It starts tamely enough. Someone talks passively about the wage gap over dinner. The next week, they retweet J.K. Rowling taking a stab at Piers Morgan. A few months later, suddenly, they’ve changed their major to gender studies and are talking about how men owe them money. The worst part? People around them start to suddenly do the same thing. Anyone who doesn’t is summarily cut out of their life, a relic from their past lives where they lived in ignorance.
If it sounds like succumbing to an illness, right down to the different stages, that’s the point. A 2016 paper that’s currently making the rounds on social media from the Multidisciplinary Journal of Gender Studies, titled “Women’s Studies as Virus: Institutional Feminism and the Projection of Danger,” hypothesizes that women’s and gender studies has an “infectious” structure marked by its ability to “infect, unsettle, and disrupt traditional and entrenched fields.”
Penned by Breanne Fahs and Michael Karger, the essay uses the metaphor of the virus as an “ideal” for feminist pedagogy, and investigates how both gender studies and the spread of actual viruses like HIV and Ebola “produce similar kinds of emotional responses in others.”
The paper looks at gender studies as an “infectious, insurrectional, and potentially dangerous field of study,” and goes on to suggest ideas on how to train male students on college campuses as viruses and reframe the negative stereotypes of feminist professors into positive ones to embrace.
Most of the paper consists of a straightforward retelling of the history of feminism and core feminist theory, highlighting the debates by academics on how to spread their ideology. It describes how gender studies programs were allowed to settle into corporate universities and regenerate themselves through the education of students who manipulate the academy to come under their control.
To counter the struggles feminists face in propagating the ideology, the ideas the authors propose are alarming.
First, the paper’s authors suggest using white heterosexual men as vectors for the feminist virus. To turn them into vectors, the authors first propose discovering methods to awaken them to their “privileges” of whiteness, heterosexuality and maleness. They state that the methods “may prove critical to the virulent capacity of women’s studies programs seeking to infect male-dominated institutions.”
Male feminists in particular are often viewed as weak or emasculated—perceptions that can be used to the virus’ advantage in gaining access to spaces that traditionally exclude women.
“Thus, when men become feminist viruses, infecting and unsettling spaces where their privilege and dominance is assumed, the potential danger and impact is keenly felt.”
Men, they state, are more likely to listen to and agree with other men.
The second proposal for feminist propagation is to embrace the negative stereotypes of feminist professors because they provoke an emotional impact in listeners.
“Rather, by directly embracing the stereotypes of feminist professors as ‘scary’ (or ‘man-hating,’ ‘lesbian,’ ‘hairy’ and so on), it allows the field to both utilize and expose these emotional experiences as material for learning and growth.”
In creating the idea that “feminism is for everybody” and that it is neither dangerous nor scary, gender studies “loses its potential pedagogical impact.” Instead, the paper’s authors recommend embracing these stereotypes to give feminism an identity, allowing it to “ultimately lead to a more powerful and coherent feminist presence both within and outside of the academy.”
If you ever thought of feminism as a virus, this paper confirms it.