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.
[just speak nearby the borders of our minds] <-- link
This is a piece about borders. About communities. About movement and restrictions and ideologies. I wanted to interrogate how feminism is at times bounded by qualifiers, that is, to differentiate between French feminism and Third-World Feminism, and the ways in which those are both appropriate and constructed such that the result is constructed identities viewed as essential.
Among artists in the 20th and 21st century, explicit reference to prior works has become a mode of producing pieces. This may be in the form of collage or pastiche of some kind, and in video art, it is typically through found footage that these references can be made. Video Artists like Dara Birnbaum have spoken on the power of reappropriating footage, specifically, in her case, from popular media sources, but some of the logic remains in what I have done. Birnbaum wanted the agency to engage with the images being presented to her, to take ownership and subvert their meanings to create new meaning, asserting that she wanted to “talk back” to the media. Further, she asserts:
For our final teach-in my group decided to play a game of taboo. Unlike the regular version of taboo, our version did not have specific taboo words under the word that was meant to be described. Instead each card read "Do not use gendered words" while describing this word. After having discussions in class about a genderless world we were curious to see if we were able to describe words without the use of gender. Some of the words that were described included father, bitch, love, and bisexual. As seen, some are inherantly more gendered than others.
I was curious to see if there would be confusion between biological sex words and gender words. It was interesting to see the initial panicky reaction of those who volunteered to describe a word, followed with some confusion, but in the end everyone was able to describe their word in a way that allowed the rest of the class to guess it.
It was interesting to try and imagine a world without gender. While we were able to guess words, without gender, would we still be using the word mother and father to describe a parent? Would they adopt new meanings? I find myself wondering now if this was a true experiment without our ability to turn off the gendered brains in the audience. Would we have been able to guess father without automatically thinking parent=mother OR father?
Going into this course, I would have defined feminism as equal rights and opportunities for men and women. Now, at the end of the semester, I see that a critical feminist perspective would question many aspects of my definition. I never thought about the gender binary, although I had heard about it, and I had not really thought about the problematic elements of the history of feminism, as we read about in Bell Hook’s book, “Feminism is for Everybody.” My ideas of equal rights and opportunities are colored by so many factors as I learned in this class and I have learned that what I may see as equality could be problematic. For example, Bell Hooks discusses how white women wanted to be able to enter the workforce, yet ignored a large population of women working in fields that those with privilege would have considered beneath them. Another idea that was really challenged for me in the course was the good of international feminism, or at least the spread of western feminism and humanitarianism to an international audience and attempts of westerners to spread their brand of feminism. I struggled with our discussion of “Half the Sky,” and actually read the whole book to see if any of my concerns could be addressed. I ultimately felt that Kristoff and WuDunn covered a lot of points that our class criticized them for not recognizing, he just did so in sections of the book we did not read as a class. For example, they talk at length about the importance of change coming from within a culture and ho
For our presentation, we wanted to interrogate how sex education information is or is not distributed freely, and when that information should be allowed to be consumed. We thought about form and delivery, and in the spirit of feminism and freely available information, made a series of little zines with sexual health/body/sexuality information, with the intention that we would "book bomb" a local library's young adult section, thereby subverting the institutional modes of publishing and the vetting process inherent to that institution, as well as utilizing nearly free resources (each zine is just one piece of white paper, and there are no staples, glue, or tape to keep the zines together)
This was something of a pilot of what such a project could be, with a lot of room for developing the content of the zines, but largely we wanted to be frank and inclusive, to not privilege the gender binary or any normative way of being that may silence other voices, as much as possible. It was also important to allow space for youths to find other resources, and give them a lexicon from which to draw to speak on these topics and ask questions more effectively, an act of empowerment that hopefully reflects some of the goals of feminism, writ large.
For our teach-in, melal, FrigginSushi and I wanted to look at different modes of expression and how they related to our discussions in class and feminism as a whole. We particularly wanted to look at how people can use words or images to express certain ideas, and the difficulties that arose with each one, and so we used the general format of charades and Taboo to demonstrate this. We picked the words "strong" and "safe" for Taboo, and "weird" and "smart" for charades; all of these words are defined differently based on your experiences, and we wanted to use the difficulty of expressing them to demonstrate that we don't all have these shared experiences.
Preparing for the Interviews:
For our teach-in, we wanted to explore how we could expand the conversation that we've been having in class to include those outside of Bryn Mawr and Haverford. Epeck, sekang, and I decided to do this by literally bringing other people into our classroom. With a list of questions on the topics that we felt generated the most discussion in class, we went to the 30th Street and Market East train stations to interview people. We chose these locations hoping that their large amounts of commuter traffic would enable us to speak with a population diverse in terms of race, gender, age, and socioeconomic status. Going into this project, we were aware that choosing random people for the interviews creates the problem of selection bias, and so we made a concentrated effort to approach as many people as possible. Of course, we acknowledge that selection bias, despite our efforts, probably still influenced who we spoke with.
We conducted eleven interviews, asking:
1. What is feminism?
2. Who do you think of when you think of feminism?
3. How do you know if someone is a man?
4. How do you know if someone is a woman?
5. How do you express your gender?
6. How do you define sex work?
7. Do you think that sex work can be empowering for women?
Our group (myself, Debbie, and Maya) didn't get much further during our first meeting than determining that a more open dialog regarding gender variance needs to occur early and often on campus. During our second meeting, we discussed the potential intersection of our liberal idea regarding gender, and the college's marketing blitz in countries where rigid gender roles, and specific ideas about female chastity, would make it difficult to recruit students. We also discussed the ways in which BMC has a specific narrative in place causes it to be a less open environment than we think it is. I suggested, with Halberstam's help, that the word "rigorous" might be harming our ability to reconcieve gender on campus by presenting a very specific idea about who attends BMC, and what is expected of them. We really couldn't come to any sort of peace regarding the topic though, as it is a few nuanced issue, and time was short.
Sarah Palin is a fascinating figure that we have begun to talk about in this class, but I would like to explore more deeply the ways in which Sarah Palin’s political career was played out on the national stage and the feminist implications. The figure of Sarah Palin-- as a woman, as a politician, as a joke-- captivated America throughout the 2008 campaigning season. Tina Fey’s portrayal of Palin, especially alongside her colleague Amy Poehler playing Hillary Clinton in one popular SNL clip, demonstrates some of the popular dialogue centering around women’s issues throughout the election. By contextualizing Palin’s impact as a woman on the political scene with Hillary Clinton’s presence, this Saturday Night Live sketch positions itself to examine the ways in which America negotiates a relationship to its female politicians. Poehler’s portrayal of Clinton alongside Tina Fey’s Palin serves to both contrast and align the women in regards to their treatment in popular media and public imagination.
Further notes from amophrast, Colleen, epeck, and melal
What happens to the historical mission of women's colleges in a queer time and place?
- liberal havens
- non-gendered vs. co-ed collegs
- if we were truly post-gender, we wouldn't have women's college?
- is the goal to be post-gender?
- is the goal of women's college to facilitate their own destruction/evolution
- doesn't mean that the rest of the world is changing at this rate, if at all
- more international goal? post-gender ideas seem Western
- provides a space for queer students
- nourishes growth/existence of feminist movement
Something for the college to do to recognize the fact that gender fluidity/gender queering/flexibility existssss?
A series of 4 groups to educate staff and faculty, including JMac
including SGA, specific classes (E-Sem)
would it be mandatory? yes, to some extent
- Intro (separate between: students and staff/faculty)
- combined workshop
- combined workshop
- Outro/reflection (separate)
Alexandra Jane and Rebecca's video from the beginning of class of 4/24
I'm just thinking about our discomfort with statements and whatnot, and as an education minor, I think a lot about learning and pedagogy and whatever. So, there's this thing called the zone of proximal development, and Vgotsky, a psychologist wrote about it extensively. In my understanding, it's that we should push students to a place where their learning is challenged, but not to a point where students cannot be successful in the work they are confronted with. Perhaps we have been pushed in some ways too much, in some ways not enough.
For me, I think that is a way in which my learning in this class has sometimes been lacking. And maybe it's just me, I don't know. Just some thoughts, that maybe I am at times not challenged enough, but also pushed in ways that make me shut down intellectually. I'm not sure.
Kate Bornstein, in her Gender Workbook, comments that the transgender rights movement is exceptional in the facts that it has risen up via the internet, making it a uniquely modern age event. Through the new medium of the internet, the transgender movement is quickly picking up resemblance of the momentum of the women’s liberation movement of the 60s era. Both are closely related in their ultimate goal of equality and wanting, despite self- embraced or imposed gendered or sexed designations, to be recognize as persons primarily based on multiplicitous individualities. Another commonality between the women’s liberation movement of the 60s era and the more recent transgender revolution is the necessity politicizing of one’s identity, essentially to make someone’s identity into an issue to bring it to the attention of the greater population.
Better known as “Make the personal political” in the feminist world, it is that which is a response to the “mainstream identity.” The normative population, in an attempt to consolidate themselves as the legitimate identities, use the technique of othering certain groups, such as women and transsexual and transgendered individuals. Photojournalist and author of The Gender Frontier, a photobook largely dedicated to the conversion narratives of transgender persons, Mariette Pathy Allen, says,
After reading The Smartest Kid on Earth, I began to think about the relationship between kinds and their fathers and what effect it has on children’s’ lives. The book shifts back and forth in time, showing how generations of Corrigans' selfish, stunted behavior has affected Jimmy, whose only happiness occurs in his dreams, where he's “the smartest kid on earth.” The relationship between four generations of careless fathers and dysfunctional sons make it not an easy story to read because all of the adults are flawed and you can see how the way they treat each other and the children around them is only going to create more of the same. This is also portrayed in the artwork – the Corrigan clan look similar throughout the generations and you can see exactly how the bloodline has ended up the way it has.
Bring this into our feminist context--I was wondering how the relationship between fathers and their kids contribute to feminism? What kinds of men are more likely to have ‘feminist daughters’? Weak? Unhappy? Heartless? I find that a lot of the focus in the feminist mothering movement is on ensuring the rights of mothers and furthering the position of mothers in society. But what is the role for the men in that equation? I think we need a society that values parenthood, not just motherhood. Otherwise it will always be about making concessions for women.
I’m working to develop and create a storyboard for the video piece I want to produce for my final project, but I am wondering if the directive and narrative-reflective form of the storyboard. That is, this happens, then this, then this. And that is not the kind of video I want to make, nor does it reflect the way I do my work, so I’m not sure if I should try to conform to the process, that it might make my work better, or if I should just do as I typically do, which is to be a bit more organic in my process, although perhaps less deliberate?
After watching the documentary “Live Nude Girls Unite!” for the sex work unit of our curriculum, I was initially struck by the scene in which the camera records a man’s steady and clear gaze on one of the dancers. During our discussion, I realized that it was watching this gaze—the male gaze—that made me uncomfortable in ways that seeing the nude dancers in the documentary did not. Upon further reflection on this moment, I found myself thinking about the male gaze in relation to street harassment. Stop Street Harassment, one of many websites and blogs that deal with the issue, is an organization that defines street harassment as “Unwelcome words and actions by unknown persons in public which are motivated by gender and invade a person’s physical and emotional space in a disrespectful, creepy, startling, scary, or insulting way.” According to this organization, street harassment occurs frequently and globally. In Academic and community studies, research done in thirteen different cities found that of the statistically significant results, Beijing, with seventy percent of women reporting experiences of street harassment, had the lowest statistic.
There are a number of questions that I have worked up which over time have effectively constrained my understanding of the feminist project. I want to connect my concern regarding access to feminism (or limited access and the factors that create this lack) to my understanding of feminism as a minority project—a project that remains beneath the concern of most women both in the US and across the world. I have been thinking about this “majority” since our class conversation about “trolling” comments on Serendip and the consensus that these are not worth a response—that any response would be not productive. So though there are clearly quite a lot of people—including many female-bodied individuals—who would have unconstructive things to say about our work in Critical Feminist Studies. I would even go so far as so say that (as I have encountered them) there are plenty voices of dissent contained within the Bryn Mawr student body.
This conflict between feminism and the “majority” parallels a general lack of consensus and hence momentum within the body of self defined feminists. This lack of commonality really endangers the notion of feminism as a project constantly working towards action/praxis. With so many differing feminisms each accompanied by various agendas, and each a smaller minority of the minority of people that are self identified feminists in the first place, I sincerely start to doubt the potential contained within the feminist project as it is organized today.
At my high school, similar to perhaps many other high schools, making gay jokes was always a popular thing to do. I feel ashamed to have participated in this crude and horrible form of "humor" and teasing when I first entered high school. I loved my high school and I had a great high school experience but I did think my school needed to revise it's policy on tolerance. Not just on anti-gay rhetoric issue but on an overall issue of tolerance and respect. It wasn't until the end of high school that one of my very good friends who had been constantly made fun of for "acting gay" that I realized this was not right and that this had to stop. I couldn't articulate why I felt it was wrong. I don't think I was the only one who thought this was a problem but I do think it was an easy pitfall to trap yourself into when you were with a group of people and you just wanted to tease someone. And I saw no way of changing it. I just knew it was unfair but I didn't know for what reason and I couldn't understand why this kind of homophobic subculture was so deeply ingrained in the way my high school interacted with each other.
Exploring Women in Violence
For a long time, the focus of domestic violenceand crime commitment has been put on men, who are believed as conductors of a vast majority of violence. bell hooks in her book Feminism is for Everybody (2000), yet suggests that women’s involvement in violent crime has increased over the past decade. I therefore want to explore women’s role in conducting violent crimes. What makes them commit violence? Is there a link exists between violence against women and women’s involvement in violence? Does it undermine the importance of feminism because women violence-perpetrators show the masculinity in their behaviors? This paper begins with a snapshot of violent women offenders in the US. The theories that have been proposed to explain women’s violent behaviors, as well as the factors that have been found to place women at-risk for violence, are subsequently reviewed. Finally, a discussion of women in violence and its connection with feminism and programs targeting violent behaviors among women offenders are highlighted.
Story telling is an important part of the human experience, and in this class we have focused very much on the stories that people tell. Feminism is about story telling, and, as MC said long ago, “…listening, particularly to people who are often given no voice or agency, is a solid tenant of feminism.” In order to listen, we must also tell. Throughout our journey in Critical Feminist Studies, we have heard stories about a wide variety of folks – ladies, men, and people above, below, around and in between; queers, straights, and everything else; white people and colored people; people from this world and from other worlds; people who are rich, poor, famous, obscure, enslaved, powerful, intellectual, uneducated, able-bodied, “others,” outsiders, insiders, and every level in between. Hundreds of stories about hundreds of different people. The voices we hear, however, are not always the voices of the people whose story is being told. This is something we have discussed often in class, and the curriculum is carefully constructed to give us a wide selection of voices. Not all of these voices are the ones we’ve been wanting to hear.