Saturday, October 20, 2007

Days Off: or, why feminism will never be irrelevant

Hello! It is the year 2007 and in one of the many many many many papers I graded this past week, I came across the following two ideas:

1. The student's mother only worked part-time so that on her days off she could clean the house and make hot meals for the family.

2. Dads like to teach us hands-on things like how to fix things or do yard work, while Moms teach us other kinds of things like cooking and how to do laundry.

Where to begin? Clearly, in the first instance there should be some ironic quotation marks ("days off"). And, um, I find cooking to be very hands on. I find laundry to be very hands off, though, because my beloved husband takes care of the laundry for our family (hi, honey!). Though I did do my own laundry for many years, and my beloved mom did indeed teach me how to do it (hi, Momma!).

And yet, my students, by and large, continue to see feminism as something completely outside their lives, with no practical application in the enlightened world we live in today. Many of them see racism the same way, believing that the Civil Rights Movement cleaned up the very few vestiges of racial conflict left over after the South surrendured. Whenever that was. A sense of history seems to be largely absent in 80% of the freshmen I encounter these days. Often it feels as if every novel, memoir, poem and play needs to also be accompanied by a short lesson in historical context. I don't mind a little blurring of the disciplinary boundaries; I just wish I felt like there was some kind of foundation I was adding to, instead of building from scratch.

I feel this especially as we get closer to starting Toni Morrison's Beloved, a novel at the crossroads of many race and gender issues. Can I have one semester without hearing the argument that as they were fed and sheltered, the slaves really didn't have it so bad? Pure outrage, though in some respects the proper response to this argument, does not a learning atmosphere make. I'm launching a pre-emptive strike this semester and using some excerpts from slave narratives to try to provide the context my students otherwise lack. But sometimes I wish we could really focus on the literature and take for granted that everyone has a passing familiarity with the facts. I suppose this is why so many professors really prefer to only teach upper level or graduate courses. You can assume more in the way of basic knowledge.

This is the wish I wish tonight.

No comments: