July 06, 2007

Marching Toward Oblivion

From a course description in Women's Studies, an example of why institutionalized feminism in the US is no longer being taken seriously:

The final set of interrelated questions attempts to think about the great apes—and animals in general—from a feminist perspective. On the one hand, it is interesting to note that the majority of published primatologists are women. In the world of science where women are almost always underrepresented, what kind of story do we want to tell about that fact? Is it the case that primatology is a field ignored by male scientists and so an opening was left for women? Is the connection between women and apes (and all animals?) different, or deeper? How would we talk about this without falling into essentialized assumptions?

Yes, how would we talk about this? I, for one, am left speechless.

Perhaps my essentialized assumption that I neither want nor require a connection between myself and an ape limits my rhetorical feminist potentiality and means that I am merely an oppressed tool of the speciesist (white)man!

Or perhaps I could draw on my inner english major and note that this professor's fascination with women and apes only serves to demonstrate that she has internalized the existential brainwashing of post Civil War anti-miscegenation propaganda and is expressing her (white)womyn's internal turmoil about race, class and gender relations in the postmodern era through the lens of the primate, in the process objectifying and demeaning the very thing she wishes to liberate--proving that the patriarchy is all-powerful, inescapable, and that maybe we should all just take a load off and have a 3 appletini lunch at the local organic whole food commune/tapas bar.

Or maybe I could have a beer and a hearty laugh.

From here.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at July 6, 2007 03:00 PM | TrackBack

Is that even true? Or is it just that Jane Goodall studied apes and got recognized for it whereas most ape research (male and female) is ignored because it's scientific research and, therefore, kind of esoteric and hard to understand?

Posted by: David Krumm at July 6, 2007 03:49 PM

There's an actually interesting angle, in that women are more likely to come up with a tactful response to an animal than a man is ; the man tending instead to resolve the issue once and for all, and prove his courage, which is less urgent, or not urgent at all, for a woman.

The guy proceeds by abstracting and resolving. The woman by balancing interests.

That leads to a different feminism than the academic one, if you allow for differing interests and priorities between the sexes.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at July 6, 2007 05:51 PM

David -

Surely you should know by now that "truth" is a construct and a tool of the oppressor. If we "feel" that something is right or true, then who are you to say it isn't?

On a more serious note, what this boils down to is an undergraduate course based on creative interpretation of reality. While this would be useful in a literature course, it's not so helpful here, in a subject that purports to define reality.

Posted by: BAW at July 6, 2007 07:01 PM

From what I remember, ape researchers like Louis Leakey in the 60s and 70s preferred female assistants in the field because they were less likely to arouse aggressive behavior in male apes, especially gorillas. Most of these women probably would have gone on to start research programs of their own, also using mostly female assistants. And yes, I know Dian Fossey aroused aggressive behavior in just about every human she met, but she was really good with apes!

Posted by: Crankie at July 6, 2007 07:47 PM

There's also this , a pic of Get Smart Agent 99, Nov 19 1966, breaking frame when a small monkey reaches to embrace her. She's all agent-competence albeit in love with Max, and then the monkey reaches up to her, and she stops acting and smiles broadly. It's not a great ape, of course, but the interest to her is plain.

(Get Smart 5 seasons on DVD from Time Life is superb ; my only DVD set. A love story for guys, who always screw up on quests to save the world but their woman is satisfied with their efforts nevertheless. No nagging. That's the organizing principle. The jokes are just fill. The monkey was involved in some crime, and Max says at the end, ``This little fellow will have to spend the rest of his life behind bars.'')

Posted by: Ron Hardin at July 6, 2007 08:53 PM

I think the "animal lady" phenomenon is the factor here. An "animal lady" is a generally misanthropic woman who prefers animals to people. In Florence King's essay on Dian Fossey, she quoted another female primate researcher who explained that going off into the middle of the jungle to study apes meant she could get social interaction without having to deal with people. (No, not that kind of social interaction, you damn, dirty apes!)

I am somewhat of an animal lady -- I have two cats, and prefer to avoid people as much as possible. In fact, I don't care much for apes and monkeys -- too much like people.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at July 7, 2007 09:12 AM

Duke University? Course is taught by one of the 88 who signed a 'guilty' verdict against the LaCrosse players no doubt.

Posted by: Airedalelover at July 8, 2007 09:52 AM

Airedalelover -

Actually, yes. That's why it was featured on the durham in wonderland blog. But I was so amused by the actual course description's content that I left the other stuff aside.

Posted by: BAW at July 9, 2007 01:50 PM
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