“Why is there not the political will at Columbia to make gender issues central?”


Miriam Champion Professor of History
IRWGS Director, 1989-94

Why is there not the political will at Columbia to make gender issues central to what they call general education at Columbia? I think that the problem is not that we haven’t institutionalized the study of gender in a way that makes it necessary that people take account of it. I mean, I think that’s part of the problem. Certainly at Columbia, it’s a big problem. I think it’s the political culture in the United States. I think that it’s both toxic and important. Race is a bigger issue in terms of what people think they have to think about as part of how this democracy works or doesn’t work. Social inequality in terms of income is now a bigger issue. The issues of gender are pretty far down the list, and some of that—you know, the backlash won. It maybe didn’t conquer, but it’s held its ground. Some of that has to do with the limitations of the women’s movement…

Now there’s feminist theory that is much more sophisticated, but that hasn’t been part of the conversation. I actually don’t have a good answer. I can describe what the problems are, but I don’t know quite how to fix them. It’s a refusal to consider the systematic social structure that produces the inequality. It’s so easy to talk about in individual terms. That’s a little bit the problem with feminism is that it’s not seen as—gender hierarchy isn’t seen as structural so much as a question of whether these women have these rights. I think we’d have to decide exactly where to pick our fight. I think if we just start screaming, we lose. So if we could mobilize around a particular issue that forced change—but I don’t know what that issue would be. You have to be able to get their ear. In other words, they have to take it seriously. It has to be an issue they, they, take seriously, or you won’t be heard. I think maybe it is time for us to be bad girls. We’re powerful now. There are too many of us.