Women’s Spaces Versus Feminist Spaces: Women’s College’s as Anti-Feminist Institutions

Catherine Kehner Saint Mary's College
Faculty Sponsor(s): Jamie Wagman Saint Mary's College
Doors in mainstream academia have opened for women since the opening of coeducational higher education institutions, causing the demand for women’s colleges to come into question, forcing many to close or become coeducational. However, coeducation has its roots in hierarchical practices and continues with the tradition today. The male-centrism in higher education coupled with the benefits to individual women at women’s colleges suggests women’s colleges are counter-hegemonic, feminist spaces. However, I argue that these individualistic goals are not inherently feminist, using feminist theory scholar bell hooks’ definition of feminism as the “struggle to end sexist oppression,” without privileging any particular kind of woman over other women or men (1984, p. 28). I use queer theorist Judith Butler’s theory of Gender Performativity (1990) and critical race feminist Kimberle Crenshaw’s intersectionality (1991) to critique the inherent essentialism and conflation of intragroup difference at women’s colleges’. Essentialistic practices are ultimately the “master’s tools”, creating separation between the concepts of man and woman, which, as poet/civil rights activist Audre Lorde argues, cannot dismantle oppression (Lorde, 1979, p. 486). Transgender students are the primary victim, as policy and culture oppress them with unwelcoming atmospheres for transgender students or completely denying them entry. This oppression is especially prevalent as college is a popular time for transition, and it is crucial as transgender students face greater oppression and violence on coeducational campuses. I argue that women’s colleges are not counter-hegemonic spaces, but rather alternative hegemonies that need to eradicate essentializing practices to become valuable feminist spaces.
Oral Presentation

When & Where

09:30 AM
Jordan Hall 174