Author’s note: by posting this, I am fully aware that I am not presenting a solution and I recognize the logical argument of studying different writers throughout history and with that comes their viewpoints, however sexist they may be.
Now onto what is making my blood boil.
Today, I sit in my English class, a class taught by a man. We are studying late 17th century through mid-19th century literature. This week has been focused on Alexander Pope. As a woman, I am conflicted. Pope’s writing style is beautiful and rhythmic and his form has such purpose backing up the content of his writing. However, he is one of the believers in the “Great Chain of Being,” and as we learned today in lecture… women are usually placed under men in this great chain. We have less capacity for reason than men, but more than animals. Pope struggled to place “us” in this neat and tidy ranking system, which is what his “Epistle 2: To a Lady” is basically about.
Another reiteration of this disclaimer: I recognize that he is a writer of his time. He simply reflects the thoughts about women in this age, and I get it. I am fine with that – because why waste my energy on changing past views when there are so many problems with the one’s of today?
However, what got to me today was, as I sat in the middle of the classroom, looking at the demographics of this prerequisite English major course, I was surrounded by mostly women. I am positive there are less than 10 men in my class, but I’ll up it to 15 to be generous. There are 100 seats in this class, and the majority of those seats are taken by people of my own gender. Statistically speaking, roughly 70% of people in the English major are females as of 2010 according to NPR.
So there I am, sitting in a class surrounded by people like me, being taught by a man the, frankly, sexist views of the past “greats” of English literature. Just as Alexander Pope struggled to place women in the Great Chain of Being, I struggle to comprehend how I am just supposed to sit there and take all of this horribly frustrating judgments on women just because some really great writer thought them. I am frustrated and confused. Am I even allowed to be angry? Is this a problem to anyone else, or am I just hypersensitive?
In today’s culture of “political correctness,” I struggle with being comfortable voicing my opinions out of the fear of being dubbed too “PC” (politically correct) or an “SJW” (social justice warrior). Am I just making this a big deal? Or is my observation a valid concern in my field of study?
In this lack of conclusion, I leave you with a request. Pay closer attention to who you are surrounded by in class, who holds a position of power… and what that means for academia in the times to follow.
Featured image: Cartoon by Jon Dorn (10-4-12)