By EDWARD B.FISKE
Using scholarship developed in the
feminist movement, women in colleges
and universities are questioning the fundamental tenets of academic fields
ranging from history and philosophy to
the natural sciences.
These scholars argue that most academic disciplines reflect the cultural
biases and thinking patterns of men and
are based, for example, on data involving male political figures and male psychological subjects.
As a result, they are challenging not
only some commonly held scholarly
conclusions but the underlying methods
of research., Although the, feminists
"new scholarship*' has not been discussed widely enough yet to provoke
much response from other scholars,
some women say it is almost certain to
pmvoke sharp controversy.
Among their revisionist ideas are
<The Renaissance, a time In which
women lost many of the privileges they
had in the era of chivalry, should not be
viewed as a "progressive" era in West*
<Artistic creations such as quilts and
diaries are just as valuable for the. understanding of culture as those deemed
<The current excitement over recombinant DNA represents an overly
"mechanistic" approach to the question
of the nature of life.
The women's challenge grew out of to criticize it. We would certainly expect
controversy, since to suggest that disci-
the women's studies movement begun in
the late 1960's. Women on campuses se
out to document the contributions of
women to fields tanging from literature
to science, and they organized courses,
programs and even full departments,
usually on an interdisciplinary basis, to
incorporate these findings into instruction.
According to Florence Howe, a professor of American studies at the State University College at Old Westbuxy, L.I.,:
who founded the Feminist Press, about
350 colleges now have organized
women's studies programs, and 600
other institutions offer at least 25
courses in the field. She estimates that
there are 20,000 such courses nation-
Several years ago strategists in the
movement changed their emphasis;
from setting up-separate courses to
"mainstreaming," or pushing to incorporate material on the experience of
women into regular programs. The goal
was to prevent research about women
from being isolated and to assure that it
was being taken seriously.
Now women argue that the feminist
critique of existing scholarship has matured sufficiently to enter a third and "corrective" stage in which the fruits of
their work not only supplement the
traditional corpus of knowledge but
challenge many of its presuppositions.
"You don't simply add the idea that
the world is round to the idea that the
world is flat," Elizabeth Minnich, a philosophy
scholar at the Union Graduate School in
Washington, told a major conference on
the subject recently at Wingspread, a
conference center in Racine, Wis. "you go back and
rethink the whole enterprise."
Margaret V McIntosh of the Center for
Research on Women at Wellesley
College said: "The latest stage is so new
that people haven't really had a chance
to criticize it. We would certainly
expect controversy, since to suggest that
disciples need to be corrected--either in
their ideas or methodology-- is to challenge professors'
snse that they understand the
assumptions underlying their disciplines."
Some scholars, however, have offered sympathetic,
if ambivalent, responses.
Carl Degler, the Stanford University historian
said that it was "absolutely essential"
to interpret the past in terms
of "human beings, not just men"
and that this would inevitably lead to some
"We normally think of wars as interruptive,"
he said. "But for women as a group, wars
often open up opportunities. No one
has spelled it out clearly, but
what happened in World War II with
women in the factories clearly had its
effect on the entry of married women into
the work force after the war."
The impact of feminist scholars' work
varies from field to field. In some, according
to Dr. McIntosh, the principal
effect is to "enlarge the sample" of
what scholars study.
Thus, women argue that any definition
of the gross national product, the
total goods and services produced by the
country in a certain period, that does not
take into account the unpaid labor of
women in the home and community represents
only a partial description of economic productivity.
Likewise, women have requently critied Sigmund Freud
and other psychologists for developing
models of what is "normal" on the basis of
samples that are all or predominantly male.
Lawrence Kohlberg, a developmental
psychologist at the Harvard Graduate School
of Education, for example, used
an all-male sample to develop a theory
that people develop their capabilities
for "moral reasoning" through six identifiable stages.
However, Carol F. Gilligan, also at Harvard,
tested the Kohlberg theory on
a sample of women and reported that
NOW AT UH WOMEN'S STUDIES PETITION
We, the undersigned, feel that the University of Houston has a responsibility to
provide increased emphasis and access to Women's Studies courses that could
address the changing status of women and men in this country and the issues raised