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twig's picture


here at bryn mawr, we are women as a problem, as an exception, barely half way to enlightenment if you go by mcintosh’s scale:( /exchange/courses/femstudies/f08/archive/21 ) and i think the exception is the problem. most of my education has been of the women in history variety – footnotes and margin boxes in the painfully patriotic (read: fictionalized) history textbooks that so permeate the public school system (permeate by their wide use, if not the actual number of textbooks, which never seems enough). this wasn’t exactly encouraging for a young girl who still squirms a little at such a direct application of that gender box. bryn mawr is one step up the broken pyramid and is more encouraging than i can stand, but i’ve since realized that encouragement wasn’t what we needed to move from the margins to *gasp* the real text. i was probably a more radical feminist (if you can call it that) as a child than i am now as a dyke attending a woman’s college. being constantly told, no you can’t because you’re a girl, you can’t do x, that was what really fueled my young rebellion streak and made me want things to be differently. the discomfort of knowing it was not my world was what pushed me against the grain of the status quo – double the impetus when i got the gay revelation and realized more than ever it was not my world. as we’ve discussed in some detail now, discomfort breeds change and passion. why would the encouraged, supported, comfortable people want to change the status quo? no one encouraged the women’s movement, quite the opposite, and so radical change was born. but now, in our private institution of pseudo empowerment, we are comfortable and so we are numb. the world is not bryn mawr. there are men in the proverbial real world, there are homophobes in the real world, there is sexism and people who don’t even understand that to be transsexual is a legitimate human experience, let alone have teas and clubs about it. we live in a false comfort.
that false comfort also comes with a number of measures meant to make us progressive. unfortunately, these also fall into the exception category. the gender and sexuality studies program for example. we are caught in a catch 22, like have women’s literature courses or african american history month, having an entirely separate program for gender and sexuality acknowledges that it exists and deserves to be studied, which is nice, but also keeps it separate, and so allows any course/month/department without the qualifier to simply remain status quo. ideally, gender and sexuality would be moved from the bubble of its own department, and could be examined as these issues really exist – in life and every other department. this however, is working within our antiquated education system, where i feel a lot of the blame should also fall. early in the course, we read an article i found very interesting “end the university as we know it” by mark taylor from the nytimes. this vision of doing away with the antiquated department system in favour of problem based education is something i agree with strongly. during my time at bryn mawr, i have realized that i really believe that academia as a system is impractical and without real function. i love to learn, but why do i have to do it in a system which requires ridiculous jumping through hoops for only the achievement of an illusionary goal? there are a lot of things i could major in at bryn mawr that may be interesting, but what’s the point of majoring in it? i can learn interesting things for free from the public library (as i have increasingly begun to do as the classes i can take get more and more pigeon holed by my advancement through college). academia as we practice it seems to me a system without purpose beyond its own perpetuation with experiences more often than not like that of the colleague taylor mentions: “a collegue recently boasted to [him] that his best student was doing his dissertation on how the medieval theologian duns scotus used citations”. if i hadn’t spent the last 2 years at bryn mawr, i would say this is an exaggeration. taylor advocates problem based programs such as for example, a water program. this elicited an interesting amount of skeptical mockery in class, and i can’t help but wonder if our population would see it differently if we weren’t all currently engaged in the exact antiquated rat race he is usurping. i for one, think that would be a much more practical education, but then again, i suppose if i had really been concerned with utilitarianism, i would have gone to trade school. i must have come here for some reason originally.
i also took this class for a particular reason, mostly because i have no official academic gender and sexuality studies background before this class. like i said, as a child i was probably the most radical feminist i’ve been out of sheer rebellion, though i definitely had the feminist literature phase in high school. i also had the ‘i’m gay, i should probably go on a reading binge of all dozen books my public library has on the subject” phase. therefore, my whole perspective on gender and sexuality is more experiential than academic. i think that that is an important aspect of the subject to consider since gender expressions and even gender itself is a social construct. thus far in class we have taken very detached views, or in the case of roughgarden, a very personal take on science. as we moved further and further into “evolution’s rainbow” i had more and more critical things to say about roughgarden. she is a scientist. she is also transgendered (was born a man). though her book was written from a science perspective, it very quickly became clear that science wasn’t really the point. we attacked her in class for being defensive and personally i feel she was incredibly biased. science is never, contrary to popular delusion, objective, however there is a certain level of personal detachment that is expected of science texts. she was clearly present in her text, and in a way that i felt came off as rather negative. it began to seem that the purpose of the entire text was to justify her personal existence as a transgendered individual. also as she moved further afield from her areas of expertise, she became more critical of others in the various fields she discussed without adequate support or even very convincing arguments. in my opinion, had she wanted to write a book about herself and her experience and incorporate the science that would have been one thing. we may have read it, possibly enjoyed it, and since she was speaking more for her own experience than the world of science at large, we probably would never have thought to call her defensive.
i think this was the text which came closest to experiential, even though it did not intend to, and i think that that is the direction we should take more of our future studies. in my experience gender/sexual deviance is not safe like theories. its not quiet. its not about biology. summing it down to a few hormones doesn’t change anything. and we don’t live in a comic book world. we live in a world where what are you can sometimes eclipse who are you – the question that doesn’t even always get asked if the answer to the first was not the right black or white. when we spoke about kate bornstein and her new project had to do with teens/ youth and suicide, i understood why. but someone asked. and it seemed like the less kosher side of gender deviance is not common knowledge. i mean, i guess i know that its messier than the nonfiction makes it seem by experience, not everyone does. most people don’t. experience, in my opinion is the only way to learn anything. as a kid, which impacted you more? being told 100 times not to put your hand on the stove, or that one time that you did? we can each only relate so much to the theory and the science of gender or sexuality, but the human aspect, the experiential aspect is something we can all understand.
in this spirit, the first book i would like to read is “godspeed” by lynn breedlove. it’s a major departure from anything we have read so far, and i doubt many have heard of it. i happen to really enjoy it. its current, its experiential, it’s a novel, and it covers quite a range of experience on the gender sexuality spectrum. (speaking of the proverbial spectrum, spend a few politically incorrect but humourous minutes addressing the gay alphabet with the author here ) i almost feel hesitant to push such a non-academic type book, but i think it’s the side of all the gender deviance that we don’t usually discuss in school. so i think, oh it’s not a school book, because there’s sex and drugs and lip rings and generally seedy business, and this isn’t what you read in school. you read pride and predjudice to learn about females, jane eyre maybe, but what about when you can’t find your subject in those? you read these outside of school, sometimes identifying, sometimes just realizing that you’re not so far out as you thought. and as far out as you are, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. those who culture rejects make their own culture. so i think that it is an interesting way of viewing many of the things we’ve been talking about in theory. and i think it may bother people and i think that is probably some of the appeal. this would be something of the counter culture approach to our gender spectrum studies.
            another area i would like to look into is the rest of the world. generic? yes i know, but i think that it’s worth looking at how the rest of the world handles gender and sexuality. i don’t want to take the roughgarden approach, i don’t want to just know about the few people in each of a few cultures who are more deviant, i also want to look at oppression or just how placement of gender lines differ in other places. i don’t particularly have a resource for this, mostly because its something i don’t know that much about, which is why i would like to study it. i would also like it to be more current than speaking about american indian tribes from hundreds of years ago. maybe we could pick a particular region and go with only that one and go more in-depth, or we could do a broader survey just to be able to better place ourselves in the bigger context of the world.
            another book i would like to read is “zami: a new spelling of my name” by audre lorde. (from the back cover: “zami, a carriacou name for women who work together as friends and lovers”). audre lorde was african american, gay, a woman, and yet all those labels don’t do her justice. i think she is an interesting intersection point of many of the issues we have been talking about. she linked racism, classism, homophobia and sexism. she also later brought health issues into her long list of causes (she died of cancer in the early 90’s after at least a decade of fighting it). she has other books, but i think that this is my favourite of those i have read, and it is also something of an autobiography, so again, it is experientially heavy.
            all in all i’m interested in how this course will turn out. i hope we can steer away from sterile theory and move into the more relatable aspects of the human experience.
(still can’t see how the forks tie in? i could lie and come up with something about the gendering of visual negative/positive space. in fact, i’m sure we could come up with a million things they represent. or i could be honest, and say that they are as irrelevant as how duns scotus used citations. but take home whatever message you would like.)




rae's picture

...speaking of defensiveness...

so, defensiveness. i feel like i probably owe you an apology. i'm sorry; i think i was a little too hasty and a little too harsh. i overreacted. i'm not trying to take back what i said; i just realized that it might have been a little too much like an attack.

i was at a thing about a month ago about learning how to facilitate dicussions, and one of the things mentioned was that we all have triggers that set us off too quickly, and we should learn what those triggers are so as to not overreact. one of mine is trans stuff, and clearly, i still need to work on that. anyway, next time i'll try to take a little more time to think before i post. 

twig's picture


 i'm actually, to be honest, somewhat bummed that you apologized and took some of the edge off your comments. my lack of immediate response wasn't out of offense, i just wanted to see if anyone else would have anything to say. i was actually impressed that someone finally refuted something, or at least had the balls (pardon my gender language) to be offended.  i mean, if overreaction is honest, then that's what i think this type of communication is more geared to - you say something, its out there for everyone, and you can't take it back. so though i feel less compelled to defend these points now than the edge is gone, let's see where this goes:

a)  "theoretical or hypothetical; not practical, realistic, or directly usefulan academic question; an academic discussion of a matter already decided" i don't really see how this refutes my point about academia, if it is those things by definition...

b) man vs male: i'm actually not sure where we as a class left off with the specifics of the distinction but even if 'man' is the created distinction, i think it can still be applicable. just as from birth i was decided to be female and gendered as a woman, or girl, regardless of what happens later, she was born male and a man (or boy since man is a big word for an infant) as i understand the terminology because from birth and that one doctor's decision, she was put in the man/boy gender box. but i'd agree that this is just semantics.

c) i know that its a trade book, and i know it doesn't have to be free of her influence, but as a general reader of many trade science books, and knowing how i think the general population thinks, there was a lot more of her in the science than i believe is common, and sometimes i think the agenda overshadowed the science. if her primary goal is persuasion as you say, and secondarily science, than i still hold to my position, as the best persuasion is achieved when you aren't aware you are being persuaded. defensiveness doesn't persuade anyone.

d) as far as the 'we', i saw the general class consensus including grobstein's to be that she came off as too defensive, which overshadowed her purpose. grobstein even said that he would have suggested to her that she remove some of what we perceived as defense from the text. "other people thought she was defensive, but perhaps understandably so." i think we agreed that her defensiveness did stem from understandable cause, but i think a tone is a tone regardless of the reason, it still comes off the same way, and when grobstein spoke of helping her perhaps remove it, he did say it was because she probably couldn't see it and that is why it may have been beneficial for it to be pointed out. lastly, even if "[you] didn't really see her as being defensive until other people brought it up," you did see it. there are a lot of points brought up in classes that i don't particularly see beforehand, but that doesn't usually discount them in my view if i eventually see it. however, if after all this you would still like to be released from the generalized we, you are, as of now, removed from my 'we' in reference to roughgarden, my intent was to summarize not hold people to things they don't believe. 

rae's picture

continued remarks

and lastly, you write: "it began to seem that the purpose of the entire text was to justify her personal existence as a transgendered individual." well, if that's the case, then my question is, so what? to me, it seems like a whole lot of cisgender/cissexual privilege to claim that. the sheer number of books that ignore the existence of transgender people is overwhelming. and all of the books out there that write about how there is no diversity in gender, or that transgender people either don't really exist or can be cured, would those be considered to justify the personal existence of those authors as cisgendered people? 

cisgendered people don't need to justify their personal existences as cisgendered (non-transgender/non-genderqueer--"normally" gendered) to the world because society treats being cisgendered as normal and acceptable and right. cisgendered people don't generally need to defend themselves as such, or defend their right to express their gender identity, or really even think about their gender identity all that much. and to me, that's privilege. so, if Roughgarden is justifying her very existence through this book, perhaps she's not the one to be looking at. perhaps society should be blamed. perhaps we should look at why she feels the need to justify herself.

rae's picture

my response to your paper / perhaps a defense of Roughgarden?

well, in response to your ideas about academia, the third definition of the word "academic," as defined by is: "theoretical or hypothetical; not practical, realistic, or directly useful: an academic question; an academic discussion of a matter already decided" (http:__dictionary.reference.com_browse_academic). 

as to your remarks about Roughgarden, i have a few responses. the first is the fact that she was born male (or at least presumably determined to be male at birth); going with the sex/gender distinction, she wasn't actually born a man. perhaps a little like the Simone de'Beauvoir quote about how women are not born, but made. (yes, i'm aware that i'm probably butchering that quote.) and maybe that's just semantics or something, but i felt like pointing it out. 

also, you write: "though her book was written from a science perspective, it very quickly became clear that science wasn’t really the point." "science is never, contrary to popular delusion, objective, however there is a certain level of personal detachment that is expected of science texts. she was clearly present in her text, and in a way that i felt came off as rather negative."

firstly, my response is that Evolution's Rainbow was intended as a "trade book" for a wide audience, not as a "science text" for classroom use. Roughgarden writes, "In this book, I'm free to declare where I'm coming from. Being up front about my position automatically raises the question of objectivity; I've told the truth, and the whole truth, as best I can. Yet I offer my own interpretation of the facts, as if I were a lawyer for the defense opposing lawyers 'for the persecution'" (Roughgarden 9). she never claimed to be detached; this wasn't about trying to be utterly objective and free from any personal position. i think the lawyer analogy makes that clear. she's trying to persuade.

also, as a side note, you wrote that "we attacked her in class for being defensive and personally i feel she was incredibly biased." i don't think we, as a class, attacked her for being defensive. definitely, some people in the class attacked her for being defensive. other people thought she was defensive, but perhaps understandably so. and frankly, i didn't really see her as being defensive until other people brought it up. my point is just that i don't want to be included in the "we."