I voted to abolish the gender studies program at New College of Florida. Critics of the decision to eliminate gender studies have since labeled it an attack on education itself. But as a matter of academic integrity and intellectual honesty, the board has a firm basis to remove gender studies as an area of concentration at the state’s liberal arts honors college.
Science Versus Self-Identity
Gender studies is not a science. Pretenses of legitimacy obscure its lack of scientific rigor and replicable research. When pressed on biological facts (such as male and female differences in genetics, hormones, anatomy, and neurochemistry), the answer is that what leftists call “gender” is socially constructed and not a matter of natural science, something even the World Health Organization admits.
“Neither gender difference nor gender inequality is inevitable in the nature of things nor, more specifically, in the nature of our bodies,” a highly acclaimed gender studies textbook argues. Indeed, gender theorists deem the scientific method sexist because it focuses on the facts of nature rather than claims of personal self-identity.
Political Doctrine, Not Academic Discipline
At the same time, the tendentious character of gender studies makes it more of a political movement for social change than the proper subject of an academic discipline. It does not stem from the liberal arts and falls well outside a humanities focus. Though it is hailed as an interdisciplinary field, gender studies doesn’t do justice to the disciplines with which it engages; instead, it subverts them by cherry-picking whatever advances a gender studies agenda while largely ignoring anything that would weaken its claims.
The gender movement pays lip service to critical thinking and freedom of speech even as it engenders closed-mindedness. Its experts censor and harass scholars (from within and without their field) who dare criticize gender theory’s methods. Nothing could be further from the spirit of academic inquiry.
Ideological conformity within gender studies betrays the true nature of such programs. While dogmatically adhering to relativism’s denial of objective truth, gender theorists are always eager to impose their truth on us. That is because gender theory grew from postmodernism’s narrative of systemic oppression and its method of deconstruction. Its proponents see advocacy, coercion, and even censorship as essential for social revolution along predetermined lines.
“Our field is inherently activist,” an Indiana University gender program proclaims. “Because we are concerned with the status of all marginalized and oppressed groups, we examine how gender, sex, and sexuality are woven into the fabric of these groups and into social frameworks of power.”
Turning Society into a Gender Studies Department
It is no coincidence that the recent proliferation of interdisciplinary studies about race and especially sex — feminist, lesbian, gay, queer, transgender — has metastasized beyond the faculty lounge to ravage the whole of higher education. The goal of programs such as gender studies is not to discover knowledge but to remake the academy and society in its image. That’s why the head of UCLA’s gender program can confidently declare, “We will continue to prepare students to become anti-colonial, anti-racist critical feminist thinkers ready and able to confront the immense challenges of our times.”
Following these professed experts, powerful institutions warmly embrace the delusion that men can become women and vice versa. And now we see this radical theory spreading throughout society with predictable results. Dissent is swiftly crushed.
In Indiana, two parents lost custody of their child when they refused to deny their son’s sex. Michigan nearly passed a bill that would have criminalized speech that “misgenders” someone, with penalties ranging from a $10,000 fine to five years in prison. In Oregon, the state deemed a prospective mother unsuitable to adopt or foster because she refused to support a child’s transgender exploration. A court in Maryland says parents do not have a fundamental right to remove their children from Montgomery County’s gender curriculum, even if it conflicts with their religious views.
Opening Inquiry by Ending Gender Studies
The immediate objection is that the Board of Trustees’ decision to exclude a gender studies program from New College’s liberal arts curriculum muzzles discussions of prominent social issues in the classroom. On the contrary, this decision will create a more thoughtful, mature, and rigorous consideration of such questions. Any substantial topic concerning sex can be addressed within existing academic fields — biology, history, philosophy, and politics, to name a few — and would benefit from the scholarly attention and intellectual objectivity of those long-established disciplines.
In the words of John Henry Newman, “The purpose of a university should be to train the mind to think, to think widely and deeply, to think inquisitively and originally.” Gender studies, with its preordained worldview, insistence on ideological conformity, and aim of social activism, is far removed from this educational ideal. By disbanding its gender studies program, New College of Florida has taken a significant step to safeguard the integrity of its liberal arts mission and academic work and to reaffirm its commitment to educational excellence and intellectual freedom.