Wednesday, May 25, 1994 - The Michigan Daily - 5
Feminism: in a state of crisis
uov. Jonn tngler:
The Great Educator?
R onald Reagan was known as "The Great Communicator" for his (or rather, his
speech writers')ability to take complex political issues and portray them simply
to the American public. Recently, another Republican icon, Michigan Gov. John
Engler, demonstrated a similar talent. He took serious issues such as 29 years of
llectivebargainingrights and personal livelihood and turned them into agame that
of the state's teachers will be able to learn from. The name of the game is the
Teacher Strike Law, and the motivation behind it simply spells out P-O-L-I-T-C-A-
L P-0-W-E-R G-R-A-B.
Can you see where I'm heading with this? Yep, you're right: I fully endorse this
game and think it should be expanded to further influence education in this state.
And, of course, for his far-reaching efforts, Engler should be known as "The Great
But first, let's look at the notion behind this power grab. Engler and the Michigan
Education Association (MEA), which represents the state's teachers, were never
ose, and their polarization had increased since last year's battle over school
financing. The idea was that the MEA wielded too much power in debating
employment and educational issues with local school boards, and possessed too
much political power in general. This happened to coincide with a temporary
Republican majority in the state House of Representatives and ultimately resulted in
the Teacher Strike Law.
So, by taking away teacher bargaining rights on important issues (school hours,
membership of school improvement committees and privatization of non-teaching
jobs, including bus drivers and food service), and by instituting daily fines for
striking unions and individual teachers, Engler and Michigan Republicans will have
rrected this alleged power imbalance when the law takes effect early in 1995.
In conjunction with recent Republican-sponsored anti-union legislation that
places contribution restrictions on union dues and limits the amount of money that
unions can contribute to political action committees, the Teacher Strike Law spells
an increase in power for Engler and state Republicans (both the MEA and unions are
longtime Democrat supporters).
Whew! There it is; and now for the expanded version of the Power Grab Game
(hundreds of thousands of players, ages 5-95).
For too long now, this state's teachers have exercised an excess of power in
another arena: the classroom. Students (who could be seen as teacher employers)
gaditionally have had little say inthe matter of homework assignments. With ashove
Tom Engler, all of this could change the next time Republicans gain a temporary
legislative majority. A law could be passed reducing the teachers' homework
assignment rights. Oh, they would still be able to debate assignments with students,
If, by chance, the teachers were stupid enough to go on strike,the penalty would
be the same as with the Teacher Strike Law: theirunion would lose $5,000a day, and
the teachers would individually lose a day's pay for each strike day. (Who cares if
they still have to teach the mandatory 180 days and end up working some of them
for free.)And instead ofthe fines going tosomegeneralfund,why not give the money
rectly to the students as a reward for following the rules of the game.
In recent years, concern has been raised by corporate types that the U.S.
educational system does not produce the skilled workers necessary for the United
States to compete with other countries. However, if Engler's game is expanded, and
students master the fine art of power grabbing, the United States could soon enjoy
unlimited global power. A statue honoring "The Great Educator" will probably
follow. Of course, it will have to be something appropriate, perhaps an extended open
As hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians continue to be slaugh-
tered in the civil war in Rwanda, the United States can only stand aside and
watch helplessly. The battle between the Hutus and the Tutsis is indeed an
utter tragedy. However, unless the American people are prepared to send
ground troops into Africa, the United States must not make any commit-
ment to help the people of Rwanda. A verbal commitment by the Clinton
administration would not only add another test to our foreign policy
credibility, but it would ultimately result in severe failure. No American
intervention besides a full-scale deployment of ground forces would put an
d to this debacle. And another American retreat from a foreign policy
commitment could have disastrous results around the world. Each life lost
in Rwanda is a tragedy in itself, but any U.S. commitment would be a
greater tragedy in the long run. -Patrick Javid
By JUDITH KAFKA
Closet feminism, instead of shrinking with the emer-
gence of a new, enlightened generation, seems to be a
growing phenomenon. Closet feminists are those who refuse
to identify with the feminist movement while believing in
and supporting its principles. I'm talking about the people
who preface any statement supporting equality or condoning
sexist oppression with "I'm not a feminist or anything, but
.." I'm talking about the people who agree that women have
suffered from centuries of discrimination, who acknowl-
edge that women earning 70 cents to a man's dollar is
unacceptable, who promote self-determinism for all people
and not just white men, yet insist that they are not feminists.
Some would argue that closet feminists are, in fact, not
feminists. They would say that anyone unwilling to identify
with the movement obviously does not belong in it. But I
disagree. I think there's a social stigma attached to the term
"feminism" that many closet feminists can't look beyond.
Much of the problem lies in the fact that few people have a
concrete definition of feminism. They know it has to do with
women and that it promotes change, but don't want to
commit to a label they don't understand, especially since
they perceive it as something negative.
Other factors contribute to closet feminism as well.
Homophobia and the idea that feminism equals lesbianism is
unfortunately a significant factor; women and men of color
often shun feminism as a white woman's movement and
don't want to associate with what they see as just another
element of a racist society; feminism is often perceived as a
movement for the wealthy, something that rich women, who
have the money to support political candidates, have created
to make themselves feel useful. And of course there is the
fear of being seen as radical, pushy, or, for men, wimpy.
Some of the reasons behind closet feminism may be more
valid than others, but they all lead to the same result: silence.
And since the power of feminism lies in its voice, silence is
its detriment. Feminism is a living movement. It is not a club,
it can not be strictly defined and maintained, and there is no
litmus test to determine who belongs and who doesn't. To
some feminism is about equality, to others it is about respect;
to some it isa state of mind, to others it requires activity. The
best definition I've come across, which I think encompasses
all aspects of feminism, was in an essay by bell hooks:
"feminism is a struggle to end sexist oppression."
While there are many in this world who would prefer the
continuation of sexist oppression, they are a separate prob-
lem, and in many ways easier to combat. It is the closet
feminists who are slowly, tacitly, and probably unknow-
ingly, gnawing away at the core of feminism. They want to
see an end to sexist oppression, perhaps they even partici-
pate in the struggle, but they don't want to call it by that
name. By accepting the negativity associated with the term
"feminism," they help to propagate that conception, and
ultimately hinder the movement..
A friend once called me a "feminist recruiter," because
every time I hear someone express a sentiment I think even
faintly resembles feminism I declare, "See, you are a femi-
nist." In some ways I'm like a kindergarten teacher -
offering encouragement with the assumption that within an
embracing atmosphere the rough spots will get worked out.
Perhaps it isn't the job of self-proclaimed feminists to help
others ease their way into the movement, perhaps some
would see this as pushing feminism into the mainstream, but
I try to apply as much positive energy to the term, to the
movement, as I can. The longer it hangs untouchable, the
more difficult to touch it becomes; and without a strong
voice - unified or otherwise - feminism will eventually
wither and die.
540 E. Liberty 9 761-4539
1220 S. University* 747-9070
530 S. State Street # 662-1222
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