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.

aybala50's picture

Perfect Gender- Setting the Scene

sara.gladwin and I felt that this would be a good discussion started for the "perfect gender"

See video
MC's picture


I have mentioned and explained once in class and in one of my web events that I am asexual aromantic, which is one reason why I have mixed feelings about My Gender Workbook. The author in many instances assumes that the audience identifies as a sexual being, and her wording often gives the impression that sexuality and gender while not the same thing, are deeply dependent on each other. And while society's impression of your gender is often connected to their impression of your sexuality, as is the language they use, self-identification of gender does not always hinge on sexuality. I still identify overall as cisfemale, even though because of societal expectations and connotations I do not feel I have access to many of the words describing cisfemales. The word woman is deeply connected to being a sexual and/or reproductive being; menstruation and the construct of losing one's virginity and engaging in sexual or romantic relations is a sign of growing up, of a girl becoming a woman. And while I have the reproductive capacities of a woman, I have no intention of using them, and the idea of being sexually or romantically involved with others bothers me to my very core. As such I will retain my "virginity" (I have no time to explain how upsetting I find that word to be), my innocence, my chastity, which keeps me in the position of a girl, which I still cannot belong to because I am an adult (also because girls are expected to grow up into women). Does that make me an adult girl? I'd rather not be.

aybala50's picture

children's material

Setting the scene using children's books was a great way to start the class last week. I just wanted to go back to the question of the "age appropriateness" of these books. In my personal opinion a child should be able to read what interests them. However, if I had a child who was interested in reading books about love, I would not want them to only read about heteronormative love. I think that a child would better understand that love can come in many forms and can be felt for any person regardless of their sex, gender, sexual orientation etc. at a younger age. Once we are exposed to thoughts of right and wrong in the world we close up little by little. Can open mindedness be achieved more easily if it begins at an earlier age? Should there be a work book like "My Gender Work Book" that is accessible to all ages? 

dear.abby's picture

gender terms

So most of the terms that came to mind are associated with gender but arose as points of confusion during a theory class, where everyone used these terms liberally and I felt like I had no idea what they were talking about.

hegemonic : I think I know what this means, it comes up frequently in another gender and sex related class I am in currently.

Focault : now I know who he is and understand his theory, but during a prior feminist class he was intensely alluded to, and I was left very confused.

*queering (as a verb) does this have meaning outside the realm of academia or gender studies. I would like to be able to understand this term enough to use it myself.

*gender vs. sex : the difference between these two terms is still slightly unclear to me, I have definitely used them incorrectly before.

*cisfemale : this term was brought up much earlier this semester by a student, and was briefly explained by professor dalke but I still don't understand why it is used, or what it clarifies that is not clarified by other terms.

S. Yaeger's picture

Possibly of interest on a few levels.


This morning, I stumbled accross the linked news story about a trans women being disqualified from Canada's Miss Universe Pageant for publicly acknowledging that she is trans.  I thought this topic might be of interest to our class for two reasons.  The first being that Jenna's disqualification illustrates how much tranphobia is a part of the cultural landsape of many western countries and how little understanding there seems to be about trans identities.  

The second is that beauty pageants have long been a hot bed issue for feminism as feminist activists protesting the Miss America pageant in 1968 recieved national news coverage.  In fact, I believe that it was that protest that led to the misconception that femnists burn their bras, as a threat to do so was made at the protest.  The women protesting the pageant in 1968 were protesting the way that women were viewed as objects and cut off from many potential careers.  Even though the protests drew a good deal of attention, it seems like little has changed in the world of pageantry since then, and I think that Jenna's story illustrates that.

melal's picture

Stay in the middle?

After reading Middlesex, I started to think about what it means to be in the middle. The facts in this case, as Cal tells us on the very first page, are that he was born and raised as a girl but was revealed as a teenager to be a boy, at least in genetic and chromosomal terms. If seen the world from a traditional binary way, Cal doesn’t belong to any side completely (or maybe none of us does?). Such in-the-middle position brings him confusions and struggles, but also enables him to become strong and to explore himself deeply since he has nobody similar to him. People often describe the birth of their new self in this way - we are reborn after facing an obstacle and overcoming it. Here, there is no rebirth, because Cal isn't Calliope born anew. He's just brand new, with a completely new identity, a whole new birth. His distance from Calliope is because he can't face who he is and was. Even as an adult, he's only on the cusp of accepting his body, his gender (both his current one and the former one), and his self for what they are. It's a second birth, almost because he has to grow up one more time and learn how to be a man.

epeck's picture

Still troubled...

Going through My Gender Workbook has made me think a lot more about what gender is and what it isn't.  I still find myself thinking in a fairly conservative way, that there are "men" and "women," but I actually am starting to think about why I think that way and if those assumptions true and what they mean.  It's very hard for me to understand what a "non-gender" would be.  It's also confusing how Bornstein talks about rejecting gender, but at the same time talks about her (hir?) own gender and how we can all find our own gender/expressions - there gender or not?  Or are there many genders that are personal to each individual?  I also have trouble understanding whether Bornstein believes that our gender identities are fluid (as she seemed to in the beginning of the book), or if we have a TRUE identity which is hidden by our own performance of socialy-constructed gender.  Does Bornstein argue that we have an essential self at all, or that everything about us is dynamic?  I guess the message of the book is getting through to me...somewhat.  

Anne Dalke's picture

teaching children about gender variance

When dchin and epeck read us And Tango Makes Three on Thursday, I mentioned a webevent, created by a student in the core course in gender studies last semester, which might interest you all: it's about Making Sense of the "Gay Penguin" Controversy, and it questions the wisdom of "anthropomorphising animals to contribute to a conversation about human" behavior.

If you are interested in thinking some more about (and creating new) texts to teach children about gender variance, you might find inspiration in a couple of other projects created for that class; see, for example,
Mommies, Daddies, Families,
A Rainbow of Sex Difference,
The Stories We Tell Ourselves and
A Handbook for the Boy Scouts of America....

pejordan's picture

Female Athletes and Gender Testing

I've been thinking about female athletes and gender this week after reading a part in My Gender Workbook that described female athletes as being able to "transcend gender" in the act of participating in sports, and trying to figure out how gender plays into athletics in general. For so long, women really weren't seen as athletes. They couldn't play anywhere near the variety of sports that men could, and couldn't compete in the few sports they were allowed at a high level. The advent of Title IX helped to dramatically change that. However, something that I found incredibly troubling is the presence of gender testing of athletes.

In 2009 Caster Semenya, an 18 year old South African, was subjected to a variety of tests designed to ascertain her "true gender" after she won the gold medal in the 800 meters at the World Championships in Berlin. She'd lived her whole life as a woman but authorities called her gender into question because of her strength and appearance. After an extended period of time, Semenya was allowed to return to competition as a woman, but she participated in a make-over for the South African magazine "You" that made her appear more feminine.

Anne Dalke's picture

Sunday night: WORDS

Sunday night, along w/ your usual reflections on the week past, please post here three "gender" terms you want to understand better/be able to use. Please tell a brief  'story' about each one: a time you yourself misused the word, or were confused someone else's use, or ....? In other words, tell us why knowing how to use this word matters to you...

rayj's picture

My NEW Gender Workbook

Just wanted to let y'all know Kate Bornstein, author of My Gender Workbook, is working on a new edition! She also is calling for submissions and input from us! And by US I mean everyone, she wants a multitude of perspectives to inform her work, as always, which is a reason I love her. 


Here is the link to her blog and the call for submissions/discussion of the new book!

dear.abby's picture

Female Politician-Celebrity Standard

Merging the Female Movie Star and the Politician

            I invited Sarah Palin to the conversation at our “feminist table” because I thought she and most voices like to hers would be excluded otherwise. I have though about her and other very visible public female personas frequently since then. And I have come to understand these women as part of a separate public world, which must be, in terms of feminism, examined it were a “separate geographical location” entirely. This public world requires a specific examination, just as the woman of the global south or the Korean woman might require examination through a specifically feminist lens or gaze. Others have addressed issues of “double standards” arising in very particular circumstances in very different parts of the globe. The public gaze (constantly directed at this public world) creates a unique combination of “double standards” when it turns towards the female body. I would like to explore the very unique position the public woman finds herself in, both in terms of the political and popular worlds and how these once very separate worlds have come to merge.

Game Change: Palin Running her own Show
Anne Dalke's picture

Tim Miller Performance Workshop April 16-20

Tim Miller is an internationally acclaimed solo performer. Hailed for their humor and passion, Miller's solo theater works have been presented all over North America, Australia, and Europe at such prestigious venues as Yale Repertory Theatre, the Institute of Contemporary Art (London), the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He is the author of the books SHIRTS & SKIN, BODY BLOWS and 1001 BEDS, which won the 2007 literary prize for best Drama-Theater book from Lambda Literary Foundation. Miller has taught performance in the theater departments at UCLA and at Cal State L.A. He is a founder of two of the most influential performance spaces in the United States: Performance Space 122 on Manhattan's Lower East Side and Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, CA.

Details on the workshop and how to apply here:

Deadline to apply:  Rolling deadline. Early applicants will hear starting March 26. Please apply via email to Sharon Ullman at with “Tim Miller Workshop” in the subject-line.

pejordan's picture

Addendum to Wicked

I just wanted to post some of the lyrics that I find the most empowering from "Defying Gravity" in the hopes that  those unfamiliar with it can see why it appeals to me. I shared it because I don't necessarily think you need to know the plot by having read the book or seen the show to appreciate the message, and I want to apologize to those who felt that it was inaccessible. The show is referenced a lot in popular culture ("Defying Gravity was performed on Glee recently) and I wrongly presumed it was known by a wider demographic.

MC's picture

Small Late Night Link Offering for 3/18/12

-Bitch is currently running a series of articles on their blog about fictional women in politics. Here are the first couple of articles. Considering our future discussions of conservative women in politics, I thought some of us might be interested to read them.

-Some more information about Pussy Riot, though admittedly not much more than what was presented in class. Here is their LJ, though it is in Russian so that is of debatable use to the class. This entry, however, is in English, apparently taken from an article when they were interviewed. They have a lot of comments on that entry, including more news clips of them. 

-Tigerbeatdown, the site I mentioned in class.

Amophrast's picture

Jack Halberstam's Gaga Feminism

Notes from Halberstam's lecture. In general, I found the material accessible and engaging, which is one of the reasons why I think referencing Lady Gaga worked well. However, it did seem very hard for people to separate Halberstam's use of the word ("reclaiming" of the word) "gaga" from Lady Gaga.

S. Yaeger's picture

Injecting some levity into a tense situation

I thought the class might enjoy the above video clip from the Colbert Show.

aybala50's picture

Lesbian, man, woman...what?

I find myself stuck on the idea of trying to figure out Callie's/Cal's gender and sexual orientation. I've been having a hard time trying to figure out how to think about Cal without worrying so much about how he was raised as a girl and is now a man. Despite the fact that I knew that Cal was intersexed from the beginning of the book, I don't believe that I questioned Cal's gender until the moment that the book started to question it. Before this journey into Cal's sex and gender started taking place, I was under the impression that Callie was a young girl who might possibly be attracted to other women. Starting with her first kiss with the girl next door to her obsession to her best friend's body made me think that Callie could be a lesbian. 

I don't feel comfortable trying to 'figure out' Cal's sex, gender, or sexual orientation or his reasoning behind them. Cal was aware of his attraction to women before visiting the doctor, but did he question his gender? Does this matter? Why does this book that is about so much (history, Greek family, gender roles, immigration etc.) focus on Cal's intersexuality and why does it have to conclude with a definite gender. I feel that Cal was forced to decide on his gender. I think that Middlesex is a great example of the forcing of individuals into categories, whether it be gender, sex, sexual orientation etc.