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        Carol DuBois
        History, Women's Studies

            Feminist history professor Ellen DuBois is in every way the modern female academic: militant, impatient, accusatory, and radical – very radical.  While her website identifies her academic specialties as the history of the women’s suffrage movement and general United States history from 1830-1930,  DuBois is irrepressible on current political matters.

            DuBois got an early start in academic activism while still a graduate student at Northwestern University.  Before receiving her Ph.D. in 1975, DuBois had joined the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, a group that, according to their website, “grew out of the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, and the other social movements of the time.”  As “a group of Windy City women determined to challenge the suffocating male supremacy of the time,” the CWLU “dedicated themselves to developing programs for women while working toward a long term revolution in American society.”

            The outgrowth of that “long term revolution” is perhaps most evident in academia.  After their long march through the institutions, there are legions of intolerant feminist scholars like DuBois who eagerly flex their power against dissenting thought.  Perhaps the most relevant example of this would be the flap over the 2004 comments of Harvard University President Larry Summers.  Summers had the temerity to ask whether the lower number of women in math and science disciplines is the outgrowth of lower innate abilities in these areas.  The remarks were like waving a red flag at the feminist bulls.  Never mind that Summers had cautioned that the ideas were provocative discussion fodder and not his personal beliefs.  To feminist academics like DuBois, the disclaimers were mere window-dressing; such thought crimes had to be punished.

While 3,000 miles distant from the controversy, DuBois was still beside herself with anger.  She aired her thoughts on the controversy through a response to a post by weblog author Emily Levine (a “speaker, comedian, epiphany provider” according to her website).  Levine, in joking manner, had presented examples of how women and girls do in fact use math constantly.  So, for example, women must be good at math since the 90% of them on diets are calculating their caloric intake throughout the day.  Yes, that’s Levine’s idea of “comedy.”  DuBois one-upped that comic gold by reminding Levine of “the old joke used to explain women’s sudden loss of skill at math…Why are women bad at math?  Because they are told that “this big” (set two index fingers at about four inches apart) is really “that big” (widen gap between fingers to eight inches.)”  Get it?  It’s a penis joke!

            While DuBois immediately cautions, “all joking aside,” a critical reader is left wondering whether the right of feminist academics to tell dick jokes was what fueled Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Harriet Stanton Blach’s activism.  Setting aside that question, DuBois finally launches into her actual point, making the argument that male/female difference is not even a legitimate point of conversation.  After all, DuBois notes, “We don’t debate whether the earth is flat anymore and it would not be a good career move for an aspiring university president to ruminate on that possibility in public.”  Evidently realizing the gaping hole in her comparison, DuBois quickly admits that “the analogy isn’t perfect.”  She’s right – it’s utterly imperfect. 

But it turns out that she wasn’t softening her remarks, because DuBois immediately winds back up and spits, “this question about the biological versus social character of differential performance in modern education seems to be a more stubborn superstition than the cosmological theories that Galileo faced, and will take a longer time to retire” (emphasis mine).  Translation: speculating about the male/female gap in quantitative analysis skill (a scientifically demonstrated phenomenon, despite DuBois’ arrogant dismissal) is actually more absurd than thinking the world flat.  Given that DuBois is a feminist historian, this is an inexcusable argument.  DuBois is no doubt well aware of “difference feminists” whose philosophy would not dismiss Summers’ ideas out of hand.  This school of thought contends that due to genuine biological and emotional differences, men and women cannot be exactly equal in every way.  DuBois knows this because she has written about difference feminism herself.  In her piece “The Last Suffragist,” DuBois recalls that during the 1980s, “A wing of feminism had begun to develop instead around the celebration and elaboration of women’s “difference” from men as a means to deeper sorts of change that the call for equality would bring.  DuBois’ commentary, “What had once been called inequality was now being tamed into mere difference,” marks her as an unmistakable opponent of the theory.  But her mere intellectual disagreement with the movement’s ideas does not of itself put “difference feminism” on the level of long-discarded intellectual flotsam like flat-earth theory. 

            As part of the self-described “second wave of feminism,” DuBois entered the radical world at a time when women’s contributions were increasingly commonplace.  As early as 1983, DuBois’ book reviews began appearing in the old-line radical journal The Nation.  The most notable of these reviews was her exhaustive January 20, 1992 examination of a groundbreaking book by Marxist feminist professor Elizabeth Fox-Genovese.  Weighing in at just shy of 2,700 words, DuBois’ review took Genovese to task for perceived deviation from the radical party line.  Apparently Genovese had the audacity, through her book “Feminism Without Illusions,” to suggest that feminism was isolating itself through uncompromising stances on issues like abortion.  This hard-line attitude was in turn driving away its mainstream base of support.  In response, DuBois branded Genovese a heretic for her “attempt to reconcile contemporary feminism with traditional conservative thought.”

            DuBois has been just as prolific in mainstream media sources.  In a March 1998 Los Angeles Times submission, DuBois helpfully supplied “a feminist perspective on the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal” by apparently quoting (lock-stock-and-barrel) a December 6, 1890 essay by Elizabeth Cady Stanton originally published in the Women’s Penny Paper.  The big lesson Stanton had to offer the world of 1998, given DuBois’s introduction, was that “men may be valuable members in the halls of legislation, able lawyers, skillful physicians, great soldiers…though (their) social morals may be questionable.”  Then, in a phrase that must have been a ‘Eureka!’ moment when it reached DuBois’ eyes, Stanton complained, “There is something truly pitiful in the way men hound each other for political purposes.”  Well, DuBois was not going to play that game, and happily inked her name (as part of the Organization of American Historians Executive Board) to a 1998 “Historians in Defense of the Constitution” petition against the impeachment of Clinton.

            In reviewing DuBois’ public writings, a clear pattern emerges: no matter what partisan issue is currently under public debate, DuBois will likely find a means of linking it to women in some way.  The Lewinsky scandal was at least partly about a woman (albeit one pursued by a shameless philanderer).  But DuBois, in an admirable bit of rhetorical prestidigitation, used a August 28, 2003 Daily News op-ed to link the granting of the vote to California women in 1911 to the 2003 California gubernatorial recall election.  Complaining, “The biggest obstacle to American democracy is money,” DuBois predicted electoral mayhem in the recall: “Almost a third of the voters do not know that they can vote both against the recall and on the second question…voters are using the same antiquated punch card system that ruined the Florida count.”  In short, DuBois announced, “Widespread disenfranchisement is a virtual certainty.” 

Hindsight was particularly unkind to virtually all of DuBois’ predictions.  In an election that saw 96.4% of the vote captured by the four major candidates, DuBois bleated the forecast, “With 137 people on the ballot, the vote will be shredded into little increments.”  As a result, “The winner won’t need a majority, just one vote more than the next candidate.  Political experts estimate that the top vote-getter could get as few as 15 percent of the votes cast.”  As it happened, candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger took 48.6% of the vote, on a 55.4% “yes” response to the question of whether Davis should be recalled at all.  Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante took a distant 31.5% of the vote, while conservative Republican Tom McClintock garnered 13.5% to Green candidate Peter Camejo’s 2.8%.  The vote was in fact a triumph of democracy, and, as a an experiment in radical democracy, would seemingly have been a perfect fit for someone of DuBois’ radical sympathies. 

But DuBois was not done.  The election, she prognosticated, would “deepen our political disillusionment and keep more and more of us home next election day.”  Not true.  “If this recall succeeds, it will be open season on elected officials.”  Wrong again.  DuBois then topped these bizarre predictions with the claim, “The people who organized the October 7 recall election meant it as the next act [following Al Gore’s presidential loss in 2000 despite winning the  popular vote] in an outright attack on the democratic political process.”  All of DuBois’ theorizing makes the odd assumption that an incredibly intricate conspiracy hatched in a post-election period is somehow easier, less expensive, and more likely to succeed than simply turning out more votes than the other guy does on the original Elecetion Day.  Basic common sense rejects this theorem.  If you’re one of DuBois’ imagined crafty conservatives, wouldn’t you realize that it’s a little easier to inject those millions of dollars required to qualify and then attempt to win an entire new recall campaign, into the candidacy of Bill Simon in the original 2002 gubernatorial election?  It’s sad to say, but DuBois’ shoddy work would give chauvanists strong support in their idea that women’s analytical skills are statistically inferior.

            DuBois, as a comparatively younger UCLA professor, has only recently begun to hit her full political stride.  She and fellow History Department radical Joyce Appleby (an “active retiree,” so to speak) were the originators of the American Historians’ Petition, which gained fame for its relatively high participation (1,200 signatures), and for its insistence that “our members of Congress...assume their Constitutional responsibility to debate and vote on whether or not to declare war on Iraq.”  The petition conveniently ignored the fact that the last time the U.S. Congress officially declared war was (drum roll, please) 1941.  Confirmation that the petition as little more than a targeted slap at President Bush are found in the petition’s claims that the public discussion to date was “filled with rumors, leaks and speculations,” (as though this were somehow a new phenomenon in the American media).  The petition further argued, “Since there was no discussion of Iraq during the 2000 presidential campaign, the election of George Bush cannot be claimed as a mandate for an attack.”  Perhaps DuBois and Appleby forgot, but the 2000 election also failed to discuss the 9/11 attacks.  Oddly enough, neither Osama Bin Laden nor Saddam Hussein were very high on Bush or Gore’s to-do list in those days, mainly because we hadn’t yet experienced a major terrorist attack..  Imagine that!

            Due to the supposed expertise possessed by the “American historians” who signed their petition, DuBois and Appleby managed to place a noxious, self-congratulatory op-ed into at least three major newspapers (the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, and the Bergen County, New Jersey Record).  Writing as if they themselves were not among the academic radicals who had dedicated their careers to re-interpreting (in truth, tearing down) the Constitution, DuBois and Appleby righteously note, “Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution is explicit in giving Congress, not the president, the power to declare war.”  And, without any apparent self-awareness of the irony, the co-authors added, “There’s no ambiguity here concerning the original intent.”  Stating, “The trauma of the Sept. 11 attacks may have numbed the public to how unprecedented a preemptive attack from the United States would be,” DuBois and Appleby argued that only historians had realized that an attack on Iraq would “violate every principle this country has stood for.”  Thank goodness for those historians, who faithfully “cultivate the memory of their nation’s principles and practices.” 

            There was a major problem with the petition, however.  A random sampling of petition signatories reveals that a majority of the historians had absolutely nothing to do with American history, much less an expertise in constitutional history.  John Rosenberg, operator of the Discriminations.us weblog, researched a random sampling of 15-20 names on the list.  In that group he found “a couple graduate students…one deputy executive director of a Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network,” one double signatory, “a few law professors…and a few who were professors of some history other than American.”  Specifically, “One was chairman of his university’s Portuguese Studies program,” while another’s specialty was Early China history.  Even among those who were at least nominally American history professors, most were not involved in the relevant subject of Constitutional history.  In short, Rosenberg was forced to conclude, the list was a case of the “emperor’s new clothes.”  Indeed, given the brand of signatories, the very title, “American Historians’ Petition,” is misleading.  The reader expects professors of American history, but instead is presented a list of history professors whose nationality is American.  Those two categories, it need hardly be said, are two very different things.

            If you’re following your Radical UCLA Professor Checklist at home, you can see that it’s time for race issues.  In this area DuBois comes off with flying radical colors.  In a 1998 Daily Bruin news article discussing Black History Month, DuBois was asked for her views on race relations.  DuBois did not disappoint, stating unequivocally, “Racism is just built into the fabric of this country.  It’s not something that will ever disappear.  It was built into the structure of American history.”  This stunning perspective evidently feeds her worshipful treatment of “black revolutionaries” like the Black Panthers.  In a September 6, 1993 issue of The Nation, DuBois praised the autobiographies of Dave Hilliard and Elaine Brown as “extraordinary,” and singled out Brown’s book for having “powerful and brave things to say.” 

Brown, it must be noted, has been accused by ex-radical David Horowitz (in voluminous, convincing detail) of responsibility for the murder of Black Panther bookkeeper Betty Van Patter.  This controversy did not draw DuBois’ attention, nor was it drawn by Brown’s false and libelous statement that Van Patter had a criminal past, including a conviction for drug trafficking (a charge subsequently dropped from the paperback version of the book).  DuBois, as someone who believes that America is irreparably racist, does some predictable editorializing in her review, declaring, “Anyone who claims that the Panthers can be reduced to a single dimension – be it their violence, their sexism or their repression at the hands of the F.B.I. – is giving up historical understanding in favor of polemic.”  After all, DuBois coos, “The Black Panther Party did too much and mean too much for us not to welcome each new version of its history.”  Contrary to DuBois’ claim, however, the BPP was rather simple: a violent street gang whose “hustle” was Marxism.  As such, the group can very much be reduced to its violent core.  But don’t expect to hear that from a feminist historian who warmly concedes the group’s copious violence and sexism, while still speaking in terms of a handholding “us.”

             DuBois continues the struggle against America’s overwhelming racism on a class by UCLA class basis.  Sometimes her agenda is so blatant that even the local media takes notice.  On April 10, 1995, the Daily News of Los Angeles carried word of a hastily composed UCLA course titled “History and Politics of Affirmative Action.”  The timing of the class’ sudden creation was more than a little suspect, given that it came just as the campaign for Proposition 209, the California Civil Rights Initiative, was beginning.  One student enrolled in the course commented, “The course seems to be very geared toward the continuation of affirmative action.  A lot of people will walk out of here without getting both sides.”  DuBois’ initial lecture, also the first of the class, “compared proposals to eliminate race and gender preferences to post-Civil War rulings by the Supreme Court that denied citizenship rights to minorities.”  DuBois’ thinking was clearly on a higher plane.  How else could she argue that an attempt to create equality before the law is the same thing as a judicial ruling that denies equality before the law.   Yet this gross mischaracterization was of no concern to DuBois.  In fact, the story noted, “DuBois said she intentionally slanted her presentation in favor of affirmative action to make it more interesting and to provoke debate.”  Or perhaps more likely, DuBois was pro-preferences because that’s also her personal view of the controversy. 

Then, blowing her previous denials right out of the water, DuBois delivered a breakthrough comment that encapsulates the entire educational philosophy of UCLA’s radical professors:

            “Nobody presents an unbiased point of view.  That went out (a long time ago).”