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Week 5--Politics and Undecidability

Anne Dalke's picture

This week--after several adjustments due to a last-minute visitor the week after--we will be discussing (on Tuesday) Barbara Johnson's essay,"Apostrophe, Animation and Abortion." On Thursday, half the class will be reading Gloria Anzaldúa's "La conciencia de la Mestiza: Towards a New Consciousness," and the other half Biddy Martin and Chandra Talpade Mohanty's "Feminist Politics: What’s Home Got to Do with It?”


Please either respond to Johnson; or describe how you'd teach Anzaldúa or Martin/Mohanty to someone who hasn't read the texts. A possible point of departure/shared focus? Johnson's saying, "There is politics precisely because there is undecidability." What do you think about that? What do you think each of our authors think about that?


sarahcollins's picture

What does it mean for art to be political?

In another class I'm taking this semester, I read that an author I admire  believes all art is political. This gave me pause for thought. What would it mean if that were true? Clearly not all artists mean for their work to be interpreted with a political message. I had a preconceived notion of the pure artist who wrinkles her nose at anyone who wants to besmirch her work by enlisting it in a cause. But then I read that he thinks Pride and Prejudice, for instance, is political because the trials and tribulations of the Bennet sisters hinges upon marriage - because of 18th century British property laws. It's making a comment, a normative observation of the politics of that time period. He probably wrote more about P&P, but it's not relevant. That's not the way I personally would term politicizing art, but I guess what I took away from it is that you really have to define the terms you're working in. 
Ok. Anyways, I value Brooks' poem all the more for how unremittingly painful it is, on all sides, babies' and mother's. Is this very painfulness a political act? I don't think so. It's a very moving poem, and I think it could easily be seized by either side of the debate. 

hslavitt's picture

I thought this poem's raw

I thought this poem's raw and personal emotion was hard to read and reconcile with my political beliefs about reproductive rights. In our discussion. Perhaps this is what Kauffman was talking about when she discouraged personal testimony...but isn't that exactly what poetry is for? As women who support the right to choose, is it not also our responsibility to create a space for the women we fight for to then deal honestly with their feelings? Also, while I avidly support the right to choose, there is a difference between what I feel and what I believe. Is it so wrong to be uncomfortable with the idea of abortion? I don't think so, but my discomfort, my religion, my opinions should in no way determine what another woman does.
YJ's picture

"Homesick with Nowhere To Go" (10/4/07 Class Summary)

For last Thursday's class, we began by returning to some previous readings and themes. We first re-examined Cixous' notion of "generous feminism" and looked at the sculptures one alumni had made representing her interpretation of this concept. We then learned of Ann's problem with this notion, who made a very important point about what it means to be generous in this context-do normally introverted women experience a greater hardship in being more "generous" than normally extroverd women? We were left wondering if we can construct a feminism that embraces diversity with equal (or no) costs to women?

We then returned to Johnson's reading and the previous (and ongoing) class debate on the issue of the personal vs. the political. An important question Flora raised was "What is our shared goal for the class?" Professor Dalke responded with her own question: "Do we have to have a shared goal?"

We broke up into smaller groups to discuss the two readings which each half of the class had done and then held a discussion in which we spoke as the author of the text we had read. Harder said than done. We seemed to have a better grasp on what Anzaldua was saying about the idea of a "feminist home." For her, this home embraces ambuguity and allows a diversity of perspectives, allows a greater freedom. She also speaks of the undefinable boundaries within the self. Ultimately, she is saying that there is a home for the feminists (re: the border between the States and Mexico)

We seemed a bit more confused about the Martin & Mohanty reading but what we took away ultimately was that what is needed is an "irreconcible tension." The authors were referencing Edward Said who said that in order to be truly "intellectual" one needs distance from one's subject-you need to feel that homelessness, to lack attachment. We ended class learning that Martin & Mohanty complicate Said's claim because while we do need this "intellectual distance" we also need things like politics, space, and freedom to do the work of feminism.

Anne Dalke's picture

more politics, other events

Just wanted to be sure that folks were aware of other events upcoming on campus this week, which will be exploring feminist politics in a range of other venues. The first one will take place before our class meets again:

"Women's Well Being and Gender Activism: Domestic Violence Bill Becoming Law in Ghana" is a lecture this Monday, October 8th, 2007, sponsored by the Center for International Studies, by Akosua Adomako Ampofo, Associate Professor, Institute of African Studies and Director, Centre for Gender Studies & Advocacy of the University of Ghana. It will be held in Carpenter Library, Room 21, Monday, October 8, 2007 4:00pm.

The second event is a symposium on the future of Latino/a studies, to be held on campus next Wed. and Thurs. The session on Thursday afternoon is called "Sexing Latina/o Studies: Feminisms, Queer Studies and the Practice of Latinidad." And the final session, "The Languages of Latinidad: Readings by U.S. Latina/o Writers," will include a reading by Tamarinda Figueroa, who is a member of our class. All details available @ the symposium website.

The third event, on Thursday, Oct. 11, at 4:30 p.m. in Carpenter B21, is a presentation and discussion with Susan Stryker about her documentary, Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria.

Flora's picture

blogging 10/4 class leftovers

I think it will be useful for me to catalogue my thoughts after each class meeting, since so much gets said and I have so much unfinished in my head. But again, it's long. So if you want to read about my unfinished thoughts on the limits of the course, extroverts v introverts and the intersection of politics and art, click here.


Mary Clurman's picture


First, to Gail for her sculptures: isn't it amazing how we are able to translate these readings into personal experience with such confidence!

So far the alum responses seem to reflect the ability immediately to integrate into daily life and understanding the texts we are reading; the amazingly (but not surprisingly) articulate and searching undergrad responses seem to reflect difficulty, less certainty, perhaps because, as Maria Montessori theorized, one is not fully and absolutely an adult, fully formed, until about the age of 24. So undergrads as a group (no surprise) are still in formation: opinions developing, sense of self seeking definition -- this is why we would return to our youth only if we could go there equipped with what we now know! It's a long, long row to hoe!

One wants so much to be right, yet as long as one studies, one learns that there is more -- so it is in life. And then there comes the suggestion in re politics that there is no one answer, only answers that work depending on the situation, and therein lies the sense of community, not in a specific definition but in the openness to discovery in dialog.

Not sure how blog comments get into the discussion, so am reproducing one here, to Rhapsodica:

I appreciated your efforts to relate to The Mother. I did not respond to it on first reading yet ended up dredging out a poem full of ambiguities like hers. I, too, thought she might be speaking for others, not for herself, but then wondered how many abortions she'd had, if any. (I personally believe that birth control of whatever kind one needs will be our only salvation in the end, the only honest answer to global warming, e.g. Imagine what "politics" will do with that one!)

I'm not sure I've ever told my son about my abortion, perhaps because I have never felt guilty about any aspect of it at all, no regret, not even the need to defend the decision -- just shows how thoughts and feelings get compartmentalized, which brings me to your "weird relationship" w/ your mom, your expressed lack of reaction to her disclosure. The readings led me to write an abortion poem because I don't understand the stridency of the political debate -- to me, it is obviously, manifestly a personal decision that doesn't require anyone else's opinion at all. But look what came out! I think the feelings I expressed are in me, they've just never been called forth.

When I had my nanny agency (18 years to 2001) I discovered that people who didn't "know" the answer to a difficult question often were just not addressing it. You might find it useful to take a long walk (or some pages of a journal) to look within for reactions you have so far missed -- do you think? It is generally better to look hard at any issue to which we have no answer, at least if we think we ought to have a reaction but cannot find one.

gail's picture



It seems to me that over the years ( I do apologize for this phrase) I revist issues ( or literary works) and find that my attitudes and answers change and evolve.  I guess I feel the openess to change is the important piece.


Again, your poem is amazing.


Rhapsodica's picture

First of all, I just wanted

First of all, I just wanted to say thank you to Gail for sharing your sculptures with us -- they're wonderful! I think it's interesting to see a visual representation of how ideas can change and grow over the course of just a month. I'm really glad you took the risk of showing us. :)

Now, in reference to Brooks' poem (and Johnson's article)... well, my post got kinda long again, so I went ahead and put it in my blog. You can click on that link to see it!

gail's picture

Thank you

Thank you for taking the time to comment on my work and sharing.

I appreciate it greatly.

EMaciolek's picture

After going through all the

After going through all the posts thus far, one thing seems clear: we're resistant to the politicalization of Brooks' "The Mother." So why do we do it at all? Several people mentioned in class how they couldn't help but try to figure out if the poem was pro-life or pro-choice while simultaneously reading and enjoying the poem for its aesthetic value. Realizing that abortion is often immediately associated with its political connotations, I wonder if the politicalization of works of art is not what my one huge disconnect with feminism is. It seems to happen a lot. I wish we could talk about women in relation to the world simply because we're not men and have different viewpoints to offer. Instead it always turns into a fight against a history of oppression, or women's role in society, or something else political. It feels like falling into a trap every time that happens.

But, on a less frustrating note: I have to admit that I love what the alums are saying. It's incredibly refreshing to learn viewpoints from women who have been through Bryn Mawr and can give advice from beyond the classroom. Barbara '57 - thank you so much for saying that we're really not just the sum of everything we've learned. Also, Gail I thought your post was beautiful. I loved Cixous' essay and think you portrayed your thoughts on it very beautifully.

kwheeler's picture

Martin & Mohanty

I think EMaciolek touches on an important part of Martin and Mohanty's article "Feminist Politics: What's Home Got to Do with It?" when they said,

"I wish we could talk about women in relation to the world simply because we're not men and have different viewpoints to offer. Instead it always turns into a fight against a history of oppression, or women's role in society, or something else political. It feels like falling into a trap every time that happens."

I got the impression that Martin and Mohanty feel just as frustrated when they see feminist critics tearing apart texts of fellow feminist writers for what they call “homogenizing, even colonialist gestures”. Martin and Mohanty say that by criticizing these texts they are, in effect, propagating the perception that feminism is only for Westerners or only for white women. It seems to me that this is detrimental to the feminist “cause” and that these critics are falling into “the trap” that EMaciolek is talking about.

Martin and Mohanty emphasize their belief that feminism is not an all-encompassing home and that there will never exist a feminist community with a coherent or absolute identity, but through Pratt’s autobiographical narrative they show us that contrary to popular belief this is not necessarily a bad thing. They say that we need to be careful not to conflate the idea of a political coalition and a home; inherent in the idea of a home is exclusion and repression of outsiders. Thus, in feminist politics the idea of the feminist community needs to be reevaluated.

I think that Martin and Mohanty’s vision of community is congruous with Johnson’s view that politics exists because there is “undecidability”. They say that easily defined communities are not natural to the political world, but that they are the product of work and constant change as they must accommodate for the varying priorities and personal histories of those in the group. I think this variation of opinions is the undecidability that Johnson is referring to.

gail's picture

Brooks,Johnson and Apostrophe

As a student and English teacher, I had enjoyed Apostrophe as a literary device, happily pointing out the “animation” in such works as Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind. Until Johnson’s reading, I separated the aesthetic from the political. But…
Brook’s Mother hit me hard in the chest. Though I believe that words are important politically (we had to fight to replace chairman with chair), I had not realized how political this single literary device is.

The freedom to choose is necessary, but Brook’s poem shows how choice is not free - without ramification ( political or emotional).

As you wrote, on a happier note, thank you to you and Matos for your response to my sculpture statement. I was surprisingly nervous awaiting reaction in your postings.
lvasko's picture

First, I would like to say

First, I would like to say that I agree and appreciate Alex's comment about Brooks bringing her emotional sweets, rather than her abortioned sweets, to life. I like that idea and what it means for the poem.

I also appreciate Abby's comment on what the title of the poem does for the humanity of the poem... and the ambiguity.

That said, I didn't actually like the poem. When I read it I felt apathetic. The poem did not speak to me. And, like Flor, I take issue with Brooks' line, "You were born, you had body, you died". It implies that the birth and death of the hairy pulp are two separate events. If you are born, you have left the body alive. Perhaps aboriton practices were different in 1945... but birth does not occur at the point of conception. A baby is not born when the sperm meets the egg.


Flora's picture

riders, common goals and animating the inanimate/ephemeral

So, since this is pretty scattered, it's getting blog-post status...
Mary Clurman's picture

For the Living: Unanswerable Questions

I have drafted up a poetic response to Johnson's article....I'm still working thru the article itself, which I very much admire.

Here's the poem....It uses some of the rhetorical devices Johnson discusses.

For the Living: Unanswerable Questions

I had one once, a child, an abortion --
each with my alcoholic spouse,
no good father even to the living child.
Who, I asked, would rear the child,
pay our bills, set its life a loving path?
Who, in me, remaining for the last?

And why would giving my child, fully born, to you
have been the better way?
How is bringing child to term,
three-quarter-year ensemble,
just and fair?
Continuing life, an opportunity to see
him/her, my daughter/son not yet, then
no longer, mine?
A trial in otherness,
gone not dead but to my life,
resuscible by phone, to face, by law,
if some years hence?

Or given as a gift, a sister's gift, my friend?
Monstrous, I think, to rob it of a peaceful grave
in me, where both of us are born
when you, my child, appear.

Better you should never eat or play,
leave room for my living child?

Better we should say,
if this one ends and no more take its place,
then earth remains for us.

This is a different love, not waste..
Mary Clurman '63

gail's picture


...a different love, not waste...

Thank you for your poem.

I appreciate your using the Apostrophe literary technique!

Brava is all I can say!


Ann Dixon's picture

your poem

You poem is remarkable. Thank you so much for sharing it with all of us.

Anne and the class read it outloud today -- you can hear it in the audio recording as soon as it's posted (probably by tomorrow).



matos's picture

I want to start of by

I want to start of by saying that I really enjoyed Johnson’s article. It was a departure from the homework I’ve been doing lately, to delve into the basis of an article, it’s language, in order to figure out some sort of meaning. However, I would’ve liked it if she expanded it to subjects besides poem, to straight forward political speech.

But moving on to Johnson’s quote “There is politics precisely because there is undecidability”. I’m having problems with this because I’m having trouble defining what “politics” is. Yes, I’m a political science minor and I read the newspaper and all that good stuff, so I guess I should know. The definition that’s coming to mind is the regulation of moral, social and economic issues. So with this is definition, I’m going to say that Johnson’s quote makes complete sense. Uncertainty, or “undecidability”, in masses creates a need for some hierarchal power to create certainty. The unfortunate reality is a lot of politics is based on what’s already been decided. Which is where I think Moharty’s argument would come in. I think Moharty reinforces a point that is brought is several times in Pratt’s essay; that things are not linear but constantly evolving and going back and forth between perspectives and dimensions. So, thought there is undecidability, politics is not a remedy for it.


Regarding the idea the politicizing the poem is to “misinterpret her[The Mother’s] goal” is to go back to one of the class’s first questions on how do we interpret literature; from our perspective or the author’s.


PS. Gail your sculpture is magnificent.

YJ's picture

A New Consciousness

Gloria Anzaldúa's essay, "La Conciencia de la Mestiza" is decpetively simple upon first reading it. But her overall point is, if not completely earth-shattering, one that I think needs and deserves more attention. In really upholding all the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, culture, etc. she brings to light that what we both as human beings and feminists really need to do is create a new consciousness. We need to start thinking in a different way. It reminded me a lot of Allen's essay and her theory of ridding ourselves of foreground and background altogether. Although I couldn't really completely grasp Allen's point -it was simply too unfathomable to me-Anzaldúa's essay really spoke to me because she seemed much more grounded in the reality of being a women in this world. Interspersed in her essay are fragments of poetry and poetic imagery as well as hard facts about the life she came from and the one she shares with us other females now.

A relatively small point Anzaldúa makes that seems so simple but one I never really thought about was that if we (as humans, but especially as feminists) allow any kind of discrimmination in the kind of world/culture/conscioussness we're trying to create, that only works to harm us as well. In order to eradicate the wrongs that have harmed females, it isn't enough to eradicate those specifically directed towards females, but it requires a wholesale eradication of all prejudices, discriminations, etc. If we are to have the kinds of consciousness Anzaldúa is calling for-one that breaks down and gets rid of dualities-we must recognize the prejudices that lie deep within ourselves as well.

Abby's picture

Learning process..

I want to add my agreement with the last two posts on the issue of politics/literature and the possible loss of pleasure experienced in their intersection.  I have a passionate love of literature and a strong distaste for politics.  I often wonder whether I really belong in this course...or at Bryn Mawr for that matter.  But hey, I'm a senior so it's a little late for that question.

I must say that I feel a little guilty about the way I expressed myself in class the other day.  I think my expression of "love" and wonder for the way Brooks titles her poem and the way in which she may be playing with ideas of life/death/being/loss in the piece comes from a purely literary place.  I get excited by beauty, ambiguity, sincerity and I don't always censor my immediate excitement over things.  Perhaps a better way to frame my statements would have been with literary language, ie: "I think the way Brooks titles her poem is a brilliant writing choice because it brings the ambiguity of the piece right to the forefront, opens up lots of interesting questions, etc."  I don't know.

The discourse in class about the use of certain kinds of language (my language even) to justify anti-choice stances is really something I never even considered.  I was pretty much floored by this idea.  And I'm glad that I was forced to consider it, forced to see that even though I might know how I feel about abortion issues and have no desire to hinder the pro-choice enterprise, language is really powerful and caution is very necessary. 

But seriously, I just think "The Mother" is a beautiful piece of art.  And in a political climate that is so divisive and, in my opinion, often disheartening because of that, I like the idea of the artistic world being a place where people can at least have something in common. A place to recognize our shared humanity.



gammyflink's picture

    "I think my

    "I think my expression of "love" and wonder for the way Brooks titles her poem and the way in which she may be playing with ideas of life/death/being/loss in the piece comes from a purely literary place.  I get excited by beauty, ambiguity, sincerity and I don't always censor my immediate excitement over things."

How beautiful and extraordinary!  Never give up on your passion. 

   Barbara  '57

Elizabeth319's picture

What about the Grey Area?

Why do we have to think in such black and white terms? What about the grey area? Does she have to be pro-choice or “pro-life”? Could it just be simply a poem that expresses her emotions about abortion without the goal to make a political statement? I agree with Alex, it is sad that politics can take pleasure away from someone else’s writing.


 Barbara Johnson may have composed this poem with the intention to keep it vague and ambiguous so as to prevent the very way our class discussion headed toward politicizing “The Mother.”  


I read this poem empathetically. I want to understand the emotions of the individual writing aside from any beliefs I may have about abortion. What struck out to me is the array of emotions and the conflicting and racing thoughts that the woman expresses through the poem. Maybe the poem is a way for the mother to explore her confusions and come to terms with the abortions she has had if in fact she had an abortion. To enter the territory of exploring what the poet may have implied is reasonable, but as Lydia mentioned, assuming that the end is an apology without regard to other possibilities IS to put words into the poet’s mouth.


“The Mother” appreciates the limitless range of emotions that may occur after an abortion whether it is grief, sadness, nostalgia, relief or a mixture of any or all of them. The poem regardless of its possible political interpretations allows the reader to take a look into a very personal decision and in some ways may validate the realness of the feelings that can rise to the surface with such a decision. Regardless of an individual’s political perspective on abortion, no one can disagree or accuse another individual’s emotions as incorrect.

Pemwrez2009's picture

can we ever avoid the political?

Even if we don't wear our politics on our sleeves, can we help ourselves from becoming political? When first reading the Brooks poem, I was thinking to myself, "well is she pro-choice? or anti-choice? For some reason i just couldn't wrap my head around the fact that I was reading a poem. Then my moved into Spivak-land and thought, well maybe this makes me a good feminist, I am already starting to reflect on my personal feminist notions and let them guide me as to whether or not I would enjoy the poem. No, scrap that...when we went through the list in class of the different lenses one could use to interpret a poem, why is it that my lenses were so emotionally and politically consumed?

Next on topic: so the discussion today in class left me frustrated. I really wanted to be able to enjoy the poem because it brings emotion to life so well. Maybe that's what it was, emotion. Johnston expresses in the reading how Brooks brings her "sweets" to life, but maybe it wasn't the sweets, maybe it was the emotion, that whether or not the reader experienced what it was to abort a potential "sweet" one can identify. However, this idea that Brooks is creating a life which is no more, can be really dangerous to a liberal leftist femininist in his/her/heer argument to discredit those wishing to ban this right. I really liked the poem until I became frustrated on a political level? Maybe it's sad that politics can take pleasure away from someone elses artwork.

I also thought this idea of the intersection between politics and law was interesting. I don't necessarilly believe that all politics tries to do is to come up with a law as some sort of resolution. Maybe that's because I would like to believe that politics creates discussion. Maybe that's just not the ideal Tocquvillian world we live in. Habermas would probably say, I'm crazy because no one interacts anymore. In fact, Habermas would hate these online forums because he would think they stunt discussion and discourse all together...

Sorry, tangent...I guess what I mean is that, I think laws are made to try to resolve problems but I do not think that the discourse of politics is only to come to a law.


smigliori's picture

Law = Unambiguous?

I feel the most interesting part of today's discussion began when we were faced with Johnson's claim that "There is politics precisely because there is undecidability."

Firstly, I found it strange that so many of my classmates seemed to believe that literary analysis and politics differed from each other. The idea that the interpretation of the law is any more or less subjective than the interpretation of a poem completely boggles my mind, especially since we seemed to be citing Roe v. Wade as an example. If Roe v. Wade isn't an example of creating interpretations of the law with little to no textual support, I'm sure I can't think of one.

Secondly, while I was not a big fan of the Johnson reading overall (though I feel it was for different reasons than the majority of my classmates), this was one statement I could actually agree with. Perhaps this is because it immediately reminded me of Judith Butler, who, in light of the responses to my web paper, I should admit has already been a heavy influence on the way I think and identify. The idea of politics as reliant on an undecidability seems to me to be easily compared to the politics of identity and the problem with the instability of identity categories, especially those based on notions of "sex", "gender", or "sexuality".

Thirdly, I would like to pose a question (or a string of questions) in response to the debate over this statement. Much of the debate seemed to center around the idea that law was clear and decided. However, law is the written word, and, like all words, it requires constant defining and redefining based on a number of different factors. Is there anything problematic about this perpetual redefinition? Do words, and, therefore, strings of words, or "phrases", need to have definitions which are "decided"? Why does a lack of stability in definition, and thus, in legal interpretation, make people so uncomfortable?

jrizzo's picture

Class Summary

We began today's class by breaking up into small groups to discuss our intitial reactions to Gwendolyn Brooks' poem, "The Mother.  When the class reconvened to combine our individual conversations, it became clear that the very pieces of the poem some students found most praiseworthy were the same pieces other students found most offensive.  Some praised Brooks for the courageous vulnerability that allowed her to reflect abortion as a real experience, full of difficult, messy emotion, rather than the black and white political issue to which it is often reduced.  Other students had a strongly negative reaction to any language (our's or the poet's) that might be manipulated by anti-choice factions into restricting reproductive rights.  We discussed the various sentiments we found and disagreed upon within the poem; grief, relief, certainty, loss, guilt, regret, love, etc., but spent the better part of an hour reflecting on the different lenses through which such a poem might be read.  We looked through the personal/emotional lens, which seemed most benign to some, most compelling to others.  We looked through the theoretical lenses of politics and structure, finishing with a conversation about the power of language, as discussed in Johnson's essay.  As with the powerful use of apostrophe in this poem, is language strong enough to call up the presence of what has been lost, or what has never been?  We failed to reach a consensus on this point, and were shooed out the door at 11:30, the debate still raging. 
gail's picture

Thanks for posting a class summary

We appreciate your being a scribe.

With the class debate, it was amazing, that you were doing exactly what the Johnson quote in the very beginning page ( under the Judy Chicago image) described. This was the quote Anne read in class. and...

she began her daily notes with it. Whew!

rmeyer's picture

I first would like to

I first would like to respond to Barbara '57's post...which I can't seem to find on here, but remember reading it in class in response to the recent papers we wrote.

It is really encouraging for me to see such dedication to a cause/idea/issue that is all new to me. I especially was intrigued with her differentiation of "feminism" and "humanism." I feel like that particuarly hit home to me in many ways...I am not only interested in the rights for women, but firmly believe in basic rights for ALL humans.

In any case, Brook's poem is just really interesting to me. I think that Abby's response to the title was similar to mine--and although we didn't discuss it for very long, it seems to me that once a mother always a mother. Whether it be in the case of child dying in her 20's or not being born at all.

gammyflink's picture


Dear Zen Calendar Reader, 

I am glad my message spoke to you.  Since I am not in class and can't get to know all of you, I often feel I am sending useless information into cyberspace.
Don't be intimidated by the level of language and knowledge of your classmates.  You are a very real and genuine person.  That is probably related to your Zen perspective.  When you eventually leave the ivory tower of Bryn Mawr, where admittedly you will learn a great deal, you will find that your personal qualities are far more significant than your intellectual knowledge.
There is no need to spin your wheels over whether or not you are a feminist. Labels, even positive ones, often impede heartfelt communication.  The important thing is what you believe and value, and how you translate that into your presence in the world.

 Barbara  '57

Abby's picture

Thank you thank you thank

Thank you thank you thank you for saying those things!!

My mother has been expressing similar sentiments to me ever since I entered Bryn Mawr 3 years ago and began to feel overwhelmed by the level of intellectual discourse here..."Trust yourself Abby.  In the "real world" you will have a lot to offer, even if you didn't write the best paper in every class..." I have been stubbornly resisting of course...but I figure that's my job as the troublesome youngest daughter...

Anyway, I agree that it's really inspiring to share our class space with alums and see their interest in our own work.

And I still struggle with feeling like I have to define myself, have to choose certain labels.  Even to be counted among the "good," the "revolutionary" or the "progressive." I'm trying to take it easy and remember what is important: "what [I] belive and value, and how [I] translate that into [my] presence in the world."



gail's picture

Thanks and Risk

Risk and your generous feminism.

Good Morning. I cannot tell you how I appreciated your allowing alums to listen to your class. The most appropriate way I can thank you for your gift is taking public risk in response. I did not know how to post images, so this may be "last week". Regardless…

Here is an image so you can eyeball me.

Gail Headshot


Before our reading an listening to your class, here was my view of teacher/education. It is very positive- reaching for the future- but… definitely one sided. I love the form, but it is a traditional model of teacher/student.




During my readings provided, your current papers and especially listening to your class discussion, I needed to risk and share with you in my metal voice.


Generous Feminism

Generous Feminism

I created a much more complex idea of leadership, feminism and education- like we have been exploring

Who is the “teacher”? She can switch. She leads from among as Anne does in this course.

Some of you were discussing trepidation. The left woman is stumbling with head bowed in fear or sadness, but…

We cannot let go!. All women are joined ( hold hands) .

The sculpture ( and we ) are one piece.

The center woman is attending to our fears while the third strides off in her own direction


We are all one. We cannot let go. It is physically impossible.

This started out to be a sculpture of this class with undergrads, teacher, and alums ( one woman has droopier boobs) but….

It became ….

My Cixous unconscious.

All the figures are nude. We start with our bodies.

All are vulnerable. I am in turn each woman.

I cannot let go.

Thank you, again, for your generous feminism which gave me the courage to risk.



A special thanks to Ann Dixon for her help in this posting.

One Student's picture


One emotion present in "The Mother" which was not mentioned in class is RELIEF: "I will never be a bad mother, I will never hurt my aborted children. This poem begins with relief and ends with love (saying "I loved you all" does not constitute an apology). There's a good deal of other emotions in the middle, but to focus on them is to miss the overall ambiguity. To interpret the end as an apology is to put words in the poet's mouth which she never said. To focus on the negative emotions is to make assumptions about what a person ought to feel when remembering her abortions. I am NOT saying that grief, guilt, regret etc. have no place in such a reaction. I AM saying that those are not the only possible emotions, those are not the only emotions present in the poem, and to ignore the positive emotions is to risk seriously misinterpreting the poem. This isn't even a grieving poem, though there is grief in it. She has already mourned, it's all in her past ("I loved you all"), but "abortions don't let you forget," and so she's remembering her emotions. I think the saddest thing about "The Mother" has nothing to do with emotion; it has to do with the way memories stay with you, an unnecessary piece of furniture that you keep banging your shins on.

I really didn't like politicizing this poem/watching the poem get politicized*. A couple vague(?) references ("this crime wasn't mine") to the outside world does not make it political, does not mean it has made a political decision.

Also, when I said that in law there is always a decision already made and thus much less room for ambiguity (even as the decision is contested, it is already made), my point was that literature and politics are different methodologies, and that the political methodology leaves much less room for ambiguity than literature does, and that law leaves practically none at all.


*Perhaps this is because I am currently disengaged from all three political ... units I may be considered part of - the United States, Israel, and the SGA of Bryn Mawr College - and that I am content that way, aside from niggles of guilt. Perhaps. But I think it's because that to try to make "The Mother" make a political decision is to misinterpret its (her?) goal.


To get more general, and to go out on a limb: making decisions is a process with multiple steps. First, explore the ambiguities, the impossibility of making a decision, via literature, academic writing, etc. All those wonderful spaces denigrated as bubbles (as if a bubble were a bad thing! Or an ivory tower! The view is amazing!). Then, join in the clamor of politics. Pretend you have made you decision (or perhaps you actuallyl have, if you skipped the first step). And then a decision will ... occur in the midst of the clamor. The clamor won't stop, of course. Go back into your bubble, or up your tower, get away from the clamor (what a RELIEF!), and be indecisive some more.

This is a method which is agreeable to my personality and my approach to difficult questions (the knee-jerk reaction is just the barest beginning). Also, I don't get intellectually turned-on until there's a critical mass of complexity and ambiguity. But then, I'm a Libra.

Abby's picture

I agree with a lot of what

I agree with a lot of what you said here, Jessy.  I too was disheartened by the politicization of Brooks's poem.  While I understand that these things can't be helped, that political lenses are inevitably always at some point used to view a piece of literature, it still feels unfair to have to take a great poem and narrowly define it in political terms.  I appreciate your elaboration on themes present in the poem other than guilt, mourning, etc.  While I still think those things are present, like you said, it is really important to view the positive things as well, like relief.  Acknowledging the ambiguity is acknowledging what makes the poem so brilliant, in my mind anyway.  And I think you're right that above all this is a memory poem, one that is addressing what it means to have memories that last forever, to look back on them and to still feel them informing the present. 

And yes, complexity/ambiguity is a turn-on.  I'm a Libra too:)