Adrienne Rich’s “Toward a Woman-Centered University” (1972-1973)

We’re often told that education is the great equalizer, that access to public education is what levels the playing field for anyone willing to study, work hard, and get good grades. Rich calls this into question in her essay from the early 1970s. In short, she argues that even though women are now allowed to enter into higher education – in fact, during the second wave, women were flocking to universities in unprecedented numbers – their education was anything but equal.

Ultimately, what Rich asks us to consider is whether mere access to dominant institutions is enough to create equality. And whether the particular values and power promised (to some) by such institutions is, indeed, what we were really looking for.

Think back, too, to this argument about “pretended choices” made by Audre Lorde in “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference”:

“[We] face the pitfall of being seduced into joining the oppressor under the pretense of sharing power” (118).

Institutions like the academy (and the military and even much of government) were designed to accommodate the needs, ideas, and values of upper and middle-class white men – certainly not women or minorities, and most definitely not the poor or immigrants. Given this knowledge, is simply adding such groups and stirring enough to change such institutions and make them more equal – or make them more equalizing? Or, as Rich worries, will they continue to breed masculine privilege as they were designed to do?

First, let’s think about the big picture. The follow short video is by Nayyar Javed, a Canadian therapist and social activist.


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