Sean O'Brien, of the Creative Writing department at Sheffield University,
told me that he has to work hardest with the women returners, on the whole.
(This is on the part-time MA course.) Some of them are from urban
backgrounds and some from rural, often travelling quite some distance for
weekly or twice-weekly classes, and often at considerable financial
sacrifice. This is the thing they've longed to do, and they've overcome
difficulties to do it. Yet once they're there, many of them seem to find it
hard to stop regarding themselves as 'only' a housewife, mother, whatever.
Sean has to spend time and effort assuring them that, yes, their opinions
are worth hearing, and yes, there is no reason why they shouldn't write
about any subject in the world if they want.
On the other hand, my experience in the (similar) Newcastle MA in Writing
Poetry, where quite coincidentally that entire intake was made up of women
returners, most with jobs as well as their domestic responsibilities, was
that we were all, individually and as a unit, fizzing with creativity and
----- Original Message -----
From: "Mark Weiss" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Friday, March 31, 2006 4:03 PM
Subject: Re: Feminism: an aside
> Yup. I think anyone who's ever taught undergrads in the states has noticed
> this. The disparity in my experience diminishes somewhat in graduate
> school but is still pretty obvious. There was no disparity, as far as I
> can remember, among my cohort of students in Social Work. Most of the
> class was female, and it was almost entirely Jewish and New York (Yeshiva
> University). Everyone was aggressive as hell. And a fair number had worked
> in the field before.
> I have noticed consistently that what are called returning woman students,
> mostly in their 30s and 40s, whose children have reached a more
> independent age, and are earning the degree they for what ever reason
> didn't when they were younger, absolutely dominate their classes, even the
> few returning males. This was equally true in New York, and in Tucson and
> San Diego, where male and female 18 to 22 year old students equally were
> extremely passive in class. And it was true in psychology classes and
> english classes. The women were fiercely eager to learn.
> Does anybody notice an ethnic breakdown in the responsiveness of students?
> Back to your observation. It does take some taming of the wilder voices,
> and a lot of giving permission to the quieter voices. It seems to work.
> It would be great to hear other people's observations: we all have only
> limited samples from our own experience. Is it the same in other
> At 09:40 AM 3/31/2006, you wrote:
>>I was taking a look at the culmination of two terms of discussion forum
>>activity (I sort-of teach in a business school) for a final year
>>undergraduate module and couldn't help but mull over a strange fact:
>>there is approx a 50/50 gender split (as there has been for the last 5
>>years) but yet again three-quarters+ of the discussion forum postings for
>>this (academically difficult) module are from males.
>>So many loud, authoritative voices.
>>So much certainty.
>>So few questions being asked.
>>Student feedback questionnaires report that 85% of my students regard me
>>as a very good or excellent teacher. The statistics are obviously
>>bollocks or whatever is being measured is an irrelevance.
>>I cannot ignore the evidence of my eyes or my gut instincts and so next
>>year I will try again to draw out some of those silent voices because I am
>>aware that they are there and that it is important.
>>>From: Mark Weiss <[log in to unmask]>
>>>Reply-To: Poetryetc provides a venue for a dialogue relating to poetry
>>> poetics <[log in to unmask]>
>>>To: [log in to unmask]
>>>Subject: Re: Feminism: an aside
>>>Date: Thu, 30 Mar 2006 22:17:42 -0500
>>>A little thoughtful is about right. You apparently see what you want to,
>>>rather than what's written. For instance, the strategy I proposed to end
>>>female circumcision goes rather beyond expressions of outrage to two
>>>things that need to happen: culturally-aware education, and increasing
>>>the economic choices of women. It's what the workers on the ground are in
>>>fact doing. It's neither dramatic nor glamorous nor nearly fast enough,
>>>but nothing else seems to work at all. What I said was that anger isn't a
>>>plan. I wasn't rying to taunt you.
>>>When you talked about systemic gender biases it was on the subject of the
>>>legal system in relation to rape. I asked what you meant, and then
>>>supplied what I thought it might be and what I think are the problems
>>>with finding another way for the legal system to operate. I'm still
>>>curious what you think about this. This also wasn't a taunt, it was a
>>>request for clarification.
>>>Do you really think that rape in our society functions as a sexual
>>>punishment, as opposed to corners of Pakistan, where a mass rape was
>>>widely reported to have been a punishment for the men in the woman's
>>>family, or the use of rape as a tactic by some armies at war (and please,
>>>I'm not in the slightest making use of such barbarisms)? You seem to
>>>imply that what you see as its reinforcement by the judicial system is in
>>>some way intentional.
>>>So, a few of what I would think are obvious points. A third obvious point
>>>(I thought) is that gender-bias is differentiated by social class, and
>>>that any statistics that don't show a class breakdown aren't doing their
>>>job, which is to target the problem so that the always limited resources
>>>can be deployed most effectively. Why is this problematic? What else in
>>>complex societies isn't class-differentiated?
>>>In my city it's not hard to find tabloids with pictures of men in dog
>>>collars and worse, and it's also pretty easy to find specialized leather
>>>shops geared to men. There's one on 18th Street between 6th and 7th, for
>>>instance, that instead of a name on the window has a scarlet neon noose.
>>>Very elegant. It also was pretty easy in more-conservative San Diego: I
>>>can think of three on the main drag of a very fashionable neighborhood. I
>>>did have to explain these things to Carlos, and to warn him not to go
>>>into those places by himself. Only a small number of men and women find
>>>these things arousing, despite the tabloids. But is your point that men
>>>tend to like to look at sexually provocative images of women? Sure. This
>>>may be one of those facts of life that we have to learn to deal
>>>with--it's been around long enough (think about the Venus of Willendorf),
>>>and it's certainly not going away.
>>>This is not an attack against feminism--that's a cheap shot, and a
>>>refusal to pay attention to crucial differences. It's impatience with a
>>>particular kind of naive feminism. I'm sure you're aware of that.
>>>I don't remember calling you irrational, or angry, vengeful or
>>>I've said what I have to say.
>>>At 06:30 PM 3/30/2006, you wrote:
>>>>Today I find myself feeling a little thoughtful. Primarily, made
>>>>by how simply stating a fact - that there are systemic gendered biases
>>>>penalise women in certain very real ways in contemporary society (rather
>>>>more so in the US than here, I think) is immediately to be labelled as
>>>>angry, vengeful, man-hating feminist. Irrational, I think Mark said,
>>>>although I have been very careful to be rational; or full of impotent
>>>>which leads nowhere. Again, Mark's taunt is, what are you going to do
>>>>it? You don't have a Plan (though one might as easily ask what his Plan
>>>>to combat female circumcision). The answer is, of course, that I do what
>>>>can, in all the aspects of my life: how I raise my sons and daughter,
>>>>relate to men and women, how I write about art, how I write for young
>>>>people, how I write poems; I am a writer, after all, and not an
>>>>and my main concerns are to do with complexity and process rather than
>>>>ideological explication. But in all those activities, I am always
>>>>about the complexities of these issues, and act according to my
>>>>The counterargument is always, but men suffer too. This is of course
>>>>unarguable. Another is that gender, like all social patternings, is
>>>>specific. This is also correct. However, this does nothing to erase
>>>>inequities I quoted earlier, which exist in all societies.
>>>>Women face specific prejudices because they are women. In the worst
>>>>this becomes punishment for being female, or for stepping outside the
>>>>of what is considered proper for women. (An example of what I mean is
>>>>subtext of the pro-life activists, who are not interested in making sure
>>>>women and children have good lives - otherwise they would support
>>>>contraception, education, welfare for single mothers, &c - but are
>>>>interested in making sure that women are punished for having sex). The
>>>>boundaries for men and women are very different: men have boundaries
>>>>but for the moment I am not speaking about men. Rape is a kind of sexual
>>>>punishment that is reinforced rather than otherwise by the judicial
>>>>If the work of women is valued less than the work of men, it ensures
>>>>women don't value their work, something that is supported by all our
>>>>economic markers (capitalist society would collapse without the unpaid
>>>>mainly unremarked and generally low-status work of women). All these
>>>>mechanisms exist in a complex hierarchical economic system which also
>>>>ensures that most men get it in the neck as well. But to say that women
>>>>specific problems in both macro and micro ways is not to say that men
>>>>face problems. It is not to say that women are powerless, either. Nor
>>>>women don't participate in their own social subjugation. It is simply to
>>>>that these problems exist, and are real; and I wonder why what seems to
>>>>uncontroversially obvious (the rape statistics, the domestic violence
>>>>statistics, the income statistics, which are only crude measurings of
>>>>something much more complex and endemic) can be so quickly brushed aside
>>>>insignificant or simply wrong, subsumed in other arguments that
>>>>male problems, and that to be concerned about them is so easily to be
>>>>dismissed as angry, irrational or extreme.
>>>>Is it really just more palatable to speak about female circumcision
>>>>is those others, not us) than it is to speak about manifest problems in
>>>>own societies? Is the 14 year old who gets breast implants for her
>>>>any less oppressed than the child who is genitally mutilated? Does the
>>>>that she is making a "choice" in a consumerist society therefore make it
>>>>I have never seen outside a newsagents a picture of a naked man gagged
>>>>in a dog collar on all fours, as I have seen of a woman. I never had to
>>>>explain such an image of men to my children. I have been dismissed from
>>>>job at which I was perfectly competent because I was a mother, and so
>>>>couldn't be expected to be as committed as a childless woman, although
>>>>same question never arose with fathers. (By a woman, I might add). I see
>>>>every day around me in the suburb where I live very damaged people, and
>>>>women are damaged in quite specific ways that are different from the
>>>>of men. And so on.
>>>>Anyway, I'm not going to say much more about this. I have sometimes
>>>>that the main line of attack against feminism is to bore women to death
>>>>making them repeat the obvious again and again until everyone is dizzy
>>>>has forgotten what the point was in the first place. In any case, it's
>>>>interesting watching the mechanisms of this discussion.
>>>>Editor, Masthead: http://masthead.net.au
>>>>Home page: http://alisoncroggon.com