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Precarious, Performative, Playful, Potential...Perspectives!

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Anne Dalke's picture


           Welcome to Precarious, Performative, Potential, Playful.... Perspectives,  the core course in Gender and Sexuality Studies, offered in Fall 2011 @ Bryn Mawr College. This is an interestingly different kind of place for writing, and may take some getting used to. The first thing to keep in mind is that it's not a site for "formal writing" or "finished thoughts." It's a place for thoughts-in-progress, for what you're thinking (whether you know it or not) on your way to what you think next. Imagine that you're just talking to some people you've met. This is a "conversation" place, a place to find out what you're thinking yourself, and what other people are thinking. The idea here is that your "thoughts in progress" can help others with their thinking, and theirs can help you with yours.

So who are you writing for? Primarily for yourself, and for others in our course. But also for the world. This is a "public" forum, so people anywhere on the web might look in. That's the second thing to keep in mind here. You're writing for yourself, for others in the class, AND for others you might or might not know. So, your thoughts in progress can contribute to the thoughts in progress of LOTS of people. The web is giving increasing reality to the idea that there can actually evolve a world community, and you're part of helping to bring that about.

We're glad to have you along, and hope you come to both enjoy and value our shared explorations.  Feel free to comment on any post below, or to POST YOUR THOUGHTS HERE.

Kaye's picture

public health careers

Careers in Public Health: Career Exploration Day
Wednesday, Jan 11, 2012 in Washington, DC 

charlie's picture

Half the Sky

In reviewing the course notes for this past week, I was struck by the first image of the Haitian pregnant women lined up. A few years ago I read a book called Half the Sky. Half the Sky is a book written by a couple that were journalists for the New York Times (I think. I'm really pretty sure, but regardless, that doesn't affect this post). This couple travelled to many poorer countries, such as Thailand, Haiti, and Africa. They would talk to hundreds on women in these countries. They heard horrible stories of torture, second-class citizenship, and stories of triumph and success. The book is tremendously well written and very readable. So how does this relate to the picture? With basic sex education and some women’s rights laws put in place, these statistics and images wouldn’t exist. Of course that is not so easily accomplished. But I do think that all of you should read this book. I could not put it down. I am not naïve enough to think that we can fix all of these problems in the near future, but I do think that educating ourselves about issues that don’t get as much press in the newspaper can only help. To truly be a citizen of the world, you need to know what is happening in all corners of the world. 


Anne Dalke's picture

My Notes from the "last Butler lecture"

Toward an Ethics of Cohabitation

Sharon Ullman's "devastating" introduction:
the claim that "academics don't live in the real world" is a false rhetorical strategy designed to restrain their power
Butler works in "the best part of the Jewish ethical tradition: to insist on the relation to the non-Jew"
intellectuals are under a political obligation
Butler rejected a "courage" prize in Berlin, saying, "I distance myself from racism"
from her Occupy speech: "If hope is an impossible demand, then we demand the impossible"
she demonstrates the direct relation between political action and analysis
learning and intellect are devalued in the public square, and cruelty is celebrated
there are those who are "rightly afraid" of thinkers, like Butler, who inspire activism:
she helps to repair the world

Butler: "it will change my thinking and my writing that I have been here"
an ethics that heeds the fragility of life" = we accompany one another
the last two lectures explored "bodies in alliance," with-and-against Hannah Arendt,
in an attempt to enact-and-exemplify alternative forms of living together
various forms of cohabitation are central to the most vexed problems of our time
start in register of ethics, w/ political implications
1) on global obligations, near and far:
what about our capacity to respond to suffering @ a distance?
what is our ethical obligation to those we never choose, in languages we don't understand?

Amophrast's picture

Does Call for Safety Prevent Learning Experience?

Since I didn't make a post for this week yet, I was looking at the talking notes for tonight and I want to respond to the two quotes pulled from the forum:

* AmyMay: I would suggest a "trigger warning" before bringing up such a personal issue in class.  This would allow people to decide in advance if the topic is something they are prepared to discuss openly in the presence of others. Personally, these are issues I want to talk about, and that I want other people to talk about.  It was very powerful for me to hear things that I feel deeply personally about come from many of the people in our class (in the "in response to __ we propose __" portion).  It was one of the few times I've felt truely understood, like my voice was being heard without me having to try to find the words.  Many of you got it.  That means more to me than I could ever say.  Though it was emotionally exhausting, by the end I felt we were bodies in alliance.

* Kaye: I too have been thinking a lot about Tues night's class and wonder if trigger event warnings would have prevented the powerful learning that took place. do we need to meet each other in our precarity if we are to have real conversations and relationships. If people knew it what we were going to do, they might not have come to class or have built up their defenses so only part of them was there.

This sort of situation has come up for me a few times:

phenoms's picture

"Men steal women to show that they are men"

This semester I'm taking a class in Business Ethics. Last week we discussed the benefits and pitfalls of moral relativism versus moral absolutism. The example given in class was about the Kyrgyzstan custom of ala kachuu (translation: grab-and run). Basically, a man kidnaps a women and forces her to marry him. It is estimated that 1/3 of Kyrgyzstan brides are kidnapped this way.

The anxiety, fear, and refusal of the kidnapped women are all accepted as routine. Many fight back. But, according to this New York Time's Article 80% of women relent and agree to marriage.

Now that we've started studying global conditions of women in our class, I think it's necessary we address our own framing strategies and biases. There's something to be said for cultural relativism - to a point. It's hard to recognize the line at which one crosses over from a global to western perspective (in part because we help dominate the shaping of global values).

This is extremely important to think about in terms of activism. I know Judith Butler mentioned the importance of outside, (i.e) objective help and critical distance. But does distance give us objectivity? Doesn't it just give us another kind of bias? Would it be OK for Americans to interfere with the traditions of another country because we see them as backwards? As harmful and violent against women? What would make our interference (speaking on a personal not national level) less imperialistic?

AmyMay's picture

The Revolution is On

This web event describes my plans for an activism project, to be completed as my final project for this course, which seeks to change the culture around sexual violence at Haverford.  I've decided to do this web event super early because I want to be able to document my thinking at this stage in the planning process.  I've been working on this for about 2 weeks now, and I want to make sure it is clear how this project ties into the coursework (mostly Judith Butler's work) before I get too far into logistical planning.  I tried getting the video to upload but Serendip isn't having it.  So instead, I made my own youtube channel for my web event, which can be found here.  The web event is presented in three sections, which should be watched in order, from I, to II, to III.  Upon consultation with Kaye, I decided to do Web Event #3 as a video purely because the topic of sexual violence is so personal to me, I did not think I could effectively communicate my plans via written words.  I also find it appropriate to have this information delivered via a conversational video, since the point of my proposed project is to stimulate conversation.  If any of you have feedback or suggestions, please please please voice them.  I'd love to hear any ways to make my ideas better.

essietee's picture

People Shufflin' Their Feet, People Sleepin' In Their Shoes

"Rockin' In The Free World" -Neil Young

I’ve spent a lot of time in the past week thinking about Judith Butler’s second Flexner Lecture on “Body Politics and the Politics of the Street,” specifically the notion of public versus private in relation to an individual’s right to appear. This separation of space has been ever-present in my undergraduate experiences, defining at times what I choose expose about myself, the activities in which I engage, and the individuals with whom I associate.

As a first-year student learning about sexuality, I spent a great deal of time reading and learning alone. My roommate, who was homophobic and transferred after our first year, made this task somewhat difficult: how could I become comfortable with myself while living with someone who was not comfortable with me? In private, I felt that I did not have the “right to appear,” while in the public eye of our campus I began to feel more comfortable. This ties back to our discussion last week on the right not to talk about certain experiences or personal components, just as we have the right to disclose such information at will. I am also reminded of the New York Times article we read earlier this semester regarding the therapist who encourages and aides his clients in the act of remaining within the closet.

sel209's picture

A Call for Papers- Gender, Sexuality, and Poverty

In case anyone's interested (the Women's Center at Haverford just received the email, and I thought someone might be interested in submitting a last minute paper...)


DEADLINE: Thursday, December 1

Call for Papers: "Gender, Sexuality, and Poverty"


2012 Women's Studies Conference

sponsored by the Central Pennsylvania Consortium

Saturday, March 31, 2012

8:30 am – 4:00 pm

Gettysburg College, Gettysburg PA

Kaye's picture

Global Gender Gap Report

...although the link on our home page to this document by the World Economic Forum did not work for me, you can access this report on our password protected site.  Click on the "HausmanTysonZahidi" link.'s picture

UNWomen - thoughts and questions...

So, some of these questions are answerable (and some aren't) -- I will seek the answers to the answerable ones, but given that this post is late + I have a lot of things to do before Thanksgiving, I'm just going to pose them for now and work on answering them more soon (and also working on continuing to read the report, I haven't finished)... If you guys have thoughts/info on this, please comment! I bet there are a lot of people who know more about these issues than I do (poli sci majors perhaps...?).

1. WHY did it take until 2011 for the United Nations to create an agency to promote women's empowerment and gender equality internationally (UNWomen)? It seems ridiculous that this is the first report of a nascent agency - women's issues didn't just start needing addressing this past year.

AmyMay's picture

Well this stinks...

Paul Farmer is speaking at the free library on Tuesday December 6th at 7:30 pm.  The link is here, but since we'll all be in class.... :(

Gavi's picture

Haverford's Honor Code and the Justices of Rights and Right Relationships

As I read Humbach’s piece on the difference between the justice of rights and the justice of right relationships, I kept thinking about how the author would react to Haverford’s Honor Code. According to Humbach, the justice of rights prioritizes the abstract and cannot truly inform the “intricacy of interactions among persons.” On the other hand, the justice of right relationships comprises a worldview more than anything, a means by which an individual, without compromising her individuality, seeks to “be attentive and responsive to the needs and emotions of one another” in a way that supersedes any written rules. 

I do think that Haverford’s Honor Code actually works more toward the justice of right relationships than the justice of rights. The Code is, according to its website, “not a set of rules, but rather an articulation of ideals and expectations emphasizing genuine connection and engagement with one another, and the creation of an atmosphere of trust, concern, and respect.” These attributes are, then, all more reflective of the justice of right relationships than the justice of rights. Trust, concern, and respect are not rules so much as ethical guidelines, upon which any relationship is necessarily grounded; they are also guidelines loose enough so as not to be particular to only certain situations.

chelseam's picture

I think I caught Barad Fever...

I had my Barad "Aha!" moment in the beginning of class last week. It happened during our first Judith Butler litany and it took me by surprise. I have to admit, I was skeptical of Barad - I couldn't fathom what it might mean to experience the world like electrons do, and perhaps I don't understand the concept in the way Barad means it, but I've been feeling more electron-like by the minute...

Judith Butler's piece, "Violence, Mourning, and Politics" made me consider the ways in which each of us is both a particle and a wave (and that we are both at once, but the questions we ask - the way we look/measure - can change which "form" we focus on). Butler writes that, “one mourns when one accepts that by the loss one undergoes one will be changed” (21). This definition of mourning struck me as very “wave-like.” We bounce off each other, diffract through one another, imprint ourselves on each other in such a way that when we lose someone, the patterns will change. We are wave-like in that there is something of our presence that is not necessarily visible or finite - we change the world we live in and the people we live with. But there is also a way in which we are discrete – we have a physical presence, we are in a certain way tangible, borders can be drawn around us. I think most of the time, though, when we think about each other or ourselves we consider the wave and particle together – like electrons we are both at once.

Shlomo's picture

Thoughts on Last Class

I've been doing a lot of thinking about Tuesday's class, and I spent a couple hours last night discussing various issues around rape and sexual assault with a friend (not in the class).  Some of the questions we talked about (along with some of the questions I was left with) are listed below:

How can we talk about rape theory in class when, statistically, rape is so much more than a theory for 25% of college women?

Is the "theorization" of rape okay?  Or does it do violence to rape and sexual assault survivors?

When even GenSex professors and students (myself included) make elementary mistakes when introducing and discussing rape and sexual assault ideas, where is the hope?

Is it fair for Haverford to ask rape and sexual assault survivors to out themselves to their deans in order to receive adequate support in classes (i.e. extensions and/or exemptions from certain assignments)?

Should I have to change who I am to avoid rape and sexual assault?

How can I tell Haverford or my dean that they are NOT doing a good job at helping students who are dealing with rape and sexual assault?

charlie's picture

Responding to Tuesday, albeit a bit late

I have been thinking a lot about Tuesday's class. I think the class had a lot of positives and a few negatives. For starters, I think that it is really important to talk about rape and sexual assault. It is important to read texts like Ensler's litany. It is important to have tense, emotionally packed discussions. In doing so, it helps to bring aware to a subject that I feel is often glossed over as something horrible and awful and so we should acknowledge its existance but keep our distance. It also helps to de-stigmatize the survivors. With knowledge comes understanding and a tool box. Of course, I am not naive enough to believe that we can outright prevent rape by talking about it, but we can fix our reactions to it. We can learn to use the right terminology (i.e survivor, not victim), we can learn about resources that exist currently, and we can learn about what we can do for ourselves and for others that we know.

sel209's picture

From Me to We

I was all set to react to the second Butler lecture given on 11/14, but somehow her talk became entangled with ideas we’ve been playing around with in class and these two thoughts are the result of that entanglement...

Anne Dalke's picture

richer sex education

Many of you, who wrote in your last set of web events about biological and sexual education, might be interested in this 11/16/11 NYTimes piece about teaching good sex @ a local Quaker high school.

Anne Dalke's picture

the gender of the survivor

From Secret Dread @ Penn State (NYTimes, 11/19/11):
"In a culture that increasingly accepts gay life, organized athletics, from middle school to the professional leagues, is the last redoubt of unapologetic anti-gay sentiment .... What lurks behind so many male athletes’ vociferous antipathy to homosexuality seems to be deep anxiety about masculinity, the very quality that aggressive team sports showcase .... Maybe it’s time for a new kind of sports hero....?"

leamirella's picture

Preaching to an entangled audience?

As I was thinking about activism in the context of some of the readings from last class, I thought about this idea of constantly bring "awareness" to an issue. If we look at our social landscape, we notice that there are so many issues that are being brought up and the sheer amount of them makes it difficult to fully engage with any because there is just so much information. Given that we are all entangled, shouldn't we be able to unify and thus, make what we are campaigning for a little bit more integrated?

A lot of the time, many campaigns and movements, in my own personal experience, have fallen on deaf ears because there are just so many issues. This is frustrating from the viewpoint of both the people attempting to spread the word as well the audience. Where do we focus? Who do we listen to?

Also, in terms of a global movement towards social justice, I would like to see something that really integrates both the sender of information regarding a more specific cause with the 'listener'. I personally feel that there is a hierarchy within social justice movements between these two categories. Given our entanglements with each other, I think that this would be better if equalised and thus, be more integrated.




Anne Dalke's picture

Eli Clare's frog tatoo!

Kristin Lindgren is the disabilities studies scholar @ Haverford to whom, you may remember, you owe our discussion of disability and gender. A student of hers, Veronica Jimenez-Lu, said she'd be delighted to have posted on Serendip what she discovered, in doing work for Kristin's class, about the frog tattoo in Riva Lehrer's portrait of Eli Clare (which you may also remember, but just in case not....):