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Notes Towards Day 4 (Thursday, 9/12): Transcending Gender

Anne Dalke's picture

I. Coursekeeping
make a circle of 26, leaving 5 chairs near steps for later arrivals

On p. 128, KB has an exercise called "Are You Transgender, Part II":
"What is unique about the inconsistencies in you?
What combination of qualities makes your identity unlike anyone else's?
Where is it that you don't match up to that perfect gender?"

Get up, introduce yourself to 5 people who don't know you,
& learn the names of 5 people you don't know, each time,
telling one another about one (unique?) inconsistency of yours...

Let's see how far we can get around the circle...

4:15-6, Mon, 9/16: Philadelphia sculptor Susan Hagen speaking in the HC Humanities Center
about representing marginalized people, suffering and inequality [realistically...]:
Recollection Tableaux, a site specific, historically-inspired installation at Eastern State Penitentiary
The Lost Army, her response to the Iraq War
Teenager Project, about the lives of teenagers
Citizens (People of Philly), an on-going project about ordinary people, many without homes, who make up the fabric of urban life

Next week we'll be discussing
The Complete Persepolis,
a graphic narrative by Marjane Satrapi
(some of you may have seen the film? if so/if not,
you could watch the film instead of reading the book...);
we'll focus on Part I on Tuesday, Part II on Thursday;
on Sunday night you have a post due, either looking forward to that text,
or thinking back over this week's conversations.

With Persepolis, we turn to a different geographical location, and to a different genre,
relocating feminism in relation to nationalism and religion (not to mention race and class).
Persepolis will also give us a chance to get back to one of the good questions that
emerged in Tuesday's conversation: the values and dangers of identity-segregation
(in this case, gender-segregation in Iran). 

Let me offer you one other frame for reading:

* graphic narratives
are a "boom genre," & a fairly new category for academic study:
I want to think with you about the relation of Persepolis to this tradition:
in what way is Satrapi's use of the medium of comics important?
how would her story work differently as novel, or in essay form?
how process differently if you see images instead of words?
* Given the history of "the gaze"
--of women always being looked @--
and looking @ themselves being looked @;
given the particular role of veiling in Iran (shielding woman from such a gaze):
what is the role of a visual medium, in interrupting this historical dynamic??
* A counter-question: how might visuals--
especially simple, cartoonish ones--reinforce gender stereotypes?
(Those are the questions I'll bring; I know you'll bring some others!)

Let's try to make our on-line discussion more interactive this week:
by 5 p.m. on Sunday, everyone w/ usernames from a-k (up to kelly) should do a posting;
by midnight, everyone else (starting w/ Maggie) should respond to one of those.

I also wanted you to notice that Serendip has an option for private posting.
My preference is for an on-the-'net conversation, open to the world
(my ESem has already garnered its first from-the-world posting!),
but there may be things you want to say that you don't want to say in public--
and my primary priority is to get those ideas-and-feelings out there!

So rather than "create post" (in the left-hand sidebar), click on "create private post."
This will only be readable to those who are loggied on to our class forum (which
only our class can do...) It will appear in the forum to anyone who is logged on;
if you are not logged on, it won't show up...

Further reading: most texts ahead of us are literary ones--
we'll be talking about theory through story. If you want a good overview
of some of the key ideas in gender studies, you might want to read
AnnaMarie Jagose's Queer Theory; Riki Wilchins' Queer Theory, Gender Theory
(both recommended to me by alums); also
Rosemarie Tong also has a new edition out of her book, Feminist Thought

II. On Tuesday, we gave The New Gender Workbook a work-over:
many of us disliked the multiple-choice format--
some of us thought it a very clever way to demonstrate our resistance to being "boxed in,"
(by boxing us into an "unfair test," as Bornstein herself explains--and this was my read);
but others of us found it "hypocritical," in part because
we felt that Kate's questions weren't open/opening,
but rather very directive: there were implied "right" answers,
and a sense of shame/failure if we didn't deliver them--
even if we felt that we really weren't represented in any of the available options.

There was also a critique that Kate, for all her talk of kyriarchy,
of all the varied spheres of cultural regulation,
didn't demonstrate a real understanding of intersectionality,
of the ways in which each of us is/performs identity in multiple overlapping categories;
that she didn't acknowledge the value of claiming a gender identity--
or the validity of identity groups;
that her treatment of gender was compartmentalizing, and
her satire (esp. of religion) somewhat condescending.

These are all smart/good/defensible responses/resistances; and/but
I also tried to slow down the rapidly traveling train of critique a bit,
inviting you to engage in some "believing" before/along with your "doubting"
I mentioned Peter Elbow's work on The Believing Game--Methodological Believing, 2008--

but I got my deepest lesson in this sort of reading from bell hooks, the black feminist
whose book, Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, we'll be reading in November.
bell hooks has another book called Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom
that has meant a lot to me; she's really helped me figure out some ways of teaching
that don't reinforce existing systems of domination.

hooks' work has always been about access (she writes w/out footnotes--
nothing that the folks @ home can't read!); but it's also been about
pushing people into uncomfortable spaces, getting them to look @
things they might not want to see (essay on why students don't like her--
this work is not about being loved!).

She has a chapter in her teaching book that is a feminist
critique of the work of the great Brazilian educator Paulo Freire,
from which I want to read to you, @ length. After describing all that
Freire taught her—about critical thinking in relation to our political circumstances,
about the construction of identity in resistance—hooks writes,

“There has never been a moment when reading Freire that I have not remained aware of not only the sexism of the language but the way he (like other progressive Third World political leaders, intellectuals, critical thinkers…) constructs a phallocentric paradigm of liberation—wherein freedom and the experience of patriarchal manhood are always linked as though they are one and the same. For me this is always a source of anguish for it represents a blind spot in the vision of men who have profound insight. And yet, I never wish to see a critique of this blind spot overshadow …feminists’…capacity to learn from the insights….

I came to Freire thirsty, dying of thirst (in that way that the colonized, marginalized subject who is still unsure of how to break the hold of the status quo, who longs for change, is needy, is thirsty), and I found in his work…a way to quench that thirst. To have work that promotes one’s liberation is such a powerful gift that it does not matter so much if the gift is flawed. Think of the work as water that contains some dirt. Because you are thirsty you are not too proud to extract the dirt and be nourished by the water. For me this is an experience that corresponds very much to the way individuals of privilege respond to the use of water in the First World context. When you are privileged, living in one of the richest countries in the world, you can waste resources. And you can especially justify your disposal of something that you consider impure. Look at what most people do with water in this country...[purchasing] special water because they consider tap water unclean….If we approach the drinking of water that comes form the tap from a global perspective we would have to…consider that the vast majority of people in the world who are thirsty must do to obtain water. Paulo’s work has been living water to me."

[all quotes in my course notes, linked to from the home page]

So I know that in asking you to "suspend belief"--to "believe," rather than to "doubt" these texts,
to let the dirt fall to the bottom and drink the "living water" they are offering--I am interrupting
the trajectory of your education, which has focused on critical interrogation. I am not asking
you to stop doubting and questioning (this is called "Critical Feminist Studies"!), but I am
asking you to engage in this other exercise--of believing, of letting yourself learn from flawed
texts--as well.

III. For today, I asked you to finish the workbook--and I want us to
try to work through it in a bell hooks-like mode, to see what we might
"extract," and be nourished by, in the text. Not gain-saying the dirty water,
but just letting that fall to the bottom of the glass, and drinking the
good stuff off the top.

One of the most interesting ideas to emerge (for me) from Tuesday's class was
the use-value of questions: what makes them assaultive/close down thinking?
What makes them open up? So... I want us to continue the
question-writing exercise that we used to "end" Tuesday's class;
and then I want to try out something different: a declaration-writing exercise.
And I want to make them both collective.

Write down a question that arose for you from reading this book,
or from our discussion.
You could start with this prompt:
Why do we have gender? What purpose does it serve?
You could start with the last question you wrote down on Tuesday.
Or, you could just start again...

Now, on a separate piece of paper: write down a statement--something you
can say for sure, that arose for you from your reading, or our discussion.
You could start with this prompt:
All of us are transgender.
None of us is "perfectly" gendered.
None of us has an unshakable, immutable identity.
Or, you could just start again...

Ready? Do you have one question and one statement?
Get into groups of 5 (yes: count to 5!)
First we'll repeat the question-writing exercise,
but this time by responding to one another's questions.
In silence: pass your question to your left,
and write a question in response to the one you receive.
Repeat til your question is returned to you,
and finish off the sequence with another question of your own.
Read these to one another, listening carefully...
then select one sequence that you want to share w/ the whole group,
and figure out how you want to do this: one person reading, or
each of you taking one line?
You should also select one person to post your question-sequence on-line.

Now we're going to try something different:
instead of asking questions, making statements.
There's a feminist scholar named Alex Juhasz @ Pomona,
who has created a feminist on-line space: she's trying to build a site
defined by feminist principles of community, visibility, discourse, and politics.
One of her projects has to do with writing "mantrafestos":
this is a counter-impulse (not to question, but) to "manifest."

Unlike questions, which (presumably) "keep things open,"
the Italian word manifesto is derived from the
Latin manifestum, meaning clear or conspicuous
(= "making manifest").

In her "mantrafesto," Alex melds "manifesto" with "mantra":
a chanted/sung incantation/prayer;
a repeated word, formula, phrase, often a truism ("less is more").

Here's what she wrote:
Access begs literacy.
Literacy initiates production.
Mass production fosters popularity.
Popularity produces virality.
Virality forecloses context, shared interests and vocabulary, and local community.
Community is built upon safety.
Safety fosters the sharing of voice and responsibility.
Shared responsibility is necessary for democracy.
Democracy protects vulnerability.
Vulnerability forecloses visibility.
Visibility demands a safe space.
Safe spaces need rules and hierarchies.
Rules and hierarchies require transparency and process.
Process is built upon equal voices.
All voices want a body.
A body needs to be visible.
Visibility allows for warranting.
Warranting insures civility and positionality.
Positionality fosters political community.
Political communities demand spaces, both virtual and real.
Spaces demand access.

So now I want each group to create a "mantrafesto."
Each of you has written down one statement--
something you can say for sure
that has emerged from our work w/ the gender workbook.
Pass (this time to the right), and write a sentence.
There is one rule: you have to use your classmate's last word as your first word
(or a close version of it--you could, for example, make it plural).
Read these "mantrafestos" to each other. Pick one to share w/ the group.
Figure out how you will do this (one voice, or five). And also who will post.

III. Return to the large group. Read. Discuss:
which was more powerful? less excluding? more inviting? more informative? more helpful?
this is all about representation--how to represent our ideas? how to communicate them?
if you are an anarchist, how best to tell others the story you want to share????
What are we learning here--about communication and representation--by these contrastive exercises???
How best to tell a story that folks are likely to resist?

Reading Notes from second 1/2 of My New Gender Workbook:
88: pyramid
128: transgender exercise
172: Why bother Naming and Labeling Everything? establish traction
177: gender anarchists and sex positives: GASP
182: ecstatics, being mindful, experiencing the present
183: spending time and attention on what really turns us on, vs. doing gender maintenance
184: masquerades
222: projection and transference in dyberspace
226: questions are always better than assumptions
230: there's a cry to freedom in the notion that gender is a lie
231: Make a list of places/communities where you've learned your gender.
For each locus of gender-as-truth in your life, list the rules you learned.
For each rule you've learned, devise a way to unlearn it in your life today.
232: "the natural order" vs. converging socio-political factors
233: non-linear multimedia interactive and/or virtual comunication
234: binary--> hierarchy--> dialectic
249: What if it was morality as either/or that serves as a template for...
all these spaces in which we can be regulated, all the vectors of oppression?
257: Straight-and-queer and transgender-and-cisgender are as false a binary as any other.
261: Who among us has an unshakable, immutable identity?
Who among us is..."perfect" @ any socially defined identity?
263: a transgender identity and a transgender movemnt both have a  built-in obsolescence...
when most of us are transgressing gender, then gender will be relegated to the status it deserves: a plaything.
271: the big paradox in our lives: the one that gave them the most joy, and got them into the most trouble
(coexistence of 2+ impossibilities)