Critical Feminist Studies
Welcome to Critical Feminist Studies, an English and Gender-and-Sexuality-Studies course offered in Spring 2012 @ Bryn Mawr College. This is an interestingly different kind of place for writing, and may take some getting used to. The first thing to keep in mind is that it's not a site for "formal writing" or "finished thoughts." It's a place for thoughts-in-progress, for what you're thinking (whether you know it or not) on your way to what you think next. Imagine that you're just talking to some people you've met. This is a "conversation" place, a place to find out what you're thinking yourself, and what other people are thinking. The idea here is that your "thoughts in progress" can help others with their thinking, and theirs can help you with yours.
Who are you writing for? Primarily for yourself, and for others in our course. But also for the world. This is a "public" forum, so people anywhere on the web might look in. That's the second thing to keep in mind here. You're writing for yourself, for others in the class, AND for others you might or might not know. So, your thoughts in progress can contribute to the thoughts in progress of LOTS of people. The web is giving increasing reality to the idea that there can actually evolve a world community, and you're part of helping to bring that about. We're glad to have you along, and hope you come to both enjoy and value our shared explorations. Feel free to comment on any post below, or to POST YOUR THOUGHTS HERE.
Several things inspired the idea for MC and my teach-in for this class. The thought of engaging all of our senses in Feminism is fascinating. Recalling the "This is What A Feminist Looks Like" movement that went around recently, we thought that perhaps we could go further than just looks. We got the idea to do something similar to the "This is What A Feminist Looks Like" movement, and ask people what they thought about the other senses. We chose to ask them what FEMINISM looks/tastes/smells/sounds/feels/emotionally feels like, as opposed to what A FEMINIST etc. This was because A) it would be more useful to explore feminsm as an ideal as opposed to the people who perscribe to it, and B) we were probably going to get a lot of flesh-related responses that were not going to be useful. In class we dealt a lot with taste and feminism, and for the Book of Salt we even did a small taste workshop; Anne even talked brieftly about how she had once started the class with a "sensory smorgasboard," an idea that caught us and brought us to the final project we presented. We decided to take the responses people gave us and bring them into class so that the class could experience feminism the way their peers were experiencing it.
For our presentation with rayj and w0m_n, we created a zine series called "Sexytime."
Our topics included:
Anatomy (male, female, intersex bodies): with fold-out diagrams!
Consent: anti-slut shaming, body image, virginity
Pleasure: masturbation, sex toys
SM/kink: safety, yes/no/maybe lists
Interpersonal relationships: deciding when to/not to use a condom, emotions, negotiating in sexual relationships, consent once is not consent always, asking people on a date, asking for sex
Safe sex: pregnancy, contraception, stds/stis, infections (yeast infections, etc), UTIs. Emergency contraception. include queer sex. Also where to get stuff for free.
With one main goal in mind: encourage exploration.
Over the past year, I've been working across several classes and with several other students, as well as some people out in the world, to try to improve the way we handle gender on campus.
This project started with a post on tumblr from a young trans woman who was very angry at the idea of trans women being excluded from a women's space.
At first, I and a few other mawters reacted defensively, but then I started thinking about gender on campus and all the ways we don't talk about it effectively.
I started a conversation with her on serendip, wherein we discussed some of the problems of a Women's College in a post binary world. (Post binary in the sense that not everyone identifies on the binary)
At the same time, Aybala was doing her work within the administration of attempting to determine the potential of admitting transwomen into the college. She's already provided a link to that work in her post here.
Recently, and with a lot of help along by this class, I have begun to think about how the BMC community exists in several places at once.
We are defined by the admistration as a space for women, women here presumably meaning people with vaginae, but we are not all women, and not all women are admitted here.
I decided to take this course, because I think Bryn Mawr College is a nice place to learn about feminism. Also, having never properly and professionally learned about feminism, I did not understand the reason and the purpose of learning feminism. I did not have a full understanding of what part of feminism is so intriguing that some people choose to pursue Ph.D. in this subject. Hence, by taking this course, I not only wanted to get exposed to a subject that I was not familiar with but also wanted to know the purpose and the foundation of feminism.
I enjoyed using serendip a lot. I followed several students’ web events throughout the semester. I loved reading papers on different topics that each student is interested in. Reading the posts and the web events on serendip helped me think about feminism even outside of class. It definitely helped me read more articles about feminism. By posting on serendip, I was able to ask questions that I did not get to ask during class. Also, since there is no time limit for the serendip posts, I was able to put more time thinking before making statements. Though I was not too familiar with the online posts in the beginning of the semester, I learned to take advantage of the benefits of online media, on which I could embed articles and videos. I think one of the best part of the course was serendip.
To Begin. . .
As an avid TV junkie, I have stayed up many a night to watch re-runs of the shows “Teen Mom” and “16 & Pregnant.” I know you are probably rolling your eyes if you're not a fan of the “reality” TV phenomenon, but these shows have affected me in a way that other “reality” based shows never could. (...So understandable when thinking about their consistent lack of depth: there are not a multitude of thought-provoking conversations that follow the documentation of rainbow Jello shots and women pulling out other’s hair extensions). These shows have affected me partly because I am the product of unplanned pregnancy to a fifteen-year-old girl myself, and a subsequent adoption. I find the show to be a way to help me begin to understand what I meant to my birth mother at age fifteen, the prime time for being a devoted Frito Lay consumer and wearing exactly what the mannequin wears.
For my final project, I would like to focus on our pop culture discussions in the beginning of each class session, or “Setting the Scene.” Our assignments to bring in a pop culture item, usually a music video or a post from the blogging website, Tumblr, as a potential lead in to our intended academic texts and their subsequent dialogues (particularly the ones revolving around music videos) often were cut short—much too short for a satisfying analytic reading of the often multi-faceted material we were presented with. Some classmates suggested we process topics of our discussions prior to class meeting to allow for a more comprehensive reading. However, my qualm did not arise from ability of lack thereof to process what I was seeing, it was the way in which most discussions ended, an ending reminiscent of our “Is this a feminist text?” conundrum: an ending that reached for the shallow aim of finding our own preset definitions of feminism within these three to four minute worlds. I was most disappointed by the feminisms we didn’t see, even flat out ignored, in certain “setting the scene” presentations. Of our discussion of non-conventional feminist music figures my interest was most peaked by our rather curt reading of Nicki Minaj’s video, “Stupid Hoe.” Her overtly sexual and aggressive music video presentation was quickly judged as trite and not worth the time of the class to watch the entirety of.
I felt present during discussions, whether or not I seemed like I was. In class, I tended to direct the conversation with questions because that kept the conversation going better than stating my opinion, which is what I tended to do online. Now that I look back, I’m surprised at the conversations my posts started. Most of my class work was for my own learning purposes, honestly. I contributed to the conversation when I felt like it needed another opinion, and that usually worked out well. Speaking in class has never been my strong point, but I am working hard to improve that.
My favorite readings were Goblin Market and Persepolis, and Book of Salt and Middlesex to a lesser degree. I did not like Jimmy Corrigan or Lifting Belly because they were difficult to understand. As a reader, my learning edges are at reading things that I do not like and learning from them. Reading has always been a fun pastime for me, so reading something I do not like seems counterintuitive, but a necessary obstacle to overcome in college.
At the beginning of this class, I did not know what I was expecting. I figured I would show up and see what happens, because I was bound to learn something. And I certainly did. I had no idea how to define feminism but I assumed it was a good thing, and now I have a concrete definition. Well, as concrete as it can be in these circumstances. Feminism is about equal treatment of men and women, but in order to do that we have to equalize treatment of races, classes, appearances, abilities, etc. Feminism is really about equality for everybody, and that is something worth fighting for.
I feel like a very different person from the one I was at the beginning of the semester, but I know that is only because I’ve lived longer and experienced more. My first serendip posts more or less had a distinct point to them—I knew what I thought, whether it was right or not. They gradually got less and less certain, which reflects my experiences as a person over the last few months. I questioned everything in the last few months, partially because of this course. Before this semester, I simply accepted that I knew what I knew and that there were always going to be things that I didn’t know. That never stopped me from trying to find answers, but it was more acceptable to me if I never found them. After this class, I question everything and I need to have a definite result of my questioning, and be able to defend it. It is a very defeating kind of feeling.
This class was much different than what I initially thought it would be. As a freshman coming into what was advertised as an introductory course for those interested in the Gender and Sexuality field, I expected to get a good amount of groundwork (vocabulary, exposure to scholarly works, theory, writing practice, etc) necessary to enter into higher level courses with a desired edge. What I experienced was actually quite different. I was left out of the loop for not having this groundwork which I had expected to gain, not teach, to the class, and often tremendously irrelevant to the inappropriately Bryn Mawr-centric syllabus.
My final project is a picture book for adults to inform them on gender and sexuality--what they are, why they are important, and how they work together. I made this because I have friends and family who don't really understand much of this, and I want to give them a concrete way to get informed. It is an overview of basic concepts to create a vocabulary to help readers communicate their ideas with other people who without having to define every term.
I chose to make this in book form because reading a book is a different experience from surfing websites. Reading a book is a more personal experience because you can hold it in your hands and turn the pages yourself. On the internet, you can click hyperlinks as much as you want, but you depend on the hardware to obey you. You can change the website, delete your history, and distract yourself with a funny cat video in all of 20 seconds. A book is different because you make a decision to sit down and read it, understand it, and absorb it. The stories stay with you.
That being said, I chose to include several resources for readers that go more in-depth than the book because, like I said, this book is just an overview. I included websites, a film, and a GLBT National Help line. I chose four websites for information, and seven websites by religion because sometimes people forget that sexuality and religion are not mutually exclusive and a higher power can be tremendously helpful when dealing with issues such as these.
I want to explore a text that is considered by mainstream audiences to be a text of female empowerment: Cosmopolitan magazine. I particularly am interested in the way that Cosmopolitan simultaneously instructs/ “empowers” women to reverse the male-female power dynamic through sex and tells them to feel guilty for doing so. The ideal Cosmo girl both objectifies men and feels ashamed of doing so; hence the woman who reverses this dynamic without this requisite guilt is considered shameless and worthy of judgment.
McMahon mentions early on that the magazine rose to prominence as a source of female empowerment (this is not to say it was universally understood as empowering; it was, and is, a controversial text) only after it came under the leadership/editorship of Helen Gurley Brown who at the time (she was editor from 1965-1997) and changed it’s purpose from a periodical of fiction stories to an extended advice column for the single, sexually liberated woman. McMahon does describe Brown as someone considered by Ms and The New York Times (during the 70s and 80s) to be somewhat of a feminist providing “ ‘half a feminist message’ to women who would otherwise have none (New York Times Magazine, 1974)” (McMahon 382): Ms referred to her as “the women’s magazine editor that first admitted that women are sexual too” (July 1985—30th Anniversary Issue). Thus she was considered and for the most-part is considered “somewhat” of a feminist innovator.
Considering the other student teach-ins, I was extremely dismayed with my own performance. Being a Haverford freshman and therefore unfamiliar with Anne's teaching style and subsequent project structures, I felt as if I misunderstood the project and its intentions. I intended to open discussion that I felt was sparked earlier in the semester about sex work and in that way create an avenue for extending rich conversations that I felt were repeatedly cut short throughout our course time together. By providing a small sampling of pornography throughout the decades slightly before and since the feminist revolution, I hoped that, starting with a few discussion questions, we could continue our questionings of whether of not "feminist pornography" can really exist. I felt attacked at times for not being the absolute authority on knowledge of pornography, which I do not feel I pretended to be at any point. That being said, I had a wonderful experience watching the presentations and seeing the vast creative efforts of everyone in the class. I would like to think of the final performance as a direct way of getting the privelege to see how each of us manifests our ideas of feminism whether it be through zines, interviews, memes, games, or senses. Feminism necessarily creeps into many disiplines and spheres within our lives and these final projects as a whole demonstrated that.
I decided to take “Critical Feminist Studies” because I felt and still feel that there is so much I can learn about feminism, people and myself. I believed that I was a feminist prior to this class, but mostly because I didn’t really understand what feminism was. Turns out, I had a decent idea of what feminism was, but not as much about how I felt about feminism and what I am.
I’ve learned that I don’t believe that there is a single definition for feminism. People can be their own feminist. We box too many things already and having a single set definition for feminism that everyone who wants to be a feminist must fit is too much. Feminism, to me, means doing some good in this world. It means making a change that is ready to be made. It means keeping your eyes open and caring for others. This is my definition of the feminism I want to embody. Feminism is no longer about equality between men and women. Feminism is looking for a break in binaries, creating a world where we are no longer ruled by them. There is no man or woman, or maybe it’s that there shouldn’t be.
Can this happen? I like to hope so. I tend to be a fairly pessimistic person, however, I’m not willing to give up on certain wishes. How do we stop an inequality when there MUST be two sides? Maybe even if we do, we can’t rid the world of all the things I would like to get rid of. However, I refuse to give up.
Plans for moving forward:
This is a part of a joint project that I am working on with amorphast, S. Yeager, COLLEEN AND MEREDITH
The topics we discussed include:
Discomfort/break in communication/sense of discomfort
How do we open up the dialogue, ease the sense of discomfort, and fix the break in communication when discussion certain topics such as queer?
Last year’s Hall Adviser training schedule is attached if you'd like to look at what kind of activities are involved.
Going into Critical Feminist Studies, I expected that we would focus on a series of well-known feminists or perhaps organize the course under titles like “First-wave Feminism.” I expected structure as I have usually encountered it, in which each unit and reading builds toward some kind of conclusion that the professor wants students to reach. Critical Feminist Studies was nothing like that; the syllabus was malleable and generated more questions than it answered. Subsequently, the primary challenge of this semester was learning how to move away from the learning structures I am accustomed to and accepting the more feminist classroom practices we chose to enact. My definition of feminism has evolved parallel to this learning trajectory, but in reverse. While the way I learned shifted from rigid to more abstract, the way I understand feminism went from abstract to more concrete. Before taking this class, I thought about feminism in a general sense but I had never considered what it meant personally. I would have defined feminism as the struggle for women to gain the same rights and privileges that men have. If I were to define it now, I would argue that there are different kinds of feminism, and the one that I subscribe to works toward rethinking and fundamentally changing the institutions that perpetuate antifeminist practices. The trajectory of my thinking processes in Critical Feminist Studies also leads me to the edges of my learning.
For our final web event, sekang, dchin and I reflected on the process of our class presentation and asked ourselves the questions we had asked others for the interviews we conducted.
*Both videos are long, so please allow time for loading before watching.
In the first video we reflect on our motivation for our class presentation, the process of interviewing strangers at Philadelphia train stations, the process of editing those interviews and how the product we created related back to the discussions we have had in Critical Feminist Studies this spring.
In the second video, we interview each other in the same style that we conducted the interviews for our class presentation. We then reflect on being asked these questions and our new perspectives on documentary filmmaking.
The Editing Process
Hi everybody, for my project I'm making a sort of non-challenging picturebook for adults that defines gender and sexuality related terms. If you can think of any more words or topics I should include, please let me know.