Women’s Studies as Virus: Institutional Feminism, Affect, and the Projection of Danger.
Because women’s studies radically challenges social hierarchies and lacks a unified identity and canon of thought, it often negotiates a precarious position within the modern corporatized university. At the same time, women’s studies offersâ€”by virtue of its interdisciplinary, critical, and “infectious” structureâ€”cutting-edge perspectives and goals that set it apart from more traditional fields. This paper theorizes that one future pedagogical priority of women’s studies is to train students not only to master a body of knowledge but also to serve as symbolic “viruses” that infect, unsettle, and disrupt traditional and entrenched fields. In this essay, we first posit how the metaphor of the virus in part exemplifies an ideal feminist pedagogy, and we then investigate how both women’s studies and the spread of actual viruses (e.g., Ebola, HIV) produce similar kinds of emotional responses in others. By looking at triviality, mockery, panic, and anger that women’s studies as a field elicits, we conclude by outlining the stakes of framing women’s studies as an infectious, insurrectional, and potentially dangerous, field of study. In doing so, we frame two new priorities for women’s studiesâ€”training male students as viruses and embracing “negative” stereotypes of feminist professorsâ€”as important future directions for the potentially liberatory aspects of the field.
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