Imagining Feminist Futures

As we close this semester, it’s important to look back and determine how much our feminist thinking has broadened. In your dialectical deliberations, a lot of you focused on issues of privilege and oppression. Some of you even questioned the language that is being used to describe such phenomena. Interestingly, Audre Lorde also asked us to pay attention to language, and to use our language for transformation.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) — self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”

Image result for audre lorde

In her “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” Audre Lorde speaks to MLA conference attendees in 1977. Based on the audiences attention to language, she encourages conference goers, and us as readers, to use our language while we can. She acknowledges that fear is inevitable because it “is an act of self-revelation” (42) and we have been socialized into giving into fear (44). Another consideration she makes in her piece is the issue of visibility acting as a kind of double-edged sword. Lorde also calls for coalition of peoples across their differences, specifically for the act of survival.


–> How does Lorde compare to Alicia Garza’s piece?

–> What are the words that you are yet to speak?

–> What kind of feminist future can you imagine based on the readings this semester?


Liberal and Radical Feminisms

Catching up:

Today we will go over some of the previous posts and lessons from last week.

  • Kim Tallbear, Science, and Reproductive Justice

In addition, I would like to propose we take a day to go over drafts of the final assignment.

  • Can we move the discussion of Alicia Garza with that of Audre Lorde on Wednesday?

A few considerations based on the reading:

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, liberal feminism is focused around freedom:

“Liberals hold that freedom is a fundamental value, and that the just state ensures freedom for individuals. Liberal feminists share this view, and insist on freedom for women. There is disagreement among liberals about what freedom means, and thus liberal feminism takes more than one form.”

  • How does this view differ from Cathy Cohen’s explanation of radical queer politics?
  • How have previous readings on intersectionality informed your reading of Cohen?


Classifying Bodies

What are some of the correlations between the eugenics movement and Kim Tallbear’s piece?

If this “scientific development” says something about Puerto Rican ancestry, it is that there is a history of colonialism that cannot be erased from peoples’ bodies. However, it is still highly contested.

What is there to say about the social construction of disability?

Consider the fact that the healthcare bill last week did not pass, and it was in large part due to disability activists who were forcibly removed from the Senate! They say it was worth it.

Reproductive Justice Frameworks

“Birth control–individual choice, safe contraceptive methods, as well as abortions when necessary–is a fundamental prerequisite for the emancipation of women” (Davis 202).

News about the potential of male birth control being met with resistance based on their side effects calls attention to the side effects that birth control has had on women since the 1950s. Some say that male birth control has not been approved yet because the trial participants couldn’t deal with the side effects, while others claim that the side effects were much more dramatic than those experienced by women (so it’s not because they’re wimps). One of the concerns that this controversy brings up is a patriarchal assumption that men shouldn’t have to deal with birth control side effects because women can.

Around the same time a controversy around the potential of male birth control came up, the scientific corroboration of birth control side effects on women (such as depression) was linked to a racist history of keeping birth control side effects a secret–mainly due to the methods for testing such side effects on women of color in the continental United States (and in Puerto Rico).

From “America’s Hidden History: The Eugenics Movement”


One of the complexities of birth control debates lies in the differentiation between the liberation that women can have in choosing when and how to procreate, and the suggestion that some women are more “fit” to have families than others. In “Racism, Birth Control and Reproductive Rights,” Angela Davis unpacks the history of birth control advocates  in the early twentieth century, especially its relationship to the eugenics movement. As Davis indicates, “What was demanded as a ‘right’ for the privileged came to be interpreted as a ‘duty’ for the poor” (210). Thus, the movement was “robbed of its progressive potential advocating for people of color not the individual right to birth control, but rather the racist strategy of population control” (215). In the case of Puerto Rico, mass sterilization efforts and the testing of birth control methods were proposed and sponsored by the U.S. government since the 1930s to deal with the surplus of Puerto Ricans who were perceived as a burden for U.S. corporate interests.

Many of the women who were sterilized were not informed about any other methods, as some women recount in the documentary film La Operación by Ana Maria García. When other methods were brought in, women weren’t informed about the fact that they were being tested on them for the first time. In fact, 2004 marked a 50th anniversary for the first trials of birth control on Puerto Rican women without a fully informed consent. Puerto Rican professor of communication Lourdes Lugo-Ortiz calls it a “debate without women,” as press accounts from 1940-1977 missed the voices of the women affected. She also confirms Ana Maria García’s claim that sterilization was proposed as a solution to economic problems. While one might think this history is long gone, there are areas in which similar histories are not so distant. Consider the example of a 2014 news report on compensation for eugenics victims in North Carolina. Moreover, like skin bleaching practices, the issue of forced sterilization has also traveled transnationally.


Discussion Questions:

  1. What vectors of oppression does Joy Harjo present in her “Three Generations of Native American Women’s Birth Experience”? How are these vectors of oppression manifested in the women featured in the Quipu Project?
  2. How does Davis’ explanation of reproductive rights versus reproductive justice illuminate tensions within feminist movements?



Cultural Capital and Gender Exploitation

The last two days we’ve been discussing media representations of women’s bodies. Today’s topics deal more with the intersection of gender, race, and sexuality, but also (post)coloniality.

Reading hooks and Pierre may cause some hopelessness, though hooks ends with a few films she believes portray the complexity of black female sexuality, and in the case of Pierre, not every woman uses skin lightening products. As we start gearing for the final assignment, I wanted to show a few examples that complicate either/or readings.

First, bomba boricua:

This weekend I spent some time in the CNY Jazz Fest, and the band Sam Kininger with Brownskin played the song “Doin’ the Butt,” which had the audience dancing! I couldn’t help but see resemblances between “doing’ the butt” and bomba dancing. Bomba was a musical genre that African slaves used to celebrate their life in the midst of slavery in Puerto Rico. How, then, can we talk about dancing as empowering still today?

Also, Jody Landon:

How is #blackgirlmagic countering skin lightening tendencies?

Media Representations of Women’s Bodies

Before going into our discussion for today, a few “house-keeping” items:

–> This week’s readings have been altered somewhat:

8.1 Homework: Read Angela Davis’ “Racism, Birth Control and Reproductive Rights” and Joy Harjo’s “Three Generations of Native American Women”

8.2 – Reproductive Justice Frameworks and Sexual Violence(s)

Discussion Facilitation

Homework: Read “The Social Construction of Disability” by Susan Wendell, and Kim Tallbear’s “Tell me a Story: Genomics VS. Indigenous Origin Narratives”

8.3 – Classifying Bodies

            Discussion Facilitation

Homework: Cohen’s “Punks, Bulldaggers & Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics” Write Final Feminist Application Assignment (First Draft)

–> While you will receive a detailed assignment prompt tomorrow, I wanted to give you a heads-up about the final. According to the syllabus:

Final Feminist Application – 25%

5-6-page essay in which you apply feminist theory to contemporary social movements and events. Due 8/10.

–> You should start thinking about what feminist movement/activist group you want to study.

Considering Geopolitical Categories:

Think-Ink-Pair-Share: As a transition from last week’s discussion of transnational feminism, read Chandra Mohanty’s “One Third/Two Thirds Worlds” and reflect upon your previous definitions of concepts like Western/Third World.

How does her conception of “a world that appropriates and assimilates multiculturalism and ‘difference’ through commodification and consumption” relate to the readings you’ve done for today?

Women’s Bodies in the Media

Unpack the following quotes based on your reading:

That we seem to see the ‘same ho[s],’ using Tupac’s rancid poetic maneuver, in Brazil, in XXL, and in hip hop videos in general is unfortunately a conundrum of the new black gender politics that uses art, technological innovation, and globalization in the service of color chauvinism, sexist exploitation, and hair neurosis. It is a new black gender politics completely in the service of jack-legged black masculinity. And that black masculinity has been cobbled together from the stultifying remains of white supremacy, media, and the undeserved privileges accrued globally by American manhood. (Sharpley-Whiting 51)

What do you think earlier feminists would say to Pozner’s assertion?

And depictions of women as inherently at war over female beauty and male booty put an entertaining spin on decades of corporate news coverage pitting women against one another socially and economically; diverting attention from true problems we could all be allying to solve. (Pozner 100)


Decolonial Feminism, Settler Colonialism, and its Affects

The last few days we’ve spent our time together noting correlations between critiques of heteronormativity and homonormativity, the creation of transgender feminism, and the “red roots” (Gunn Allen) of non-normative gender expression and two-spirit identities. We also started discussing the work of Maria Lugones, whose “Toward a Decolonial Feminism” explains the coloniality of gender, or how gender was an imposition during the colonizing process. Lugones complicates the notion of imposition, however, as she proposes that gender was not simply designated unto colonized beings, since they were seen as non-human: “Thus, the colonial answer to Sojourner Truth is clearly, ‘no'” (745). She describes the coloniality of gender as an ongoing process, one that is constantly resisted, and she grounds her analysis at the point of resistance. We can see how the other scholars we’ve read are also engaging in resistance within feminist communities, as well as the cultures they inhabit.

Lisa Kahaleole Hall

Lisa Kahaleole Hall

(Kanaka Maoli)

Visiting Associate Professor at Cornell University’s 

Has several works in progress: Strategies Of Erasure’: Hawai’i as a Site of Conceptual Distortion, and We Çall Out Their Names: A Genealogy of Theories

In a relational analysis, Lisa Kahaleole Hall traces the “Strategies of Erasure” that the U.S. has employed in several territories. Her objective is to identify the ways in which colonialism has affected what were once sovereign nations.

She divides her essay into conceptual, spatial, racial, and political erasures, ending with a call to combat erasure through indigenous feminism.

  • What are some of the similarities between Kahaleole Hall and Luana Ross’s reading?
  • What do you think Kahaleole Hall means by “we face forward toward the past” (279)?

An example of ongoing colonialism:

Expanding Feminist Scopes

Last week we started challenging the normative gender binary, accounting for intersex bodies and transgender identities. This week’s reading by Eric Darnell Pritchard continues that discussion, specifically in regards to Black male feminists. The following conversation between Laverne Cox and bell hooks addresses some of the issues that Pritchard so critically examines. As you watch, can you identify common themes?


Following Lorber’s attention to gender, and her outdated use of the term transgender, which KJ Rawson updates and clarifies for us in their radio interview, here is the link to a list of concepts that explain numerous terms used in the LGBTQ+ community.

Test your knowledge: Pair these terms with their definitions

gender identity

gender role

gendered labor

gender assignment

gendered sexual scripts


assignment or availability and popularity of work based on gender

cultural expectations of one’s behavior

“normative patterns of sexual desire and sexual behavior” (Lorber 42)

interpretation of sex immediately after childbirth

sense of belonging to male/female categories

“The Medical Construction of Gender”

As a U.S. “American social psychologist known for the application of ethnomethodology to gender” Suzanne Kessler’s “The Medical Construction of Gender” provides a history of the medical profession’s history with identifying people’s gender based on their genitalia, which in turn is based on cultural assumptions about what male and female categories are supposed to look like.

  • Besides gender, there are class dimensions addressed in Kessler’s discussion of intersex people: “Intersexed infants born in poor rural areas where there is less medical intervention might never be referred for genital reconstruction…somehow managing” (52). How do you make sense of this assertion?
  • The symbolic dimension that Hill Collins explains in her article makes an appearance in Kessler’s argument about the medical construction of language: “Language and imagery help create an maintain a specific view of what is natural about the two genders and, I would argue, about the very idea of gender” (58). How does Fausto-Sterling explore this symbolic dimension in her article? Consider gender imagery (Fausto-Sterling 42).
  • Throughout the article, Kessler refers to her main research participants, “physicians who have had considerable experience dealing with  this condition” (49). Besides interviews, Kessler relies on the literature that exists on the topic, but not Fausto-Sterling, why do you think that is? 


Gender & Biological Determinism

Before going into our discussion of gender and biological determinism, we should go over your conceptual maps of Andrea Smith’s “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy.”

Hopefully this exercise has allowed you to grasp Smith’s central claim, that heteropatriarchy and oppression olympics are constantly maintained by a division in women of color and people of color as categories that are both affected by the three pillars of white supremacy.

–> What are those three pillars? How does her approach to telling these histories/events differ from what you were taught in school?

Social Construction of Gender

In “Night to His Day” Judith Lorber, Professor Emerita of Sociology and Women’s Studies at The CUNY Graduate Center and Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, explains the perpetual construction of gender in culture and as a social structure. She provides a thorough history of how cultural associations have created this binary system, and she claims, “In societies with only two genders, the gender dichotomy is not disturbed by transvestites, because others feel that a transvestite is only transitorily
ambiguous-is “really a man or woman underneath” (38). While the concept of transvestite is different than transgender, which she calls transsexual (an outdated term), we should consider the nuance of descriptors and the histories that are attached to them.

KJ Rawson has a radio segment in which he explains the concept of transgender versus transgendered.

–> What are the ways in which discourses also shape our conceptions of heterosexuality?