Harvard to Add Study of ‘Women in Politics’

by Patrick Brennan

As the Crimson reports, Harvard has “announced two new courses focused on women in politics following a student-led campaign that pressured the university to address what they perceived to be a gap in the department’s offerings.” There’s generally plenty to be said about the folly of a university responding to what students “perceive to be a gap” in the school’s offerings, but there’s more at work here. One advocate explains:

“Without these classes you get caught in what’s called ‘role incongruity’—the idea that women don’t belong in politics,” said Nadia L. Farjood ’13, an inactive Crimson editor and one of the leaders of the campaign. “I’ve been trying to navigate that and I’m writing my thesis on women in politics. I’m really happy that this option is now presenting itself at the College, and will be available for both men and women in the future.”

Farjood['s] thesis is tentatively titled “Gendered Pathways to Power: The Routes of 39 Women to the Senate Chamber” . . .

One might note, of course, that with these classes, you are also more likely to “get caught in role incongruity” — their creation suggests women only belong in politics in as much as academic study acknowledges their role, and implies that their only “pathways to power” must be gendered. Later in the article, one scholar reflects the same dissonance when she claims that “the ideal outcome of this movement is that women are fully recognized as half of the human race and that the study of them is fully integrated into the mainstream of political science.” It seems that considering the study of women qua women in politics to be essential while the parallel study of manliness in politics is considered superfluous actually does little to achieve this goal, if it doesn’t actually impede it. Either both areas of study are valid and necessary, or neither is; anything less is hardly the way to recognize two halves of the human race, or integrate both into political science.

That said, from the description of one of the classes, perhaps one shouldn’t worry too much about a coherent message coming out of it:

Government 94ss: Women and U.S. Politics, is being created from scratch and will approach the question of women in politics from a variety of different viewpoints.

“There are so many ways you can attack this,” Shames said. “It’s limited to women and politics in the U.S. but it can mean a number of different things: choosing to run, voting, feminism, differing actions once in political positions, politics in families, abortion. The possibilities are kind of overwhelming.”

The range of topics here are so broad and, arguably, essentially unrelated that it’d make about as much sense to have a seminar about the politics of prime numbers.