First Meeting for Scholar and Feminist IV, 1976

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From: Mary Parlee, Academic Coordinator

Subject: The Next Academic Conference Report of the First Planning Session September 15, 1976

Previous themes and their development were discussed and the question was posed: Is a feminist perspective in scholarly work useful only for the study of women?

This question was answered with several more questions: How can we work against and/or within the male bias against "female" experience and "feminine" attitudes and emotions? How can we study the interaction of feminism with other parallel movements (black studies, third world move- ments)? Can we pin down the differences in the way various disciplines (broadly, humanities compared to sciences) respond to feminism? Can feminist scholars transform their relationships to an institution without comprehensive changes in the institution itself?

These questions resolved themselves at first into two main foci for discussion: How would a feminist perspective bear upon the different disciplines? And, how will feminism affect the hierarchical institutions in which feminist scholars work?

In discussing the first question, it was pointed out that feminists working in the natural sciences must to a greater extent separate their personal values from the values of the discipline in which they work.

It was suggested that perhaps in these fields a feminist reevaluation could yield new insights into the meaning of "objectivity." As a side- light of this discussion, it was suggested that an effort be made at this conference to more fully represent the sciences and philosophy.

The second focus of discussion, the possible effects of feminism in institutional hierarchy, took place on several levels. First, the con—' tradiction between the feminist work done by women scholars and the per- haps nonwfeminist way in which they related to their subordinates and colleagues, was pointed out. On the same specific level, it was asked how one could resolve the contradiction between feminist ideals and the hierarchical, non-feminist classroom set—ups of teacher/student division.

On another level, it was noted that the structure of institutions deter- mines the ways in which women scholars are forced to spend their time. The structure of an institution also determines which subjects and issues get studied and which do not, and from what perspective. It was asked whether there were disciplines or areas which precluded feminist inter- pretation and, conversely, whether or not a feminist should spend time studying non-feminist subjects. It was generally agreed that traditional institutions perpetuate a heritage of failing to recognize the implica- tions of one's research for one's life and personal convictions. What might be the impact of feminism on this heritage?

As a concrete suggestion, it was asked that a speaker be sought who was analyzing in a scholarly way the effect of hierarchy on feminist conscious- ness. A few women were suggested, but it was agreed that discussion of specific speakers for the conference be put off until a later meeting.

The question of the role of the feminist scholar within hierarchical institutions led to considerable discussion. There was difference of opinion on the issue of whether feminism implies an ideal of collective work. Some saw a dichotomy between such a proposed ideal and the individ- ualistic, competitive reality of an academic institution. Others disagreed.

It was proposed that concrete ways be sought to represent the contradictions between “collective” and "individual" work and achievement. It was sug- gested that perhaps one speaker or workshop could concentrate on the prob- lems of collective structure (e.g. a collectively organized editorial board), It was then pointed out that a focus on the problems of organiza- tion would fail to incorporate the balance of scholarly and feminist con- cerns that has characterized past conferences, though some present believed that a feminist conference ought not to separate practical politics from academics. The problem was finally posed as a question: is hierarchical structure really reflective of an essentially "male" perspective or is it in fact necessary?

The diverse problems of collectivity vs. individualism, communalism vs. hierarchy, objective vs. subjective, male vs. female and so forth, were summed up by a statement that the discussion seemed to return again and again to the questions of dualism, division and hierarchy. It was generally felt that this might be a focus or at least a starting point for future discussion. It was suggested that in discussing the theme for the 1977 conference, it ought to be remembered that former conferences had established a sort of continuum of theme and that this might perhaps suggest at least a direction for discussion - that is, where do we go from “The Search for Origins?” Hester Eisenstein, a former conference coordinator, cautioned that a theme should not be chosen too quickly, that it was important to continue discussion.

Thursday, September 30, at 12:30 p.m., was the date set for the next plan- ning meeting, which will also be held in the Women's Center. It was an- nounced that the scheduled date for the conference is April 23, 1977.

Those present:

Julia Chase, Wanda Chin, Carol Christ, Doris Coster, Hester Eisenstein, Mary Farrington, Barbara Gutierrez, Jane Gould, Emily Heilbrun, Barbara Hertz, Judy Johnston, Rena Krakow, Sue Libow, Linda Marks, Ellen McManus, Nancy Miller, Elizabeth Minnich, Joan Peters, Esther Rowland, Sue Sacks, Maria von Salisch, Carrie Sandin, Joan Storey, Suzanne Wemple, Jill Wenig