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Not All Threats to Academic Freedom are Equal

marginalized group's overreaction to outside "expert" requires empathy

Forum: WMST-L
Date: 09/19/2007

On Sep 19, 2007, at 6:40 PM, Alice Dreger, Ph.D. wrote:

On Monday, Joelle Ruby Ryan posted a CFP for the NWSA meeting for a session called "The Bailey Brouhaha: Community Members Speak Out on Resisting Transphobia and Sexism in Academia and Beyond." Ms. Ryan's call contains a number of interesting questions, but is, unfortunately, laden with factual errors and misrepresentations about the history of the Bailey controversy and my work.


In this work, I trace what happened to Bailey, a sex researcher who said some politically unpopular things..

[snip] I encourage scholars in Women's Studies to read my paper because I think they are in danger of similar things happening to them, since they often say politically unpopular things.

As someone who has been wrongly associated with Bailey and received some of the nasty attacks due to my supposedly unpopular position (see <>, <>), I would still caution this equation of attacks against Bailey with those often faced by Women's Studies scholars. There is definitely a difference between members of a marginalised group (transsexual people) overreacting (however excessively) to an "expert" whose publications about them are perceived to reinforce the oppression against them and therefore as a threat to their lives, and the sort of backlash from the dominant group often experienced by Women's Studies scholars for exposing and confronting oppressive institutions.

Emi Koyama * Putting the Emi back in Feminism since 1975.

Date: 09/20/2007

On Sep 20, 2007, at 11:54 AM, Alice Dreger, Ph.D. wrote:

I respectfully disagree, Emi, both as a feminist scholar who is now being attacked (in truly weird ways, I must say) for her scholarship on this and as someone who believes there are, in fact, key similarities between what happened to Bailey and what sometimes happens to Women's Studies scholars who expose and confront oppressive institutions. [snip]

To state the obvious, marginalization doesn't make you right, any more than being in power makes you right.


I don't think we disagree, or at least what you wrote below doesn't contradict anything I've said. I stated that they are similar but not the same, and you are saying that they are similar, which I am not disputing.

Being marginalised doesn't make one's behaviours right--and I've never suggested that it did--but it does call for some empathy, especially when the person doing the judging isn't part of that marginalised group.

Just so you know, I challenged Joelle's characterisation of your work when it came up on another list (trans-academics), and told her that she was putting herself at risk as a scholar working within a controversial field (trans issues) by tolerating tactics that breed fear and stifle academic freedom. I don't disagree with you at all here. I'm just concerned that you do not seem to recognise the important difference between a marginalised group overreacting to outside "experts" and the dominant group silencing inconvenient scholarship.

Emi Koyama

Postscript: After the second post, Dr. Dreger did reply that "yes, we agree" that marginalized group's overreaction (however damaging) should not be equated with the dominant group's attempt to shut out scholarship on controversial topics.