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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.

S. Yaeger's picture

Link to the ISNA's theory on how to treat an intersex cild

This morning, I found the website for the Intersex Society of North America, which includes a chart outlining their recommended approach vs the traditionally use concealment approach.  I included the link below.  Most of the site seems to recomend  allowing the intersex person to decide if tey want surgery, but one thing that struck me is that the INSA points out that they believe that:

"Physicians, researchers, and gender theorists should stop using people with intersex conditions in                                                                                            'nature/nurture' experiments or debates."

I'm particularly thrown by the assertion that gender theorists should not use intersex peopled in debate.

S. Yaeger's picture

Some Thoughts And Random Questions On Intersex Babies and Assignment Surgery

Our discussion of sex assignment surgery for intersex babies (and our roleplaying excercise) highlighted for me just how intricate an issue it is.  Often, when we discuss issues of sex and gender in class, I think it's easy for us to come to a consensus regarding the best way to deal with a variety of issues because we have the privilege of being in a safe space, with like minded individuals, but a parent of an intersexed child doesn't always have the ability to make a decision based solely on their own ethical judgement.  To that end, I have been wondering what would happen if parents of intersex children began to increasingly elect to not have a sex assigned to their children.  I think that this decision would be one that most suits my ideals, but then we face the question of education for the child and, perhaps more importantly, for the child's community.  Though I think that talking frankly and openly with the child would be a wonderful start, one might also have to consider how to address the child's difference with their teachers, their friends, and the adults who make up their community.  I'd like to think that just being in the pressence of a child who is typical in many ways, yet has atypical genitalia would be fine for most mature adults, I'm not sure.  I'm more likely to think that, while many adults would be open and understanding, some would not be, and that would be enough to make the road forward more difficult for the child.

Anne Dalke's picture

"The Pseudo-Science of Single-Sex Education"

Given the guided introduction to scientific literacy Kaye provided us on Tuesday evening , hopefully not only the Mawtyrs in the room and on the screen will be interested in giving a close-reading to the recent Science magazine article on The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Education. Particularly interesting in this regard is Jane McAuliffe's response to the report: that women's colleges "buck the trend" of women avoiding science.....

lgleysteen's picture

Assumptions about Gender and Intersexuality in a Global Context

During this week's class when we broke into small groups and discussed some of the ethics behind modifying the bodies of young children.  Our group came to the conclusion that the most ethical thing to do would be to allow the child to wait until they were 18 to get a surgery if that was what they wanted. I thought that it would be interesting if we explored this idea outside of a western context.  For Instance, would we have the same answers to these questions if we were talking about an intersex kid in a place like Bangladesh?  In other countries, what would be the priority of the parent in making the decision about surgery for their child, the gender identity of the child or the ability to be physically percieved as normal, especially in a place where the gender binary is concrete?  In the United States there is stigma attached to intersexuality but it is far less severe than other parts of the world.  

Again, thinking about our readings outside of a Western context, in examining whether or not women choose low risk jobs, could you even begin to make a similar study in another country?  I don't think it is fair to make these assumptions about testosterone and career choice without looking at statistics in a global context.  There is no way to fully measure how much culture influences these assumptions about testosterone and career choice, but it is obvious that women avoid high risk jobs in other parts of the world because of more than testosterone. 


AmyMay's picture

Sapienza et al (2009): Critiques and Sociocultural Implications

I had a lot of issues with the study we read on gender differences in testosterone and financial risk aversion.  One of the bigger issues I saw was the sample population they used.  Though they defend their choice of participants ideal for this study, since they were already familiar with financial risk, were fairly demographically homogenous, and provide some measure of risk among professional financial decision makers.  However, this group may also be overly homogenous in testosterone levels, offering only a sliver of possible data.  They report that other studies have found correlations between testosterone and career choice, and concede that greater testosterone among the subjects may reflect the greater risk-taking in that industry.  The selectivity of this sample is incredibly problematic to the generalization of their data.  Such selective sampling cannot generalize to the general population.  This is also true of the negative correlations they found.  Though there may be a negative correlation in the part of the population distribution represented by the sample, the relationship between variables may not be the same elsewhere in the distribution. For example, for the figure below, if you sample between a population with X values between 70 and 80, the X-Y relationship will appear to have a negative, linear correlation.  However, if the whole population distribution of X is represented in the sample, it becomes clear that this is not the case.'s picture

This American Life on Testosterone

The button for inserting links deems to not be working at the moment (I can see it but I can't click on it...). I think I'm serendip-challenged. But anyway -- all these readings about testosterone reminded me of an episode of This American Life that deals with this topic.

Act 1 is about a guy who stops producing testosterone and explains how his life changed, Act 2 is about a transgender individual who is taking testosterone, Act 3 involves the staff of TAL all getting their personal testosterone levels checked and discussing what those numbers mean to them, and the final act is from a mother, talking about her son (reminded me of Kaye's assertion that raising 3 sons gives her some insights into this stuff!).

Anne Dalke's picture

The People's Microphone

I was lucky enough to be invited by my daughter, who's been involved for the past week in  "Occupy Philadelphia," to attend a Meeting for Worship @ the base camp, hosted by Philadelphia Central Monthly Meeting this past Sunday morning. I have been a Quaker for 25 years, and most of my worshipping has been done in musty-smelling meetinghouses. This service was remarkable, in my experience, for being 1) in the open air 2) in the center of Philadelphia, with tourists and visitors mulling around --sometimes walking among-- the worshippers.  A worship space w/ no walls! It was also remarkable because we began in the dark and, an hour later, @ noon, were all sitting in the light.

It was perhaps most remarkable, though, because @ the rise of Meeting we used the "people's microphone," an innovation that arose when the first group to "Occupy Wall Street" was unable to get permission to use a sound system. It works like this: one person speaks--a brief, concentrated phrase (one of the nice benefits here is the distillation that happens), something like "I am Anne Dalke"--and it is repeated by 70 voices strong, all shouting, "I am Anne Dalke." Then I say, "I have been a Quaker for 25 years," and they all shout, "I have been a Quaker for 25 years."

Anne Dalke's picture

Mid-Semester Course Evaluations

Reflect here on what's working, and what needs working on, both for you as an individual learner and for the class as a learning community. What might you do differently, and what can we do, to to improve y/our learning?

someshine's picture

What Everyone Is Too Polite to Say About Steve Jobs

The excerpt below is taken from an interesting article from the Gawker by Ryan Tate in the Censorship and Authoritarianism section:

"The internet allowed people around the world to express themselves more freely and more easily. With the App Store, Apple reversed that progress. The iPhone and iPad constitute the most popular platform for handheld computerizing in America, key venues for media and software. But to put anything on the devices, you need Apple's permission. And the company wields its power aggressively.

lwacker's picture

Spock is Gay.

Over break I stumbled upon this article while catching up on some light reading on a the website autostraddle. It is a website that primarily caters to lesbian and queer female audiences with material written by a similarly aligned writing staff. However, that does not mean that autostraddle doesn't often cover the full spectrum of lgbtq media, entertainment and social issue related events going on in the world. Their scope and attention can and does encompass more than lesbian exclusive interest pieces. This is how I came upon the piece about the "coming out" of actor Zachary Quinto. Much of what I saw in the autostraddle piece on Quinto pointed towards our class discussions on utopianisms and dystopias. Quinto wrote about an, "enormous shift of collective consciousness throughout the world.  we are at the precipice of great transformation within our culture and government." And yet he writes that his widespread, public coming out moment was precipitated by the recent suicide of gay teen Jamey Rodemeyer. It is hard for me to imagine coming anywhere near the utopian vision of Qunito when we are being bombarded with internalized hate crimes.

Kammy's picture

The link between Intersexuality, Transgenderism, and Surrogacy

I've found this week's readings to be both interesting and salient, especially in comparison to Elly Teman's Birthing a Mother (which I have been reading for another class). Teman's book is an ethnographic exploration of surrogacy in Israel. It examines the process of surrogacy as perceived by both the surrogate and the intended mother, and it addresses the construction of motherhood within the particular context of Judaism and nationalism of Israel.


aybala50's picture


I found this on one of my friends facebook page. I thought it was pretty interesting, but it's also interesting to me that it seems so gender-biased. The group of people standing there are wearing all the same clothes and they are all wearing suits. So is this directed only for men? Or only for people who enjoy wearing suits? 

phenoms's picture

Chests versus Breasts

Andrej Pejic is a young male model whose career is centered around his androgynous look, successfully modeling both male and female clothing lines. Sometimes in the same show. Last winter he was featured on the cover of New York based Dossier Journal (picture above) hair curled and shirt in the process of being removed. Barnes and Noble and Borders bookstores "bagged" the magazine - a practice usually reserved for explicitly pornographic magazines.

In our culture male chests are not viewed as pornographic. We see them all the time as a ubiquitous feature on many men's health magazine covers. Even if we hold off on the greater question of why male torsos are appropriate and female torsos obscene, why would America's two largest booksellers (at the time) force a pornographic blinder on what they knew and accepted to be a male figure? 

lgleysteen's picture

Thoughts on "The He Hormone"

I also found “The He Hormone” a frustrating yet intriguing article.  I was surprised by how much the author attributed gender differences to biology instead of culture.  I thought one of the most shocking parts of the article was when Sullivan suggested what would happen to society if parents injected their sons with female hormones while in the womb, eradicating all differences in testosterone.  Sullivan takes a quote from Matt Ridley that states, ''War, rape, boxing, car racing, pornography and hamburgers and beer would soon be distant memories.

essietee's picture

I Don't Have To Be Hateful, I Can Just Say 'Bless Your Heart'

Miranda Lambert - "Only Prettier"

There are a few things that I always do when I go home for academic breaks: I spend time with my family, I catch up on sleep, and I swim laps at the local YMCA. Before coming to Bryn Mawr, I was a competitive swimmer for twelve years and swam in both club and Y leagues. When I was in high school, I brought a lot of my academic and pesonal stress to the pool, and my coach and I had to make an agreement: my nightly two-hour practices would be a time when I couldn't think about anything other than the set. The pool was my sanctuary, and I still view it as such.

Last week, I met my dad at the pool one afternoon to swim for a little while. After saying hello to my old coach, I hopped in and did a warmup. While stretching before completing my main set, another swimmer a few lanes over randomly called out to me. Now, when I swim, I'm in my own world and don't appreciate being interrupted; though a little bothered, I answered the gentleman's question about whether I was the new coach (I am not), whether I swam there on the swim team (I did), and where I went to school (Bryn Mawr). When I said the name of my school, I was greeted by a strange yet familiar expression: he had never heard of it. "It's a women's college outside of Philadelphia, one of the original Seven Sisters," I went on to explain, thinking that would be it.

"Oh, so you must be a man-hater," he responded. "You're anti-man, right?"

Shlomo's picture

Thoughts on Roughgarden

I'm starting this post from a very strange place.  I have been thinking a lot this break about why Roughgarden's writing bothers me so much, and I would like to share these thoughts with you.  But at the same time, I feel like I am the class whiner, that one kid who always hates everything.  I don't hate everything.  I love readings about gender and sexuality.    And I don't like complaining.  But I am struggling so much with Roughgarden that I'm going to do it anyway.

My misgivings with Roughgarden began early, when she stated in the first chapter that living things are impossible to categorize.  As far as I know, biologists are almost always able to classify living things into one of several groups: Animal, Plant, Fungi, etc.  Second, she states that the science world is torn between a diversity-affirming and a diversity-repressing explanation for sexual reproduction.  The Biology Department at Haverford has never said any such thing.  Instead, the truth (as I have been taught it) lies in the middle.  Sexual selection and the recombinations and mutations it produces both lead to diversity and keep things the same.  So I was very distrustful toward Roughgarden from the start.

rachelr's picture

Environmental Influence

I greatly enjoyed the readings for this week; I felt that they all built up on each other and I found myself reading all of the articles with interest, learning something new. What most interested me was the stress put on the environment as a factor in testosterone levels and linked to that, behavior. Not only does our culture stress testosterone as a metaphor for manhood but it is high susceptible to the environment, creating complex correlations and facilitating risk (The He Hormone). Both physical and mental performance depend on testosterone levels in both men and women. I was actually incredibly offended in The He Hormone when, right after we hear about Toys “R” Us trying to make different sections for boys and girls in their stores and Fox Family and their “boyz” and “girlz” channels that Matt Ridley starts drawing lines between male and female behavior and ending with, “…a feminine paradise would have arrived.” By saying that, he draws gender binaries just as strong as those drawn by Toys “R” Us and Fox Family. I was very disappointed that his statement was even included.

chelseam's picture

Thoughts about "The He Hormone"

Like venn diagram, my interest was immediately captured by Andrew Sullivan’s “The He Hormone.” I appreciated the information on hormonal differences between males and females, but was frustrated at times by the ways Sullivan used these biological differences to explain differences in the social roles men and women take on. I understand that testosterone levels have an impact on many elements of our personality and behavior, such as an individual’s self-confidence and energy levels. However, using differences in testosterone levels to explain the fact that more men are in politics or powerful business positions than women do, negates the fact that important social factors are also at play.


leamirella's picture

Disability and Sexuality


I came across this article which I gives another lived experience of what it is like to be wheelchair-bound. The picture of the lady holding a sign that says "disabled women are not sexless! We want sex and relationships - not rape." is particularly powerful and I think drives home the idea of people with disabilities being sexless.

Amophrast's picture

Thoughts on "Between-"/"Within-" Gender Relationships

It's funny because if you start using the phrases "between-gender" and "within-gender", then same-sex couplings seem to be the dafault. Between-gender could be just about any combination, unless you categorize trans*/genderqueer/intersex as a single category (alternative? non-binary?). But that's still an unclear definition.

If I say I'm in a between-gender relationship, the only thing you know (if you even know this) is that I am a woman who is NOT in a relationship with another woman. I could be in a rleationship with a man, with someone who identifies as trans*, intersex, genderqueer. I am also assuming that between-gender/within-gender means between-sex/within-sex which may be an unfair observation, especially since gender and sex are not the same thing.

In what other circumstances is the default changed from heterosexual to queer? I feel like that's a part of Bryn Mawr's atmosphere--queer seems like the default because the queer community is generally very outspoken and visible.