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Expanding the Conversation

I collaborated with epeck and sekang for this web paper. The final product can be found here

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Teach-In: Expanding the Conversation

Preparing for the Interviews:

For our teach-in, we wanted to explore how we could expand the conversation that we've been having in class to include those outside of Bryn Mawr and Haverford. Epeck, sekang, and I decided to do this by literally bringing other people into our classroom. With a list of questions on the topics that we felt generated the most discussion in class, we went to the 30th Street and Market East train stations to interview people. We chose these locations hoping that their large amounts of commuter traffic would enable us to speak with a population diverse in terms of race, gender, age, and socioeconomic status. Going into this project, we were aware that choosing random people for the interviews creates the problem of selection bias, and so we made a concentrated effort to approach as many people as possible. Of course, we acknowledge that selection bias, despite our efforts, probably still influenced who we spoke with.

We conducted eleven interviews, asking:

1. What is feminism?

2. Who do you think of when you think of feminism?

3. How do you know if someone is a man?

4. How do you know if someone is a woman?

5. How do you express your gender?

6. How do you define sex work?

7. Do you think that sex work can be empowering for women? 

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Masculinity and Street Harassment

            After watching the documentary “Live Nude Girls Unite!” for the sex work unit of our curriculum, I was initially struck by the scene in which the camera records a man’s steady and clear gaze on one of the dancers. During our discussion, I realized that it was watching this gaze—the male gaze—that made me uncomfortable in ways that seeing the nude dancers in the documentary did not. Upon further reflection on this moment, I found myself thinking about the male gaze in relation to street harassment. Stop Street Harassment, one of many websites and blogs that deal with the issue, is an organization that defines street harassment as “Unwelcome words and actions by unknown persons in public which are motivated by gender and invade a person’s physical and emotional space in a disrespectful, creepy, startling, scary, or insulting way.”[1] According to this organization, street harassment occurs frequently and globally. In Academic and community studies, research done in thirteen different cities found that of the statistically significant results, Beijing, with seventy percent of women reporting experiences of street harassment, had the lowest statistic.

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Our discussion on Thursday about how we felt while watching Live Nude Girls Unite! was incredibly rich, and for me, in a personal way. It didn't strike me as odd while watching the film that I wasn't uncomfortable seeing the women's naked bodies but instead uncomfortable watching one of the male patrons watching the women dance. I realized that what was so unsettling for me was that I was thinking about how I would feel were I one of those dancers and I had to experience the intensity and invasiveness of that gaze. This line of thinking reminded me of these:

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Who Oversees the Nonprofits?

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

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Urban Dictionary

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

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Feminism and Female Suicide Bombers

Feminism for Female Suicide Bombers and The Imagined Community

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

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Addressing the problem of objectivity in film

Thinking back to Maria's demonstration of how to visually make a text more feminist, I wonder how this idea of recuperating a text might apply to "Born in Brothels" and documentary film in general. In class, we discussed how the editing of the film privileged some students over the others while also promoting a certain narrative. How might the film have been made in a more democratic way? Given that editing is a necessary part of filmmaking, is a fuller representation even possible? To all the future filmmakers/those who have a background in film, have there been/are there filmmakers who try to do this? What are their perspectives/techniques? What is the critical film theory regarding objectivity, especially in documentary-making?

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Spivak is Frustrating

After discussing some of Spivak's thoughts in "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism" and "A Literary Representation of the Subaltern: A Woman's Text From the Third World", I am frustrated. In "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism", we said that Spivak wants us to see the underlying constraints imposed by imperialism in texts like "Frankenstein" and "Jane Eyre". In particular, we said that Spivak sees "Jane Eyre", despite its reputation as a progressive and feminist text, as one that actually follows an old script. Shaped by imperialism, Jane also acts as a force of it when she ascends the ladder of social and economic mobility by marrying the wealthy Mr. Rochester, at the expense of the other and "other-ed" woman, Bertha. Imperialism is everywhere; it permeates even our classic literary texts, Spivak says. In class, we pointed out all the various ways in which imperialism exists institutionally and how we choose to submit to it, especially in higher education. My frustration is, well, where do we go from here? So now that we have this awareness or improved understanding of how imperialized every single one of our thought processes is, that's it? And any ways through which we might seek to subvert hegemonic, imperialist forces is probably in some way tinged by imperialism? We just have to accept that there's no way out? Not that I could even imagine what that alternative would be, but at least Woolf gave us the outsider's society, flawed though it may be. Perhaps a way out doesn't exist, but surely ones that are "less wrong" exist.

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Reading "Goblin Market" as a Feminist Text

Reading “Goblin Market” as a Feminist Text

            With its rhyming cadence and fable-like narrative, “Goblin Market” might easily be interpreted as a children’s poem. However, it is also the tension between these two elements—form and content—that evokes the question of whether or not “Goblin Market” might be considered a feminist text. Despite the cadence and use of a tone often found in children’s literature, “Come buy, come buy: /…Bloom-down-cheeked peaches, /Swart-headed mulberries, /Wild free-born cranberries,” (4-11) the protagonists in this fable-like narrative encounter mature and sexually suggestive situations. When Laura and Lizzie encounter the goblin men and their fruit, the language of the poem maintains its child-like tone but the words are also sensual and mirror the sexuality that emerges as a reaction to the fruit. It is this sexuality that is at stake throughout “Goblin Market”. By choosing to create tension between form and content, Christina Rossetti highlights female sexuality and desire in her poem. Doing so in a form so closely resembling a fable allows Rossetti to discuss female sexuality and desire in a public forum, which her position as an English female writer in the 1800s would not have allowed her to do more explicitly. Subsequently, “Goblin Market” functions as a feminist text through its acknowledgement of female sexuality and desire.

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