So-called “women’s studies” programs began cropping up on campuses across the country in the 1970s. Although they started largely in imitation of the militant black studies programs that had swept the country’s colleges and universities in the late Sixties, they soon vastly outstripped black and other minority studies programs in size and influence. Today, there is hardly a college campus that doesn’t sport a women’s studies program or department. At many institutions, it is even possible to major in women’s studies.
The very familiarity of these developments has lulled many people into forgetting how odd they are. For what “women’s studies” describes is not an academic discipline but rather a knot of grievances searching for recognition. Like black studies and—a more recent phenomenon—homosexual (“gay”) studies, women’s studies exists primarily to promote a species of political solidarity. Intellectually, women’s studies has always been a terrible embarrassment. That is one reason its advocates are so truculent: like the Wizard of Oz, they must work overtime to keep up the illusion that their subject even exists. Comparing what goes on in the name of women’s studies to genuine scholarship is like comparing the “space program” said to have been undertaken by a small African country to compete with America’s Apollo missions: there were plenty of rockets, but, being made of wood, they didn’t get very far.