Indiana Daily Student Logo

Gender studies' narrow lens


By Alex Carlisle




The most annoying person in your literature class is the gender studies major who has to bring queer issues into everything or feels the need to enlighten everybody about the subtle misogyny of a text.

Even in literature where there are no gay people, the gender studies major will find hints of homoeroticism, and in literature where there is no misogyny this student will find the unconscious perpetuation of sexist attitudes.

Take the following excerpts from Richard Wright’s critique “Between Laughter and Tears” of Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God”:

“The romantic Janie, in the highly-charged language of Miss Hurston, longed to be a pear tree in blossom ...

“Miss Hurston can write, but her prose is cloaked in that facile sensuality that has dogged Negro expression since the days of Phillis Wheatley ...

“Miss Hurston voluntarily continues in her novel the tradition which was forced upon the Negro in the theatre, that is, the minstrel technique that makes the ‘white folks’ laugh ...

“In the main, her novel is not addressed to the Negro, but to a white audience whose chauvinistic tastes she knows how to satisfy.”

In total, the review is fair and thoughtful, but a gender studies major is conditioned to categorize phrases like “facile sensuality,” “knows how to satisfy” and “was forced upon” as the language of rape, allowing him to dismiss the critique as misogynistic.

In another example of seeing things that aren’t really there, Herman Melville’s unfinished novel “Billy Budd” has come to be known as gay literature, despite there not being one homosexual in the entire work.  

“Billy Budd” is the story of an innocent sailor who is bullied by an evil superior, a basic tale of good versus evil. Queer theorists take it a step further, though, and claim that the boss bullies the sailor because the boss houses interior self-loathing caused by a repressed homosexuality he can’t express on a military vessel.

Devoid of hard evidence in the text, these queer theorists rely on psychoanalysis and subtextual clues to support their hypothesis. Their desperate need to substantiate the homoerotic reading prohibits them from exploring other claims that could explain why the boss possesses so much self-loathing.

What if he were responsible for the death of his best friend on a ship years ago who looked just like the sailor he bullies? What if he thinks he has fallen out of favor with God, and Billy reminds him of what it’s like to be a man in God’s favor? What if he abandoned his only son, whose spirit is reincarnated through the sailor?

The queer theorist may never know where these questions could take them.

For people who claim to be progressive, gender studies majors rely on outdated notions of a nonexistent “patriarchy” that used to subjugate women and keep gays in the closet.

I guess their backwardness makes sense though, when you consider that there would be no need for gender studies departments if academia accepted that women are no longer a suppressed demographic group.

Until they accept this fact, gender studies majors will continue to be like “Portlandia”’s feminist bookstore owner who prohibits customers from pointing at things in the store because, as she explains to one, “Every time you point, I see a penis!”

It’s beneficial to consider many theories to understand the world, but when you are trained to understand life through the narrow lens of gender studies, you are bound to see things that don’t exist and miss out on things that do.

­— arcarlis@indiana.edu

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Indiana Daily Student.