Judge: Women's studies isn't a religion

A suit is rejected against Columbia University for offering classes on feminist history.

Published April 28, 2009 8:20PM (EDT)

Feminist students at Columbia University can breathe a sigh of relief, ready their highlighters and crack the spine of that intimidating Judith Butler tome: A lawsuit against the school for offering women's studies classes has been tossed out.

Self-declared antifeminist lawyer Roy Den Hollander argued that the university was violating the first amendment by teaching a "religionist belief system called feminism." He called the program “a bastion of bigotry against men"  and argued that nationwide classes about women's history were “spreading prejudice and fostering animosity and distrust toward men with the result of the wholesale violation of men’s rights due to ignorance, falsehoods and malice.”

As a graduate of a same-sex college, where I took too many women's studies classes to count, I will admit that these courses have their faults. I was often the student in the back of the room squirming in discomfort at statements that lacked intellectual rigor. Any challenges to the party line felt unwelcome. (This led to a rebellious period where I read everything that Camille Paglia had ever written, while scribbling affirmatory, self-justifying exclamation points in the margins.) There was indeed extremist religious fervor in some of the feminist theories we studied -- but, uh, that was also true in my seminar on world religions. And, as any college graduate knows, the truth is that any discipline can be inappropriately politicized or politically correct.

None of that means the subject matter -- in this case, women's and feminist history -- isn't worth studying. If anything, it suggests that the classes should be more daring, and open to disagreement and debate. In short: They need to be better. But Denn Hollander, who has dedicated his legal career to "guys'-rights cases," argues that women's studies classes are, by definition, discriminatory. He might as well argue the same thing about, just for starters, African American, Jewish, Asian and Middle Eastern studies (and perhaps he would if he weren't so consumed by his campaign against feminism).

Luckily, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan wasn't having any of this. In his decision, he rebutted Denn Hollander's "central claim" that "feminism is a religion." He wrote that courses on feminism are "no more a religion than physics" -- or,  more relevantly, the study of world religions -- "and at least the core of the complaint therefore is frivolous." Denn Hollander shot back: “The only thing frivolous and absurd is men looking for justice in the courts of America." Yet, somehow, I'm sure we'll see much more frivolity from him in the near future.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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