March 2010 Archives

Oppression makes me hungry

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Alright, maybe the statement "oppression makes me hungry" is not entirely accurate, but "I anticipate being hungry between 2 pm and 4:30 pm tomorrow, during which time I imagine there will be some discussion of oppression" is too long for a blog post title.

Anyway, I don't remember anyone offering to bring snacks to class tomorrow. If I'm right, I nominate myself for the task. Sophie and I were chatting this morning and realised we couldn't remember anyone volunteering, and perish the thought of making trouble without munchies, right?

The Stories of Our Lives (Question 1)

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I'm putting it down for you to see if our fragments match anywhere,

if our pieces, together, make another larger piece of the truth

that can be part of the map we are making together

to show us the way to get to the longer-for world (Pratt, p. 31).

I am fascinated by using personal stories to get at oppression and attempting to understand and to change the world in which we live. So I was thrilled to read Pratt and Segrest telling their stories, especially as they recognize the difficulties of this, e.g,. how Segrest choked on stories as she "struggled to find a voice to bring you back these stories" (p. 1). I believe that stories are essential to our lives and to who we are, and I think that perhaps they may be essential to attempting to make trouble. Stories are a way in, touching our emotions and moving us--out of sorrow, anger, fear, hope, wonder--a way in which our personal struggles are embodied in our physical, emotional, and spiritual (in the broadest sense) selves.

One of the important mechanisms of stories is that our own stories can help other people make sense of theirs (and vice versa). They also can be a means of self-preservation. In Chapter Four, Segrest writes of a day in which, after the story of herself was demonized, she spent an afternoon "trying to decide whether to kill myself," culminating in her being "resigned to a lonely and tragic life" (p. 38). Being able to tell her stories and hearing those of others allowed her to accept herself--especially when her stories were validated by other people. Pratt also writes of her pain and sorrow over her inability to speak, in other words, to voice stories of oppression, and how the scripts/stories into which we are socialized separate us from other human beings.

Additionally, Segrest and Pratt both used their own stories and experiences of oppression to lead them into a greater understanding of other forms of oppression and their interconnectedness. Segrest writes about "finding in his [a black man murdered by a distant relative] angers, fears and resolves a deeper understanding of my own outcast self" (p. 2). She came to realize that "th
ere is no separate safety" (p. 49). Bailey writes that such moves can result in a shift in our ways of seeing, understanding, and moving through the world.

My sense is that these types of stories are quite common and so sharing them allows us to be more fully human with each other, to empathize, to share our struggles, to admit our own failings and shortcomings, our pain, despair, and fear, to struggle with how we feel our stories may betray people we love or even our own stories and histories. However, I also worry about this process for several reasons. One that Segrest identifies is how the conflicting stories of her life/oppression set up barriers between her and her friend Carl that outlasted his death from AIDS. Another is identified by Pratt, when she writes that knowing the racial histories of her region can be paralyzing, leading her to a constant interior dialogue about whether and how she is playing out racial scripts in every interaction, from casually passing someone on the street to attempting to develop deep relationships.

My biggest worry, though, is that falling back on our own stories can actually get in the way of learning how to live and changing unjust circumstances that keep us from being able to speak to each other (Pratt). While we can, as Bailey says, quoting Lugones, identify with people whose worlds we do not share, this does not automatically mean that we understand other people's worlds/stories. It can also lead us to draw facile comparisons that hide mechanisms and structures of oppression. For instance, in the antiracism work that I do, I have seen over and over that white women use an understanding of oppression we face as women as a way of understanding racial oppression. But I have also seen innumerable examples where white women use their own stories to stop them from hearing other people's stories and having to acknowledge their complicity in racial oppression. Often, I think this is about fear and discomfort, about actually having, as white people, to acknowledge that we have been and are, often unwittingly, participating in oppression. When hearing the story of a "racial other," white women or gay men or poor white men use their experiences of oppression to avoid talking about race by going immediately to other explanations or to their own story, e.g., what is really happening in this room, this discomfort and inequity we are experiencing, is not an issue of race but actually about gender or class or. . . . . I often stop people from drawing these comparisons because I have seen how these personal stories actually derail attempts to talk about race and white supremacy. 

So, my question is: how do we honor each other's stories and share our own, while not using our own pain and struggle to avoid acknowledging how we are complicit in other forms of pain and oppression? In other words, (how) can we use our own experiences of oppression as an entry point into understanding larger systems and working to change them, rather than allowing our own experiences to put up barriers to understanding and better, more authentic relationships? How do we recognize when our own stories may get in the way of other people's troublemaking? How do we do the work of antioppression--make trouble--in places of mutuality, companionship, creativity, sensuousness, curiosity, easiness of the body, places of hope, safety, and love (Pratt, p. 41)? What is the role of relationship in this? (Pratt's articulation of this: "we will only be able to act effectively if we gather up, not just information, but the threads of life that connect us to others [p. 65].) And how do we do this if it is seen as traitorous by those with whom we already have deep and intimate connections?

Other related thoughts (since none of us seem to be able to ask just one question, myself included!):

  • Segrest identifies what we might term several elements necessary for troublemaking structures of oppression: analyses of power (both people and institutions), specific skills and organizing tactics, and psychological, inner work. Pratt also locates knowing the histories of (local) struggles and oppressions as key. Where have you seen these elements? Can these elements exist within the academy? In what ways, for instance, does the academy encourage us to view people as objects, rather than subjects, of research, and how does this prevent us from challenging oppression?

  • Segrest writes that homophobia, classism, and racism were major mechanisms that allowed (and continue to allow) the AIDS crisis to go unaddressed: because some lives are considered expendable. This explicitly ties to Butler's conception of "grievable lives." Can stories help us to flesh this out more?

  • How do we reconcile peoples' different truths--including sometimes having to toss out some stories as not true (e.g., how the Greensboro massacre was portrayed)?

Question 2: How to teach race in a foreign language

First, a preface: my question 2 was originally going to be about language pedagogy, since teaching is an aspect of the French program that we end up spending a lot of time on, but aside from one pedagogy seminar (which I have not taken yet) there isn't much discussion of pedagogical practice. More specifically, I was interested in how to trouble the idea of "fact-based" learning: it's great to teach English in a way that challenges students' social consciousness, or to think critically about how to make History relevant and reflective of students' lives, but how do we do this in a language classroom? When the ultimate goal is to get students to be able to read, write, and speak in another language - many of these skills requiring rote learning and repetition - how can we think about pedagogy in a different way?

Instead of focusing on this question, though, the week's readings on being a race traitor have led me to a different slant on a similar (pedagogical) topic: how to teach about race in a foreign language classroom.

This problem is very relevant to French teaching because of a variety of political factors. To be a bit reductionistic about these issues, here are some "racial" questions that are currently hot-button issues in and around France:
  • a large number of first-, second-, and third-generation immigrants, particularly from former colonies in North and West Africa which have turbulent historical relationships with France
  • complicating the issue, the marginalization of these immigrants and subsequent rioting which seems to erupt every few years. The French government does very little to change this from a structural standpoint, since it is officially "race-blind" on job applications - employers are not allowed to ask about "race" in job applications, which ends up meaning that there is a) no affirmative action, and b) applicants will be called in for job interviews and then rejected for reasons of merit when it is often (according to admittedly totally anecdotal evidence) more to do with skin color/country of origin. 
  • the position of the DOM (d√©partements d'outre-mer), which are technically faraway parts of France (think of Alaska and Hawaii) but are sometimes treated more like colonies.
These are really difficult issues for anyone to think about - and postcolonial studies, as a field, is dealing with this in the realm of academia - but teaching them in a classroom, which we are expected to do as part of teaching about French culture, poses a unique set of problems. Some questions that I am concerned with are:

  1. Given the conceptualization of race and ethnicity in the United States - concepts which are not formulated in the same way in France - how do we explain these exceedingly complex political issues in simpler ways without imposing our own cultural biases? How do we expose students to the basics of a foreign culture while discouraging them from forming stereotypes? 
  2. Are there opportunities in a foreign language classroom to use these questions for critical reflection on more local experiences of racism? Or (maybe a more accurate question, since there clearly are opportunities) to what extent is it appropriate to broaden the teaching of a foreign language into the realm of social studies? This reflects back on my initial question about "fact-based" learning: what is the role of a language teacher, particularly in introductory levels, in negotiating the trade-off between valuable cultural lessons and valuable language-learning time?
What these questions, along with my initial question, sum up to is:
Given that language learning is also cultural learning, how do we (as language teachers) create a classroom space that is both pedagogically effective and "troublemaking" in the right ways?

Big Project: Troublemakers of the 1700s

Alright, after much debating and pondering and telling myself, "Just think of a project already!" I have finally developed an idea, and here it is. . .

I'm interested in 18th century French literature, particularly works that were speaking out against the monarchy, in the line of thought that led to the French Revolution; authors that were using satire as thinly veiled critiques of. . . well, of just about everything, really.

Anyway, my idea is sort of a paper, sort of not. I want to take 8-10 female characters from works in this period and for each of those women characters, write a brief (approximately 2 pages)-- I don't know what to call it, an article? I'm imagining something like a profile you'd read about a celebrity in a magazine, actually, but about a fictional character, and probably more scholarly in style -- anyway, a brief something about how each uses her gender and/or sexuality as a form of troublemaking. These would make reference to some of the readings in class, too. I am fascinated with these female characters (almost exclusively written by men), but I'd like to treat them as individuals rather than writing a paper on them as a group. I plan to treat these characters as if they were people, not as fictional constructs; I'm going to bypass the matter of authorial intent altogether.

I'll also write an introduction and a conclusion, but it will be a collection of short works rather than one cohesive one. Sara suggested I put them together in the format of an actual magazine or zine, which appeals to me -- we'll see how that turns out, though, since I have no real experience with (maga)zines.

So. . . that's that. I welcome any thoughts, suggestions, etc!

In our class on laughter and being "beside oneself," we brought up some really productive questions. Instead of being totally chronological in this class reflection, I'd like to highlight a few of the questions we asked and how we went about answering them.

Raechel's Question: What are the effects of mass media? Can we "know" what these are without denying the ability of viewers to make their own interpretive choices? 
Raechel's background in communication studies prefaced this discussion, since this is a central question in her field - and a question that determines, to some extent, the legitimacy of communication studies as a discipline. But, rather than answering this question directly, we focused on another, broader question:

What do we do when watching TV? Or... what does TV do to us?

Little Rosey and some other clips from youtube

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In her chapter on Roseanne, Kathleen Rowe mentions that Roseanne Arnold created a cartoon called "Little Rosey." Check it out:


And here she is singing "The Star-Spangled Banner":

And, here is her first television performance:


The rest of the Willett reading...

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So, there are 2 pages missing from the Willett reading posted on Web Vista. You can download them here.

Question #1

While reading the articles for this week, the expression "Has she no shame?" kept popping into my head. It seems that much of the negative public reaction to both Margret Cho and to Rosanne can be linked to this phrase. Of course, it goes along with what behaviors are expectable for women as opposed to men. I tried to think of what the reaction would have been to a man doing what Rosanne did during the baseball game. If it were a player, it would be thought of as a normal behavior, which was the point.But about another male comedian--I tried to think of a comparable figure, and came up only with Christ Farley--big, loud, over-the-top. How would people have reacted to him making the same physical gestures in the same context?(Or any other male comedian that you can think of)

So that's my first question, and here are some others:
  1. Regarding "has she no shame?"--Cho is quoted frequently referring to her private shame--how do you see this as different to her public persona?Or, do you see her pubic and her private self as working together, shame and all? On a side note, what does it mean to "have no shame"?
  2. Cho talks of her pussy as "defiant". She personifies it in a way that makes me seem like it's not under her control. While I can see the agency involved in her doing that, I wonder if this type of characterization doesn't play too much into myths of hysteria and woman being out of control because of their sex organs. Do you see her "pussy personification" as an effective way of troublemaking, or do you think it just brings us back to old myths. a. Just as a side, not so serious question--what do you think Cho would think of vajazzling? I just have a feeling she'd have something to say about it, and I don't know her much at all, so I can't even begin to guess! 
  3. Rowe writes a lot about the female body--especially the maternal body--(how) can we think of this through Kristeva's theory of the abject, which specifies the female, specifically pregnant body. This body is naturally abject, thought of as leaky, dirty, and something that can possibly contaminate men--something that needs to be contained. How does she and how can we link this to Cho or Rosanne? 
  4. Rowe also refers to the male gaze, and returning the male gaze. This made me think to our week on gawking, staring, etc. Can we think of Garland-Thompson's (I think that's who it was!) response to starting--stare back. Does this work with the male gaze? 
  5. Regarding Willett's text: How do you define freedom? Do you see any type of hierarchy within the three concepts of freedom that she discusses? Can/ does freedom mean the same thing for everyone? How can we think of freedom as related to rights (I'm thinking specifically about last session's questions on "women/gay human rights"--although I can't think of the exact wording)
[Before I get into the question, I want to give a brief explanation of what it is we do down in Communication Studies. Most Comm departments across US academies are broken up into the following focuses: interpersonal comm, organizational comm, critical cultural studies and comm, media studies, rhetorical studies, performance comm. I am most explicitly a critical cultural studies comm kind of gal--that means I study culture but instead of using social science methods from sociology or often problematic methods from anthropology, we study culture through an interdisciplinary approach, borrowing a lot from the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies (most notably the producer of Stuart Hall and Raymond Williams).  For me, my cultural studies often incorporates analyses of rhetoric, performance and media. Technically, however, I am a "Media Studies" student at the U. You can see from this little blurb that there is a lot that goes on in Comm, and those arbitrary disciplinary borders that Judith Butler challenges are easily blurred in my field.]

On to the question:
Although Question #2 does not need to be directly related to the readings for the week, it's hard to be immersed in a particular text and not make associations to the assignment, right? As I was reading about Roseanne, I was reminded, so fondly, of my relationship with that program during my childhood. It was, along with "Grace Under Fire," the only media representation I had that looked anything like my life. My home looked eerily similar to Roseanne's--even that yellow-ish lighting tints my memories of my first home. Until I was 4, I had a dad that worked in a factory, much like Dan, and my mom was also in and out of working-class jobs (waitress, secretary, etc). We often had lots of people over, and playing card games around the kitchen table, littered with junk food and unopened mail, was a common scene, similar to the opening credits. Most of my dad's friends were from his racecar crew, and "crass" is a word that comes to mind when I recall the mildly inappropriate conversations I often overheard. After my dad got hit by a car, I related more to the single-mom on "Grace Under Fire," but what both shows had in common was the reality of a working-class family.

This ability to identify with something on TV was unarguably empowering, and I can't remember feeling resentful about my working-class status while I was a fan of the show (which would have been most salient between ages 4ish and 9ish, maybe?).  I do, however, remember when "Friends" became my favorite show, and I suddenly hated shopping at thrift stores, living in a small bungalow, and wanted nothing more than to be a hip 20something who lived in NYC.

I cannot deny the impact that television can have on its viewers, but I am also adamantly against the highly problematic "effects research" that some media scholars use to claim legitimacy as a field of study.  Effects studies will often use a social scientific method to show how, for example, violent films impact children; a test might include having two groups of 6 year olds from similar backgrounds watch a violent film in one room, while the other group watches a non-violent film in the second. After the screening, the researchers might have the kids play with dolls, and then, if those who watched the violent film play with dolls more aggressively, the researches will say: "Ah-ha! Violent movies cause children to be more violent!" This messed up logic seems to me to deny agency in viewers, and seems to assume that all viewers are "mindless dupes" who cannot negotiate media texts. (And can we nuance the difference between media affects vs. effects the same way we did in the Lady Gaga video worksheet?). 

These two responses to effect studies trouble me. While I don't like the "cause/effect" logic of the former response, I am also aware that the latter response seems to de-legitimize the importance of media studies in general. That is, if we can't "prove" that the media impacts its audience in certain ways, can our research really be used as a means of social change?

But what does "social change" look like when it comes to media decisions? Where does censorship become a tool for justice or a tool for repression? Can feminists be opposed to mysogynist portrayals of women on TV and also believe that viewers are smart enough to negotiate those portrayals in ways that don't perpetuate those cycles?

These questions often come up in relation to porn, and, as a sex-positive scholar and activist, I am very interested in this aspect.  Does (hetero, mainstream) porn "make" men have "unrealistic expectations" of their partners, does it make them inept at giving a woman real pleasure? Does porn "make" women perform those roles they see in the films "against their will"?

Do the media "make" us do things, or do we have agency that sometimes leads us to make decisions that are potentially not in "our best interests"? Who is to say what is and isn't in our "best interest" (for example, if a woman watches porn and decides she wants to be dominated in the bedroom, did the porn negatively influence her, or did it liberate a desire she had not yet been aware of harboring?).

If we do have agency, and media scholars critique the racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. problems in pop culture just for the sake of critiquing it, is there even a point? If we can sight all these "isms" seen in shows, do progressive and/or radical media scholars have a responsibility to try to create new media that *doesn't* perpetuate those "isms" or is that a denial of art, a denial of portraying realty, a turn towards conservative censorship?

I think I'm starting to get redundant, but hopefully you can see the things I'm struggling with here!

post-happy: random responses to the readings

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when we read about medusa in THE UNRULY WOMAN, i thought about this poster from the crimethinc collective:


also, the chapter makes reference to "framing" and credits this concept to Ervin Goffman. this makes sense. i believe it was shannon who was wondering where the concept of framing came from (in relation to last week's Butler reading), and after some wikipedia-ing, it does appear that Goffman is the brain behind the theory.

more gaga!

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I don't mean to keep bringing up gaga, but after viewing this "Telephone" video, I would love to hear what all of you beautiful, brilliant minds had to say in response. Haven't seen it yet? Check it out below:

This is also relevant to our reading for the week, especially in terms of the parallel to the A Question of Silence film that Rowe discusses throughout the UNRULY WOMAN chapters.

Here's an interesting response to the video from a scholarly blog:

Class reflection (3 March 2010) - Staring

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Here I am, finally, ready to post this class reflection on that very prolific topic that we "looked" at a little while ago now, I concede, on the way we stare. Maybe I could say that my insight on our class discussion has benefited from my spending the time to think about how I can apply some of our interrogations to my current work (for my Masters thesis) on the movie Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Barbie, racism, inentionality.. such good times!

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A friend of mine pointed out this blog post to me the other day, and I couldn't resist talking about it here. The post is on a blog called The Volokh Conspiracy, a group blog written by law professors covering a variety of blogs. This post is in reaction to the news that a Walmart store was selling two Barbie dolls, one white (Ballerina Barbie) and one Hispanic (Ballerina Theresa) side-by-side, but at different prices -- the Hispanic doll was on sale for a lower price. 

(side note: the news article cited identifies Ballerina Theresa as black, but she is elsewhere described as Hispanic, but I can't find an "official" description; here's a picture, though)

Now, I'm sure you can imagine the popular reaction to this: Walmart is suggesting that the non-white doll is worth less! People don't want to buy non-white dolls! However, as my friend (a law student) points out, the blog post talks about two interesting things: 

1. We don't know why the price is different; the author offers a few possible explanations, including the possibility that black parents are more willing to buy dolls of different ethnicities, while perhaps white parents only buy white dolls.

2. Nobody seems to be talking about the effect of the price difference. Maybe, the author suggests, this will mean more people (black, white, Hispanic, etc) will buy the non-white doll. Wouldn't that be a positive outcome? 

After our ongoing discussion about intentionality, this really caught my eye. One of the comments on the Volokh Conspiracy post points out that this price difference was likely not decided by a person, but by a computer or by statistics. Product A isn't selling very well, so the price is reduced to get Product A off the shelf. Especially in a company like Walmart, it's unlikely that any deeper thought than that goes into this decision. Does this make it okay? Is there still an implication that Ballerina Theresa is worth less because she isn't white and blonde? 

And really, is there any way to talk about or present Barbie that doesn't make this doll seem like some sort of joke? I mean, I'll admit I loved Barbie when I was a kid, and I think I turned out alright, but... have you ever been to It will almost certainly cause you to grit your teeth in chagrin.

Readings for after spring break

Hi everyone,

Happy Spring Break! I have posted the readings for next week on our Web Vista site. We will discuss 2 chapters of Kathleen Rowe's The Unruly Woman, a chapter from Cindy Willett's Irony in the Age of Empire and the article on Margaret Cho and the grotesque pussy. I also added in an optional chapter from Rowe (ch 2). The focus of our discussion is laughter and comedy and how they can enable us to be beside ourselves in ways that involve productive and/or transformative troublemaking. BTW, did we define what it means to be "beside oneself"? What do you think it is?

I hope you are enjoying the great weather! Sara

"Once I did it [dealt with anger] in silence, afraid of the weight" (Lorde, Sister Outsider)

"Such an argument challenges any assumption that emotions are a private matter, that they simply belong to individuals and that they come from within and then move outwards towards others" (Ahmed, 2004)

"Let's face it. We're undone by each other" (Butler, Undoing Gender)

"Have we ever yet known the human?" (Butler, Undoing Gender)

There was a reason for so much reading this week: Sara explained that one way she likes to make trouble is to put different readings and ideas into conversation with each, especially those that might not usually be grouped together. Thus, the readings for this week asked us to look at "troubling" emotions and how they relate to our interactions with other people. More specifically, how do our emotions lead us to identify who is human and who is not? How can emotions lead us closer to or further away from exploring our common vulnerabilities? How do we work through these together?

Perhaps not surprisingly, my notes from the class are largely in the form of questions we raised, so this reflection will be mostly in that form.

We began our conversations on "excess" emotions (ones that are troubling, unsettling, disturbing, dangerous) with Liz's reflection on her experience of confronting racism in a restaurant when she and two First Nations' friends were accused of "dining and dashing." When Liz challenged the server's racially coded language around "those people," one of her friends questioned her on being angry on someone else's behalf. Some ideas folks raised around these situations:

  • troubling "extrapolating minority status" (e.g., assuming that being gay means you get a "pass" on being racist)

  • an injustice to one is injustice to all (paraphrase from M. L. King Jr.)

  • Do voices from privileged positions effectively legitimate struggles against oppression? What about when people with privilege have access to private, oppressive discourse (i.e., they can challenge oppression because they hear it when the same words would not be spoken in front of someone from an oppressed group)? Does it trouble assumptions? Or does it speak for someone else, making assumptions that people don't have voices?

  • Who suffers consequences by making trouble?

  • What does solidarity mean? How do privileged people work to take a back seat? How do we do the difficult work of "solidifying"?

  • As folks in the academy, how do we find what will deactivate accusations of academic privilege?

  • If you espouse non-identity based struggles, don't you have to be outraged to join what might be seen as someone else's struggle?

  • If oppressions are interconnected, what is the relation to "excess" emotions to "being beside oneself"? Is anyone left out of this community of interlocking oppressions (since we all live within the same system)? Does being outside/beside oneself mean being detached from feelings or signify a disconnect between the self and the world?

  • Is emotion on or in the self?

  • What is the relationship between individual and collective feelings? How do collective feelings objectify others?

  • What differences are there in how emotions manifest? (For instance, two different ways that anger manifests are reasoned anger [e.g., that manifests in political organizing work against oppression] and as a visceral, in the moment response [such as the one Liz had in the restaurant].)

Defining what it means to be human

Taking up Butler, we talked about whether the process of accounting for who is human necessarily requires excluding some people in order to make yourself/your group intelligible. If this is problematic, what kind of definition of "human" are we seeking? How do we leave the conception of "human" open so that we can constantly interrogate it? On the other hand, if we leave this definition open, it might lead to narrowing definitions of human that result, for instance, in having to specify "women's human rights" because the category of human does not cover/include women. So how does the act of claiming "human" open up conversations and space and resignify norms? How do we address the common experience of vulnerability? We must also recognize that the risks we take in claiming humanity are going to have consequences we cannot foresee.

Performing Gender

Following up on Sophie's post on parenting, we asked a number of questions:
  • What play is allowed? How would the experience be different if a child who challenges gender norms is a son?

  • What role does being "readable" (e.g., in terms of dress) have? How does this related to being intelligible as a human?


What role does intent play in these feelings? For instance, do you get "credit" for trying to do something good even if it is problematic (e.g., sending money for Haitian earthquake relief)? Who gets to decide when to "move past" hurt or past oppression? Does issuing an apology mean that the person who committed the wrong (or is apologizing) is getting to decide that it is now time to be over (no more complaining allowed)? Is catharsis the link with intention--and who this catharsis is for (e.g., if it is about the self of the one who was not the recipient of the hurt/oppression, this is dangerous)?

Some ways the authors addressed this: Ahmed states that gestures of solidarity are okay "insofar as they do not block the hearing of others" (pp. 81-82). Lorde echoes this when she talks about how she had been asked to have anger only in ways that were acceptable to others and that was not okay. Lugones differentiates between first- and second-order anger in that second-order anger might not make sense to the other person but is not intended for that person. 

Finally, Sara noted that this semester we keep coming back to intent as a theme. What does this mean?

As I mentioned on the blog a while back, my final project will investigate the ways in which the American body is troubling/troublesome/troubled in Frank Pierson's 2003 film "Solider's Girl." 

For those of you who have not seen the film, it recounts the real-life romantic relationship between former Navy medic and transgender performer, Calpernia Addams, and current US solider, Barry Winchell.  Because of his relationship with Calpernia, Barry is murdered by his fellow troops. 
My interest in this topic comes from the often contradictory relationship between nationalism/patriotism and queer identity.  To be "patriotic" is often conflated with upholding "traditional" American values, including gender and sexual norms (think "Focus on the Family").  In the military, this problem of LGBT exclusion/discrimination is clearly confounded by policies like "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."  Therefore, how does one embody the seemingly mutually exclusive identities of solider and transperson?  Or soldier and partner of a transperson?  How do theories of intersectional identity help us understand this subject position? 

Does offering up one's (queer) body as a vehicle of military service revise notions of the American body, as well as concepts of identity, sexuality and patriotism?  If so, then how?  Or, simply by being queer, does one become a "nation traitor?"  More specifically, what is a nation traitor?  Can one be both an American soldier and a nation traitor at the same time?  How do Calpernia and Barry's bodies become sites of trouble/troubling/troublesome in the film?  Do they have agency over their bodies, or are their bodies being written or acted on by others?

How do the film's formal elements contribute to the way in which their bodies are perceived?  One interesting choice that the film makes is not to include a "genital reveal" (moment when we see the trans character's genitals).  In a paper I wrote a few years ago, I analyzed the films The Crying Game & Transamerica, paying particular attention to each film's moment of genital reveal.  A connonical feature of 90s and 00s trans cinema, genital reveal sequences often play out as moments of "truth" about the character's body and sensationalism for the audience.  Thus, by refusing to give us that moment, what is the film saying about Calpernia's body?  Does this deflect attention away from her body, or increase our desire to know and see?  How does Solider's Girl conform or differ from other trans films of this period? 

What role does the gaze play in gendering Barry and Calpernia?  Does the film employ traditional gendered looks (a la Mulvey) or is does it use sophisticated filmic techniques to subvert gendered ways of looking (and knowing)?  What is the role of formal elements (mise-en-scene, color, props) in the film?

In order to take up these research questions, I will be relying heavily on close readings of the film, along with both film theory and queer theory.  Some sources I will use are the following:

Jasbir Puar's "Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times."  While I haven't finished the book yet, what I think will be useful about it is it's attention to "homonationalism"-- how are homo (or queer) people thought of in terms of nationalism/terrorism.  Is simply being queer an act of anti-nationalim, or even terrorism?  How can the concept of "assemblage" help us construct a queer/patriotic identity?  Is assemblage a more useful way of thinking about identity than intersectionality?

Judith Butler's "Undoing Gender."  In particular, I am interested in her concepts of integlligibility and what constitues a livable life.  If being queer and a member of the military is "unintelligible," then how can Calpernia and Barry have livable lives?  In fact, it is this un-thinkable combination of being a queer solider that lead others to end Barry's life. 

Elizabeth Stephen's "Corporeographies."  In the article, she discusses how desire can lead to "intercorporeality" or the merging of bodies.  In other words, through desire, the lines between bodies can become blurred.  In this way, does the desire that exists between Barry and Calpernia cause their bodies to merge?  Does Barry thus not only become sexually queer or (supposedly) anti-American/patriotic, or can his body also be thought of as queer/trans through its merging with Calpernia's body? 

Sources I'm currently reading to see if they might be helpful:
Susan Striker (ed) The Transgender Studies Reader
E. Ann Kaplan (ed) Feminism & Film Theory
Mary Ann Doane's Femme Fatales
Judith Mayne's The Woman at the Keyhole

I'm still reading and looking for more sources, so if any of you have any recommendations, please let me know!  

my final project update!


Class Follow-ups

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Hi All!

Lovely class today (as usual)! As promised here are some links to the things I mentioned today:

*my blog post about genderqueer Shiloh Jolie Pitt:    (and the cover that inspired it):
*the This American Life Episode about transkids: (it's Act 2, so you have to skip ahead a bit to get to it)

*a good blog entry on femme-invisibility:

have a wonderful spring break! get into all sorts of trouble!

Book "Review" Assignment

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Last week I asked you to spend some time thinking about the book review assignment--what you want to read, how you want to do the assignment, etc. We will be talking about this class today, but I thought I would also post an entry. You can post your thoughts/questions as comments to this entry.

Here is what I wrote about it in the syllabus: (150 points) You are required to write and post (on our course blog) a review of one of the books from which we are reading an excerpt/chapter.

I created this assignment for several reasons:
  • To give you the opportunity to further explore an author or an argument that we read/discussed in class.
  • To give you a space for publicly engaging with the author's ideas/book
  • To create an archive (for the class and for our real/imagined readers) of sources that relate to the topic of troublemaking.
As I mentioned in class last week, I am open to your suggestions about the assignment. You could do a "standard" book review in which you provide a brief summary of the chapters and a discussion of some critical questions that it raises for you. Another option is to create an extended annotated bibliography of sorts in which you briefly outline the chapters and then discuss the questions it raises for your own research. You could also be creative with your review by doing an imaginary interview with the author--or, you could contact the author with your questions (who knows, they might even answer you!).  Here are some basic guidelines:
  • It must be posted on the blog
  • Roughly 1000 words
  • Discuss the book through the lens of/in relation to troublemaking
  • Due on May 5

Butler Reading

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Hi all, I was looking over the readings for tomorrow and noticed that one of the pages (23-24) of the Butler chapter from Frames of War was messed up. Here is a much better copy of the same page. See you tomorrow! Sara

Troublemaking in Parenting

A friend of mine just sent me this short article - Transparent - on gender "play" and the experience of parenting a child who does not conform to gender stereotypes. I was interested in the article at first because my mom is a child psychiatrist who has advised parents in similar situations, but I'm posting it here because the author, Susan David Bernstein, uses terms like "troublemaking" and "play" (for those familiar with that chapter from Lugones) in ways that clearly resonate with this class.

I know we had a lot of reading this week, but I'm curious what people think about the article, and the idea of "playful parenting" as a form of troublemaking. On the one hand, Bernstein seems like a great parent, allowing her daughter to explore gender in the way that she does; on the other hand, she also implies that her daughter - being as strong-willed as she is - might've acted the same way, regardless of parenting. It's also clear that Bernstein is in a privileged position, being a white academic in Wisconsin; she talks about "today's multiplication of options" for gender performance, but she might not perceive there to be so many options if she was living somewhere else.

Anyone have experiences with parents who encouraged you to make trouble? As a child, was anyone a troublemaker because of or in spite of their parents? 

Also, is there room for "playful parenting" in parts of the country (or in various communities of race, class, etc) where there might be more of a threat of backlash? What (perhaps subtler) forms would it take on?

Question Two: The right to trouble

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I've been staring at this screen for an embarrassingly long time now, contemplating in which direction to take my question for this week's class. My research interests are rather ill-defined at this point; I can point to the 18th century and say, "There, I like French literature that was written there," and I can say that I am interested in irony and satire, but I can't get much more specific than that. I can think of ways to tie even this vague interest in to troublemaking, but I think that, rather than try to get everybody interested in the French Enlightenment, or talk about literature or literary theory, I'd like to take this in a different direction; one that doesn't have much of anything to do with my academic interests, but does have a lot to do with my personal interests. I hope this is allowable (and if it's not, can I argue that I am troubling the basis of this Question Two assignment?).

I'm Canadian. This always feels like a big confession; I make the statement and wait to be asked if I watch South Park or if I have ever seen a polar bear, eh? (I don't, and I have, in case you wondered) Anyway, I have always been interested in the question of my nation's identity - can such a diverse country have a single identity? - and this interest has only increased now that I've moved across the border. Much like the USA, Canada's cultural make-up is diverse. Unlike the USA, I think that Canadians often define themselves largely by saying, "We are NOT the USA." Bit of an inferiority complex there, methinks. . . In any case, where I am from, there is a significant Aboriginal population, and there are ongoing problems (the results of Aboriginal oppression by European settlers; this whole thing came to me while I was reading Sara Ahmed's discussion of Aboriginals in Australia in "The Politics of Bad feeling") with racism - most notably, Aboriginal people face the stereotype either of being lazy drunks who beg for money on the streets, or who get too many advantages (affirmative action hiring, fully funded post-secondary education, no income tax) because of the colour of their skin. It's a massive problem, but the interesting thing is that, as a white person, I am not expected to do anything about it except avoid making it worse. On a few occasions I have spoken out against racism, and I have been admonished for doing so, because it is "not [my] cause". Yes, I've been told that to my face more than once, and once by my best friend (an Aboriginal herself) - she told me, "Why are you mad? It's not your problem."

This is something I thought about a lot while I was doing some of the reading for past weeks as well as for this week. In "The Uses of Anger", Audre Lorde talks about anger and women and race, and although admittedly she is intentionally addressing women, I still read it and wondered what she would say about the idea of, say, a white man being angry about discrimination faced by a black woman. I wondered the same thing reading Judith Halberstam; she argues that queer studies has been too long dominated by white, gay men, but what would she think about a white, gay man talking about a black, gay woman? What about a black, gay woman talking about issues faced by white, gay men?

I guess what I am wondering about is the right to. . . well, the right to make trouble. "But everyone has the right to make trouble!" I hear you protest (as long as we're not just being assholes, right?), but it doesn't always seem that way. If a particular issue bothers me even though it has no impact on me personally, do I have the right to trouble it, or is my role simply a supportive one - standing behind my Aboriginal friend as she accuses someone of making a racist remark, letting my students make up a test they missed to be part of a protest, etc? Why would someone ever refuse my help (or my attempt to help) because it's "their" cause, not "mine"? What is with this possessiveness? Can a problem or cause belong to someone? Who decides this ownership, and how is it determined? And if something doesn't have the potential to harm me, why would I be angry enough about it to make trouble in the first place?

I think we talked about some of these things early on in the semester, but as someone who has some definite white privilege going on, I have often felt like my ability or my right to question or trouble issues has been questioned, and I want to think about why.
because i think in circles, and there were a lot of readings for this week, i am not quite sure where to begin in terms of positioning these 8 readings collectively for class discussion. when sara posted assigning the readings for this week she began with these questions: 

"What connections can you draw between these texts? In what ways are they disconnected? What does it mean to be beside oneself with rage or grief? What sort of self are we when we are beside ourselves? How does it enable (or prevent) us from connecting with others? How is this troubling? A form of troublemaking?"

thus, the questions that came to my mind while reading this week were already framed by sara's questions. the following are a handful of specific, slightly random, textual moments of curiosity or/and connection i had while reading. i hope this sparks thought and discussion rather than overwhelming anxiety lol. or maybe the unintelligibility of my questioning is appropriate... either way sorry to throw so much at you, i couldn't help it. many readings lead to many questions. 

1. perhaps sara's constant urge for definition is starting to influence me, :-)  so i ask - how are lorde and lugones defining anger? what kind of anger are they talking about? and in what context? lugones speaks of "first-order" and "second-order" anger, does this resonate with you as a reader/theorist/person? what about rage? shame? guilt? the human? life? (we can spend the rest of our lives on this questions).  

2. how are the notions of anger as emotion as intelligibility in lugones and lorde connected to butler's notions of a livable life? and the precariousness of life? what does the affect and effect of emotion have to do with livability, according to lugones, lorde, ahmad? how is this connected to shannon's larger definition of violence "denying someone their full humanity" and the questions we asked around violence two weeks ago? 

3. how does the way in which lorde treats guilt differ from the way in which ahmed treats guit, and even still the way halberstam talks about guilt? does racialized guilt differ in and of itself from sexualized guilt? how does cho's refusal of guilt fit into this conversation? is national guilt always similar to, or a part of, identitarian guilt? how does guilt and shame turn the discourse back onto the "guilty" and eclipse the potential for awareness that lorde strives for? 

4. how are dynamics of power always already in play with all of the emotions discussed this week? what does it mean for the dominant person to be angry/shameful/grieving/outragedl/etc? how does this (or does it?) differ from the oppressed person being angry/shameful/grieving/outraged? again i am thinking of our conversation about violence and the power dynamics in violence, protest, and resistance. the readings for this week bring emotion into this equation. does that adjust or "reframe" our discussion on violence if we substituted emotion?   

5. how does butler's conversation about reproductive freedom illuminate the new discourse we've previously discussed in class and on the blog about "abortion: black babies as an endangered species?" 

6. how does the dialogue around "bad feeling," shame, and guilt in the US compare to that in ahmed's writing about australia. i am thinking specifically about the current rhetoric about obama constantly "apologizing" for america, and the new book by mitt romney "no apology: the case for american greatness." 

7. where do we see emotion as an act of resistance or power in response to living an "unlivable life?" i am thinking here in terms of cho's stand up performances and lorde's anger. where is emotion not used as a form of resistance, but rather continuing the current status quo? i'm thinking here of halberstam's arguments on white male gay shame. 

8. butler, characteristically, says a lot but gives few examples. what does unrecognizability look like? in "beside oneself" she talks about gay/queer/trans unrecognizability. and in the intro to "frames of war" she talks of unrecognizability in terms of lives not deemed lives in war and political discourse. can we think of others? are we all unrecognizable as we are all precarious? is recognizability the same as privilege? 

9. how do we as academics/humans/women understand and frame (in the butlarian sense) our own emotions? how does this effect or create affect in our work, our pedagogy, our identities, and our participation in the academy? how did you feel reading the readings this week? and does this matter? 

10. lastly (i promise) what does looking at emotion like this have to do with troublemaking? are emotions themselves troublemaking? (getting out of hand?) obviously this is socially constructed, so what does the self-reflexive theoretical exploration of emotion mean in terms of making trouble? promoting trouble? justifying this kind of troublemaking? why is it in particular that women's studies/feminist studies/queer studies spends so much time on the intersections of emotion and troublemaking? 

Project Update: Laboring Queer and Sexual Bodies

Hi All,

I had a really good conversation with Sara about my project, and I thought this would be a good time to give a progress report on my status. So, as I've talked about in class, and posted about a while back, I am very interested in the labor movement's relationship to queer bodies and sexualized bodies (that is, bodies that perform labor that is directly connected to sex or sexuality; this would include sex workers, sex-positive cocktail waitresses, strippers, etc). As someone who is both very involved with the labor movement and queer culture, I have been continually dismayed over the lack of intersection between the two. I was enculturated in a way that does make me believe that one of the biggest battles we must fight for a more just world is capitalism (for labor movements, this will sometimes translate to "bosses"), but I am continually frustrated when labor activists and organizers refuse to acknolwedge the importance of strategic identity politics, or the importance of fighting against anything that isn't 'the boss' or capitalism, actually. Due to this very narrow and exclusive rhetoric, this "movement" is misses out on opportunities to build and grow. Similarly, I am frustrated when queer and sex-positive activists don't acknowledge the importance of fighting larger systems of oppression (such as capitalism) in order to create a more just society (and that we can't just rely on queer dance parties and individual performances of genderfuck to bring about real change).

Thus, my desire is to show that:
A) there are spaces where queer and sex-positive politics can intersect with labor politics; and in fact it is necessary that we find those and sustain those.

B) there are examples of these things that have already taken place, and we should critique them and learn from them (via an analysis of communicative strategies: rhetoric, performance and media)

C) on a theoretical level, this becomes a perfect example of to address tensions between modernism and postmodernism, poststructuralism and identity politics, and large-scale organized resistance verses embodied everyday resistance.

For this class, I wanted to start doing interviews with folks who have been involved in this work, but realized that was not so feasible. SO, the plan now is to research all the organizations that currently exist as an example of the intersection between the labor movement and queer and/or sex-positive identity politics. I will feature an organization on my blog, and offer critical analysis on what we can learn from it and what might be problematic. I am currently familiar with the following organizations, but if you know more, do let me know!:

*Sleep With the Right People: "represents an alliance between two powerful groups: the LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bi-sexual Transgender) community and Unite Here (the union representing more than 450,000 hotel, restaurant, gaming, laundry and food service workers). Both face similar struggles in their quest for fair and equal treatment of all individuals."

*Queers for Economic Justice: (Mission Statement:) "....a progressive non-profit organization committed to promoting economic justice in a context of sexual and gender liberation.

Our goal is to challenge and change the systems that create poverty and economic injustice in our communities, and to promote an economic system that embraces sexual and gender diversity."

*Lusty Ladies Strippers Union (featured in Live Nude Girls Unite!):
(from the story of the film) "....Relations with management had been rocky ever since we started talking union, but Summer's termination sparked an all-out war. It was a Saturday, the union office was closed, and we couldn't get a hold of our union rep. We were on our own. Less than 24 hours after Summer was fired, and dozens of phone calls later, close to half the staff of dancers, cashiers and janitors showed up at work on their day off to protest. With picket signs and leaflets in hand, we poured into the manager's office and demanded Summer's job back .The manager told us to get out. Our picket line went up immediately."

*Sex Workers Outreach Project: Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA is a national social justice network dedicated to the fundamental human rights of sex workers and their communities, focusing on ending violence and stigma through education and advocacy.

Does this seem cohesive? Is it problematic for me to combine "queer and/or sex-positive identity politics" as a category? Any insight would be greatly appreciated! Also if you know of any relevant books, articles, films, or folks, please send them my way!

See you all Wednesday!

Joan Tronto event

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Hey everyone,

Join me for a Feminist Studies colloquium event with Joan Tronto on feminist ethics this upcoming Monday, March 8 in Ford 400 from 3:30-5:00. We will be discussing Dr. Tronto's paper, "What Counts as Democracy? Globalizing Care Ethics from the Bottom Up." We will also reflect on the larger question, "what is feminist ethics?"

You can access Dr. Tronto's paper here.

Spread the word. It should be a great event!

Readings for next week (3.10)

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I have posted the readings on WebVista for the week. We are focusing on excess emotion and being beside oneself in terms of rage (Lorde, Lugones), grief (Butler) and shame (Halberstam, Ahmed, Pelle).

What connections can you draw between these texts? In what ways are they disconnected? What does it mean to be beside oneself with rage or grief? What sort of self are we when we are beside ourselves? How does it enable (or prevent) us from connecting with others? How is this troubling? A form of troublemaking?

Here are the readings:
  • Lugones, Maria. "Hard to Handle Anger" in Pilgrimages
  • Lorde, Audre. "The Uses of Anger" in Sister Outsider
  • Butler, Judith. "Beside Oneself" in Undoing Gender
  • Butler, Judith. "Introduction: Precarious Life, Grievable LIfe?" in Frames of War
  • Halberstam, Judith. "Shame and White Gay Masculinity"
  • Ahmed, Sara. "The Politics of Bad Feeling"
  • Ahmed, Sara. "Collective Feelings"
  • Pelle, Susan. "Grotesque Pussy"

john waters, camp aesthetic, etc

to connect waters more to our troublemaking, i had a long conversation with my friend jason (via text) and he relayed the following information that i think is really important: 

"when approaching waters its helpful to think about his whole production process, like how he always used the same actors, they stole and vandalized shit and trespassed on private property, he normally just used one camera, the films were always shown at midnight screenings in seedy neighborhoods... it's really hard to talk about the film as an enclosed text, much better to talk about it as a cultural artifact/cultural process."

so with this information its clear to me how waters is troubling filmmaking even more than i thought before. i also spent some time this afternoon poking around the interwebs and the library website to find information on john waters and his film aesthetic. i am not a film scholar or even a fan of john waters lol so i'm not sure i'm the best person for this job. but at any rate. here is a website all about waters and his films:

also, here is an online version of susan sontag's "notes on camp" its THE thing about camp and could help explain the bad acting better than i did yesterday. its kinda awesome: basically in the camp aesthetic - it isn't a lamp, its a "lamp," and it isn't a woman, its a "woman." 

i'm all about asking someone who knows when you don't know, so jason told me to look up the scholar jeffry sconce and his article "trashing the academy" for more information on waters' trash aesthetic in general. i seriously searched on the library sites for an hour and can't find it. mostly because the library sites confuse me. but if anyone is seriously interested, thats the guy to look up. he also edited a book called: sleaze artists, cinema at the margins of taste, style, and politics. which looks good. 

lastly, again jason told me there are a ton of interviews of john waters on youtube that are great. (we seriously talked for a while about this) where he explains his work, etc. i watched a few. with that, in jason's opinion "pink flamingos" is the best of all of waters' films and i think this interview is a good start in understanding waters even though its not about female trouble that we watched. and i'm also including one with divine and john waters from the 80s i think talking about their work. i hope this helps if anyone was inspired by the staring we did collectively on wednesday :-) 

On tonight's episode of SVU, Kathy Griffin guest starred as a lesbian activist who had the hots for Detective Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay).  In all of the publicity interviews for the episode, Griffin talked about her "hot" kiss with Mariska.  However, when the episode aired, the kiss wasn't there!  Instead, we see a choppy (clearly altered) scene in which Griffin lunges towards Olivia and then Olivia says "I'm straight!"  Apparently, NBC received "complaints" from unknown viewers/interest groups that "objected" to the kiss.  So, instead, we see Griffin (the lesbian) kissing Olivia's male partner, Detective Stabler.  Upset with this turn of events, I posted the following response on the NBC website's community forum:



Initially, I was quite excited about tonight's episode.  Few shows incorporate lesbian characters and storylines, so I was encouraged when I learned tonight's episode would feature Kathy Griffin playing a lesbian activist.  Given Griffin's connections with the LGBT community, as well as the high quality of Law & Order: SVU as a show, I thought the subject matter would be dealt with in a respectful and responsible manner.  However, after viewing the episode, I was highly dissappointed, disheartened, and discouraged.  The epsiode did more harm than good.  It problematically reinforced outdated lesbian stereotypes by portraying lesbians as abbrasive and angry, as seperatists, man-haters, and straight-haters.  Perhaps even more troubling, it portrayed lesbian sexuality as changeable. Griffin's character, Babbs Duffy, an outspoken lesbian activist, ends up desiring men in the end-- she has a "secret" boyfriend and then she kisses Stabler.  This suggests that if a lesbian simply finds the "right" man she will no longer be a lesbian.  Thus, lesbian sexuality is again characterized as immature-- as a precursor to heterosexuality. 

Also frustrating was the cutting of the kiss between Olivia Benson (Hargitay) and Babbs Duffy (Griffin).  In Griffin's recent interviews on the talk show circuit to promote the episode, she talked about her character's attraction to Olivia and their onscreen kiss.  Unlike so many shows, which exploit female-female kisses for the titilation of a (presumably) male audience, this story line and the kiss between the characters could have come across as authentic.  Over the years, there has been much speculation about Olivia's sexuality, and the character and the show have a strong lesbian fanbase.  Thus, having a lesbian character come on to Olivia, and forcing Olivia to respond, could have been both relevant for the character and gratifying for the audience.  However, cutting the kiss at the last moment-- and instead hyping up the kiss between Babbs and Stabler--- felt both forced and frustrating.  Because the kiss was cut, the camera work in the Babbs/Olivia scene was choppy and unprofessional (we knew something was cut), and Olivia's reaction was overly dramatic.  We needed to see Olivia experience and react to the kiss.  And if it helped Olivia confirm that she is straight, that's great!  That is a legitimate (and predictable) response for the character.  But showing Babbs awkwardly reach for Olivia and--cut-- Olivia gasping "I'm straight" felt strange and unbelievable.  It then got worse when we learned that Babbs had been secretly dating a man the whole time.  And, as if things could not get worse, Babbs forcing a kiss on Stabler in the final scene was incredibly awkward and out of left field.  Not only does this reinforce the homophobic assumption that lesbians can be "made straight," but it leads viewers to question NBC's integrity.  Why did NBC go from promoting Babbs' relationship with Olivia, to her relationship with Stabler?  Why did NBC cut a lesbian kiss?  Why did it replace a lesbian kiss with a straight kiss?  Why did all of the previews for the show introduce Babbs Duffy as a lesbian character and then show her kissing Stabler, a man?  Are the executives at NBC homophobic?  Was the network pandering to the demands of anti-LGBT interest groups? 

I hope that NBC will respond to its cutting cutting of the Olivia/Babs kiss, as well as its stereotypical and homophobic portrayal of lesbians throughout the episode.

Oh, the humanity!

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I realized after class that I could post the schedule to the symposium on Saturday!  Here's a link to the website and to the schedule.  If the schedule link doesn't work, you can get to it through the website.


I hope to see many (all!) of you there!

Troubling Safe-Space

Hello all,

So this is what I am thinking about for my project.  The idea of a "safe-space" has popped up a few times in our class discussions, and also in Mary Gray's presentation last week.  I have been thinking a lot about the idea of safe-spaces, especially in the queer context, since the end of my senior year of college.  Ryan Sorba (who has been in the news recently for protesting CPAC's decision to invite a queer group, Go-Pride, to the convention) came to speak at Smith, prompting a bunch of students to basically drown him out with shouting and booing.  The conservative media had field-day writing about the angry lesbians at Smith.  Unfortunately, the Smith administration responded to the situation by condemning the students for violating the college's commitment to free-speech, rather than providing a forum for discussion.

In the aftermath of Sorba's visit, and what I would call a protest/riot on the part of the students, I heard the same question asked over and over again.  Why did he come here?  Who would let him into this space?  Shouldn't the college understand that we would react that way when he came onto our turf?  On a personal level, Sorba's visit made me realize for the first time that I had considered Smith to be a safe-space, and simultaneously made me realize that I could no longer think of it that way.

For my project, I want to begin by placing the idea of "safe-spaces" within the context of feminism, lesbian separatist movements, and queer activism.  I want to trouble the idea of a safe-space.  Does it really exist?  If so, what purpose does it serve?  Safe for whom? Safe in what way?  If not, why do we like to imagine safe-spaces?  What happens when a safe-space is violated?

I then want to look at some queer protests.  I might briefly reflect on the role played by safe/unsafe spaces in Stonewall and the riot at Compton's Cafeteria in San Francisco, but I really want to reflect more on the Sorba situation.  I want to interview several students who were involved in the riot or who were on campus at the time.  I think it would be good to have both queer and straight voices represented.  (Do I need IRB approval for this?  I think historians don't have to do it for oral histories anymore-- does anyone know?)  I want to know if anyone else had the idea that Smith was a safe-space, and whether that influenced their reaction to the Sorba sitch.

I would really like to have y'alls feedback, cause I can think of several big conceptual problems with this project (most glaringly, I am clearly looking for a certain answer to my question, although leaving space for disagreement).  On the other hand, I'm really excited about the chance to devote some time to this, and to have to opportunity to do a lot of thinking rather than devoting the bulk of my energy to research/citing.

Also, if any of you know about anyone who has theorized about safe-spaces in the queer/feminist context, please let me know.  I am sending up flares to Reg and Kevin Murphy as well.

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