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Why change. Good evening and welcome to woman. Tonight our topic is women studies.
With me tonight is Kennedy an assistant professor in American Studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo. She's a founding member of the women's studies college and a member of the governance board of the women's studies program at SUNY Buffalo. Also with me is Katherine Stimpson. She's an associate professor of English at Barnard College in New York City and is editor of a journal of women and culture in our society. Welcome to both of you. Women Studies a thing that's been growing progressively over the last few years do you have any figures as to how many there are now to use and in order to really understand these figures you have to remember that things do not move slowly in the academic world so that the rate of change is especially high because the academic world has never been known for its rate of change. But five years ago there was recorded 17 what we call women's studies courses now at the last count there were four thousand six hundred twenty eight I believe. Five
years ago there were two programs at the last count there were one hundred twelve programs. And there's also in terms of academic practices this is important. There are going to directions that women's studies is being seen as important in graduate schools and also there's an effort to make the insides of women's studies known in secondary schools and even in elementary school. So what those of us who believe in women's studies hope are doing is not only increasing the number of courses but diffusing our discoveries throughout the entire wealth educational bureaucracy. There's been a lot of myths about women's studies. I mean I think that people say when a lot of this about women. Well I guess all of us who work in and know those you know those myths for you will probably the most common one is women studies is it just counseling. And of course that's not what we're
about. I think another one that people all the time is well you just need to change a few words in a textbook or change an emphasis in a course and if you've had women's studies for a year then these things will change. Women's studies very much and of course we don't think that. What what's important about it. And it's very hard for people to understand that they were going to have to be around for 50 or 60 70 years until the power structure changes. Just let me take what you said if I can and go back for a minute. Well well is there such a thing as an average person. No of course not. But a conventional response that we all get in women's studies to women's studies as well not what you said. What's the point of it. But also that it's trivial it's not necessary. That people are interested in women's studies are interested in something that doesn't matter and their
interest in it is perhaps. A reflection of the fact that they can't do anything else. We talk about women's studies really talking about I think it's a profound movement in intellectual life with enormous social and political ramifications. And I would say though there is a great deal of diversity in women's studies. Everybody who participates in them and practices and agrees on three things. That what we have inherited about women what we've been taught about women. Is just faults. It's not only fault it's often dangerously faults. It's a series of errors that does real harm to women and by extension to men. So there's a need for compensatory scholarship. I think a second principle we agree on is that this intellectual what we call women's studies is helping us to read think the whole body of knowledge we're not just correcting errors but we're trying to look at things in a new way. And then a third think I think we all agree on which
is what you just said. Is that the institutions. Themselves have to be all one word for this restructured Liz's good word for it is transformed. But that the institutions in which men and women have been educated from kindergarten up through graduate school to continuing education programs to Private think tanks to the government any institution that we've held responsible for the transmission and communication of knowledge has been bad for women in terms of what they've taught about women. In terms. Of how they've taught women in the way they've treated women as scholars and as administrator. Yeah I think a lot of. Times why people trivialize the work is that. The problems with it in the institution with women are so great that to admit that is to totally legitimize a pest. And. I think the other side of that is how big the task is and. How hard we're going to
have to work toward that we're connected to that is going to keep pushing for those. It's not just an accident. That women have. Been excluded from the areas of study both in terms of work and in terms of. Their role of history being analyzed. The task is so great we've got to keep pushing and there are forces against working against us. Oh yeah else I mean listen I could sit here and just give you a Reader's Digest of horror stories of what it's like to work in women's lives but I don't know if we want to stress the negative but probably not. But it is it's difficult. But one reason why. Many of us in women's studies are so excited about it is there is so much to learn. Because we are dealing with half the population in terms of the past in terms of the present and hopefully into the future. And women's lives one of the things we're learning I think. Is the enormous diversity of women learn.
How much we have to learn because How complicated how intricate how interesting and how valuable. Those lives have been. For a minute let's talk about the history of the women's studies movement as it relates to the history of the women's movement. Well how influential has the women's movement then I mean is that the reason women studies exist is that the reason we're raising some of the questions we're raising. Well at least in the case of Buffalo it was clear that the program started in the spring 71. And if people remember that was a time when the women's movement was blossoming in terms of people beginning work on affirmative action beginning to do health projects beginning to raise issues about rape the beginning of publications nationally and it's very clear that faculty students and staff in the university so well. This we have to change the rest of the society and this institution is putting forward the ideas that in fact are affecting the way the rest of the population thinks about us and therefore we're going to change this
institution and I know that's why we've got the support we did to get the kind of program for because women were angry. And they were tired of hearing the same old stuff and they're being forced to do the same kinds of research papers that look down on them. So it would seem to me that no more program that the women's movement started putting forward I think the fact the increase of programs around the country is related to the women's journals the increase in the ship would seem to be related to the women's movement right. It's an important question and a complicated question. One thing we do know is that there were people studying women in responsible ways before the new feminism and I guess we can roughly date the new feminism to 63 or 64 and we know we can look back we can see books like Margaret Mead male and female.
Which whatever airs it might have was nevertheless an influential book. But. What we began the program by talking about is the burgeoning of women's studies. It's enormous increase the quantity as well as the quality of the work that's being done. And yes I think the women's movement has been extremely influential. I think there would be scholarship about women. Without the women's movement. I don't think there would be a women's studies movement without the women's movement. The women's movement as a political and social movement has as lists it's given energy. To women's studies. And in this sense and I'm going to be careful now but in a sense we can see women studies as the academic arm of the women's movement. Now there's one thing I don't want to be misunderstood on. People say that women's studies is nothing but political. And when they attack in that way what I think they mean is all what's going on in that classroom is armed guards of women are being prepared to go out and
kill us guys. That's a vulgar assertion of course. There is a good deal of women's studies that is research. Strong clear research with no immediate and direct political end. But which is not to say that the women's movement has not been in large part. Responsible for the enormous energy of women studies. And of course what's happening is what people are doing in women's studies classroom is making exactly the same kind of analysis. Of society. Culture and concepts that the women's movement is making of our political social and petitions. Let's talk about the women's studies programs in terms of the students in the people that it is that it should be responsive to. Well I think it's just going to air that the women's movement. Women's studies for the women's movement is more than an intellectual on what it's doing is
transforming the education of students. And I don't think we can estimate that I think myself that I first came to understand. Myself as a woman really by the time I was 30 and the fact that students starting at 18 are beginning to understand why the society views and the way they are they're beginning to. Learn how to fight back to say that we don't want to be viewed by that like this. Students are beginning to realize that well women are not the same in the society that it's there are black women they are working class women they're all lesbians and that. The realities of these of us are women's lives are necessary for building in transforming society I think that that's really important and I think that's what a women's studies program does. I. Think. We should realize though that there is a diversity in the kinds of women's studies program. Those four thousand six hundred twenty eight courses we mention those 120 are all the same with the
same formula. They're not they don't have the same formula. And they don't have the same governing structures. And they don't have the same sense of a relationship between scholarship and an ongoing political movement. The buffalo program is one of the best programs in the country and would it be fair to say that it has a very clear explicit and strong sense of its direct relationship. To the woman's movement. AS. A social political movement working for radical change. Now if you care to think there are other programs of which I am one in which the focus is on. More traditional scholarship which women is in a sense a new content with old forms although we all seek to enhance and alter the lives of our students. With a more traditional programs as kind of a trickle down theory of knowledge. If
eventually knowledge will work for social good. But this will it will be more interactive. What about. Harassment. Now there seems to be. A large acceptance in the general population of women studies that seems not to be true. On the campus within the university administrations. And many women's studies programs are having a lot of trouble surviving. What would you like to talk about that a little. Well. I think it's extraordinary the amount of harassment we receive it in Buffalo that it's the administration never pays attention to the fact that we do have a national reputation. And I assume that's got to do with the fact that the more effective women are in getting together the more people on the local level off right there or is going to be real change. I'm not sure that nationally there's been more and more
acceptance of women's studies I think the women's movement has spread. Nationally and people are beginning to think well if we're activists in the women's movement why doesn't the university system teach us things that will be helpful in building this movement. But I think generally that that's been slow that everybody thinks that things are doing better in other places than they are and I think we have to be real careful. It's possible that. We're going to be. Pushed out of the universities. I think the women the strong enough not allow that to occur. I think that the women are tough and we're going to fight years. There is this interesting discrepancy. Between the growing respectability of women studies naturally. And the mean spirited. Quality of individual local campuses. I think the mere fact that we're sitting here talking about it is one symptom. The
fact that it's being nationally recognized. Foundations are setting up fellowship programs. Publishers are sponsoring journals. There are many other sides of women's studies gaining. A kind of national respectability. It is no longer a national joke is it was three years ago. Before what you say about the local campus is absolutely right. And if we're going to talk about the ugly minutiae of harassment. I think we have to realize there are techniques of harassing students and the techniques of harassing faculty and the techniques of arresting administrators who believe in it and their techniques of hassling librarians who want to order books. Our students were harassed. A male student as a matter of fact a boy who wanted to come take my class called sexuality literature Barnard College a sweet boy a nice boy and an intelligent young man. He went to his advisor and said I want to take
a Stimson's course and the advisor looked at him. And stood up. But all the six foot fury and said what I want to go across the street for get your head blown off. So there's that kind of. Putting down of students ambitions to take this course. As for faculty or administrators. The harassment there is. Why are you doing work that's not going to help. It's like telling a doctor you know why are you cutting grass instead of appendicitis. Or there's a very direct loss of jobs. That often what you will see is young faculty working for initiating these courses non tenured faculty. And. They are given with a direct punishment for doing this. Because they're thought to be doing non-serious the threatening work and that is simply that their contracts are not renewed. It's budget cuts and other forms. Yeah they're highly internal programs I think also individual courses cut the programs around the country and certainly in Buffalo
right now we're constantly threatened with. Budget cutbacks. I think everybody can understand why this is because university budgets are going down but if you think about we want a program on thirty nine thousand dollars a year now for them to talk about the whole university's budget is being cut and therefore they take 5000 from 39000 that's like killing a program and people say well everybody is being cut. Instead of looking at the little tiny amount that we have to begin cutting back so I think it's clear harassment that kind of budget cuts because they could leave us with thirty nine thousand dollars. What is a principal. Well we constantly keep fighting for that little bit. Then there are always going to be on the defensive. And I think that's the strategy. There's another treatment is a girl is that we can't really dignify with the word harassment. And that's a kind of studied indifference.
In which the really interesting world and the solid world and the good work that's being done. To revitalise our knowledge of men and women. Is being ignored. And in a sense people who are largely women but some men. Who are doing this kind of scholarship are told go in your corner sweet things. Just don't bother us. There's a kind of intellectual difference. On the part of what we can call intellectual establishment. Which is that since the last. Well I think it's tremendously because in a sense it's saying that the questions that are on our mind that we want to know the answers to like basically what's been our history. How come we're in this position now what's been the history of the. Feminist Movement How have women organized in the past what with the punishments against rape. Where did these reports come from what. We think the world needs to know.
And then. Don't concern yourself with that. That's our lives this thing. That we shouldn't concern ourselves with. So I think it's even worse. You know they're ignoring us and they're wounding terribly because we're going to lose that. Fight. To this general. And I think that's why all of us committed to women's studies with that knowledge and the world needs that. It's interesting isn't it because the charges leveled against it is trivial. And those of us who are involved in it think that's probably the least accurate adjective can be applied. We can often be called in air because sometimes we make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes in thinking things through. We can often be called you know slow too slow or too fast too quick to come to conclusions. There are all sorts of things that could accurately be said about us that we probably said about ourselves. But to be called. Trivial. If the
police are accurate the least accurate way to to describe it would be. Let's talk for a minute about content of the program. I mean what do you think it's important what you respect that's happening. Well I guess it start a little bit from our program and the vision of having five kinds of courses that we need a general introductory course talks about the realities of women's lives and we start with a section called Who are the women of America. And we go through the fact that we as women we're black women we're white middle class women white working class women. Lesbian women and we try and bring that through the whole introductory course analyzing the basic institutions then we have skills courses courses that give women skills that they have been traditionally denied we have theoretical courses. Then courses or feminist approaches to to do this through traditional disciplines like women's history courses women in literature courses. And then we have courses that we've called fieldwork courses where women
go out and analyze the institutions that women are in. Like analysis of the nursing profession or the health system so that we begin to build up a curriculum that gives us some control of understanding the world that we're affected by now most places have isolated courses as we could see from the figures and with. And the problem with having isolated courses is a department. Can say well that's all women's course we don't have to deal with women in the 19th century or the 20th century in normal courses because we have a women's history course and I think that's. A. Problem in terms of. Curriculum and content of education that we've got to guard against isolated courses we need those individual courses but we have to make sure we get them into a general framework and begin to change each discipline. What are some of the other kind of problems that we know people are working on. There's work being done
on. Occupational segregation. That is what kind of work is being considered man's work. When TV cameras for example what kind of work is being considered women's work there's interest to and how women have had a double burden of work. That they have. Been thought to do. They have been held responsible both for work outside of the home and for work within the home. And so we can see women if we look at women and work we can see women as double laborers perpetually moonlighting perpetually having to often having two jobs. In terms of. My own field which is literature. There's a real interest among some of the best people. In looking at women writers. And there are many more than we have ever known. There's a whole contribution of women to literature. That we simply haven't recognized. We haven't looked at its depths and we haven't looked at its complexities.
I'm also very interested in the implications in terms of creating literature of a cultural notion that men are the agents of culture. And women are the sweet creatures of nature. That men are the doers who write the books who paint the paintings who make the sculptures and women don't. And I'm interested in terms of our notion of the art. How this is affected us. And that. Aspect. Of that. I find real exciting is first we look that this is not men who are the agents of culture. But. Then we look at well who are the women who are agents of culture and then we begin to understand that. That. There have been women who've been agents for culture for 100 years or more. Of course. Some women are black women and black women are different from let's say you or me. And. That's something. That because we I think. We do a lot of work on that in Buffalo
because we see ourselves as responsible too. Is that typical list of women's studies programs across the country. I think more and more women are beginning to demand that. Not sure how many programs have moved on but I think more and more women are saying well look we want to know more and we're not the same. And that we have to know what our culture once we start looking at cultural heritage we realize that. Different. Histories to different cultural heritage and that our strength comes. From getting together and meeting the different ones. What about women in women's studies classes. This is a somewhat controversial issue. I'd like to know what you feel about it. I think we should take back one step. Which is is there. In the. Is there a function particularly know. Of women working in groups together. Whether it's in the classroom. Whether it's in a club.
Whether it's in a political group. Is there something good something healthy that happens to women when they work together. And there seems to be something. Yes there's the answer seems to be positive. That at least in this point of time. And I think one of the things that the new the scholarship about women is uncovering is how much has operated in the past. The women working together. As a group as I say whether it's in the classroom or outside of the classroom. Are able to do. Good things. Now men have always done this and nobody said much about it except to read. The football team in the army you know old boy look at what those fellows can do together working in the football team in the army. And we've always been able to accept as having a certain social value although I don't know about the army but we've been able to accept the utility of men working in groups together. We're beginning to see a rediscovered utility of women within a group together.
In my own particular classroom. I teach both men and women. Feel that we have less than a minute. In our program we found it very successful and I think we find. That but it's not an across the board thing. No it's not. But we find that in those questions which have that there's a certain aspect to the question a certain right. I think the program that's found that the reason why it's so strong is that we never on the cards the power that comes from women working together and trying to work to increase that increase in recognition of it I don't understand where that comes from. Isn't it. Interesting how people of women working together from time to time. And. Women's that it might address this why are people both men and women so frightened of seeing women in groups together.
We'll have to time for another time thank you both for being here. Thank you for watching and good night. Reduction in funding provided by public television stations. The Ford Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Women's Studies
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WNED (Buffalo, New York)
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Episode Description
This episode features a conversation with Catherine Stimpson and Liz Kennedy. Catherine Stimpson is associate professor of English at Barnard College in NYC. She is editor of Signs, a journal of women and culture in our society. Liz Kennedy is a founding member of the Womens Studies College and member of the Governance Board of the Womens Studies Program at SUNY Buffalo.
Series Description
Woman is a talk show featuring in-depth conversations exploring issues affecting the lives of women.
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Talk Show
Social Issues
Copyright 1975 by Western New York Educational Television Association, Inc.
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Moving Image
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Director: George, Will
Guest: Stimpson, Catherine
Guest: Kennedy, Liz
Host: Elkin, Sandra
Producer: Elkin, Sandra
Producing Organization: WNED
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: WNED 04352 (WNED-TV)
Format: DVCPRO
Generation: Master
Duration: 00:28:50
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Chicago: “Woman; Women's Studies,” 1975-07-01, WNED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 28, 2023,
MLA: “Woman; Women's Studies.” 1975-07-01. WNED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 28, 2023. <>.
APA: Woman; Women's Studies. Boston, MA: WNED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from