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.

michelle.lee's picture

Definitely an emotional read and other related topics to Middlesex

On the topic of Middlesex, I came across a film called Tomboy.  It's a French film from 2011 and it tells the story of a 10 year old girl, named Laure, who decides to introduce herself as a boy to other children when she moves towns.  She interacts with her new friends as a boy while she acts like a girl at home.  It reminded me of Middlesex since it touches on the idea of transgender/transsexualism at a young age.  It also has the same idea of "rebirth" since both main characters experience a point in life where they are "reborn."  Although Cal's case is slightly different since he is intersex while Laure is biologically female.  Both the film and novel exude this kind of subversive sadness.  I felt almost helpless at some points of the movie and novel because there wasn't anything I could do.  I am still trying to process formally what my emotions and my thoughts are for these books...

Trailer for the film Tomboy
FrigginSushi's picture

Emphasizing the physical

Being that this is a story that displays hermaphoditism through the eyes of a teenager, it's no surprise that a lot of the book is centered around the physical body. Most of the scenes with Dr. Luce really emphasized what had already been the present throughout most of the book about the importancy of physical attributes as well as physical attraction.

The scene where Luce shows porn to Callie to see what sex she was attracted to really bothered me. Being physically attracted to someone, to me, doesn't necessarily mean you're more male or more female (especially thinking about the controversy surrounding the idea that changing your gender is a way to escape homosexuality). Judging Callie's dominent gender based on sexual attraction wouldn't show the type of attraction that Callie has for the Object which to me is a better indicator of her gender than anything. Of course Luce wouldn't know Callie's feelings about the Object because Callie is hiding that from him, but I felt like a lot of his questions were only surface level questions since most of what he's basing his diagnostics off of is in fact gender sterreotypes. 

It just makes me think about how sex can never determine your gender in the way that Callie's physical appearance (the way she carries herself, speaks, write, ects) can never determine which of her genders is more prominent. I've felt throughout this book that Callie's hermaphoditism doesn't affect her as much as it affects people around her (her parents, friends, etc) which makes me believe that it's not so important to her.

mbeale's picture

A Mustachio-ed 2nd Grader

To be honest, I can't remember the first time I felt "gendered," it's a difficult moment to pinpoint in my life. I was told I was a "little girl" then a "big girl" then a "teenaged girl" then a "young woman," and I've come to accept this sort of consistency without much question or consternation. The earliest memory I have that I would account to being clearly defined by gender is in 2nd grade. It was lunch time. We had just gotten the KidPix computer game in the classroom. A boy I had a crush on and some of his less remarkable friends were fooling around with it and I wasn't very interested until I saw my Leah, one of my best friends, red in the face and sobbing. Someone said it had something to do with what Ryan, the boy I liked, and his friends were doing on the computer. I went over to look at what would upset Leah so much and I saw it: A little cartoon that slightly resembled her with a handle bar mustache paired with the title 'Sir Leah.' Oh dear. This was unquestionably offensive!  Girls were not supposed to have facial hair! Let alone fully developeed mustaches! And Leah did have a weirdly fuzzy upper lip...But that was besides the point! Her girlhood was being questioned and the fellow sisters of Sister Theresa Mary's homeroom were not going to stand for it. We waged a brutal playground war against the boys that day. And by doing so, we proved that Leah was still a girl and she did not and would not ever have something as despicably un-girly as a mustache.

mbeale's picture

What I Would Have Said: How I Found Out Jesus Did Me A Huge Favor

The Easter story has been hammered into my brain since I was about 5 or 6 by everyone from my mother to the temperamental nuns who were responsible for my education. It was told to me in a way that I would never hope to understand, and thinking back on it, purposefully so: the mystical benevolent, scruffy haired godman with impeccable taste in white linens and a blinding golden aura reduced himself to a horrifying and humiliating unique punishment, died, went hand to hand combat with the devil, came back to life, walked around town and freaked out his friends, and flew into the heavens, having saved us all for infinite generations to come. Whatever the story, this meant I was not allowed to eat jellybeans for a month or say Hallelujah. Ever since I can remember, I attended solemn masses that reeked of incense and smoke, while the congregation hollered, "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" Well, no, I indeed was not. In all actuality, the Easter holds little bearing on the sanctity of my soul as Jesus may have so earnestly intended. Being older, the Easter story is now more appealing to me as a special on the History Channel. I think less about Christ's mysterious powers and more about how crucifixtion was a common although vulgar punishment inflicted by the Romans and that the the successful "cross" was really a "T." I must say, that from a literary standpoint the Easter story, especially in the King James Biblical version, is an easily appreciable work of artful persuasion.

pejordan's picture

If I Were A Boy (continued)

This is a remix of "If I Were a Boy" featuring R. Kelly. I don't think it's any less problematic than the original because it still puts the man in this traditional position of power ("how I work and pay the bills," etc) but at least it gets a male perspective in there a little bit. The song also points out that Beyoncé is making some broad categorizations about men in saying that women are always the victims in relationships. The one line I really like is "you are not a perfect woman, and I am not a perfect man". I thought it was interesting because we talked in class about how the video was one-sided and not entirely fair to men, and I saw this as a response to that.

See video
bluebox's picture

Being Gendered + Comedy or Tragedy?

I started looking into my memories when Anne asked us when we first felt gendered. My mother tells me that I had a “girly” phase when I was three, where I’d wear lots of pink dresses and lacy gloves and a white hat with a pink ribbon.  Instead of sleeping with a particular stuffed animal, I’d bring my favorite object of the day into bed. Once it was the frying pan from my kitchen set, and once my new pair of shoes.  But I grew out of that, and my mom bought me overalls and other clothes that didn’t have a particular brand or princess on it, and let me grow out my Dorothy Hamill.

Now I wonder if my gendered phases in my childhood caused how I’m gendered now—well, I’m certain they affected it somehow, but is it directly because of my inconsistent display of femininity? Or was I just born to be ambiguous?

aybala50's picture

Is it just me?

I am still working to finish up Middlesex and I'm very much enjoying this journey. However, I can't stop thinking about the way in which Cal's gender and his intersex body are presented in this book. The story of his ancestral line including incest, multiple times, and the way in which Desdemona has feared for so long that because of this something will be wrong with each birth makes Cal seem like that "punishment". Is Cal's intersex body being presented as a crime of unmoral or sinful behavior? Am I incorrect in feeling that Cal's body is being framed as a result of incest?

S. Yaeger's picture

New 360 with Anne, Jody Cohen and Barb Toews

Amophrast's picture

Queer Homeless Youth: Film Screening of Queer Streets TONIGHT

Tuesday, March 13th
7-9 PM
34th and Walnut | Fisher Bennett Hall Room 401
Free and open to the public! Food will be provided.

dchin's picture

Feminism and Female Suicide Bombers

Feminism for Female Suicide Bombers and The Imagined Community

            Recent American engagements in the Middle East have renewed the spotlight on the role of women in radical Islam, in particular—the seemingly contradictory nature of female suicide bombers. Alissa Ruben’s article, “Despair Drives Suicide Attacks by Iraqi Women,” exemplifies the tendency to portray female suicide bombers as victims, coerced by fathers, husbands, relatives, or other community members. On the other hand, M. Bloom argues that many of these women were just as willing and politically motivated as their male counterparts. As she writes in “Bombshells: Women and Terror,” “violence is an altruistic act, and one of the key ways in which [women] can contribute to the good of the nation” (Bloom, 8).

Anne Dalke's picture

Organizing for the Remainder of the Semester

aybala50's picture

The Game of Unspeakable Language

           Describe salt to someone who has never tasted it before. How does it feel on your tongue? How does it feel going down your throat? What does it make you feel? What does it taste like? I can’t do it…no matter what words I use or how I choose to describe it, someone who has never tasted salt will not fully understand what it tastes like. This concept, this shortcoming of language felt really disappointing. I thought that language was supposed to be empowering; having a voice, having words, using them to tell people what I think, what I feel…it’s supposed to make me stronger.

            In class I argued that language is limiting. I felt disappointment in this argument, not because I didn’t believe it, but because I felt powerless within a second of trying the describe salt. Language truly is not enough of a form of description, yet it is the most commonly used method of communication amongst people. Why is this? Why do we use language if it limits us in our communication?

            Have you ever heard of the game Taboo? It’s a card game that uses words. One person is given a word that they are meant to describe to a group of people without using that word, or words that are closely associated that word. So, if we were trying to describe salt to a group of people, we wouldn’t be able to say the word salt, or pepper, or white, or sea etc. This game truly shows the limitations placed on us by words.

Amophrast's picture

The Female Orgasm: Wednesday, March 21, 8PM Goodhart Auditorium

Here's a shameless plug for an upcoming event. It's a hilarious and fantastic program, and here is the write-up:

Join us to laugh and learn about the "big O," the most popular topic sex educators Marshall Miller and Rachel Dart teach about! Orgasm aficionados and beginners of all genders are welcome to come learn about everything from multiple orgasms to that mysterious G-spot. Whether you want to learn how to have your first orgasm, how to have better ones, or how to help yourgirlfriend, they cover it all with lots of humor, plenty of honesty, and an underlying message of sexual health and women's empowerment. Are you coming?

Come by yourself, come with a friend, come with all your friends!

Wednesday March 21, 8 PM in BMC's Goodhart Auditorium

This event is un-ticketed, open to Tri-Co plus guests, and open to people of all genders and orientations.

RSVP at:

Amophrast's picture

Notes from Anti-LGBT Activism Talk on 3/1

  • Jeffrey Longhofer, Ph.D., LCSW Associate professor from Rutgers school of social work
  • April 9th, EEO on LGBT population
    • Interactive session.
    • Philip Lichtenberg
      • Encountering Bigotry
    • Cheryl Parks
      • White, out lesbian
    • Dr. Christine McGinn
      • Transgender plastic surgeon
  • Queer white man
    • Does this affect perspective?
  • Anti-LGBT Activism: A Social Movement or Paranoid Fringe?
  • A handful of images from Oklahoma City, April 19, 1995, 9:02 AM
  • On the first floor of a building was a childcare center. 72 children. By the end of the excavation there were 16. 168 fatalities (bombing)
  • When I speak to undergraduates, I find that memory of this is quite distant
    • Quite right
  • Timothy McVeigh – news media tended to present him as a homosexual
  • Estes Park, 1992
    • YMCA, 200 or 300 people. National meeting of the …?
  • Opposition researcher
  • New right, old right, neo vs. paleo
  • Can’t mobilize unless you can really grasp the historical significance of divides in American conservatism
  • The Rise of the Old Right
    • AR Conference
    • “Ours is an era of fear and self-censorship.
Amophrast's picture

Feminist Typography: Typefaces of Feminists

When I was in NYC for my externship, at the public library I saw a talk on this book: Typography Sketchbooks. It contains (amazing) sketches, discarded works, and preliminary ideas by typography artists, who design typeface.

After going over "Lifting Belly" in class (February 16th), I was thinking about language, feminism, font, words... I was thinking (which I tried to convey in class with the help of French feminists) that there's something about the form which makes some things feminist; content is indeed important, but I do not know if I often see anti-feminist (which I recognize as different than non-feminist) sentiments expressed in the same forms I see feminist sentiments  expressed in. Maybe there is something more effective about communicating in these forms rather than trying to speak the language of the patriarchy, or using phallocentric language...rigid formats and rules. I think that feminist thoughts and ideas are most effectively communicated and received when they are in certain forms.