I have a bone to pick with the American system of higher education, and not just because the dormitory vending machine ate my money that one time. (There is no sight quite so heart-rending as a defenseless little bag of pretzels dangling by a corner. Except, of course, for a defenseless little bag of Good 'n' Plentys dangling by a corner. That sight would bring any ax murderer to his knees.)
No, my bone is with the Great Academic Obsession that spreads campus-wide, herpes-style, each semester. It's different every time. Back in the fall, it was the word "dialectic." No professor could broach any topic, from cognitive dissonance to Turkish history, from historical cognition to dissonant turkey, without declaring, pants dampening, that we simply had to explore how this concept "functioned in a dialectic." God forbid we should have ever addressed any relevant questions, any difficult questions, such as: What does this concept actually address? Who does it affect? Is it actually interesting?*
But no. Instead we had to explore, class after class, how things "functioned in a dialectic," a phrase so meaningless my memory of it can only be accurate. What does "dialectic" even mean? DOES it mean? I think it does, because I looked it up only a few minutes ago, shortly before it was sucked into a mental black hole, SCHFUPPP up the cerebral Hoover that works 24/7 to ensure my mind remains uncluttered by all but the most crucial memories, such as who played Doctor Who when, or the complete list of Pokémon.**
However, this Great Academic Obsession paled in comparison with this past semester's, namely: gender. This is an issue of great honking academic importance, because it turns out that not only are there - get ready now - two genders, but that these two genders are - you might want to sit down for this part - different from each other. This is all fine and dandy if you limit yourself to frivolous activities such as living your life, but for us thinker types, us members of the intellectual vanguard, this is a far more troubling issue, one that we must address, must change, must ideally ameliorate, by the all at once visionary and active method of reading academic papers other people have written about other academic papers still other people have written, so that eventually we may achieve the academic holy grail of total incomprehensibility:
It is proximally requisite, if we are to dialogue naratogically with the gendered paradigm through and also via a purposively abiding gendered schema, that we must regard gender in a performatively teleological effort to order extra gender with gender on the side (Snyder, 2001), in the reflectionally scatological sense of gendering your gender so fast your gender will gender, but we suggest you go slower for maximum pleasure (Dawkins, 1996).
Of course, I appreciate the sentiment behind this academic movement. The sentiment behind this academic movement is that no matter how advanced we think we have become in our view of gender, we still need to look with a critical eye*** at how far we really are from achieving complete gender integration. So naturally the best way to achieve this is to observe every .003 nanoseconds that there are two genders. Even you might have one! The best part is the Breaking News Manner in which this material is always presented, clearly communicating that this "gender" is the newest, hottest thing, actively being endorsed even as we speak by entertainment personalities such as The Rock.
Naturally the least safe among us are students of the humanities, those disciplines in which, per federal law, you may not make ANY remark, written or spoken, without preceding it with "Well, going off of Meg's point ... " (This law remains in effect even if Meg has not MADE a point, even if there IS no student named "Meg," etc. Also, there is a strict three-"dichotomy"-utterance minimum imposed per sentence.) I recall one session on the Decameron, a fine book by dead author Giovanni "Johnny the Skins" Boccaccio. Now this is actually a pretty funny read, which yet has been somehow magically sludgified, in the Giant Academic Sludg-o-Tron, into a Gender Issue Book. This is despite the fact that Boccaccio is so dead he was dead before gender was even invented. Nevertheless, this one day, right in the middle of what had seemed to be a reasonable and intelligent discussion,**** a female student was called upon, quite without warning, to define the "woman reaction" to the book. The implication was that, as gendered persons, we were required to have gender-based reactions to class material, as summarized in the following handy chart:
Example of a BAD reaction to class material: Consider it.
Example of a GOOD reaction to class material: Ovulate.
Clearly I, as a person of gender, was to further the discussion accordingly ("Well, going off of Meg's ovulation, I feel that the dichotomy..."), then go home and ovulate about this some more. Instead, as a bold rebel type, I went home and watched episodes of Night Court. This proved an infinitely more fulfilling activity, at least until I realized that - you bet your gendered ASS - it is a gendered activity, too. This is because the show features: GENDERS. There is no escape.
So this got pretty bad. Bad to the point that, when on the first day of classes, you entered a new classroom and encountered a new professor of the female gender, your brain would immediately go on MAYDAY MAYDAY PROFESSOR WITH A VAGINA alert, because you knew that, doggone it, you were going to HEAR ABOUT THAT SPECIFIC ORGAN before the END OF CLASS, for your INTELLECTUAL BETTERMENT. Let's be clear now: I am not saying this is not highly socially relevant, just that it can be something of a time-waster when you're studying, say, civil engineering. (Okay, so maybe this is an unfair remark, since I don't study civil engineering. Therefore, I don't know exactly what their female professors have. Maybe civil vaginas.) My point is, the topic was always introduced in a manner that was clearly supposed to make you go, LIKE, OHMYGAW THAR'S SUCH A THING AS WOMENNN?!! WHO KNEW?!! OHMYFREAKINGGAWWWW LET'S ALL GO OUT AND BUY FEMININE HYGIENE PRODUCTS TOGETHARRR!!!!, or some such.
This is all rather distressing to those of us who would rather undergo un-anesthetized bowel surgery than EVER ponder ANYONE'S feminine locale. But there is no use whining. We students are pawns in the giant chess game of higher education. We are powerless to counteract the Great Academic Obsession. There seems to be no solution in sight. Perhaps the vending machine would like to give me two bags of pretzels for the price of one. That'd be a start. However, as an academic of conscience, I must close by advising that anyone who takes pretzels from a vending machine must first consider the very real possibility that these pretzels are gendered. Also, I am pretty sure they could function in a dialectic. Somebody should check this out.*****
* Actually, this is an easy question. Answer: no.
** These are: Pikachu, Snorlax, Borax, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, the old dude in black and white, and the other ones.
*** Our left one. We are free to keep viewing adult entertainment with our right.
**** Not really.
***** Not me.
©2009, Nicola McEldowney
The Snark Ascending