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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.

Anne Dalke's picture

"grandeur in this view of life...."

Also Bruce Wightman, "A Better Rational for Science Literacy" (same issue as below):
all students ... should become scientifically literate. And if they become better, more employable citizens in a more competitively viable America, all the better. But first and foremost, they should become scientifically literate because, to borrow Darwin's phrase, "there is grandeur in this view of life" .... the sciences force us to confront the smallness and irrelevance of human beings; they serve as an antidote to self-obsession. Physics teaches us that time and matter are not absolutes; biology, that astonishing complexity can arise from a long, natural, stepwise process. The scope and existential implications of these ideas are immense.

Anne Dalke's picture

"Gauging Gender"

In light of our recent conversations about "brain organization," I highly recommend a piece by Stephen Asma, "Gauging Gender," just published in today's Chronicle Review, which reports

* that humanities scholars are "slowly getting over biophobia"

* that biology has become dialectical: While humanists weren't looking, biology (genetics, embryology, evolution, neuroscience, etc.) left behind many of its deterministic pretensions and embraced the indeterministic developmental logic of epigenetics—the complex interface of nurture and nature. Biology now recognizes the immense domain of external triggers and influences (from intrauterine environment to social structures) that shape phenotypic expression of genetic possibilities.

* and recommends that we all read Evelyn Fox Keller's 2010 book, The Mirage of a Space Between Nature and Nurture, "which emphasizes the plastic relationship between genes and environment, and tries to counteract our tendency to privilege one cause over another by emphasizing 'developmental pathways' .... Which traits are malleable, and to what degree? The answers will come from a prudent marriage of biocultural analysis, because developmental pathways don't recognize academic divisions."

jmorgant's picture

"Blue-Vested Vultures:" A Summer as a PPSP Clinic Escort

I was a patient escort for Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania (Westchester) the summer after my freshman year of college, and therefore related on a very personal level to one of the videos we watched for class this week. I'm from Massachusetts, where buffer zones are the law, so protestors cannot be within 35 feet of a family planning clinic. The situation at PPSP therefore shocked me. In the attached image, there is a white line in the lower-left hand corner. This was the line that protestors could not cross. It was literally a foot from the back of where the cars would pull in. As a result, when we walked in patients (most of whom were visiting Planned Parenthood for birth control, STD testing, or other preventive services), we would end up standing several feet from protestors screaming at us and the patients. Planned Parenthood has a non-engagement policy, so we were not to look at the protestors in the eye, nor respond to them, nor provoke them in any ways. I witnessed first-hand the racist tactics the protestors used to try to reach out to the patients: if someone looked remotely Hispanic, they would shout in broken Spanish ("el aborto mata!") African-Americans who entered the clinic were told that Planned Parenthood was conducting a Holocaust against black babies, specifically targeting black mothers.

jmorgant's picture

A response to “Miss Representation 8 min. trailer:” Changing gender stereotypes by increasing visibility of female athletes

The trailer for Miss Representation by filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom describes the power of the media, acknowledging that people learn more from it than any other single source of information. The media is the primary force that shapes our society: “politics, national discourse, and children’s brains, lives, and emotions” (Jim Steyer, CEO, Common Sense Media). Upwards of one billion people use the Internet every day (Marissa Mayer, Vice President, Consumer Products, Google); images are widely available and accessible without restrictions.


The messages disseminated by the mainstream media are pervasive, and more often than not emphasize and perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes. According to Miss Representation, women hold only 3% of clout positions in telecommunications, entertainment, publishing and advertising and comprise just 16% of all writers, directors, producers, cinematographers and editors. Because women are generally not the ones deciding how they are represented in the media, they are often shown as sex objects, valued by their looks rather than their achievements. As a result, “girls are taught that their value is based on how they look, and boys are taught that that’s what’s important about women” (Jean Kilbourne, EdD, Filmmaker, Killing Us Softly).


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someshine's picture

You need to learn a lesson, Alison. Love, A

Alison DiLaurentis
Alison DiLaurentis

(ABC Family)

venn diagram's picture

Publications from Pregnancy Education Reform

I have invented an organization, Pregnancy Education Reform, and have included two potential publications from the organization. The first is a collection of pdf images of the pages of a pamphlet entitled, “Intersex: An Introductory Guide for Moms-to-be”. And the second is an open letter to primary care providers explaining how to most effectively use the pamphlet and general advice for making prenatal and postnatal care more sensitive to intersex children and their families. Although the organization intends to empower women and their choices, it does take a position against non-medically necessary genitalia normalizing surgeries in its literature.

charlie's picture

Dear Middleschoolers, Love, Charlie

Dear boys, girls, and those of you who just aren’t quite sure yet (because that is totally cool too),

            For many of you, this is a confusing time. Things are growing in places where you aren’t sure if they are supposed to be growing, new places might develop novel smells, and you might start to feel differently. If any of these things apply to you, or if none of these things apply to you, you are still normal. Every body goes through different changes at different speeds and in completely different orders. So if your best friend is growing armpit hair, but you haven’t reached that point yet, don’t worry – we all catch up in the end! I am writing to you, middle-schoolers, because this time can be a bit scary; there are a lot of changes that you can expect in the next couple of years, and a lot of information out there, both true and false, so a quick guide to the next few years seems like a pretty good resource for you right about now. Read on to learn about what makes boys and girls different biologically, some of the changes that you can expect to your body during puberty, how babies are made, and a quick peek at the different categorizations of gender!

Let’s start from the very beginning. How did we get here and what exactly makes girls different from boys?

leamirella's picture

Public Sex Education in the Philippines

Proposing  a Lesson Plan For Sex Education in the Philippines

  1. Background Information:

This project looks towards creating a lesson plan for teachers of public high schools in the Philippines. The country, a bedrock of Catholicism, has previously prevented measures to implement sex education in the country because of religious concerns. (1) The main argument behind this resistance to sex education is the idea that this type of education will lead to pre-marital sex – an act that is frowned upon within the context of the church. Thus, the sex education lesson plan that I will propose will emphasize creating a middle ground between informing the students about the subject but will also take into consideration their religious backgrounds and values. I will aim my lesson plans towards 3rd year high school students who will, presumably, have only ever looked at the reproductive system in terms of biology.

leamirella's picture

A Call For More A More International Perspective On Sex And Gender

Yes, I do realize that Kaye had mentioned in class that we were going to look at sex and gender in different regions but as I read this column (published in The Standard Hong Kong), I realized just how important it is for us, as students of gender and sexuality studies, to really look further into the intersections between race and gender.

When we make assumptions about genders in general, we tend to forget that not all societies comply with what our notions of what 'feminine' or 'masculine' are. In this article, Nury Vittachi, attempts to create a more complex way of classifying men. While I don't really agree with some of the things that he is saying (the column is supposed to be tongue in cheek afterall), I sort of see the point about the limitations of western concepts of masculinity and femininity. Thus, I think it is important to look more at gender constructs in different societies rather than to apply our "own" (or the American points of reference) to other societies. 

charlie's picture


I have been thinking a lot about misrepresentation this week. In a world where "copying" and "pasting" is so easy, where splicing and clipping and reposting is second nature, how easy is it to misrepresent someone's point? I met with Anne in the beginning of last and we talked about my essay. She mentioned that she wished that I had used more quotes from Eli Clare in my writing about freakdom, to which I replied that I felt that using his words in my paper felt like a misrepresentation. But would I have been? In taking Clare's words and turning them around to use them to argue against him, would I have actually have been misrepresenting him? As I have thought more and more about this, I have decided that while I did not have malicious intent, in using his words, which were intended for a specific purpose to prove the opposite, I would be misrepresenting him. Any time that you take someone's words and turn them around to mean something which they had not meant to mean, that is a misrepresentation. Not only is this not what they intended to say, but it can often have a very negative effect. 

chelseam's picture

The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling Reflections

I was glad to see that Anne had posted the Pseudoscience of Same-Sex Schooling study published in Science magazine. ( Though I am not a Bryn Mawr student, I did go to an all girl's middle school, and while reading "The He Hormone" I found myself reflecting on the experience. I think that there is a value in same-sex education that Pseudoscience overlooks. The study begins its argument by pointing out that the test scores of girls in a SS environment were much less impressive when one took into account their elevated performance prior to entering the school. While this may seem like a mildly interesting statistic, I felt that it missed the point of Same Sex education. I think that a lot of what SS institutions strive to address is less tangible (and perhaps less statistically testable) than test scores. Though I do remember middle school as feeling academically challenging, I think the real value of the experience came from being in an academic environment during those awkward and tumultuous middle-school years that allowed me to behave as a student without being concerned with the gender dynamics at play. I think McAuliffe alludes to this when she quotes the Bryn Mawr grad who said that "I could concentrate on learning instead of being the representative of a gender. Gender became irrelevant instead of being something that defined me." I have no way of knowing how I would be different as a student or a person had I not gone to an all girls middle school.

Kim K's picture

born this way?

Rebecca Jordan-Young's article (and some posts on here) discuss David Reimer's case in relation to "proving" that gender is inborn in people, and cannot be nurtured or influenced by society. For me, this has been an interesting topic to debate, since I read the book (As Nature Made Him) a few years ago for my gender studies class in community college. Many of my fellow classmates and even my teacher confessed that before reading about Reimer's case, they considered gender to be more influenced by nurture than nature. I am reminded of my two nieces, who are two and five years old - they are obsessed with all things (forgive me for using this word) - girly. And no one in the family has outwardly encouraged this female-centric behavior. It's an interesting perspective to see such young children who are so aware of their femininity. Of course, both my nieces "fit" into their genders. I am also reminded of an article I read (in People magazine I think) about a little boy who was diagnosed with gender dismorphic disorder. He wears dresses, and goes by a girl's name, instead of his birth-given boy name. His parents are raising him/her as a girl, and trying to help him/her deal with his/her gender as best they can. Both these examples are a strong argument towards the nature aspect that, when it comes to gender, maybe we are (as Lady Gaga would say) just born this way. 

sel209's picture

The Myth of Gendered Destiny

I work at the Women’s Center on Haverford’s campus, and we deal with a host of issues relating to sexuality. While I was at work this week, a male friend of mine came into the center, and somehow our conversation turned to the subject of how the issue of sexual assault is presented to freshmen during Customs week. While I admitted that I didn’t really remember the specifics of the talk that was given during my own freshman orientation, he told me he had been shocked by the emphasis he felt the campus put on the idea that when the issue of consent is in question, men are always to blame, and that and it is entirely the male partner’s responsibility to halt the encounter, particularly if alcohol is involved. He stressed to me how scared and helpless he felt at the implication that simply by being male and pursuing a sexual encounter he could unintentionally assault someone.

Shlomo's picture

Mein Musics

As some of you may know (and some of you may not), I just posted a rather negative course evaluation.  I was nervous about posting it.  I talked to another classmate who felt it was "ballsy" that we had been asked to submit non-anonymous mid-semester evaluations.  We talked about how we still are getting graded, how we still are regularly interacting with professors and classmates, and how it feels a bit risky to post negative feedback.  So, anyway, my heart was racing a little bit while I was writing my evaluation, and posting it was rather scary.

But a song came on my iPod that really encouraged me, and helped me keep going.  Weirdly enough, it was the song "Roman's Revenge" by Nicki Minaj, which is an offensive song for a number of reasons.   I'm even a little ashamed that it is on my iPod in the first place.  You can read the lyrics here ( or listen to the song here (

Usually when I listen to this song, it makes me uncomfortable.  But for some reason, listening to it tonight made me feel stronger.  How could this song, which is so offensive, empower me?  Make me feel like a stronger woman?  Is it the strong beat?  Is it the angry tone?  The words?  I have no idea.  I just thought it was interesting that a song that is so offensive, particularly regarding gender and sexuality, could light a fire under me about a gender and sexuality course.

lwacker's picture

Thoughts on readings.

"Most striking is McFadden's admission that his primary theory relies on evidence that is largely circumstantial" (2008, 309). Bonnie Spanier and Jessica Horowitz

     This reminded me a lot of the discussion we had in class about the Biology textbook chapters and the validity of the text based on the author's status at a University and the fact that Kaye had picked the text. Although we seem to have full-diclosure here I am left feeling unamused that such serious research would be conducted from a loose evidentiary base.

"After acknowledging the possibility that there may, in fact, be no common underlying cause for all the different observations, McFadden reminds the reader that until the answer is found "science dictates that one tries to find the simplest possible explanation for as many facts as possible, and the prenatal-androgen-exposure explanation appears to do the job' (2008, 318). Bonnie Spanier and Jessica Horowitz

Again, this is extremely unsettling to me, as an individual I prefer the rational and logic. However, this sounds like more of a wild goose chase to me. Is it really prudent to conduct research simply searchng for the simplest possible explanation? As we have learned, when is it ever simle when it comes to something as complex, individualized and intimate as someone's sexuality and gender?

phenoms's picture

Class and gender

    I'm still thinking about last class' medical/legislative activity, where, assuming a different professional role we were all supposed to give our advice about genital reassignment surgery. I was the legislator, in charge of making policy decisions regarding whether or not this surgery should be covered by healthcare. Although I am deeply uncomfortable that parents can choose this surgery for their children, it worries me more that this policy represents a limitation at the convergence of gender and class. The consequences of government policies are amplified for individuals with less money. People would still be getting gender reassignment surgery, but only people with money.  The poor are tied to their bodies in a way the wealthy are not. This is a simplified dichotomy, but a true one regardless.
    We briefly mentioned how much our discussion on genital modification reminded us of the discourse surrounding abortion (waiting periods, prescribed education,  counseling etc). The similarities extend to the legislative venue as well. When Legislators want to stop abortions, knowing full well they can't outlaw them, their solution is regulation. To make them as hard to get, for as many women. Women with means don't generally have difficulty getting around these regulations They can pay for the childcare, they can afford to travel the sometimes hundreds of miles for their procedure. The women who lack the means however, may be stuck in their pregnant bodies.

essietee's picture

Folded and Unfolded and Unfolding

"Colorblind" - Counting Crows

One of the things I most enjoy about our class is the variance in perspective that comes from engaging with individuals who study in alternating areas. I, for example, am an English and Creative Writing student; other in our class may be studying Biology, History of Art, Psychology, or another area different than my own.  In Rebecca Jordan-Young’s selection Brain Storm, she describes the term network and how it is used to “describe groups of connected people, and in science studies especially to describe how personal and professional connections among scientists shape the scientific knowledge they produce” (Jordan-Young 8).  We may all be pursuing different areas of academia, but this class is our common link. By meeting each week to discuss Perspectives on Gender, we become a part of a network.

I was particularly intrigued by Jordan-Young’s perception of sex, gender, and sexuality as a three-ply yarn. They are all distinct strands and alone are functional; however, they may be wound together in the formation of a new entity that may be slightly “fuzzy around the edges.” This ties back into the idea of network, of individual people or thoughts that are connected through a commonality. But what do we call this newly formed three-strand yarn that is sex, gender, and sexuality? Do we even need to give it a name?

essietee's picture

Just Something Interesting...

While not related to our current Act, I thought that this video was interesting and encompassed some of our ideas of being "at home" within one's body. It's a good reminder not to make preconceived judgements on others, as things may not be as they seem (I also just found it really amazing to watch and wanted to share). There's also a behind the scenes video which features some thoughts by Rico Genest, the gentleman featured in the video campaign. Enjoy!

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rachelr's picture

I didn't get what I expected

Starting out reading the preface for “Brain Storm” I expected to find out what some common differences are between brain structuring is between people who identify as different genders. As we saw from our readings last week, some women have equal levels of testosterone as men or sometimes even higher levels, so if hormone levels currently present in the brain doesn’t account for gender differences, it makes sense to me that it would be some structural wiring in the brain. Instead I found myself reading about case after case, generalization after generalization, being torn apart. Good points were brought up in both “Brain Storm” (how we gather information, quasi experiments, professional and academic differences/similarities, socialization vs. biology, sex vs. gender) and the critique “Looking for Difference?” (group differences vs. individual differences, assuming universal behavior, heterosexism as the norm, decreased masculinity of gay men, the rigidity of some scientists, inability to reconsider a better explanation for results). However I found myself disappointed at the end of the readings because I just didn’t come away with what I expected to.


Something that particularly resounded with me was on page 271 of “Brain Storm” with the summary:

“The three key concepts are the inseparability of experience and heredity, the importance of random events, and the fact that development is a lifelong process. Outcomes in the cognitive domain, in particular, are always contingent, rather than ultimate.”


jmorgant's picture

"As Nature Made Him?" Are you sure?

Note: S. Yaeger, I wrote this post before I read yours, but I think it relates in many ways to your question about the assertion that intersex people should not be used in the nature/nurture debate.


Both assigned readings for this week (Spanier and Horowitz and Jordan Young) reference the case of David Reimer, who lost his penis in a botched circumcision as an infant, later received sex reassignment surgery. His parents raised him as a girl, giving him estrogen injections and forcing him to imitate stereotypically female behaviors despite his resistance and unhappiness. The book written about this period of his life, “As Nature Made Him,” was one that I was thinking about on Tuesday night during our conversations about sex, gender and sexuality. (I highly recommend this book for everyone in this class! A review of it by Natalie Angier for the NYTimes written in 2000 can be found here). Despite the way he was raised, by late adolescence David identified as a heterosexual male, eventually undergoing a double mastectomy and marrying a woman (he sadly committed suicide in 2004).