Emma Goldman and My Political Philosophy Professor

I am a political science major. I have taken classes upon classes on political theory, philosophy, and conflict. While all of these topics cover a vast array of issues, one thing remains the same: there are no women. I have read what seems like hundreds of articles; articles on terrorism, on presidents in Latin America, on the causes of war, on the proper way to run regressions, articles that are always written by men. I’ve heard that in one political science class, a girl asked, “Why don’t we ever read about women?” To which the professor responded, “Because they haven’t done anything.” Now I’m not entirely sure what he meant by that. Did he really think that women hadn’t done anything? Had they never been published? Never voiced an opinion? Have all women remained completely invisible? The answer: no.

At the beginning of this semester I had a professor explain to my political philosophy class that he was including a woman in the curriculum for the first time ever. I was impressed. A professor had identified a problem with what he was teaching and he took steps to fix it; because women have done something, and he was going to make us aware of this. The day finally came for us to learn about the famous American anarchist, Emma Goldman.

Emma Goldman emigrated to the United Sates from Russia at the age of sixteen. The year was 1885 and she found herself drawn to the anarchist movement. Over the years she would find herself lecturing before huge crowds, founding a journal, and at times, behind bars. While Goldman was an anarchist, her lectures addressed women’s rights and social issues.

emma goldman

Goldman was opposed to the first feminist movement and its goals concerning suffrage. Even so, her speeches and writings revolved around the education of women and their access to contraceptives. She challenged patriarchy as a hierarchy that should be challenged. She demanded “the independence of woman, her right to support herself; to live for herself; to love whomever she pleases, or as many as she pleases. [She demanded] freedom for both sexes, freedom of action, freedom in love and freedom in motherhood.”

Regardless of some of her crazier ideas and her opposition to feminism, I admire this woman. It was the late 1800s and early 1900s and it was not common for a woman to be at the forefront of anything. She did not let this deter her from doing what she believed. She would not take no for an answer. She was going to dictate her own life, not the men around her.

I left class impressed. Not only with the woman determined to speak her mind and be independent regardless of the current societal norms, but with my professor as well. A man in the political science department had realized that women have in fact done something; something noteworthy, something worth studying, something that contributed to the world of political philosophy, and he made sure his students were aware of it.

—by KTA


8 thoughts on “Emma Goldman and My Political Philosophy Professor

  1. GoodReason says:

    I am happy you became acquainted with Emma Goldman. I confess to feeling chagrined to learn that this is the first time a woman philosopher has been mentioned in a political philosphy class at your university.

  2. SMS says:

    This is not the only subject it happens in. In Sociology (which technically should be more open to women philosophers since promoting women vis a vis men is one of the main pillars of stratification research and philosophy) women are all but excluded as well. In 2004 Jan Thomas and Annis Kukulan published a review of the top 25 Sociology programs in the United Stats. Not one of them included a female theorist. Was this because non existed? Of course not. But they were not the popular faces of sociology.

    While Emma Goldman might not be the best choice as an introduction, at least it was a start. Sociology hasn’t changed at all.

    • Elizabeth says:

      I was a sociology major at BYU (’06) and I recall discussing women sociologists in several of my classes. I even remember in one particular class we read a book dedicated to women sociologists as well as several other articles. The professor was a man, and he has since retired, but he was not the only of my professors to have us read books and articles written by women in sociology. I don’t know about “top 25 sociology programs” but women sociologists have contributed and they are acknowledge at BYU. I am sorry that hasn’t been your experience in poly-sci but I don’t think it is standard.

      • ASF says:

        Hmmm…I’m not so sure about this. Actually, I disagree entirely. I DO think it’s standard. The fact that women or their works/words/theories/etc. are studied equally as much as men in virtually any subject is definitely the exception—not the norm. To illustrate with one (of many) examples, the other day a history major introduced himself to me as a “history major with an emphasis in men’s studies—because that’s pretty much what history is.” It was a laughable comment—mostly because it is so true, and I was happy to hear him acknowledge it without any prompting from me. It’s easy to see that men have dominated as the theorists, researchers, philosophers, etc. across both time and subject, and this isn’t a radical view. It’s okay to accept it and say, “Let’s take it from here and move on to something better, by including the other half of humanity.” It’s all too easy to become complacent with the extraordinary things that women have accomplished that are loudly trumpeted, and say to ourselves, “Well, there, you see—women aren’t so invisible after all,” while just the opposite holds true, and continues to stay much the same from year to year. Such accomplishments are fabulous, but they’re still not enough.

        Don’t get me wrong—I’m a BYU student and I absolutely love my alma mater. There really are so many positive things I can say about BYU, but at the same time, I have needed to look past my rosy glasses at times and be a little more scrutinizing. And it’s not just BYU that has an imbalanced curriculum—you can bet that, just as those top 25 sociology programs were lacking women, there are a plethora of other schools that have yet to realize why women should be studied more. And so, at BYU, just as anywhere else, there is always room for improvement. As a political science major myself, I can attest to the blatant fact that we study a whole lot of men, but hardly any women, and I’m sure all of my professors would agree. It is rather disappointing, but I like to look toward a bright future and say, “Well, since women have been excluded from politics in the past, then it’s about time we get more of them into politics and into the political science curricula of universities across the US and across the world.” The difficult part, I think, is getting people—men and women alike—to realize not only that it needs to happen, but WHY it needs to happen, especially when it’s just so much easier to leave the status quo undisrupted.

  3. sms says:

    My experience in 3 years in the sociology program is that philosophy classes are all about the men’s theories. Gender classes will talk about women theorist, and depending on the professor you might get a smattering of female theorist. I’m in the graduate program so perhaps the undergraduate level is different.

    But part of the point needs to be that there is not a standard curriculum that would emphasis a more balanced approach. Much of what we learn is based on the professor’s background which is often very dominated by the male perspective. I’m honestly not trying to be critical. BYU is no more guilty of this than any other university. My point is that we should be doing more to correct it, and we can only correct it if we recognize it.

    So I’m glad that you had a different experience, but that does not appear to be the standard unfortunately.

  4. sms says:

    Just a house wife? Not possible. This is a great reminder of the need to value women for their whole lives and all of their contributions. Sometimes it takes just a little thought to see how much something really matters.

  5. Susan Macaulay says:

    Hey KTA, great blog post.

    I’m a Canadian woman who was married for 20 years (now divorced); I chose to keep my maiden name. In fact, when I got married, the issue never even arose between myself and my then future husband. I would never DREAM, not in a million years, of changing my name – why should I? It’s who I am.

    You are dead right when you say people should have the choice to do as they please.

    Brava! on the thoughtful post. Continue to be strong and proud of your decision.

  6. Linds says:

    Thanks for highlighting the positive- it’s refreshing! I know as a former coder for Woman Stats, it could get pretty dreary doing all that research. I just wanted to let all of you know I’ve started a new blog that will feature Woman Stats coders and research, along with nonprofit organizations, info, volunteer opportunities- the works! Please become a follower and let me know if you want to write a guest post about your experience here! Thanks! http://www.morethanmeglobal.blogspot.com

    Lindsey Leon

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