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Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities

Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities has 50 remote-ready activities, which work for either your classroom or remote teaching.

Thinking Sex: Representing Desire and Difference Forum

Comments are posted in the order in which they are received, with earlier postings appearing first below on this page. To see the latest postings, click on "Go to last comment" below.

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Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-09-02 21:47:38
Link to this Comment: 6302

Welcome to the course forum area for "Thinking Sex." This is a public space where we will continue our in-class hopes of opening a "window" where we can extend our own thinking, and perhaps that of others who might like to "drop in to" the discussion. Don't worry about being "correct"--just think out loud here, share your thoughts in progress...

and we'll see where that gets us.

Let's get started by describing what we first saw when we looked at Sharon Burgmayer's painting "Safe Haven"...and what we saw after we heard our classmates describe their "readings" of the picture:

Do you see what I see...?
Name: Anjali
Date: 2003-09-02 22:08:23
Link to this Comment: 6303

When I first looked at the picture I was trying hard not to think something uninteresting, so I was pushing myself to read more into the picture than I was. As soon as I stopped doing that and just thought freely I began to see what the picture revealed to me.

What I see is a woman's soul blossoming open to reveal her inner desire. In this picture she is dancing, arms up over her head, hands waving back and forth, skirt billowing and twisting around her long legs. This is her true happiness and true freedom. However, there is more behind her, shown mostly by the glow that emanates in the background, like when you stand in a dark hall and can see a little light shining out of a semi closed door. You know there is more light, more truth, more space just past the door, but you have to open it to find out. This woman is slowly opening her true desires to someone, showing this person or maybe even herself, her happiness...something so simple as dancing, arms waving above her head, with her skirt billowing around her.

After listening to class discussion and seeing that the picture is held differently, it was hard for me to see anything else. I want it to be a woman, dancing freely, being herself and happy with her simple desire to just dance, freely with no inhibition or structure, nothing stopping her. However, upon looking at this new angle I am just this second beginning to see those flowers in Alice in Wonderland, the pansies talk to her and this looks very much like its talking or about to talk, but I really just keep seeing the woman, on her side or on her legs...I like the dancing woman.

landscape energy & fem reading
Name: Ingrid
Date: 2003-09-02 23:37:45
Link to this Comment: 6305

My initial reading of "Safe Haven" concentrated on the energy from the colors. We are drawn to the central focus--vivid swirls of intense green and purple--all our energy concentrated in a contained spidery mass. Bleeding outward, a wash of rich undulating red energy. As I was writing, my reading changed into topography. The central concentrated energy became the pinnacle of an archipelago, and the sea took shape from the swirled redness.

After some class discussion, I have to agree with (I can't remember who said this) the woman who mentioned that she did not want to do the "stereotypical feminist reading" of the painting and call it a vagina, eventhough the painting does have that abstract and (crediting another member of the class whom I do not yet know) Georgia O'Keefe-esqe quality. Now I wonder about the reluctance. Even with the topographical reading, I see an animated, definitely feminine force that resonates power. Are we afraid that we'll be read as flaky, too obvious?

"safe" haven?
Name: Jessie
Date: 2003-09-03 15:08:04
Link to this Comment: 6316

I have to admit, I had difficulty reading much of a story into this painting. I initially only saw the painting as a huge, blurred yet undeniably vaginal image. (Granted, this immediate impression may have been affected somewhat by the title of the course we were sitting in.) Listening to all of your interpretations of warmth and creation intrigued me. The title, especially, grasped my interest. Though I could understand interpretations of security, I couldn't quite apply them to the painting myself. I wondered what about the painting was making me doubt a "safe haven" in this image.

For one thing, the image is extremely imprecise. There's no clitoris, no labia majora nor minora, no layers at all. It's a huge blur. This doesn't speak of safety to me if anything, it conjures up feelings of imprecision and unsurity.

More strikingly, this vagina is of mammoth proportions. There's nothing else on the page, it's just a big isolated mouth. It's not even attached to a body, it's just floating in mid-air. I don't know what the original dimensions of the painting are, but I wouldn't be surprised if they are BIG. As it is, the image takes up every inch of the canvas, and even overflows it. All of this makes me think that this big, isolated, disembodied vagina is exploited in some way.

I don't mean to sound too critical -- I liked this painting quite a bit. But I wanted it to tell me something more about its meaning. Without the title, there was nothing to convince me that this image had any particularly "safe" connotations.

Safe Haven
Name: Catherine
Date: 2003-09-03 16:47:13
Link to this Comment: 6319

I guess it's the way I saw the painting (vertically, instead of horizontally), but I thought that this represented a coming together of two souls, and the brightness surrounding the two souls to be the reaction of their combining. The red seemed to be others, lurking and waiting for a chance to break the two souls apart.

Perhaps I let my imagination take me too far, but this was what my story turned out to be in the first class. Everyone else seemed to have interesting thoughts.

Burgmayer Painting
Name: Megan Hill
Date: 2003-09-03 22:24:00
Link to this Comment: 6325

As the professor pulled the first packet out of the box, I wondered if something had spilled on it causing the paint to run. Upon closer examiniation, I noticed how the large red circle seemed to be protecting the figure in the center.

Based on the title of the course, I assumed that the painting had some sort of sexual meaning. I searched the painting for several minutes, trying to determine what the picture was. I felt foolish, believing that the meaning was obvious and I just was not getting it.

To me, there really wasn't anything sexual about the painting. Instead, I saw something extremely feminine about the painting. A few students indicated that the pictures was a womb, a tangible object. I saw what a womb provides--security, warmth, protection. The womb seems to be a sexual expression while it's function is the feminine quality.

safe haven
Name: Sarah Schl
Date: 2003-09-04 15:18:15
Link to this Comment: 6334

Here's the little "story" I wrote Tuesday in class about the painting. I actually had problems making it into a narrative since what I saw was more of an isolated, arrested moment in which the background wasn't all that relevant.

"The lizard crawled slowly along the side of the dirt road, enjoying the sun on his scaly back. What he didn't know was that soldiers had been here before, and though they were gone, they'd left a surprise behind. Closer and closer the lizard crept inadvertently towards the landmine that would be his doom. Unconscious of his peril, he paused a few inches away to eye a tasty-looking bug. Then he stepped forward again and detonated the (very sensitive) land mine, which exploded immediately. Red petals of fire opened up around the lizard's blue-green body before he incinerated completely and turned to ash."

I didn't see the picture as particularly scary, but rather beautiful in a destructive way. ?? I think it's interesting that I focus more on the darker colors in the middle than on the red, which seems to have been the primary focus for some other members of the class.

"Safe" Haven?
Name: Grannis
Date: 2003-09-04 19:11:03
Link to this Comment: 6338

Hello everybody. I have truly enjoyed reading your comments so far--- they have helped me to regard this watercolor from many different perspectives :-). As a matter of fact, I have really been having fun "reading" the painting since Tuesday's class meeting. (Although it is rather embarrassing leaving it lying vertically on the table in the dining hall and having strangers throw you VERY strange looks!)...
Anyway, after all of my ruminating, I have finally come up with three possibilities about the meaning that lies in this painting. They are as follows:

1. "Safe Haven" does indeed closely resemble a vagina, and the swirls of red paint remind me of fertility. I really like the way Dr. Burgmayer let the watercolor "breathe" as she painted. After looking closely at the painting, I decided that the very outermost edges of the "haven" are lined with little threads of red paint, almost like small capillaries reaching out toward the end of the page. I saw the red as insulation, and was reminded of thermophotography where warm things appear red and cool things appear blue and green. This helped involve my sense of temperature in the painting. However, I must say that it did look like something I would expect to see hanging on the wall of a women's clinic!!!

2. Something about the image reminds me of metaphase, a stage of mitosis characterized by the lining up of chromosomes in the middle of the cell so that when the cell divides, each child cell will have genetic material in it. (So I guess you could say that the painting has a reproductive theme.... I don't know.) I know this isn't exactly the most romantic analysis, but I personally believe that reproduction (even on the smallest levels!) is a beautiful thing.

3. The wildest idea of them all--- that when Dr. Burgmayer was painting this, she wasn't really thinking consciously about painting a sexual-themed image at the time, but in fact had a subconscious desire to return to the womb (perhaps because she was feeling insecure, for some reason), and her desire manifested itself in this way. (Yes, I know this idea's a little nuts). :-)

Anyway, one last important point: I would be interested to present this image on the first day of school to a class with a different title, and see how they read into it. Personally, I feel that we have all been conditioned to anticipate meanings based on language titles. Thus, I don't really trust my opinions of this painting at all because I know that because I was aware of the "Thinking Sex" theme, I was extremely biased from square one. That didn't stop me from enjoying the painting, though....:-)

Sharon Burgmayer's work
Name: Laurel
Date: 2003-09-05 02:24:13
Link to this Comment: 6344

The painting most immediately reminded me of a novel I read in which the female protaganist describes sex in terms of colors that shift and deepen as she approaches climax. I remember thinking that the colors she chose did not match those I would choose to describe the different stages of arousal she was feeling. I then realized I was having a hard time reconciling the inner colors of the painting, the cool blues and greens, with their warm, flushed frame. I didn't know what to make of the colors and I remain very confused about how safe or invaded this haven is. Maybe I'm relying on the wrong details since color obviously has different implications for different people, but surely the colors the artist chose were not arbitrary, but deliberate on at least some level.

I also was wondering after class discussion (and I see Ingrid was wondering the same thing) why it seemed we shied away from describing what I saw as an overwhelming and unavoidable feminine, vaginal image. Why were we unsatisfied or ashamed of this obvious element of the watercolor? I hate that 'obvious'...I'm being presumptuous...maybe that's my problem, but I hope we haven't been programmed to dismiss such images and our appreciation for them as wishy-washy, corny feminist stuff.

River Rouge
Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2003-09-06 11:20:25
Link to this Comment: 6357

Hi All
Regarding SB's painting--the cover of our tome:

My first and persistent reaction is to the painterly aspects of it, not its intended or interpreted subject. I am not a watercolorist (am a photographer), but I see thick paper, watersoaked to its edges, a bulbous-tipped brush dripping rouge that runs and is chased by the artist, herself not in control of the outcome. Forget the message; the process--if such a frenetic crescendo of artistic activity can be called that--evokes sexual/senual reactions. I'm wondering how she managed to keep any of the areas white--pure--and wondering if i think the red of it is sullied, by contrast to the slips of dry shoals at the center of its heat and motion. I don't want to make anything of the wiggly cool stuff inside. My imagination is not done with the red river that engulfs it.

Thoughts after listening and reading other impressions:

I loved the surprise of the notion of a dancer...and the 90 degree rotation of the painting that then makes this interpretation so compelling. But I think there's something else going on in my head here... the dancer--for me--is in control of herself, of her (dangerous?) surroundings. She seems to harness the (scarey?) flow of the red river.

In general, I'm amused by our shared push-pulls-- in which we see sexual stuff in Sharon's painting, want to see/ think we should see something else, feel predictable and superficial because we keep coming back to the sexual stuff, and then reach the "AHA!" that we're doing this pushing and pulling because it is sexual. Hmmm.

"Safe Haven"
Name: Laura
Date: 2003-09-07 18:06:55
Link to this Comment: 6362

I also saw "Safe Haven" as a dancer caught in the spotlight. There was no hesitation or debate; that was my imediate thought as I glanced at the painting. However, the dancer was neither sensual nor safe, but rather delusional. Here's what I wrote down in class:
"Someone is dancing - alone - but oblivious. Oblivious to the spotlight, oblivious to spectators, oblivious to everything aside from her own energy, her own glow. She's untouchable, unmanageable, unreal. She's unreal because no woman can truly dance in oblivion - unless they have lost their sanity or are in a great deal of pain. She fits into neither category. We all wish we were her, but we cannot because we are women..."
This train of thought that I was having was actually influenced by John Berger's "Ways of Seeing". Essay #3 discusses how the social presence of a woman is different from that of a man:
"To be born a woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men. The social presence of women has developed as a result of their ingenuity in living under such tutelagewithin such a limited space. But this has been at the cost of a woman's self being split into two. A woman must continually watch herself... And so she comes to consider the "surveyor" and the "surveyed" within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others, and ultimately how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another."
The dancer is unreal to me because in my eyes, she did not survey herself, nor was she conscious of being surveyed. As a female in this world, one is conscious always of one's actions, appearance, etc. The reason being that females are always watched and appraised. The internalization of others' appraisal of our own "value" does create a split within the female. When you dance or wave your arms, even within the privacy of your own room, are you not conscious of your own movement and outward appearance. You survey yourself as you would be surveyed...

"Safe Haven"
Name: Garron
Date: 2003-09-07 21:13:22
Link to this Comment: 6363

I feel as though I performed this exercise very differently from others in the class. Instead examining "Safe Haven" and then writing my impressions of it, I took the quickest of glances at the front of my course packet and then wrote a stream-of consciousness piece. I jotted down whatever that came to my mind from that first glance and then let my mind move from that initial thought to whatever came into my mind next. I wrote the following:

"Once upon a time I went to a women's college. I took calculus and I took Spanish, and I took a class that had a course packet--a course packet with a yonic cover. Was is a flower or was it a vagina? Purposely ambigious--I think, yes.
I think of Geogia O'Keefe. Her's were flowers, but you know what I mean.
I think of freshman year biology in my high school, the smell and the taste of the memory of that year. Learning parts of plants in biology, the "sex parts" of the plants, and hearing gossip in the hallways about people learning about their own, and the people who they'd hooked up with's sex parts. 'Oh memories misty water colored memories of the way we were.'
Yeah, the picure looks like a water color--and I have no more to write."

I feel funny about displaying my stream-of-conscious for all to see my babblings. In the process of typing it up though, and with the help of reading Grannis's entry I realized the--well, the anger I felt towards this exercise that first day in class. I don't know if anger is the right word.
At the time we did this exercise I assumed because of the name of this course and what it is supposedly about that the painting had to have certain connotations. I thought, "Since this couse is about sex, doesn't this painting have to have sexual meanings?" I also thought, "How sterotypically woman's college, gender studies."
I put blinders on myself. I used my assumptions about this course to create assumptions about the painting and the exercise, which led to my feelings of resentment. These assumptions caused me to see certain meanings from the painting I thought I was "supposed" to see and block out others that I thought wouldn't "fit" with the course. In this way, I limited my imagination. I also prevented myself from seeing other areas and meanings this course might encompass.

Is this me?
Name: KB
Date: 2003-09-08 14:48:31
Link to this Comment: 6375

Over the past year, I have suscribed to the philosophy that art as therapy is extremely enriching, very soothing, and a portal to our innermost thoughts, desires, and fears. I have definitely grappled with my role as a woman in today's society, and when I saw this painting for the first time, I immediately thought that someone else has too.

Initally, my instincts honed in on the colors of the painting. The center, being very passive with its blues, and greens, and purples was intriguing and enticing. After being drawn to the middle portion of the painting, I was very frustrated by the fact that yet again, I enjoyed something that I viewed as passive. Next, I saw the bright red outer rim, and immediately thought heat, excitement, action and movement.

After thinking about the colors, I realized that what I saw in the picture as a whole was a woman's womb, which to me is a beautiful, yet scary place. This paiting depicts for me the feeling I experience in my stomach when I get nervous, excited, or stressed, and perhaps that is what the artist was trying to subconsiously describe. If not, she did a fabulous job of making a piece that I could so easily and readily relate to.

an upside-down idea
Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2003-09-08 20:53:27
Link to this Comment: 6381

Laura wrote about John Berger's "Ways of Seeing" in which he reportedly states, "To be born a woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men. The social presence of women has developed as a result of their ingenuity..."

This has been rattling around in my head all weekend: shouldn't we think about the importance of the acculturation of men, even more so than other women? What about men as the most advantageous audience (from our point of view) for the "fruits" of this course?

For example, what about more field sites that focus on boys/men as the clientele? My supposition is that, if we can get boys/men to "get it," the ball advances a whole lot farther than it does working with/for other women.

Just some fruit for thought.

Name: tia
Date: 2003-09-10 23:25:17
Link to this Comment: 6425

what i saw in the painting was something like two creatures exploring a different type of land or open space. they look like they are close friends maybe even lovers. the depth the colors create in the painting make me think that there is more to this painting, and that we just cannot see it, but the two creatures can. anyhoo, they look like they are having fun

feminine/sexual energy
Name: Heather
Date: 2003-09-11 16:33:06
Link to this Comment: 6442

When I first looked at this painting, I felt like I couldn't see anything concrete...the colors seemed to be in a state of movement, and the colors seemed to be a personified type of energy. The red seemed strong, excited, heated, loving. The red is putting all of it's (their?)energy together, and the blue/green/purple mass in the middle seemed to be a unique explosion or birth created from the red's energy....So, although I didn't see this painting as a straightforward representation of a woman or a womb, the energy I saw in the colors was very feminine/sexual: When I think about it now, this blue in the middle could either represent an orgasm or a birth.

kinda late here...
Name: Ali
Date: 2003-09-11 16:53:29
Link to this Comment: 6443

The orange-pink is warm flesh, comfortably enveloping the blue and green within. Instantly I think vaguely of chromosomes and a womb (or perhaps a vagina). Either way, what I see is comforting and protective at first consideration. On the other hand, I'm worried that I'm falling into stereotypes about gender and woman's nurturing role, etc. Thus, my second thought sees a uterus being violated and infected by disease. So the glass is either half full or half empty for this womb-like object (although it's still a womb to me).

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