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"and although it may be comfortable here sleeping in all your nice bed with all those satin sheets....i have to go"

cantaloupe's picture




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how does a place of higher education make learning seem natural?  how does a college make knowledge seem useful in life, not just in the scholarly sphere?  how does a women’s college truly create women who make a difference in the world: who are radical and passionate.  i took a class the summer after my junior year in high school about international terrorism.  there was a professor and there was an intern.    we would discuss politics and culture and government and religion.  those discussions made us feel good about ourselves, and very smart.  but the intern, pete, always asked, “so what?”  so what there is a religious war?  so what there were radical marxist ideas?  so what people bombed themselves in a street?  what does all of it mean?  that was the best and the hardest part of the class.  we weren’t just being scholarly and discussing theory, we were discussing the world and why it was like that and what we do next.  we all got so involved in our quest for understanding that we became radical in our actions.  for the fourth of july we were going to burn an american flag in the middle of the campus we were on.  we weren’t afraid to make a statement; we weren’t afraid to cause people to be upset.  we truly wanted to make people question what the american flag meant to them and therefore bring the fourth of july back to the question of freedom, not about fireworks and hot dogs.  we didn’t do it because one girl’s boyfriend was in the army and she couldn’t let herself burn an american flag, but the idea was the there: the radicalism was there.  now in a very academic community such as bryn mawr i am finding myself asking the same questions as pete did: so what?  So what if I read an essay about women as an analytic category?  so what if i understand the categories of gender, sexuality, etc. that society constantly places us in?  what does this mean to me?  what do i do?
coming into a class about gender and sexuality, all i knew before was what i had lived.  i got confused for a boy once.  i was in an airport wearing black cargo pants, a t-shirt, and a beanie.  i walked into a woman’s bathroom and the woman at the sink said “excuse me sir, i think you are confused.”  i’m convinced she probably didn’t look at me that hard because i look quite feminine no matter what i wear. part of me wishes that happened to me more.  i am comfortable being a woman, in fact i take pleasure in the category i place myself in, but i also take pleasure in making people take a second look.  people often get comfortable in their own little world; i think it’s our mission to jolt them a little bit: keep them alive. 
i knew a person who was transitioning from female to male and was also in a wheelchair.  he volunteered at a summer camp with me, but  i didn’t know him well.  i was fourteen when i first met him and i didn’t understand why he was transitioning if he was in a wheelchair.  he was already confined to a way of life that made it hard for him to express himself – why did it matter if he fully embodied his identity as a man?  i staffed with him for three years and as his voice got deeper and his appearance got clearly more masculine, i understood his passion for self-expression.  it didn’t matter that he was in a wheelchair, he still had to be him.  the world is always going to place people into categories; it is important to have strength to break beyond those – like i said, to jolt them a little.
it was people like him that taught me about gender and sexuality.  living in new hampshire, there wasn’t a whole lot of individual expression.  there were categories and there were trends and you lived within those boundaries.  i knew a few people who leapt from those boundaries, but they also kept it in check when they knew there was going to be opposition.  i’m reckless in my radicalism.  when i brought a girl to prom nobody spit on me, nobody threatened me, nobody even looked at me the wrong way.  people talked about it, i know, and said nasty things, but nobody said those things to me.  i wanted them to.  i wanted to break the boundaries and i wanted people to fight back, but everyone was too afraid.  i’m searching for that person who will fight back.  i refuse to curb who i am in front of anyone.  it took a while for my parents to understand this reasoning, but they eventually accepted it.  i will kiss a girl and hold her hand anywhere.  i won’t purposefully bring attention to myself, but i will act how i would at bryn mawr anywhere else in the world.  some say that isn’t worth the risk; i say it’s the only way to live.
this class is my first “academic” introduction to gender and sexuality.  while i understand and appreciate the history of gender and sexuality studies we have done so far, my favorite part was reading neil gaiman’s the doll’s house.  i love book’s that play with my mind – if i go to bed wondering if i am in control of my own life or if an alternate reality that is a paper’s thickness away from my own is controlling my life, then that was a good book.  i like reading people’s interpretation of the world.  i’m glad gaiman’s book isn’t just showing the world through a feminist lense, instead it shows the possibilities of reality.  it pushes the boundaries (those same ones i love to push) to get reactions.  the fact that rose almost got raped made some people feel violated – good, be angry! fight back!  threaten gaiman’s work by pushing back. get riled up, flail your hands, be bold and radical.  we can’t just jolt the world with our radical thoughts, we have to be jolted too.
reading gaiman’s novel made the most sense to me in terms of the three angles we looked at gender and sexuality.  the science perspective sometimes seems like a stretch to me.  i understand that science provides a lot of good evidence towards different arguments, such as roughgarden’s, but i also feel that using scientific evidence always makes the argument seem like it has to prove itself.  instead of just saying, “hey, this is the way i see the world” it is “see! see! look at all this proof i have for my view of the world.”  i think that roughgaren was passionate about gender and sexuality and her view on the world would have been legitimate even if she didn’t compare human sexuality to five species of birds. 
i have a problem with social science in general because how is it even possible to study human society as a whole? studying society will always lead to putting society in different categories to explain it.  there is no way a person can do a study on woman as an analytic category.  there are so many kinds of woman – how can a study be valid when the basis is so variant?  also, social science studies have to be so politically correct because they have to try to explain society.
my main dislike of science and social science views on the world are that they are so academic.  there is a template and a way  to use such methods of study.  i think the world can’t be grasped in the scholarly sphere because it is so much more than that.  there are so many parts of life that can never be fit nicely into an essay.  those little nuances of life can only come out in humanities: in some kind of literary expression not confined to a form.  a graphic novel, for instance.  gaiman’s graphic novel is how he sees the world and his view is deemed valid just because it exists and his novel exists.  it’s twisted, it’s complicated, but it is his.  i love getting a glimpse into someone’s twisted world.  i’d venture to say learning from one person at a time is the only real way we can ever understand the warped, intricate world of gender and sexuality.
my dream course would start with this:  and that will set the stage for the rest of the semester.  watching janis joplin sing like it’s the last thing she’ll ever do on earth will define what we want to learn and what we are looking for.  the “so what?” to all of it.  we find passion, and we are radical and reckless and proud.  we study gender from one end of the binary to the other end.  we study sexuality from one end of the binary to the other end.  we fight.  we place ourselves in a counterculture because to me that is where the living is.  we live a little bit outside of where society tells us to be and we feel alive.  we aren’t just women at a women’s college studying women.  we are people expressing all variations of gender (one is wearing man pants, one is wearing a skirt with converse, one doesn’t use she, and one decided to wear a leopard print jumpsuit to class – hey man, it doesn’t matter) at a college where we are bringing radical back by talking about what we are going to do.  we are reading books and watching movies that jolt us beyond the almost rape scene in the doll’s house.  we are watching the movie boys don’t cry, but we don’t just watch it and then go to dinner – we watch it and we make a difference.  we talk about why  the world is like it is.  we share personal stories and become personally invested in our conversation because, really, this isn’t just us talking about the signified and the signifier of language, this is us living in our world.  we better take a firm place in it.
i think that movies and images are what we need to focus on in the remainder of the semester.  words might only just lead us to more words, but images might lead us to action.  we might watch the movie hard candy, which is one of my personal favorites because of the absolute power over gender stereotypes it represents.  my dream is that we get invested in what is being shown to us.  we no longer just become college students in a class, we bring the radical to our lives.  maybe we don’t burn a flag, but we rally against feminism.  we do a demonstration where we argue for a return to women oppression.  we do something that makes people angry, and then we challenge them to question their anger.  why are you angry?!
college doesn’t suit me because i think it doesn’t fit with who i am and who i want to become.  instead of liberating me, i feel confined.  instead of leaving college, my dream is that college morphs to my ideals of learning.  we are interactive and invested in what we learn and do.  we protest, we fight, and we never, never, are nice.  we never smile in class and then bitch later on.  we are reckless.  we all need to be reckless in our radicalism and see what comes of it.  the days of raising our hands in class are over, we are all so engaged in our conversation that we can actually have just that, a conversation, not turns stating an idea.  we are in a circle one day, lines the next, sometimes we stand all class, sometimes we are outside, or in the hallway, or on the road.  sometimes we walk across town, sometimes we are completely silent all of class, sometimes we bring in one thing that we will stand by for the rest of our lives.  we are never static and everyday is different.  we share the deepest parts of ourselves because we aren’t afraid and understand that we have nothing to lose by exposing our souls.  we are the next generation of feminist, and god, we are so proud.




skindeep's picture

you like books that get you

you like books that get you thinking and keep you up at night?

this paper of yours has already gotten me thinking. if that's what you were aiming for, i would bet you've succeeded.



holsn39's picture

Yeah I really like your paper

Yeah I really like your paper too.
I agree with everything you're saying about radicalism. There is a whole radical movement going on in the world, especially in this country, that college students studying gender and sexuality shouldn't be ignorant of. I think that our lives as students will be more alive and fulfilling if we put ourselves out in our community as activists, non conformists, radicals, queers, humanitarians... whatever it may be for every individual.

rae's picture


i really liked your paper. there are more important things, but i just wanted to bring attention to two parts that especially jumped out at me: 
"some say that isn’t worth the risk; i say it’s the only way to live."
i agree.
"one is wearing man pants, one is wearing a skirt with converse, one doesn’t use she, and one decided to wear a leopard print jumpsuit to class – hey man, it doesn’t matter"
and i just really liked that part.
there are lots of other things that i could/should say. i think it's a really really great paper. but i have to go to work now, so i can't comment on that right now. i just wanted to say that i like it.