I think it’s largely pointless to deny that I’m doing a course which involves mostly English Literature and Law, considering that I’ve talked about the relation of asexuality to both of them, even though, in Britain, that’s a weird enough combination to narrow down my identity. I don’t have the energy for actively anonymous blogging, I’ll rely on no-one being bothered to stalk me.
What strikes me is how massively different these two courses are in terms of the student they assume. I think I might be taking the courses with the furthest gender gap. Law assumes it’s students are guys. Often white, conservative guys. A lot of it comes from judges, who adapt slowly, and are still basing their decisions on the same sorts of worldviews as the guys in the Lady Chatterly case who famously asked, in the 60s, if a reasonable man would ‘let his wife or servants read this?’ If you believe in the rationality of law, you’ll be surprised how much of the law of Psychatric Harm is rooted in Victorian ideas of a virtuous yet hysteria-prone woman needing to be protected. How much of every part of the framework of law bears real and physical marks of the sexist and heterosexual framework it was built on. It’s even noticable that judges are more likely to adapt the law of sporting negligence when it favours cricket (a beautiful game, preserving of the morales of the English) than football.
Literature, on the other hand, assumes that it’s students are women. Unlike with law, which probably has slightly more female students, the assumption is generally true. It’s not much better with regard to assuming that its students are white, although there is a heck of a lot more space for queer students. I could get by with intensive knowledge of feminist studies alone, but getting by without any knowledge of feminist studies would be almost impossible. The gendering in each piece is often one of the first topics of conversation, one of the deepest levels of analysis, and almost all the texts we’ve studied this year were chosen partly because they appeal to literature’s intended student- a woman who is interested in talking about the role of women.
I think I started this post (about a month ago, before my prolongued internet absence) thinking that I’d offer some solution or at least some material problem by the end of it. I can’t. I’m not even going to properly delve into the lack of progressiveness of the law, because greater minds with more research time than I have covered it (Helena Kennedy’s ‘Eve Was Framed’ is slightly out of date now, but a good and readable book for the legal or feminism layperson). I should point out that it’s good that the law doesn’t change fast. If the law became suddenly more into feminist or queer ideologies, I would mostly be troubled that it can alter on a whim. If the study of law became more feminist or queer then it would be far from representative of its subject.
I wonder what it would be like to be a non-feminist, who doesn’t have feminist concepts or any particular desire to gender their textual analysis, completing the same course as me. I think it would often require very conciously choosing to avoid a lot of the richest optional literature modules, because a particular theory you don’t respond much to is used everywhere. I don’t know if this is good or bad. Literature being changable, rooted, as it is, in fewer real-world consequences than law, it is good that it provides a voice for feminist and queer students, a voice which doesn’t rely on the student actively seeking out their area of interest (and I shall, in fairness, say that my university offers a good module on law, sexuality and gender). A voice which is positively the mainstream. I think it’s worth both courses recognising that their setup excludes people, because they both do. But I don’t know if anything should or could be done about it.