Teaching Literary Feminism

Barb Wire

“Why invite the potential headaches of teaching a lesbian graphic novel in a religious institution?” asks Professor Scott A. Dimowitz in an essay published in an academic anthology this month. “In the course of several iterations of a class on Literary Feminism that I teach at Regis University, a Jesuit school in Denver, Colorado, I have used Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic and selections from her long-running comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For to explain postmodern life narratives that incorporate nontraditional matter and a nodding acquaintance with Roman Catholic Church doctrine.”

Perhaps the disclosure of Professor Dimowitz’s curriculum is shocking to some alumni of Regis University and to Catholics who don’t realize how “postmodern life narratives,” including feminist gender theory, now pervade academia. As I previously explained (“Introduction to Feminist Theory”), “there are very good reasons why the proceedings in Women’s Studies courses are generally not discussed outside the classroom.” If parents and alumni were aware of what was being taught in these programs, and if voters understood how taxpayer subsidies to higher education are helping fund such ideological indoctrination on campus, we might expect a political firestorm to erupt. One can easily imagine a congressional committee hearing on what Professor Glenn Reynolds has called The Higher Education Bubble, where the “Your Tax Dollars At Work” aspect of this nonsense could be exposed to public scrutiny.

There are now Women’s Studies programs at some 700 U.S. colleges and universities, enrolling more than 90,000 students annually, and these programs are the intellectual command centers of the Feminist-Industrial Complex. Many thousands of professors are employed to teach courses in this interdisciplinary field. Carmen Rios, the self-described “raging lesbian feminist” who is Communications Coordinator at the Feminist Majority Foundation, has explained:

Is it Gender Studies? Women’s Studies? Women’s And Gender Studies? Sexuality Studies? Gender and Sexuality Studies? LGBT Studies? Queer Studies? Feminist Studies? . . . Women’s Studies remains an interdisciplinary field, making its name all the more difficult to decide on. Is it Women’s History and Theory, or is the program really Lesbo Recruitment 101?

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She said that, not me. Regis University describes its program:

Women’s and Gender Studies examines the intersections of gender, race, and class, and also considers how gender roles are constructed in different global cultures and historical periods. Women have made important contributions in traditionally defined “male pursuits” (politics, science, art, etc.) Although traditionally understudied, women’s experiences and participation have led to the reexamination of long-held interpretations and conventional wisdoms in a wide variety of academic fields. Uniting all women and gender studies inquiries is the effort to understand and explain inequality between men and women, and to envision the possibility of new social practices that could bring about greater equality, mutual understanding, and human flourishing.

And also, lesbian comic books. Professor Dimowitz explains that he teaches Bechdel’s cartoons because this helps “defamiliarize traditional linguistic life narratives and form a uniquely productive site of tension and destabilization of students’ assumptions about gender, sexuality, and the very nature of what constitutes aesthetic merit, which few of the other traditional texts were able to achieve to the same extent.”

Exactly how does all this relate to the aims of a Catholic university?Professor Dimowitz is eager to explain:

To be clear about my own position . . . I was raised in a particularly strict form of Pennsylvanian, Croatian-immigrant Roman Catholicisim. . . . Years later I find myself teaching Catholic students, although Regis is a Jesuit university and Jesuits have always been more of a distinctly unconventional form of Catholicism.

As a specialist in postmodern literature and gender studies, I have an investment in engaging students in open discussions about representations of gender and sexuality in contemporary literature and culture.

Hmmm. So now the professor talks about his Literary Feminism class:

The course is offered as part of Regis University’s Integrative Core Curriculum, which was established in 2009, seeking to integrate juniors’ and seniors’ understanding of four key areas: (1) Diversity and Cultural Tradition, (2) Global Environmental Awareness, (3) Justice and the Common Good, and (4) The Search for Meaning. As a Diversity and Cultural Tradition course, Literary Feminism has two pragmatic goals, among others: (1) to introduce students to the idea of gender as a performative act, and (2) to understand the complexities and varieties of human sexual expression and representation. These goals reflect an overall tolerant approach to the study of gender and sexuality. . . .

So here we find the postmodern “idea of gender as a performative act,”i.e., the social construction of the gender binary within the heterosexual matrix. One wonders what would be the reaction to Professor Dimowitz’s recitation of all this academic jargon, if you could present it to the devout priests who established this university, originally called Sacred Heart College, in the 19th century? One wonders, indeed, what the Pope must think of this, considering how he has twice in recent months condemned gender theory.

In an interview with Italian journalists Andrea Tornielli and Giacomo Galeazzi, Pope Francis compared gender theory to the doctrines of the Hitler Youth and, on April 15, Pope Francis described “so-called gender theory” as “an expression of frustration and resignation that aims to erase sexual differentiation because it no longer knows how to come to terms with it.”

Anyone who expects Catholic institutions of higher education to heed the Pope and fight against the nihilistic doctrine of gender theory, however, will be disappointed to discover what Professor Dimowitz is teaching at Regis University:

This graphic nature of the form is clear throughout Bechdel’s 2006Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, a darkly humorous coming-of-age memoir of Bechdel’s childhood growing up in a funeral home run by her father, a closeted homsexual who was also a high school English teacher with a penchant for seducing some of his male students.

(Feminist Literature is so wholesome and inspiring!)

The book cycles its meditations around the event of Bechdel’s father’s death, which she believes may have been a suicide. Juxtaposing her own coming out story as a lesbian against her father’s inability to lead an authentic existence.

Bechdel in Fun Home metanarratively meditates on the nature of life writing. . . . The book is frank about sexuality and blunt about her father’s statutory rapes of high school boys, and the text even includes several panels in which Bechdel recreated imagined scenes of seduction of these students. Bechdel struggles to understand her ambivalent responses to her father’s death while trying to unify a life narrative out of the fractured collage of documents and memories.

Again: Why is this being taught in a Catholic university? Do the parents who are paying $33,060 a year to send their children to Regis University have any clue what is being taught there? Does anyone even care?Professor Dimowitz says 70 percent of freshmen at Regis “self-identify as Roman Catholic.” However:

Many incoming students . . . have a rather cavalier attitude toward Church orthodoxy, which is part of an overall movement in contemporary attitudes. In America, especially, belief in strict Vatican law is clearly trending away from dogma.

According to a 2011 Pew survey of Americans, clear majorities “across most demographic groups say homosexuality should be accepted by society” and not discouraged or ignored (which are the two other categories). Interestingly, Catholics, in general, favor acceptance at 64 percent, which compares positively to the overall population’s acceptance, which is only 58 percent.

Here it should be pointed out that the choices Pew offered — whether homosexuality should be “accepted,” “ignored” or “discouraged” — omit other alternatives, particularly “tolerated,” i.e., an attitude somewhere in the range of “live and let live” or ‘who the hell cares?”

This kind of toleration of homosexuality has in fact been widespread in America for decades, even while gay activists have hyped up claims that America is gripped by “homophobia.” So, sure, given the three choices the Pew poll offered, most people would say “accepted,” particular because they know that’s the answer they’re supposed to choose. We return to Professor Dimowitz’s discussion:

This general trending toward acceptance [of homosexuality], especially among millennials, opens up a fertile space for dialogue with students of a traditional college age.

(Professor Dimowitz gets paid to have a “dialogue” about gayness with college kids, and he seems quite eager to do so.)

When asked in a survey, “How did you feel about our openly discussing homosexuality in a Catholic school?” the Regis students were overwhelmingly positive. . . . Of course, part of this positivity is perhaps a function of Regis University’s generally progressive Jesuit orientation, and the question might receive a different response from a far more conservative school.

The bottom line, then, is that Professor Dimowitz and the administration at Regis University are comfortable with the idea that moral issues should be determine by (a) public opinion polls, or (b) “progressive Jesuit orientation,” and certainly not by (c) that old-fashioned “Thou shalt not” stuff in the Bible.

Any institutional resistance we might have expected Catholic educators to make against society’s drift toward nihilism has been swept away. A progressive devotion to radical egalitarianism (the heretical “liberation theology” that embraced Marxist revolutionary movements in Latin America during the 1980s) steadily replaces devotion to God at institutions like Regis University.

Being “conformed to this world,” they teach “doctrines of devils.”


“Especially important is the warning to avoid conversations with the demon. . . . He is a liar. The demon is a liar. He will lie to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us. The attack is psychological, Damien, and powerful. So don’t listen to him. Remember that — do not listen.”
The Exorcist (1973)


First published at TheOtherMcCain.com

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Robert Stacy McCain
Robert Stacy McCain is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of experience in the news business. He is a correspondent for The American Spectator, editor-in-chief at Viral Read and blogs at TheOtherMcCain.com.

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