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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.

Amophrast's picture

Time: Responding to Barad's Derrida with T. S. Eliot

The quotes I will put here are meant to be put in conversation with themselves and each other. Uncredited quotes are pieces from a final paper on T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, which is a set of four poems: Burnt Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvages, and Little Gidding. I believe the Four Quartets respond directly to Barad's reading of time and the importance of the past in regards to not trying to return to the past.

Anne Dalke's picture

"There are no fish-killers without fish"

I was one very happy woman during Karen Barad's visit to campus this week. As I said in my introduction, I've been talking w/ her (in my head) and thinking with her (in classes and publications) for 5 years now, so it was just a delight to have the time to share supper with her and other colleagues interested in science and justice, to welcome her afterwards to a class full of philosophy and gender studies students, with whom she explored what it might mean to "ma(r)k time," and then to have a "processing-it-all" drive back into the city together afterwards.

To prevent myself from lecturing you all @ length, I'm noting here what were for me the sweetest--because potentially most generative--moments in her talk:
* "we are part of that nature we seek to understand"
* "there are no fish-killers without fish"  (or: the intra-action of an organism
and its environment is a phenomenon that cannot be separated out)
* the "self" I am is the result of specific intra-actions
*  identity is undone @ the heart of matter itself (=the queerness of the quantum)
* setting ourselves to linear time causes great pain
* how is all this related to gender studies?

Anne Dalke's picture

Notes in the Dark

As so wisely observes below, the "spectacle" that was Judy Butler's appearance here meant that all of those in the audience in Goodhart were "in the dark" = unable to take notes. Here's the residue of what I tried to write while being unable to see what I was recording. I was happiest during the Q&A, when the lights went up and Butler was responding so fully to each of the questions--really hearing them, I thought, and working hard to speak to what she was asked.

S. Yaeger's picture

Thoughts on Barad's Lecture

Since last night's lecture, my mind has been spinning with loosely connected threads of thoughts and a multitiude of questions.  Maybe the biggest question I have is: How does one even begin to react to a lecture that expansive and illuminating and confusing and engaging?  I really don't have an answer to that, so I'm just going to jump in here and possibly make a fool of myself.

One of the many things that kind of stood out to me as I read the assigned piece and then listened to the lecture was the poetry of Barad's language.  The rhythm of the way she broke words in half and the pace of the piece and the lecture were kind of breathtaking in a way, and they also made me feel as though I was rapidly excellerating through time, while just sitting still.  It was a strange way to be taking in physics, by way of feeling like I'd been invited into a poem.  later, as I chewed on all the things that had been discussed, and all the things that had been left out, I wondered what Anne and Professor Barad were getting at when they were trying to get us to relate the talk to gender.

lgleysteen's picture

Reflection on the Judith Butler Lecture

I found Judith Butler’s lecture on Monday night very intriguing.  I was a bit apprehensive before the lecture because I expected her to deliver her speech in the same way she writes, which at times can be quite dense, but I think Butler did a very excellent job making her speech much more accessible.   In her speech Butler said that gender is assigned from birth when a stranger checks off a box labeling one as male or female, and that person is expected to reproduce the norms of that specific gender.  I am curious to find out how Butler feels about all woman’s colleges.  All woman’s colleges categorizes and excludes people as well as empower people.  I wonder if Butler finds all-woman’s colleges to be a more positive or negative thing.

essietee's picture

Women Learn To Be Women, Men Learn To Be Men

"Letter to a John" - Ani DiFranco

In thinking about college activism in regard to Judith Butler’s lecture last night, I am struck by the thought of “appearing” on a college campus. While I would like to think that I’m having a typical college experience, the fact remains that I attend a women’s college and have little interaction with the male gender. Attending a domestic study away program last semester increased not only my academic knowledge but my social experiences as well, and I now call several of my male classmates from my time away from Bryn Mawr my closest friends.

Maintaining a friendship, as most of us know, takes a lot of work. So while most of my friends from my study-away experience do not go to Bryn Mawr or reside in the Philadelphia area, I regularly make efforts to remain in contact with them. Most recently I found myself braving a bizarre October snowstorm during a visit to Williams College in Williamstown, MA. While touring campus, I spotted a flier that would never, ever, not in a million years be seen on our campus. The flier reads as follows:

“Are you interested in men’s issues? Are you ‘man enough’ to talk about your feelings? Are you looking for different representations of masculinity? Then come meet, share your thoughts, and learn from other men who are interested in having conversations about the diverse experiences of male-identified people!”

venn diagram's picture

Productive Activism

I was very pleasantly surprised by Judith Butler’s lecture last night. Going into it I was very apprehensive, I knew that the lectures were supposed to reflect her more recent dedication to activism, a change I appreciate, but I was nervous that her style of writing (and by extension her style of speech) would alienate a large potential audience and limit the reach of her ideas. In general, I do not believe in a necessary separation between scholarly work and political ideology. I am in favor of scholars who ground their work in activism and/or the pragmatic rather than the simply theoretical. I was very encouraged that Butler was able to do this while maintaining a rigorous and sophisticated academic platform--while still being fairly comprehensible and accessible. The academic content of her lecture did not obscure her point but rather was critically important  as the thread that ties her diverse interests together. This emphasis separated it from other activist or political agendas that I have most often been exposed to.

Gavi's picture

Les Guerilleres, Performativity, and Diffraction

As I was listening to Judith Butler talk last night about the power of performativity, I was reminded of a passage from a feminist book I'm reading called Les Guerilleres, written in 1969 by Monique Wittig. The novel is made up of many interdependent paragraph-passages, which taken together envision a society where the patriarchy has been bloodily dismantled by a group of warrior women. The following is an early passage from the book:

By the lakeside there is an echo. As they stand there with an open book the chosen passages are re-uttered from the other side by a voice that becomes distant and repeats itself. Lucie Maure cries to the double echo the phrase of Phenarete, I say that that which is is. I say that that which is not also is. When she repeats the phrase several times the double, then triple voice endlessly superimposes that which is and that which is not. The shadows brooding over the lake shift and begin to shiver because of the vibrations of the voice. (Wittig 14)

The guerilleres must create a new society from the wreckage of their warfare. The only way to build a new order is through a new language, a language that builds meaning and form through its very iteration. So the language in Les Gureilleres is echoic, less focused on temporality than intertextuality (in the continued repetition of themes and images between the alinear passages, in the emphasis on folklore and books, etc.).

Katie Randall's picture

A different kind of lecture

The lecture last night was intense and, for me, different from other lectures I've attended at Bryn Mawr. Partly it was the sheer scale of it and the buildup beforehand: while I'm sure there were some audience members only there for a class, there was a collective excitement that you just don't usually feel in an academic setting. The only event I can think of that came close was the lecture by Angela Davis. So first, there was a difference in the audience.

Then there was the difference in the speaker. The biggest difference, and the one I talked about with some friends afterwards, was that Judith Butler was there as an academic and theorist but taking a strong political stance. How often have we seen that? I can tell you how often I've heard it: never. Not once. I've occasionally had a professor take up political issues in the classroom, but not often. And never in a way that tied them so thoroughly to theory. I'd never heard a lecture that was both very academic and intensely political-- they tend to be one or the other.  I'd never seen theory and practice so thoroughly entangled (to borrow Barad's term, which I may or may not thoroughly understand. But it seems right here).

Then there were the ideas themselves. Other people have complained about how hard it was to take notes with hardly any light, but I did it anyway because I knew that otherwise there was no way I'd be able to remember even half of what was brought up. I can even read most of what I wrote.

chelseam's picture

Reflections on Judith Butler

I thoroughly enjoyed Butler's talk tonight. It was also my first time in the Goodhart Auditorium, which is gorgeous! I think it will take me a little time to form some more complete thoughts, so for now here are some musings. I think my favorite moment of the evening was when Jane McAuliffe was mediating the questions and requested that speakers "identify themselves." While Butler emphasized that relaxing norms/categories/definitions is not the same as transcending them, it seemed somehow ironic to me that the moment the official lecture ended, we were confronted with the question of identity. During the lecture I also found myself reflecting on my own relationship with gender. Butler discussed the notion that our genders are "proclaimed" for us when we are born and suggested that perhaps this is not the best way to go. This made me wonder how individuals would gender themselves if it stopped being done for them. Clearly we all have a different way of 'being' in our gender - performing our gender per se. I personally feel that a large part of my identity is rooted in my gender - in woman/she/her, but its interesting to look back on the ways I have "performed" that woman-ness over the years -including the short haired, baggy clothes tomboy days of elementary school. While I've never really questioned my woman-ness, I agree with Butler's idea that there is a way in which we all wonder if we are "doing our gender" well enough.'s picture

Judith Butler (non)thoughts

As I sit and reflect on Judith Butler's opening lecture tonight, I find myself getting caught up in some tangential questions about the experience of seeing her speak. What does it mean to rally around a public intellectual with the fervor many in the audience(s) showed tonight? How did she convey authority through body language and actual language, and how did she try to connect with the audience on a less intellectual level occasionally (the Biblical joke in particular, coming early on, seemed to catch everyone off guard a bit). It has been/is/will be really interesting to see how people talk about and think about the person Judith Butler and the ideas of Judith Butler, and then transfer that into the experience of actually interacting with Judith Butler. I must admit that I ended up musing on these issues more than on the content of her lecture -- and while I was frustrated with myself for this partial inability to "rise to the occasion" and focus on the material, I think it has to do with the fact that I really have a hard time processing a lecture, especially one of that density, with no ability to take notes or even doodle while I listen.

charlie's picture

Finding Where I Stand on the Umbrella of Abortion

I was unable to be in class this week, but I would like to share my thoughts on the article that we read on the 2 to 1 abortions. I have always been, and still remain, a staunch advocate for a woman’s right to choose. It is her body, not that man’s, and she should have every single right to decide exactly what and when things happen to her body. No questions asked. I have spoken to congress on behalf of this right, and am more than happy to share my knowledge with others when the topic of abortion comes up in conversation. And yet, I found that I really struggled with this article. To be honest, I don’t know what made me more uncomfortable –the article or my discomfort with the article. I truly believe that as women, we have every right to choose, so why should this differ when a woman is choosing to have one baby or two or none? The answer, is I’m not sure. I should put in a warning here, this post will not have a definitive answer from me, but merely the beginnings of what I am sure will be a lifelong conversation with myself. Why does it bother me? I guess I feel as though either you should have a baby, or not have a baby. But to have half of the pregnancy, that is more difficult for me. I can understand the rational behind it, if you have enough money to have a child, that doesn’t mean that you necessarily have the means to have twins. If you have 2 children already, and you don’t think you have the time to devote yourself to 4 kids, you do to 3, I can understand it.

S. Yaeger's picture

An Interesting and Somewhat Offensive Series of Links

For some reason, the following link about gender scandals in the Olympics popped up in my facebook feed yesterday.  The link is over 2 years old, and I suspect that the poster put it up because they like getting reactions.  While I didn't react on FB, I did click through both this story and the ones which were connected to it., he-10-most-shocking-olympic-gender-scandals

In the above article, I thought it was interesting that the commentary offered by the author upholds the idea that sex organs and gender are the same thing.  However, I found the following article that was in one of the click through links more interesting in terms of offensiveness.

Aside from the fact that the article confuses intersex with being a hermaphrodite, I can't believe that the first example given is a fictional space villian, and that the rest of the article places a lot of focus on inanimate objects.  This raises some questions for me about the common public perseption of intersex, as well as what is considered "normal".  I'm wondering what my classmates think about pop articles like this one, in terms of people's awareness.  I know the article is only meant to entertain, but is it damaging?

Anne Dalke's picture

reconsidering that "hard line".....

Another example of drawing the line between "natural" and "artificial" that lgleysteen describes below?

Women's University to Reconsider Hard Line on Transgender Students. The Chronicle of Higher Education. October 28, 2011.

lgleysteen's picture

Where is the Line Drawn Between Natural and Artifical?


In class we discussed sex-selection and on some of the posters the idea of natural versus artificial was written down.  Many people consider IVF and sex-selection and unnatural process that tampers with the biological equilibrium.  IVF pregnancies are considered “artificial”.  I am curious when the line between natural and artificial was initially drawn.  Since everything that humans make, comes from nature in the first place, when does an object or an action pass over from natural to unnatural or artificial? How were these distinctions created and why do they have such an enormous impact on the ethical decisions our society makes? 

I believe that part of the reason this happens is because with new technologies and modern science, humans feel a dominance over nature.  Nature is something that people are a part of, but something that people feel they like they own.  The more detached from technology, the more natural and the more complex and creative the object, the more artificial it becomes. 

AmyMay's picture

Biological Discourse and Rape Culture at Haverford College


“The sperm is inevitably characterized in a narrative of virility, aggression, and mobility.  Eggs are… well, your basic egg is usually described as a combination of Sleeping Beauty and a sitting duck.  Plump, round, and receptive, it waits—passive and helpless—for the sperm to throw itself upon her moist, quivering membranes.  The sperm push furiously at [the] inert egg until one of them finally penetrates deep into the warm, defenseless tissue.”

-Richi Wilkins, Queer Theory Gender Theory


chelseam's picture

Gender and Sexuality in the High School Biology Classroom: Fostering Critical Thinking and Active Engagement

    Gender and Sexuality in the High School Biology Classroom:

Fostering Critical Thinking and Active Engagement


Summary: This project was undertaken with the hope of changing the ways we think about teaching and engaging with science. This paper will discuss ways to help students recognize that science is interdisciplinary and can both affect and be affected by the social and/or political context it exists in.  

By asking students to think about the way science is presented and conducted, and giving them the tools to think about science not as an isolated body of information, but as a dynamic and shifting discipline, we will not only be encouraging more engaged science scholarship, but will also help students begin to notice the ways science is used as evidence in different contexts and evaluate these uses.


The goals of this project are two-fold. I hope to suggest ways for biology teachers:

aybala50's picture

All "Women's" College

Both the conversation and the letter are fictitious. I do not know what the college's response would be to a student who sent in a letter of a similar manner. I can speculate based on informal conversations and in these conversatinons I was never given a definitive answer, which is what inspired this project.

Sex: biological distinctions between males and females
Gender: based on societal factors such as values, perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes

Casey- A high school senior in the process of deciding what colleges to apply to. She is a trans woman who has male biological sex organs.


Mom: Hey Casey, how is the application stuff going? Can I help?

Casey: Good and I think I'm ok

Mom: Just okay? When is everything due? Are you on top of it?

Casey: I still have a few weeks before the apps are due. Right now I'm trying to decide if I want to apply to Bryn Mawr College ED

Mom: ED is really serious. Are you sure? Tell me more about Bryn Mawr

Casey: I really think it's the right place for me Mom. Bryn Mawr is an amazing liberal arts school, it's not too far from home and it's an all women's college

Anne Dalke's picture

Medical vs. Social? Or, what happened to disability studies?

I had many afterthoughts, following our rich conversation last night about the contexts of choice and the privilege of choosing; thanks to all for participating!

One thought was, what happened to diability studies? The "easy" (?) distinction I heard made between abortions for "medical" and for "social" reasons seemed to me to elide the ways in which disability activists have challenged the separability of those categories. To learn a little more about how this conversation is playing out @ the other end of life, see the website for the disability rights organization Not Dead Yet, which leads w/ this statement: "though often described as compassionate, legalized medical killing is really about a deadly double standard for people with severe disabilities."

someshine's picture


As we transitioned into snacktime, Anne summed up Part II of our class session by posing the question: 

Does something trump choice?

I was reminded of this video, which may contextualize, problematize, and/or stigmatize (y)our understanding of the choice(s) you/we have as individuals and as part of a larger American culture/society... is it just me or am I making this statement highly inclusive? 

Anyway, what do y'all think about this?


See video