Cripping Sex and Gender
Bryn Mawr College
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"Cripping Sex and Gender": Expanding Forms of Representation
A Discussion Panel for the 23rd Annual Conference
of the Society for Disability Studies
Temple University, June 5, 2010
Emily Bock, Anne Dalke, Kristin Lindgren, Jennifer
Rodriguez, Emily Shaw and Theresa Tensuan
Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges
I. Kristin Lindgren: Introductions (5 minutes)
I teach in the Writing Program at Haverford College and am a longtime member of SDS.
Theresa Tensuan teaches in the English Dept. at Haverford and coordinates the Gender & Sexuality Studies Program. She is the matchmaker who brought me and Anne together to co-teach the core course. She has incorporated disability studies into her teaching, organizing, and scholarship, and she is currently completing a book on graphic narratives entitled Breaking the Frame: Comics and the Art of Social Transformation.
Emily Bock is a rising senior at Haverford, majoring in English with a concentration in Gender & Sexuality Studies. She recently won a prize at the Geis Conference on Student Research on Women for a paper entitled “Root, Hog, or Die: Surviving as Working Class in Academia.” Emily is working this summer as an intern at the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia and plans to pursue a career in public interest law.
Emily Shaw graduated from Haverford in May with a degree in English and a concentration in Gender & Sexuality Studies. She wrote her senior thesis on processes of readership in the graphic novel Watchmen. Next year she’ll be working on an organic farm in Hawaii, so she may get to SDS in 2011!
Jennifer Rodriguez just graduated from Haverford with a degree in philosophy. Her senior thesis is entitled “Crip Sex: On the Intersectionality of Gender, Sexuality, and Disability.” The day after graduation, she began a job working for the Clinical Directors Network in New York City on a Violence and Stress Assessment Project. She hopes to incorporate her interest in disability into a career in public health.
Anne Dalke teaches in the English Dept. at Bryn Mawr and for many years coordinated the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program. She has initiated countless interdisciplinary courses, study groups, and research projects, often with her colleagues in the sciences, and she creatively uses a web-based, student-centered pedagogy. Anne and I co-taught the core course in the Bryn Mawr/Haverford Gender Studies Program last fall.
Each of us will talk for 5-10 minutes about our own perspective on or experience with integrating the study of gender, sexuality, and disability. We’ll try to move through our presentations and save the broader discussion for later, but in the spirit of a discussion panel, if you have a burning question for an individual panelist, feel free to jump in.
II. Kristin Lindgren: Cripping Sex and Gender
at Bryn Mawr and Haverford (10 minutes)
Theresa’s invitation to me to co-teach the core course for the Gen/Sex program with Anne last fall was in part a generous response to my frustration at not having a permanent home for disability studies courses at Bryn Mawr and Haverford. I’ve taught lots of DS courses at Haverford, mostly in the Writing Program, but I’m always looking to colonize other territories. So it was serendipitous that Theresa invited me co-teach and that Anne was not only open to but truly excited about incorporating a unit on disability.
Working the intersections between disability studies and gen/sex studies makes sense not only for the theoretical reasons that many DS scholars have so eloquently articulated, but also for pragmatic ones. Simply put, Gender Studies programs exist at most post-secondary institutions, even at small liberal arts colleges like ours, whereas Disability Studies programs, when they do exist, are more common in university settings.
So: from a programmatic perspective, especially in these times of plummeting endowments, emphasizing intersectionality can be a fruitful way both to incorporate disability into the curriculum and to enrich the offerings in Gender & Sexuality Studies. I’d love to establish more ad hoc partnerships, as I know that bringing disability studies into conversation with any number of other programs, from East Asian Studies to Environmental Studies, would open up new questions both for DS and for these other areas of inquiry.
This Gen/Sex course was different in some important ways from DS courses I’ve taught before:
· Co-teaching and collaboration with Anne: interdisciplinary work and web-based teaching: starting with biologist Joan Roughgarden’s Evolution’s Rainbow
· 2-week unit on disability rather than a full-semester course
· Students who signed up for a Gen/Sex course, not a DS course
In her final self-evaluation, one student wrote:
“When I think back on all the topics we covered, I was most intrigued by the discussions of disability mainly because it was a subject I had never discussed before. It was a topic I didn’t even know how to discuss. . . Before this course, I must admit that if I were to see disability on the syllabus for a gender and sexuality course, I wouldn’t understand how they fit together.”
We began the disability unit by reading Lenny Davis’s chapter “Constructing Normalcy” and thinking about the "Hegemony of Normalcy"in relation to gender, sexuality and ability.
Burning Man's Annotated Bell Curve
In our next class, entitled “Intersection, Overlaps, Collisions,” we addressed different ways in which we might think about gender, sexuality, and disability in relation to one another.
We used this triptych, which includes an image of the Venus de Milo in the center framed by Mary Duffy performing Venus on the left and Marc Quinn’s statue “Alison Lapper Pregnant” on the right, to talk about cripping iconic cultural images and also about the collision of gender and disability. For those of you not familiar with Quinn’s statue, it’s a 12-foot high, 13-ton ton marble statue of an actual woman, Alison Lapper, who is nude, eight months pregnant, and has no arms and shortened limbs. As part of this conversation, we mapped out four models for thinking gender & disability, models that will be familiar to many of you, but were not familiar to most of our students:
Analogy, Doubling, Hierarchy, Interaction/Intersection
Analogy: Differences of gender and sexuality operate much like differences of physical/cognitive ability. We can imagine the impairment/disability binary as analogous to the sex/gender binary, and use similar ways of thinking beyond the binaries.
Most of our students’ comments and questions took the conversation beyond analogy and put pressure on the notion of disability. One student wrote on our online course forum:
"Could we go so far as to call [gay or lesbian identity] a disability? How about intersex people? Mostly, we're born with one set of junk, corresponding to our XX or XY chromosomes. Some aren't. Disabled? Who knows? . . . Am I disabled because I identify as queer? If I really think about it, it definitely acts as a handicap. There are many things that I could be barred from doing or being because of my identity. So then how far do we take this? Is race a disability? Height?"
2) Doubling or addition: Female or queer + disabled = doubly oppressed/devalued/marginalized or doubly cool
3) Hierarchy: Disability is more "other" than differences of gender, race, or class, or is a symbol or synecdoche for all other forms of difference.
Here we referenced Douglas Baynton’s work showing that discrimination against women, people of color, and immigrants has often been justified by representing them as physically or emotionally disabled
4) Interaction/Intersection/Complex Embodiment: ". . .gender reaches into disability; disability wraps around class; class strains against abuse; abuse snarls into sexuality; sexuality folds on top of race. . . everything finally piling into a single human body" (Eli Clare, Exile and Pride)
Our online course forum made it very easy for the students to post images, audio clips, and video clips, and it was in that online space that they really started working the intersections. In our third class, “Seeing (and Not Seeing) Disability,” we built on the images they posted and on our conversations about intersectionality by viewing images that invite reflection on both gender and disability.
“I find it so interesting how many shrouds of taboos and stigmas we have to get around to talk about this stuff. . . I especially enjoyed the video clips mostly because they did what any art form should do--they made us uncomfortable. I was thinking and questioning myself, staring, looking away, enjoying myself and somehow feeling guilty.” --terrible2s
“I really loved the way Riva Lehrer’s and the other disability focused artwork made me feel in class. It was a different situation to be invited to fully look at pictures of people with disabilities. As a little curious kid I always wanted to stare at people in wheelchairs or with other physical disabilities, so I guess this new affinity for crip art dates back to that." --Kjmason
I was exhibit A in our conversation about invisibility:
“When [Kristin] mentioned [her illness] in class I felt like a truck hit me. Wait, my professor has a type of disability and I had no clue? The idea that I couldn’t see the disability was striking and has really stuck with me and taught me a lot about how we all ‘see’ the world. . .”. --Kylee
And finally, in our third class on we looked at Riva Lehrer’s stunning self-portrait as a way of thinking further about visual absence, and we talked at length about the blank space that contains both her female parts and her crip parts.
Riva Lehrer’s self portrait
Tekki Lomnicki: “There’s so much going
on in that middle section.”
In a few minutes you’ll see excerpts from some of the online, multimedia projects that emerged from the course. But first, Theresa on the space between the frames in graphic narratives. . .
II. Theresa Tensuan, Breaking the Frame; Comics
and the Art of Social Transformation (10 minutes)
The image Kristin has selected to close her presentation is a perfect segueway for my 7-10 minutes of what I hope will be coherent reflections and questions; the last couple of days have been a sensory overload for me – each panel has compelled me to rethink some element of the fundamental ways in which I understand, interpret, and interact in the world, and being in the midst of such extraordinary human diversity has given me a new sense of the possibilities for the world through which
and tap through.
When Kristin organized a conference on Disabilities Studies at Haverford with our colleague Debora Sherman in 2006, I had the privilege of being introduced to a political and intellectual community that was and is engaged in a remarkable project of social and creative engagement.
I am very conscious of the fact that I’m still learning the foundational histories and critical vocabularies of this field, and over the last few days I’ve been introduced to what I’m thinking of as the choreography of this community, a way of moving in relation to one another that offers new visions of beauty and new hope for the reformulation of the world that we are reshaping.
It was at the conference that Kristin and Debora had organized that I first became acquainted with the work of one of the artists I’ll be discussing today; indeed, it was Riva Lehrer’s curatorial work on the exhibit --- that first introduced me to the work of Al Davison, whose autobiographical graphic narrative The Spiral Cage was a key catalyst in my decision to work on graphic narratives and the ways in which comic books like The Spiral Cage offer new visions of political subjectivity.
Riva’s self portrait offers an example of one of the key formal elements of comic books, which is the gutter – the space between the frames, a space that cartoonist and comic theorist Scott McCloud has characterized as the gap that invites a reader into acts of active imagination and open interpretation, a process that makes a reader complicit in the practice of meaning making framed by the comic.
Indeed, one of the particular pleasures of comics is that to be fully engaged with one’s work is to always have one’s mind in the gutter.
I come from a family, and, I would argue, from a cultural tradition that takes great delight in the scatological, particularly in the ways in which our bodies act outside of our conscious control.
In invoking my family, I want to reflect on the fact that between the time that I first drafted a chapter on Al Davison’s The Spiral Cage and published an article using Phoebe Glockner’s illustration “The Breast” as a point of orientation for an analysis of the interrelation between particular medical discourses and particular modes of visual representation and today’s discussion panel, which has offered me the occasion to return to this work, my father suffered a stroke that affected the language area of his brain, and I became witness to how, as he worked to regain fluency in language, his relationship with and to the world radically changed.
One marker of the way in which his brain was reforging its synaptical connections is that as he would seek out a word, he would often come up with one a half step or so to the left of the word he intended; so when his sister, on a visit from the Philippines, made a trip to see how he was doing, as he was giving her a tour of the condo to which he and my mother had moved just a few months before the stroke, he pointed out a picture that my siblings and I had commissioned, in true form with our extraordinary narcissism, of ourselves for the occasion of our parents’ 25 anniversary.
As my father described it to my Ninay Sonnie, “This is when the kids went to the pornographer.”
I was thinking of that in light of a reflection that Rebecca Solnit makes in making a connection between Sierra Club calendars and Playboy centerfolds, seeing both as a kind of idealized representation in which our full corporeality, with our sweating, spittle spewing, sniveling selves are either erased from the landscape or airbrushed out of the picture.
In her chapter on “Breasts” in her 2009 work Staring: How We Look, Rosemarie Garland Thomson reflects on the work made and inspired by artists like Matushka and Alison Lapper as “these representations put the distinctive details of these women’s bodies in people’s faces until they get used to them. The individual shapes and marks of these bodies bear witness to human variation, to the way our particular life etches itself onto our bodies” (158); she notes earlier in the chapter that “women labor to create and maintain media breasts, using normalization aids that range from shaping garments such as brassieres, to exercise machines, implants, and surgical modification” (147).
As she writes at the outset of the book,
“Staring is an ocular response to what we don’t expect to see….We stare when ordinary seeing fails, when we want to know more. So staring is an interrogative gesture that asks what’s going on and demands the story. The eyes hang on, working to recognize what seems illegible, order what seems unruly, know what seems stange. Staring begins as an impulse that curiosity can carry forward into engagement” (Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Staring: How We Look. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, 3).
particularly by artists and activists who engage in what Garland-Thomson calls visual activism.
I’m interested in the ways that comics literally as well as figuratively frame the perspectives that construct, mediate, and authorize our concepts of common culture and that shape our practices of reading and interpretation.
How do comics frame and refigure the visual iconographies and narrative conventions that shape our understanding of social relations, cultural practices, and political discourses?
How do aesthetic forms give shape to emerging subjectivities, movements, and visions?
What kinds of stories do we tell to explain the worlds through which we move; what kind of visions can we create to reshape these worlds?
In Phoebe Gloeckner’s work I am interested in the ways in which Gloeckner is taking up and reconfiguring the idiom of medical illustrations.
“The Breast” from Phoebe Gloeckner’s A Child’s Life (Berkeley: Frog Press, 1999)
Gloeckner draws upon her training as a medical illustrator to produce lush and discomfiting visions of suppurating flesh, shattered bones, and violent penetration to call into question the supposedly clinically detached eye that has the power to create the authorized purview on how bodies are to be configured, refigured, and sexed.
In Al Davison’s The Spiral Cage, a memoir that offers episodic insights into Davison’s experience of moving through the world in a body configured by spina bifida and contending with a built environment that marginalizes him because of his corporeal configuration; in relation and in tension with these social preconceptions, Davison plays with the cultural productions and performances associated with to superhero.
Gloeckner presents a medical chart showing pre-operative and post-operative illustrations of breast-augmentation surgery anchored by a panel that shows a side view of a breast and which notes that the
“ideal….angle of intramammary fold to nipple is 20-30 degrees.”
The chart illustrates how this effect can be reached for breasts designated as
“saggy” and, simply,
The work invites the reader to attend to the ways in which social conventions – here figured not only as medical interventions,
but also in the visual idiom of medical illustrations
– construct the illusion of normativity only through acts of radical revision.
In drawing attention to the expectations that underlie an assessment of a medical chart that offers a vision of an “ideal” body, or reexamining the premises that cast a caped crusader as an archetype of heroic individualism, such cartoonists show how cultural norms and conventional histories are encoded in visual idioms as well as in archetypal narratives.
Comics can teach us how to see the framing ideologies that are present, but usually unseen in our interpretations and understandings of the world.
Or, as historian --- says, “Ideology is like body odor: all of us have it, but none of us are aware of our own”
As W. J. T. Mitchell argues in his essay “Showing Seeing: A Critique of Visual Culture”:
Stereotypes, caricatures… mappings of the visible body in the social spaces in which it appears … these images are the filters through which we recognize and of course misrecognize other people…And this means that “the social construction of the visual field” has to be continuously replayed as “the visual construction of the social field,” an invisible screen or lattice-work of apparently unmediated images. (W.J. T. Mitchell, “Showing Seeing: A Critique of Visual Culture,” 243, emphasis added)
In articulating the power of the “the visual construction of the social field” and in moving to mark stereotypes and caricatures as “the filters through which we recognize and of course misrecognize other people” Mitchell speaks to the complex codes that are at work in the visual register of comics such as Al Davison’s The Spiral Cage.
The hypermasculinized figure of the superhero whose extraordinary status is both manifest and secured by his physical feats of derring-do provides a template for a number of familiar cultural narratives: the messianic leader who stands head and shoulders above ordinary citizens, the villain whose evil sensibilities is manifest in his grotesque physical features, and what theorists of disabilities studies have categorized as the “supercrip,” viewed by Eli Clare as “one of the dominant images of disabled people.” In Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation, Clare offers the following catalog and critique:
A boy without hands bats .486 on his Little League team. A blind man hikes the Appalachian Trail from end to end. An adolescent girl with Down’s syndrome learns to drive and has a boyfriend. A guy with one leg runs across Canada .... Supercrip stories never focus on the conditions that make it so difficult for people with Down’s to have romantic partners, for blind people to have adventures, for disabled kids to play sports. I don’t mean medical, social, legal conditions. I mean lack of access, lack of employment, lack of education, lack of personal attendant services. I mean stereotypes and attitudes. I mean oppression. The dominant story about disability should be about ableism, not the inspirational supercrip crap, the believe-it-or-not disability story. (Eli& Clare, Exile and Pride: Disability,Queerness, and& Liberation. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1999, 2.)
Clare suggests that contemporary narratives that cast people with impairments as heroically transcending their bodily limitations reanimates a long cultural tradition and history in which physical difference is marked as spectacle. An initial reading of The Spiral Cage (2003), Al Davison’s autobiography of living with spina bifida and myalgi encepholomyletis that weaves together threads of memories, imaginative visions, and fever dreams – could lead a reader to construct a vision of Davison as “supercrip” based on the narrator’s childhood fascination with the costumes and capers of Superman and Batman and the adult artist’s investment in martial arts.
His discipline serves him in confrontations with villains ranging from a trio of skinheads to a group of motorcycle-mounted teenagers in rep ties and blazers to a sweater-vested intellectual who patronizes him at a party. The narrator is able to literally as well as figuratively disarm his opponents – his scream of rage as he turns on the skinheads scatters them with the conviction that “he’s loony”; his deft control over the chain wielded by the prep-school toughs sends one motorcyclist careening into a car; his ability to outmaneuver the academic in a series of athletic contests as well as in a debate leaves his interlocutor short of breath and at a loss for words.
But throughout The Spiral Cage, Davison challenges definitions of normalcy in which his body and his experience would be cast as aberrant.
Early in the work, on a page entitled “observations: - age 3 1/2 years” a series of panels featuring rough illustrations and unkempt script that conjure the impressions and imprint of a young child, the narrator notes that “everybody lives in the hospital till they have lots of operations so they can walk. When you are 5 or 6 you go to a school full of people who still can’t walk and are in wheelchairs…some can walk..but they have holes in their hearts or asthma…people on television don’t have holes in their heart or asthma and they can walk but they aren’t real. Teachers and doctors can walk but they are old."
This passage recasts normative conventions and undermines the vision of social conformity maintained in the media and in the minds of most readers. In the child’s eye view reconstituted by the narrator, the ability to walk is predicated on a series of medical interventions; those who possess this particular skill must contend with a host of other impairments.
(toward a conclusion)
In Enforcing Normalcy, literary critic and cultural theorist Lennard Davis notes that people with corporeal differences create “disturbances of the visual field”: conventional visions of individual identities, constitutions of communities, social relations, and political formations are challenged by figures whose bodies deviate from the norm.
In Enforcing Normalcy (New York: Verso, 1995) Davis recounts the challenges led by groups of activists in the disability rights movement against the erection of monument honoring Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a number of scenes, none of which incorporate the canes, braces, crutches, or wheelchairs on which FDR depended over the course of his long political career. The image of the body as robust, virile, and physically as well as morally upright forces public figures to embody corporeal standards that literally as well as figuratively consign them to the straight and narrow. Davis’ case study of the contentions over the public memorialization of FDR call to mind the ways in which the figure of the president functions as an emblematic icon of the body politic, a cultural investment that can compel those in office to go to extraordinary lengths to mask an affliction (as was the case with John F. Kennedy’s sciatica that was attributed to football and war injuries and amplified by the muscular weakening that was a symptom of Addison’s disease) or that can inflect public perception of the office-holder’s fundamental fitness (witness the ways in which Gerald Ford’s occasional stumbles because of his trick knee – infamously enshrined through Chevy Chase’s pratfalls during Saturday Night Live sketches of the era - became emblematic of what was seen as misguided political moves, such as the pardoning of Richard Nixon and his inability to persuade Congress to enact his anti-inflation program).
IV. Emily Bock: The Cure--Who Wants One? Anyone? (10 minutes)
As an entry point for understanding disability, I considered my own personal experience and my family history and experience
- Looking at my experience as someone with mental health issues – clinical depression and anxiety
- Explain family history with mental health issues
- My body as fallible, my brain as fallible
- Willingness to self-identify as “different” because of my genetics leading to my experience as a clinically depressed person
- Looking at my family history – experience with my grandmother’s recurring breast cancer
- Explain grandmother’s history with cancer - double mastectomy
- The likelihood of myself developing breast cancer
- Knowing that my body will likely develop the illness at some point
- Human experience with our fragile bodies – my dad’s story – his own particular disability – doesn’t have an ankle
- A matter of seconds changed his body, his mobility
Looking at the intersection of gender and disability particularly through the common theme of a compulsion to normalize
- Disability – the pressure for our bodies to fit an unattainable standard of normalcy
- Nancy Mairs describes her experience with MS as a process: “I lived nearly thirty years in the oblivion of ‘normalcy’ and that I’ve had more than two decades to descend step by step (and then lurch by lurch) to the level where I live now” (Mairs 29).
- Visible/invisible disabilities
- What does it mean for someone with invisible disabilities to “pass?”
- Changing perception of binary existence of normal/abnormal bodies – there is no “normal” body
- Gender – compulsion to fit gender norms/stereotypes
- With breast cancer – understanding BC as an intersection of conforming body, conforming gender
- Pressure to use prosthetics, preserve the signal of breast as female, and also to conceal the experience of illness, the fallibility of the body
- With breast cancer – understanding BC as an intersection of conforming body, conforming gender
For my own purposes in this paper, breast cancer sits at the intersection of gender and disability
- My breasts mark me as “female,” but they may also be the site of my body’s fight against itself
- Taboo of the marking of difference – mastectomy without prosthesis, my openness about medicating myself
- Acknowledging the significance of individual experience, how my level of ability is unique and different than anyone else’s, my gender does not fit neatly into the category of woman/man
From my paper: “The binary of able/disabled is as false as the binary of male/female. We supposedly “able-bodied” are fooling ourselves by thinking that our bodies are completely able and by those who are “disabled” are completely unable. Polarized thinking about ability is as limiting as gender stereotyping.”
The desire to conceal difference in the case of an invisible disability as a means of attempting to appear as “not disabled” is like the influence that pressures people to conform to inflexible gender norms – so “woman” vs. “man”
- Social change of this pressure starts with acknowledging our own difference and embracing it – As Audre Lorde closes her Cancer Journals, “I would never have chosen this path, but I am very glad to be who I am, here” (Lorde 77).
VI. Jennifer Rodriguez, "Disabled" Gender Expression (10 minutes)
"The mannerisms that help define gender- the way in which people walk, swing their hips, gesture with their hands, move their mouths and eyes as they talk, take up space with their bodies- are all based upon how nondisabled people move. -Eli Clare
"If melancholia in Freud’s sense is the effect of an ungrieved loss…it may be that performance, understood as ‘acting out,’ is significantly related to the problem of unacknowledged loss. Where there is an ungrieved loss in drag performance…perhaps it is a loss that is refused and incorporated in the performed identification, one that reiterates a gendered idealization and its radical uninhabitability" (Butler 1993, 235)
“He began to wear lipstick, eyeliner, powder, rouge, eye shadow, a skirt, a blouse, and a wig of long, black hair as often as he dared and could arrange it with his attendants. He wrote about discovering a new sense of happiness and freedom in his dream of becoming a beautiful woman” (Siebers 2008, 169).
“O’Brien’s paralyzed body is the ultimate object because he rarely does anything to it. Other people handle him, move him from place to place, feed and dress him…the repeated attempts by O’Brien to assert his sexuality fail to make other people imagine him as either man or woman…instead, he remains only ‘a bad, filthy thing that belonged to the nurses’,” (Siebers 2008, 170, 174).
“O’Brien uses disability to confuse gender categories with sexual ones for the purpose of rejecting the stereotypical asexuality of disabled people and asserting that they desire to be both sexually active and attractive” (Siebers 2008, 173).
VII. Anne: Exploring Accessibility (10 minutes)
multiple other astonishing projects, drawing on the
theoretical frameworks of disability studies to look @
(for instance) the normalizing effects of gender categories,
and the (apparent) freakishness of violating them....
(two images of bearded ladies highlight that intersection)
One particularly revealing pair of student papers was
Karina's “The Disabled and the Superabled: A Conflation of Deviance,”
comparing the body that falls short of the norm – i.e. the disabled body – and the body that exceeds it – i.e. the body of a superhuman/superhero;
& meredyd's “A Case Study of Disabled Superheroes: "curious phenomenon" of creating superhuman characters w/ physical disabilities (or is it disabled characters w/ superhuman characteristics??).
Intersecting the study of gender w/ that of disability turned out to be a great way to get students who were already savvy about gender to think differently about difference. It was also a great way also for me, a tech-savvy teacher, to think differently (more inclusively) about access.
Long been advocate/practitioner of
using internet as teaching site:
project class notes (so visual learners can watch the words);
use lots of images (as a "more direct"/
accessible/alternative form of representation),
and on-line forums (so introverts, those who want to think before
they speak, can contribute to class discussion); most shockingly,
require all papers to be posted on the web, and respond there
(student writing is no longer a private exchange,
but rather, part of a broader public interaction).
This is all about the democratization of inquiry
(=everyone can contribute to the ongoing public
conversation) & about public accountability
(every one is correctable; all thoughts
challengeable & revisable).
It is also about experimenting with and expanding
both the materials of our research
and our methods of handling them--
it's about what happens when the "fresh air"
law is applied to student and faculty work.
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So: before Kristin and I began to co-teach,
I was already into
the centrality of a visual rhetoric
to class conversations, student projects, and
increased access to visual and audible materials.
With that background/experience/perspective,
I was surprised to see how much integrating disability studies
into my web-based gender studies class still nudged me into an awareness of the need always to work on increasing access.
For example, the semester after Kristin and I taught together, I was surprised
by a complaint, from a student who is visually impaired,
about our valorization of graphic novels
drawing on responses (via Theresa) from COMIXSCHOLARS-L,
re Universal Design for Learning, having an accessible classroom,
and on her own extensive experience in theater,
the student was able to construct her own work-around:
her final project, Persepolis: A Radio Play,
attempted to convey a sequence of
images entirely through sound.
This was a happy outcome. But here's a turn of the screw.
Ironically, because so much of the work I and my students do together appears on the web, a central problematic in many of my classes has been about the need to limit access: for example, students who don't want family members to know that they are thinking out loud, on-line, about gender-variance, or its attendant inequities
, have learned to use pseudonyms; students who write impassioned web posts late @ night, only to find that they became the central text of a class discussion the next day, have considered the advantages of anonymity....
Experiences like these have provoked me to spend a lot of time thinking about education itself as dis-abling: most of what we do to-and-for students entails a normalizing process that values a certain very limited set of skills and abilities, @ the expense of others.
My key text here
--surely known to many of you?--is McDermott and Varenne's essay,
Culture as Disability (Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 1995). And my eternal question is whether cultural disabilities are inevitable: could we (contra McDermott and Varenne) create a culture that disables no one?
Eva Kittay argued on Thursday morning that
Martha Nussbaum's list of human functional capabilities is disabling, because it--any list, as genre--inevitably "leaves someone out." So what do our (increasingly refined) educational assessment tools do? SO many Bryn Mawr graduates tell us they feel inadequate, because they haven't met the expectations that were set for them in college....
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For me, this is a first-order question that proceeds and underlies the second (or third?) order one that Michael Bérubé
raised in Thursday's plenary, and that has arisen since in several breakout sessions: can colleges really accommodate students with intellectual disabilities?
Well, I think the educational system is generally
non-accommodating of difference. So this is just the
latest in a long spectrum of challenges...
One way to move towards making the academy
more accommodating, I think, would be to keep
on multiplying the interactions among us.
I was very pleased by the creation of "Persepolis: A Radio Play."
But I also know, from decades of work on representation,
that it is always incomplete, always inexact
(a map never equals the world it charts).
So I will be very interested to see where else
the intersection of the study of gender and
of disability will take my pedagogy,
and my students' projects!
One thing I do know is that "Life multiplies when two systems interact” (a sign at The Wild Center, a nature museum in the Adirondacks).
As we co-construct knowledge with our students,
intersecting conversations among disciplines,
objects of study & methodologies will unsettle our
assumptions about “what counts,”
and maximize the possibilities for serendipitous discovery.
Interdisciplinary work is generative
precisely because it is multiply determined.
And what happens when the multiplication is multiplied?
When two interdisciplinary fields interact....?
Bryn Mawr College
VIII. Discussion (25 minutes): What have been your experiences and insights/what are your questions about working at the intersections of disability, gender, and sexuality in various locations?