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Contentions

Dr. Faust, My Cleaning Lady, and Me

This morning my cleaning lady E., expecting an affirmative response, asked me whether I was pleased by the appointment of a woman to the presidency of Harvard University (where I am a professor). A year ago her English was not good enough for such a question. College-educated in São Paolo, with what I believe was a major in government, she tells me a female president will be able to smooth over the troubles of the previous administration. Evidently, she perceives the ascendancy of Drew Gilpin Faust as a boost for her own chances of advancement in America. Apparently, Brazilian women gained fully equal legal rights only in 1988.

Just a day earlier I was reading Heather Mac Donald’s post at City Journal‘s Eye on the News, in which she remarks that “The feminist takeover of Harvard is imminent.” Her warning struck a nerve. When the Women’s Lib movement started up in America in the 1960’s, I predicted it would do as much damage here as Bolshevism had done in Russia. I felt almost vindicated in my fears when I watched the feminist culture of grievance at Harvard help to topple President Lawrence Summers (a controversy I wrote about in the pages of COMMENTARY)—who tried to pacify the aggrieved women by appointing none other than Drew Faust to head a Task Force on Women Faculty. That Task Force won a $50 million commitment to increase faculty “diversity efforts” at Harvard. In the past, the call for such “diversity” has been a code name for greater ideological conformism, since those appointed through it are expected to share the ideological premise that brought them the job.

My Portuguese is not up to E.’s English, so I cannot explain to her the difference between a woman and a Women’s Libber. She is still fighting the original feminist battle for equal rights and opportunity; I oppose the demand for preferential group advancement. But E. is keen, and she sees from my hesitation that I am not quite as inspired as she is by this appointment. We will watch events unfold at Harvard with unequal expectations.



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