I got an A in Phallus 101

I wish.

I love the conservative hand-wringing about what those crazy college kids are learning. I’m in law school, and I suspect that Charlotte Allen would fall over clutching her pearls if she were to take a look at my schedule, which includes classes like “Sexuality and the Law” and “Race and Legal Scholarship” and “Feminist Jurisprudence.” Oh, the horror of taking classes with some of the best faculty in the country at a top-five law school if those classes recognize things like race and gender and sex. What in the world could those issues have to do with the law, or life in general?

Allen bemoans the fact that students can get the same number of credits for taking a class on, say, Marxism as they can on the Greek Tragedies. She writes:

Nipping at UCLA’s heels was Amherst, with “Taking Marx Seriously.” The first sentence of the course description is: “Should Marx be given another chance?” With 100 million dead in various gulags and related charnel houses, I don’t think so.

Well, if the number of people who die for an ideology is indicative of how seriously it should be taken, then we should probably rid ourselves of the Abrahamic religions, no? (And yes, Charlotte, that does include Christianity).

The conservative knee-jerk response to the words “Marxism” or “Socialism” or “Communism” is always good for a laugh. In Charlotte’s world, there is absolutely no possible use for a course which examines Marxism beyond concluding “it’s totally stupid” — despite the fact that, if you bother to venture outside of your front yard, Marx’s theories have had quite an effect world-wide, from Yugoslavia to Iran. According to Wikipedia, Albania, Afghanistan, Angola, Bulgaria, China, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Ethiopia, Hungary, Laos, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nicaragua, North Korea, Poland, Romania, Russia, Yugoslavia, Vietnam, Kerala and West Bengal have all at least nominally adhered to Marxism There are a whole lot of people who have thought that Marx should, in fact, be taken seriously. We can shake out heads at what a dummy he was, but that doesn’t make it so — and that doesn’t make him any less influential. Asking “Should Marx be given another chance?” allows students to critique and question his ideologies in light of modern philosophy, economics, and social structures. Sounds exactly like what students at institutions of higher learning should be doing.

Yes, it’s valuable to read the Greek tradgedies. Yes, Shakespeare matters. But at some point, more modern theories have to be studied, too. College is not simply to look back hundreds of years. Part of its purpose is to give students a more comprehensive world view, to introduce them to new ideas, and to equip them with the tools to be critical and creative thinkers. The Odyssey alone isn’t going to do that; students need to take on contemporary philosophies, and recognize that until very, very recently, academia was the realm of a white, wealthy, Western elite, and therefore omits the perspectives, ideas and experiences of most people we share our world with.

Charlotte Allen would be happier to make students to live in the past, and allow them to be under the impression that all significant cultural and academic works have come from rich white dudes. She would prefer that they don’t take on the important issues of our time, and instead assume that King Lear’s problems are fully applicable — and even offer answers — to modern predicaments. Yes, we need to learn from the past (although the Republican party doesn’t seem to have caught on to that quite yet — and neither has Charlotte, for that matter, when we realize that she has based her entire career on trying to limit the rights and opportunities of other women). But we also need to pay attention to what the best and brightest thinkers and writers and artists are putting out now. And what those thinkers, writers and artists have been saying for the past few decades is that traditionally silenced voices count, too.

Do some of the classes have silly titles? Sure. But when more young people are going to college than ever, and universities are often similar to corporations in trying to attract students, there’s something to be said for framing these issues in a fresh way. And perhaps this is a sign of my liberal insanity, but some of the courses listed sound pretty helpful. Prime example: “Nonviolent responses to terrorism.”

What does it say about conservatives when a class focusing on problem-solving in the face of an incredibly pertinent, important issue is laughable because it uses the term “nonviolent”? They find this course absurd simply because it suggests that solutions exist beyond killing almost 700,000 people.

Forgive me if I don’t think these brainiacs are the best people to be throwing stones right now.

But in case we really need to emphasize the hypocrisy, check out the academics at religions-right favorites Bob Jones University and Liberty University.

At Bob Jones, you can major in Camp Ministries, wherein you will take courses like Recreational Leadership and Camp Administration where “you will study the history of camping.” You can also study “Church Music” or simply “Bible” — but never fear, the courses are divided into “Bible” for the normal people and “Bible (women).” There’s also “Interpretive Speech,” which “is designed to provide broad liberal arts preparation for careers in public relations, communications and ministries using Christian drama.”

But studying Marxism, which has impacted the lives of millions of people world-wide, is a waste of time. And need I remind anyone that American conservatism isn’t exactly the height of intellect, given its dominant views on, say, evolution and climate change? Or its leaders’ inability to secure basic knowledge of Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Islam in general before invading two countries and gearing up for a third, if not fourth?

I suppose, though, it’s more fun to write articles for the LA Times where you get to giggle as you type “phallus” (hee hee! I usually say “peepee”!) than it is to address the fact that right-wing anti-intellectualism is wreaking havoc world-wide and leaving a lot of bodies in its wake.


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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35 Responses to I got an A in Phallus 101

  1. Mnemosyne says:

    She would prefer that they don’t take on the important issues of our time, and instead assume that King Lear’s problems are fully applicable — and even offer answers — to modern predicaments.

    Lear = George HW Bush

    Regan & Goneril = Dubya and Neil

    Cordelia = Jeb

    Hey, it’s a theory. I could go for an ending like that.

    (Note to the FBI: I am not advocating that anyone die or be killed, or even go insane and stagger through the rain carrying his dead child. Thank you.)

  2. Rachel says:

    Are we sure that class isn’t a survey of film comedies of the 1930s and 1940s?

  3. JW says:

    What an intellectually uncurious turd. Heaven forbid we consider that the categories we use to make sense of the world are anything but Gawd-given and unquestionable. “Whaaaaaaat?
    ‘Whiteness’ studies? But to be white is, is, to be…*head explodes*” I can’t even worry about morons like Allen, although I wonder if she realizes her own relationship to the phallus.

  4. blair says:

    shorter Charlotte Allen: whah! I couldn’t get through Freud without blushing (and don’t know what phallologocentrism means anyway), it clearly has no relevance to anyone anywhere. And what’s the point of talking about race. Especially in America. Race hasn’t played a huge role American history. And it certainly isn’t an important issue right now.

    It’s too bad we can’t make Charlotte sit through that class on whiteness. Maybe she would realize that thinking race isn’t an important, complex subject that deserves attention is a perfect example of white privilege in action. I can’t believe the LA Times publishes this woman.

  5. I doubt she really cares much for Shakespeare except as a cudgel to imply that other things are lesser. If they sliced the stuff out that conservatives object to, they’d have to object to Shakespeare, too, because of all the cross-dressing, etc.

  6. Laurie says:

    Hell, they’d object to Shakespeare due to the *language*! And I do mean the ever so bawdy Elizabethan puns, not just the rampant use of words of more than two syllables.

  7. Kaitlyn says:

    Those classes sound so awesome.

    Aren’t they what college is about?

    She talks about the cost of these commie courses, well, hell, they sound like more fun than the old standards and cost the same, give you the same credit, why not?

  8. johanna says:

    Wow, I actually wish that I had gotten to take “Border Crossings, Borderlands: Transnational Feminist Perspectives on Immigration,” because I actually worked in a transitional house for immigrant women for a year. I have a friend who is working on the border in El Paso with undocumented immigrants who would be drooling over that syllabus.

    Imagine, somewhere in the world someone might actually be needing to think about feminism and immigration on a daily basis! Holy cow!

    (But then again, the two classes I reference most often are “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” and “Social and Cultural Aspects of Food.” Too bad ole Charlotte missed those!)

  9. zuzu says:

    She would prefer that they don’t take on the important issues of our time, and instead assume that King Lear’s problems are fully applicable — and even offer answers — to modern predicaments.

    The thing about Shakespeare is the universality of his themes. Which is what makes him not only great, but perfectly suitable for being taught alongside other great world literatures with similar themes.

    Just in movie adaptations, I’ve seen King Lear translated to Imperial Japan (Ran), Richard III translated to Nazi Germany (avec Ian McKellan) and Romeo and Juliet translated to modern Miami gangs.

  10. Pingback: Feministe » Since Jill’s Been Stepping On My Toes

  11. When people don’t study Marxism, Jared Diamond can think he invented historical materialism.

  12. jenny @ ousu says:

    Liberty & Bob Jones don’t actually teach uncensored Shakespeare on their courses- far too racy. I don’t think it’s the liberal institutions which have the problem, somehow…

  13. Nomie says:

    I actually found that classes in more modern topics, like literary theory, have helped me with my research and writing for my Classics work. And my thesis was on “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and the Odyssey. Maybe I should mail it to Allen and see if she has an aneurysm.

  14. Maria says:

    I doubt she really cares much for Shakespeare except as a cudgel to imply that other things are lesser. If they sliced the stuff out that conservatives object to, they’d have to object to Shakespeare, too, because of all the cross-dressing, etc.

    Hell, they’d object to Shakespeare due to the *language*! And I do mean the ever so bawdy Elizabethan puns, not just the rampant use of words of more than two syllables.

    Shhh…don’t let on that Shakespeare is all about the phallus jokes…

    Assuming that they would have to object to Shakespeare too because of the bawdy language is assuming that they would understand the language. Judging from the crazies I’ve encountered in my theater experiences, most people don’t get it.

  15. Anne says:

    You might wonder how a lesbian can have a phallus

    *snickers immaturely*

  16. B.D. says:

    And one needn’t look to other countries to see the influence of Marx in this world. Our unions were founded in part by a great many people who held Marx’s theories in high regards. Of course, what do unions have to do with American law? (rhetorical, sarcastic question).

    get to giggle as you type “phallus” (hee hee! I usually say “peepee”!)

    I usually just say “Wii”, but I like the games. As in, “John’s in a hurry because he wants to run home and play with his Wii.”

  17. Christopher says:

    Lame, lame, lame.

    What baffles me is that Ms. Allen spends her column picking at the most completely reasonable courses on that list.

    I mean, what’s wrong with “blackness” and “whiteness”? If what you’re going to do with your life has anything at all to do with America, then knowledge of the topics discussed in these courses would be indispensable.

    Historian? black and white race issues have played huge roles in our country from the very beginning. Slavery was enshrined in the constitution, fer-crying-out-loud!

    Legal career? See above about slavery being in the constitution, not to mention Jim Crow laws. Huge piles of legal history are rooted in race issues, especially black vs. white.

    Opinion writer, like Ms. Allen? It might help to have some idea of how ideas circulate through the black and white communities. If you want to, I dunno, complain about that silly “rap” music it might help to understand which historic ideas hip hop culture draws on, and to have some context for its high popularity among white youths.

    Marketing? See above.

    If you want to go into any field that at all deals with American opinion in any way, you will benefit immensely by understanding what “blackness” and “whiteness” mean to Americans.

    Hell, even the hard sciences would benefit. If you go into science, it’ll help you write for a lay audience.

    Seriously, is Ms. Allen just a big racist?

    Also, the Native American Feminisms being included pissed me off. I mean, what, American history isn’t good enough for American college students? What, fucking PLATO is more useful, relevant and important then what Americans had to say about America?

    It’s part of the “othering” of native Americans that just pisses me off SO! DAMN! MUCH!

    Plato, a person from another continent, is seen as American. Meanwhile, actual Americans are marginalised as foreigners; at best, quaint primitives. At worst, dangerous threats to our way of life.

    And yet she barely even mentions the one about mail-order brides, which strikes even me as being of limited utility.

  18. Bitter Scribe says:

    Sometimes I wonder: If you totaled up all the people who were killed or whose lives were ruined due to Communism, and then all the people who were killed or whose lives were ruined due to reactionary anti-Communism, which total would be higher?

    The Communists would probably come out ahead. But I don’t think the margin would be as comfortable as people like this Charlotte Allen seem to think.

  19. Nakanja says:

    At Occidental, for instance, it seems nearly impossible to study any field, save for the hard sciences, that doesn’t include “race, class and gender” among its topics. Even the Shakespeare course at Occidental this semester focuses on “cultural anxieties over authority, race, colonialism and religion” during the age of the Bard.

    The bigger problem is that too much of American higher education has lost any notion of what its students ought to know about the ideas and people and movements that created the civilization in which they live: Who Plato was or what happened at Appomattox.

    Yeah, so for what happened at Appomattox… So we should teach the U.S. Civil War, but leave out the “cultural anxieties” between the north and the south. Racial or class issues aren’t worth looking at, either. Without that wouldn’t students be a bit lost as to why they were doing all that fighting in the first place? You’re not going to get the whole picture from one big string of battles and generals and strategies without context.

    I mean in my (very limited) exposure to history classes I’d think there isn’t much you could look at that wouldn’t touch on at least one of “cultural anxieties over authority, race, colonialism and religion” or “race, class and gender” .

  20. Christopher says:

    Oh, and thanks for bringing up that comparison between Christianity and Communism.

    For some reason, the same people who want to throw communism out for being a failure never seem to notce that, while there has never been a real communist society, and all those societies that claim to be communist have become appalling dictatorships, the same can also be said of Christianity, with the added bonus that Christians have had ten times as much time to create that REAL Christian society.

    On the one hand, I REALLY like this comparison. On the other, in my limited experience, when you say this to more right-leaning types, they just shut you out entirely. It’s not like they rebut you, so much as they decide that you’re obviously so radical that they don’t NEED to rebut you, and they can just call you an idiot.

    It’s very annoying, especially as I first came up with this, without hearing it previously, as a completely non-loaded answer to a person who asked why people still feel nostalgic for communism.

    My thought process was “Hmm, good question. Why DO people feel that they must defend communism in theory even when they admit it always failed in practice? Usually when I don’t know why somebody thinks in a certain way, It helps to think about whether people in a more familiar culture have any similar ideas. Now, what other ideas are extremely nice in thoery, but tend to continually fail in practice?

    “Aha! Christianity! Since this person thinks that Christianity is worth holding on to after all its failings, surely he’ll understand that some people feel the same way about communism!”

    It didn’t work out that way.

  21. DAS says:

    Are we sure that class isn’t a survey of film comedies of the 1930s and 1940s? – Rachel

    I am, and will always be, an un-reconstructed Marxist. BTW, did someone call me a schnorrer?

  22. DAS says:

    BTW … does Charlotte Allen have anything to do with Charlotte Simmons?

  23. Medicine Man says:

    Love the name of this article. Now I’ll have to read it.

  24. flea says:

    Brilliant post.

  25. Medicine Man says:

    Incidentally, is there an email address I can send a message to if I’m looking to point something out to Zuzu, Jill, or Piny?

  26. karpad says:

    I object to Shakespeare on countless grounds: the pornographic violence and poor spelling and grammar are grounds enough.

    if I want to read a bunch of non-standard spellings and grammatical nightmares like “Woe is me,” I can just read AIM chatlogs of l33t d00dz talking about their WoW game. or any website dedicated to fans of Insane Clown Posse.

    no, in all seriousness, I have substantial problems with th cultural cheuvanism involved in thinking Sophocles and Shakespeare are the heights of cultural learning.

    because I have read the unabridged Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Luo Guanzhong knows how to write a fucking climax to a story. (I highly look forward to John Woo’s treatment of the Battle of Red Cliff in 2008.)

  27. Linnaeus says:

    When people don’t study Marxism, Jared Diamond can think he invented historical materialism.

    Booyah!

    Hell, you don’t even need to go back that far. Read Alfred Crosby, and you’ll see a lot of stuff that looks oddly familiar.

  28. AC Serrano says:

    I object to Shakespeare on countless grounds: the pornographic violence and poor spelling and grammar are grounds enough.

    To be fair though, English spelling had not been standardized at the time, and the language itself was undergoing changes, as it shifted from a heavily-inflected language (like German) to a mostly non-inflecting, fixed-word-order language.

    (I highly look forward to John Woo’s treatment of the Battle of Red Cliff in 2008.)

    WHAT? Oh my god… Must. See. (Interesting to note that my interest in the Three Kingdoms period comes from, of all places, a video game.)

  29. Erin says:

    Seriously, they have some of the best courses ever listed in the catalog here at UCLA. I get way too excited when it comes time to register for classes. Hah.

  30. karpad says:

    To be fair though, English spelling had not been standardized at the time, and the language itself was undergoing changes, as it shifted from a heavily-inflected language (like German) to a mostly non-inflecting, fixed-word-order language.

    if conservatives get to personally hold a philosopher and historionicist like Marx responsible for the crimes of unrelated tyrants, I get to hold Shakespeare accountable for not following rules of spelling and grammar that weren’t invented until centuries after his death.

    right, AC. I’m guessing Dynasty Warriors, as it’d be a bit too convenient to be turned onto studies of the Three Kingdoms by a game based on Romance Of the Three Kingdoms.

    but yes, John Woo is directing, Chow Yun Fat plays Liu Bei, Ken Watanabe plays Cao Cao.

    I’m looking forward to it, to say the least.

  31. utsusemi says:

    @Karpad–way OT, and I really know relatively little about that period (and nothing about Ken Watanabe, either) but it’s interesting that a Japanese actor is cast as Cao Cao, since he’s so commonly the badguy. Is that so in this movie too?

    Speaking of, well, race and cultural issues–so irrelevant to daily life! Heh.

    I have nothing really useful to add to the main discussion, except to echo others that many of those courses sound really useful and mind-expanding. For at least some of them, you’d have to have your head in a bag to miss it. “Nonviolent responses to terrorism” as a silly subject, feh.

  32. zuzu says:

    Incidentally, is there an email address I can send a message to if I’m looking to point something out to Zuzu, Jill, or Piny?

    feministe (at) gmail (dot) com

  33. zuzu says:

    Incidentally, is there an email address I can send a message to if I’m looking to point something out to Zuzu, Jill, or Piny?

    feministe (at) gmail (dot) com

  34. Medicine Man says:

    feministe (at) gmail (dot) com

    Awesomeness. Thank you.

  35. karpad says:

    Ken Watanabe, whom you may know as “the first Raz Al’Ghul stand in in Batman Begins” or “the sage old Samurai who teaches Tom Cruis Bushido in The Last Samurai.”

    and while it is a matter of fact that Cao Cao is the “villian” of this particular story, he’s only a villian in the same sense that a movie about the Iliad following Achillies would have Hector as the “villian.”

    it’s generally considered a coup to get Watanabe, as John Woo’s interest in him is that he’s a superb actor.

    while wiki on Battle of Red Cliff is a good summary, honestly, I’d more recommend The Cartoon History of the Universe vol. 2. for a summary.

    I long for the day I finish my graduate work and get a small cushy job teaching undergraduate history at some small liberal arts school. Cartoon History of the Universe would be my only textbook. it really is that good.

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