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Chapter 4: New Epistemologies

February 9, 2009 | NeW

Epistemology, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity.” Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers notes in her book, Who Stole Feminism?, that feminist scholars may carry the idea that “oppressed” groups (i.e. women) are priviledged with “new epistemologies” which are superior socially and scientifically. This concept adds to mistrust and arrogance between the genders. As a self-proclaimed “equity feminist,” Dr. Sommers shares her own equity feminist creed, written by Iris Murdoch. An Irish born, English writer, Murdoch believed in the “culture of humanity.”

“Men ‘created culture’ because they were free to do so, and women were treated as inferior and made to believe that they were. Now free women must join in the human world of work and creation on an equal footing and be everywhere in art, science, business, politics, etc . . . However, to lay claim, in this battle, to female ethics, femalecriticism, female knowledge . . . is to set up a new female ghetto. (Chauvinist males should be delighted by the move . . .) ‘Women’s Studies’ can mean that women are led to read mediocre or peripheral books by women rather than the great books of humanity in general. . . . It is a dead end, in danger of simply separating women from the mainstream thinking of the human race. Such cults can also waste the time of young people who may be reading all the latest books on feminism instead of studying the difficult and important things that belong to the culture of humanity [ her emphases].”

This may seem a harsh analysis of Women Studies’ departments. However, it is a natural danger. My question is this: should our universities even have a Women Studies department? Is it necessary? Is it beneficial in the pursuit of academic excellence? In the pursuit of knowledge?

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