Critical Feminist Studies

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Anne Dalke's picture

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.

rayj's picture

it gets better

This is Kate Bornstein's contribution to Dan Savage's It Gets Better campaign, which I (and a lot of people, this is a good summarization of a lot of the criticism of the campaign) have some problems with. I think, though, that Bornstein's contribution is my favorite one, and one that I actually agree with//don't think is harmful or as fraught with some issues of power, hegemony, etc. 

I'm bringing this here because in some ways, it relates to the Half the Sky movement in that it is a movement fueled by people in positions of privilege and power, with good intentions, but perhaps without too much of a critical eye to how the message is deployed/represented. 

Kate Bornstein, It Gets Better Video
dchin's picture

Who Oversees the Nonprofits?

In discussing "Half the Sky", we have also talked about the role that non-profits pIay in addressing violence against women. Who, then regulates non-profits and ensures that they are doing what they should be doing? I also wonder about the structure of non-profits themselves, and whether they could and would benefit from organizing themselves more like the private sector. For example, Geoffrey Canada is the founder of the Harlem Children's Zone, a collection of programs and charter schools that aim to work with students from birth to high school graduation. Canada runs his program on what seems to be a business model, measuring his profit by his students' test scores. Applying a business model to his charter schools has ensured generous and continued funding for his work and allows his investors a way to justify their heavy spending. However, progress in antitrafficking programs, for example, cannot measure progress in the same way. Harlem Children's Zone can perhaps say that  X% of their students reached a certain score on standardized tests, but it seems reductive for the organizations that Kristoff mentions to say that they helped X% of women in a certain region. Once again, how do these nonprofits determine what and how much of it constitutes progress and who oversees what they do?

michelle.lee's picture


Half the Sky has really gotten me to think about what the standard protocol and ettiquite for international humanitarianism is.

I remember asking my dean at the beginning of my freshman year, what classes can I take that can help me look more deeply into non-profit activism.  And she had told me that there really aren't any classes that focus just on that; You can essentially major in anything and go into non-profit activism.  When I think back, I thought that was very fair.  Anyone can go into the world and try and help.  However, my thoughts have shifted a bit.  While I still think it's great that the opportunity to help in ways such as the Half the Sky movement, I often wonder how organizations would be percieved if there were classes that were specifically offered about the organization of non-profit groups or international humanitarianism in general.  Perhaps I just haven't done enough research to find classes, but even as I look into classes for next semester, I do not see many classes that are offered that are about how to operate an organization that works in international humanitarianism.  Why can't it be like teacher certification?  You'd have to be certified to start a non-profit organization.  Is that too crazy of an idea?  If there is someone who is well-versed in this area, they could comment on how it works.   

dear.abby's picture

reading the comments section

This article and the many many subsequent comments has made me think about a part of feminism, or at least my understanding of feminism, that hasn't come up in class so much--the "feminine" body image. This particular article (I never found the original, but only articles about it) concerns the personal response of a mother whose female 7 year old child is considered morbidly obese. Also this article was featured in the annual "shape issue" of Vogue, which may be why it attracted so much attention, and could be tagged easily as "Vogue article about fat seven year old girl" et cetera.

It appears that the overwhelming response to this particular mother's reaction is negative. Most comments cite her as narcissistic and effectively preparing her second grader for a plethora of eating disorders, and passing on her own personal psychosis.

epeck's picture

Setting the scene - And Tango Makes Three

Here is the link for And Tango Makes Three on Amazon.  You can see several of the pages through their product page and the reviews are worth skimming.  

mbeale's picture

We Can't Forget About the Little Boy In Harlem

An annoyance with the text that I neglected to bring up in class is the pure audacity of international humanitarianism. When there are still things being swept under the rug and out of our consciousness like the Trayvon Martin  case and this case ( of a 68 year old veteran being killed in his home largely on the basis of race, I feel it is blatantly cruel to an extremely  marginalized portion of the population within our own country who is in need of justice, much often the same sort of justice aid groups like Half The Sky go peddling and pandering support for all around the world. James Baldwin, a civil rights activist mostly active in the 60s, expressed a similar concern in critique of sprouting aid initiatives like the Peace Corps, "We can't forget about the little boy in Harlem." Instead of solely being conflicted on whether or not to poke one's head into another culture's and country's problems, perhaps it is time we take time to assess the mirroring issues on our own turf.

Amophrast's picture

Athletics and Art of Pole Dancing

Over winter break, I came across this video for Mr. Pole Dance Germany 2011:

meowwalex's picture

hello, cruel world

I wanted to learn more about the outreach that Kate Bornstein does today, and her website "Hello Cruel World" is something that I feel is really great.


I think that most people who disregard conversations about gender and sexuality as something that doesn't pertain to them if their lives fit in the expected gender binary don't realize the amount such ignorance can further pain those who are struggling with their identities in such a way. Kate says "I think that the world needs more kind people in it, no matter who or what they are, or do"

I think that in some ways I am also guilty of not trying to learn as much about issues of gender and sexuality, because I have never struggled with my own sexual orientation or felt that I am wrongly gendered. Even so, the gender workbook helped me realize that the "ideal" woman and man are pretend ideas that no one can ever really fulfill no matter how hard that they try. Even if one considers themselves able to fit neatly inside society's accepted gender binary, the binary's ideals pose a problem for everyone. . . regardless of whether you 'appear' to be fitting well within it.

S. Yaeger's picture

Further thoughts on our discussion of Half the Sky

Since I was pretty clearly shaken up and a little incoherent today during our discussion of Half The Sky, I thought it would be beneficial to post here with my calmer, less certain thoughts, and see if we can't figure out a very complex set of problems together.

To begin with, I think that one thing that's important to discuss is the problem of problematic language vs valuable action.  This to say that, while I found much of the language in the text problematic, and while I felt rendered helpless by it, neither of those things make the actions of those inspired by the book less valuable.  Similarly, while I'd love to see, and try to work toward, a less binarist language of gender, using binary terms while attempting to raise money that will help to educate those who would otherwise be denied access does not negate the absolutely real and tangible value of such a drive.  

It's easy for me to sit in a position of relative priviledge at BMC and call out the problems in a text for which I am most likely not the audience, but the reality is that actions like those advocated for in Half The Sky are absolutely needed, and those actions absolutely need the financial backing of wealthy and well connected people to carry them forward. The questions I am left with, however are numerous.  At what point is problematic language a problem that takes presidence?  At what point does abuse closer to home take priority over global abuses?  Where does actual progress and solution end and white knighting begin?

FrigginSushi's picture

Setting the Scene (3-29-12)

Here's her more popular song in case this singer isn't ringing a bell.

Vanessa Carlton "White Houses"
sara.gladwin's picture

The Miniature Earth Project- youtube video

This was something interesting that I found a while ago and todays class is reminding me of this video so I decided to post it to see what people think. I found it interesting that the She's the First video promotes their usage of twitter and social media; while this video talks about how few people have interent access in relationship to how many people are actually in the world. I have other thoughts about the video but I am hoping to see what everyone else thinks too!

the video comes from this website:

The minature Earth
MC's picture

Links for March 29, 2012

-Here is a very interesting PDF by the Women Media Center's Name It. Change It. Project. It's a guide to how to avoid sexist and otherwise problematic representations of women politicians and candidates in the media, both for consumers of media and creators of media. 

-This is an article that one of my math professors directed me to on one of Bryn Mawr's former professors, mathematician Amalie Noether. 

-A different look at Kristof, one of the authors of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, and the organizations he advocates for,

-Similar to the link above, The White Savior Industrial Complex.

Amophrast's picture

Setting the Scene: Feminist Punk Rock

The two videos S.Yaeger and I shared in class:



dchin's picture

Urban Dictionary

Here is the Urban Dictionary page for "queering" that we were talking about in class: What confused me specifically was this definition of queering: "Forcible anal sex given to a man, usually by a group of 4-5 men, not for the purposes of enjoying the experience, but to teach the victim a lesson or punish him." I have never heard it defined this way before, and the violence of the definition shocked me so much so that I intially thought it was a made-up comment by someone trolling the site.  

Anne Dalke's picture

a reminder

(when you drop by to post on Sunday evening) to include a link to whatever text, images or videos or audios you've been using to "set the scene" for our class meetings. Thanks!

pejordan's picture

Setting the Scene 3/20

Here's a clip of "Defying Gravity" being performed at the Tony Awards--I just shared the song in class, but this gives a little bit more of the feel for the musical.

See video
aybala50's picture

How to be a man

This is another video sara.gladwin and I thought about setting the scene with. After choosing the "perfect gender" video to use instead, I saw no reason for also not sharing this one. Enjoy!

See video