish education: the purpose and meaning of liturgy and ritual, how we live our lives as Jews, the definitions and applications of Jewish values, leadership and role models, etc. And both girls AND boys need to know the stories of the men AND women who came before them to have a full sense of the legacy they bear. So don't even get me started on "But what will I teach the boys?" They'll only think women's stories are irrelevant to them if youapologetically suggest that's the case.
So when I read in the NY Times article that gender studies "has become increasingly implanted in what would seem to be unrelated fields, like economics or technological development," I have to wonder why it is that such fields still seem to be "unrelated." If you read the rest of the Times, you'll see lots of stories about how the recession, for example, has all kinds of gender implications. And how could it be otherwise? Gender is one of the major organizing principles of human society.
I'm in no way arguing that everything has to be about gender. We need to look at the world with multiple lenses to keep our vision from becoming myopic. But the work that gender studies has done to introduce different perspectives enriches our general outlook and the narratives we construct about the world. Similarly, not everything JWA does is focused on gender as the central theme. My newest project, for example, is a social justice curriculum called "Living the Legacy," which will examine the history of American Jews and two major social movements: civil rights and labor. The curriculum will not focus solely on women or gender issues in these movements, but it will integrate the stories and primary sources of women and use gender as one analytical framework.
Some day, perhaps, the Jewish Women's Archive will be redundant because all historical and educational organizations will be doing the work of creating an inclusive historical record. And at that time, perhaps, the relevance of gender will no longer be an insight noteworthy of an article in one of the world's major serious media outlets. We can always dream, can't we? In the meantime, I'll get down off my soapbox and return to work. There are so many stories waiting to be told.