News & Politics

Swedish Professor Defies Orders, Refuses To Teach Work of Feminist Theorist

A professor at Lund University in Sweden has made international headlines after refusing to teach a feminist theorist’s work in his course on fascism and the rise of right-wing reactionaries at the turn of the 20th Century.

Erik Ringmar, who teaches political science at Lund University, was ordered to add feminist theorist Judith Butler to his syllabus after his department discovered that he wasn’t assigning students “enough” female authors. At Lund, at least 40% of students reading assignments must be written by women. This quota posed a problem for Ringmar, since he teaches political science — a field where the vast majority of seminal texts are written by men.

No problem, Ringmar’s supervisors said. Just add Judith Butler to your syllabus.

Judith Butler is a feminist philosopher who has done a great deal of highly influential work in the field of queer feminist gender theory.

Perhaps Butler’s work is most appropriate in a Women’s Studies class, where it aligns with the complex and often rhetorical debates about gender that appeal to a certain class of feminist students. However, Ringmar sought to teach a class about the rise of right-wing ideas and fascism, and felt Butler did not belong.

Nevertheless, why couldn’t Ringmar just compromise and teach Butler, anyway? It can’t be that bad, can it?

In an interview with PJ Media, Ringmar told us exactly what he was instructed to add to his syllabus: “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory,” a Judith Butler essay written in 1988.

In typical postmodernist fashion, Butler’s argument in the 1988 essay is near-incomprehensible. Here are some excerpts:

“Gender is, thus, a construction that regularly conceals its genesis. The tacit collective agreement to perform, produce, and sustain discrete and polar genders as cultural fictions is obscured by the credibility of its own production.”

“Because there is neither an ‘essence’ that gender expresses or externalizes nor an objective ideal to which gender aspires; because gender is not a fact, the various acts of gender creates the idea of gender, and without those acts, there would be no gender at all.”

Essentially, Butler argues that gender is a social construct, eschewing any possibility that it has roots in evolutionary psychology or biology. This theory is par for the course in Women’s Studies, but completely inappropriate for Ringmar’s political science class.

He wouldn’t do it. What happened next?

“Complete social ostracism,” Ringmar tells PJ Media.

Although no formal sanctions have been pressed against him, eight professors in his department penned an op-ed in the local newspaper denouncing him, and he’s become a near pariah on campus, he explains.

Having earned his PhD from Yale University and having taught at the London School of Economics, Ringmar says that academic freedom is often “taken for granted” by the professoriate abroad.

“Above all there is none of what the Germans call Lehrfreihet, the right for a teacher to teach a course the way he or she wants,” he told PJ Media about universities in Sweden.

Moving forward, Ringmar refuses to adhere to the 40 percent gender quota, calling it an “idiotic, brain-dead, anti-intellectual idea” and an “affirmative action system for female authors.” But to avoid further scrutiny, he has decided not to teach the class in the future.

“I have after some head-scratching decided not to give the course again. I don’t want to be bullied by students and I don’t want weird rumors to spread about me. Too bad, I think, since the growth and spread of fascism is an important and timely subject,” he told PJ Media.

Lund University did not respond to a request for comment from PJ Media. You can learn more about Ringmar and read his writings on his personal website here.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen