This week’s class looks at the ways in which personal identity is affected by structures and/or phenomena that go beyond the actions or intentions of any one individual or group of individuals. These articles are very influential, but were all written over thirty years ago, so bear in mind their uses as well as what you would criticize in hindsight.
- Adrienne Rich’s article was written in a time in which women were shaped by the expectations of heterosexuality. What has changed? What hasn’t changed? What are the alternatives to compulsory heterosexuality for women and men other than adopting a lesbian/gay identity?
- bell hooks addresses the ways in which racism complicate the feminist project, and the notion that “women” can and should overcome their differences to identify with each other. What solutions does she propose?
- Finally, John D’Emilio looks at the way capitalism — a phenomenon that is often seen as responsible for oppression — can act to free people and create new gender and sexual identities. Is there a contemporary phenomenon that acts in similar ways to create new sexual/gender identities? How so?
This is only a CR/F exercise, and ideally you will use the blog to discuss your ideas with each other (although it is ok to just send a response to me privately.) Write about one or more of the following questions:
- Are there any aspects of Joan Scott’s article about gender that you understand better after listening to her explain her theory of gender and how she came to it?
- Scott talks about gender theory in relation to thinking about real world problems like the discrimination of Muslim girls in France. Do you understand how she is applying that theory? Give an account of it, as you understand it.
- Do you see relationships between Scott’s personal account of her life and her intellectual commitments? What are they and how would you describe them.
- Respond to something that interested you and/or connected to another reading in the course. Say why.
From Madeleine Del Real: Lisa Miller, “The Retro Wife: Feminists Who Say They’re Having It All — By Choosing to Stay Home,” New York Magazine (March 17 2013).
One thing this article makes me think about again is what the invisible presumptions are about “having it all” and whether there is a critique of work itself embedded in the longing to be perfectly happy.
What do you think?
This weekend at Lincoln Center there is a celebration of the actress Pam Grier and her movies. Click here.
Grier will be best remembered as the leading heroine of the “blaxploitation” film genre of the 1970s. Grier’s characters always stood out as empowered black women who relied on nothing but their own strength to achieve their goals. As one film producer put it, “She exists in the American imagination in a way that is permanent. She represents a self-reliant, dynamic female figure that doesn’t have to forgo femininity for potency, for militant power.”
Added by Claire Potter: The opening credits and themse song of Shaft (1971)
Talia Magen contributes William J. Cromie’s “Boys Struggle to Be Boys,” Harvard Gazette (August 6 1998), an article which draws on research to show that too many boys in well-functioning families are “trying to live with a split psychology can lead to depression and repression of feelings, he concludes. It can also foster anger and violence. In extreme cases, it might contribute to suicide and murder.” Take a look: what questions would you ask about this research?
And as you reflected on our class, what aspects of our discussion stayed with you and caused you to think more? What do you think was unresolved and deserved more conversation?
I just updated the syllabus to reflect a few questions that were on my mind when I chose next week’s readings:
In this class, we look at the social construction of gender by investigating the social construction of masculinity. If Simone de Beauvoir argued that the notion of “man” as the universal human being creates “woman” as its inferior “other”, Richard Fung argues that race also creates a masculine other, and Michael Kimmel argues that a “guy” is the ultimate American male. Gloria Steinem takes on a basic biological function characteristic of “women” and asks how gender hierarchy would be different in everyday life if men did it too, and Harry Brod’s early survey of men’s studies shows how the study of men became an urgent feminist project.
Do start our discussion on blog! A couple other things I am thinking about:
- what do you think would be different about Richard Fung’s analysis if the category he was interrogating was not “Asian” but “African-American” or “Latino”?
- What is effective — or ineffective — about Gloria Steinem’s comic reversal of gendered biology?
- Does “men’s studies” seem like a logical corollary to women’s studies, or does it have a different project in mind? If so, what is that project?
- What would be different about Michael Kimmel’s analysis if the boys he was looking at were not white?
From Max Kiehne, two links that respond to the question of whether “men” and “women” are different. Each takes up the subject of transgender, something we will address several times later in the course.
Oscar Molina contributes a fascinating piece from 2011 on the gendered redesign of a Navy brig in California.
As a follow up to this week’s follow-up discussion, students might be interested in a retrospective on the central role of Shulamith Firestone to early radical feminism here, here and here in n + 1 no. 15 (winter 2013). Note: this Brooklyn-based literary journal is well worth the cover price, should you like what you wee and choose to subscribe.