Archive for the ‘ Academia ’ Category

Sunday Share: Missing from Academia

As I prepare to go back to school, consider ideas for my thesis, and develop lesson plans for the course I am TAing, I’m inevitably considering the world of academia. Not that long ago, if you’d have told me I would aspire towards a career in academia, I would have laughed in your face. Now, I’m pretty fucking excited.

That’s not to say there aren’t things I want to change. Indeed, there are so many things I want to change.

That brings me to this week’s Sunday Share. What do you wish was different in our higher education system? What topics would you like to see enter the realm of academia?

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I’ll go first.

I wish our higher ed system put more emphasis on exploration and research at the lower levels. I feel like I spent too much of my undergraduate career regurgitating information, and now I’m expected to suddenly do independent research.

I wish their was more acceptance for diversity. As a TA, I’ll make sure to ask my students what names and gender pronouns they prefer, and then address them as they wish to be addressed. I want to foster an atmosphere of respect for everyone, whoever they are.

I wish there was more research on health issues, especially as they relate to transgendered people and, to a lesser extent, women. I think the health field is doing a better job at researching women’s issues or with female subjects, but that there is still a long way to come. Additionally, I wish “pop culture” was considered a more respectable area of study in Women’s Studies, Sociology, and the like.

Brainstorming

With graduate school orientation complete, my brain is swirling with ideas. It’s too early on a Saturday morning, I was up too late last night, and I can’t stop thinking. When all else fails, sometimes you have to get your thoughts out on paper (or as it may be in this digital age- get your thoughts out on the interwebs). And thus, I present some possible thesis and/or paper brainstorms. I’m not really looking for commentary on any of this, as I’m in the brainstorming stage. However, if you can think of any good resources on any of these topics, I’d love if you’d send them my way.

1) Body image of female gymnasts, not only at the elite level, but at the recreational, pre-competitive, compulsory, optional, and collegiate level. What do gymnasts think about their bodies? How do they compare themselves with other gymnasts, other athletes, and their peers in general? In what ways do they worry about their bodies? In what ways are they empowered by their bodies? Is there a standardized measure of body image that I can use to compare gymnasts with the larger female population? How does this compare with the representation of women gymnasts in the media (both “insider accounts” and popular media- like Make It Or Break It and youth fiction). While we are at it, how do gymnasts thoughts on their bodies differ from what coaches and/or parents expect

Challenges: human subjects approval, sample size, statistics.

2) The peformance of gender roles in the circus. Compare historical roles in traveling circuses to those in modern circus arts, a la Cirque du Soliel. Strong men v. graceful aerial artists. Was this intentional or coincedental? Did/Does this reflect society or shape society, or both? How does this clear deliniation of gender roles among circus artists compare with the bearded women and such of the traveling sideshows? What was the appeal of each? The beautiful and the grotesque?

Possible resources: Janet Davis (UT Austin) “The Circus Age: Culture and Society under the American Big Top” 2002, John Kasson, Peta Tait “Circus Bodies: Cultural Identity in Aerial Performance” 2005.

Consideration: UT Austin American Studies PhD? Someone in NC is doing work on this too.

3) Representation of transgender or non-“gender-conforming” individuals in popular media. It’s hard to think of trans- characters in mainstream media, but when they exist how are they shown? More interested in fictional characters than reality shows and talk shows.

Examples of the top of my head: Ru Paul’s Drag Race, Moira/Max from The L Word (is The L Word over-analyzed already?), Transamerica, Degrassi, Boys Don’t Cry. Do these representations reinforce stereotypes or show a range of expierences?

Possible resource: GLAAD

4) The discourse over “butch flight.”

Ah, maybe I can go back to sleep now.

Let’s Talk About Books

I love books. I love the feel of thin pages between my fingers. I love how the spine creaks when you open a brand new edition. I love sharing books. I love giving them as presents. I love rummaging through piles of books at garage sales or thrift stores. I love getting lost in a story.

And of course, I love reading books.

I recently speed through Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. The introduction was a little bit slow, but once I got into the body of the text, I couldn’t put it down. It combined the excitement and mountaineering adventures of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air with the boldness and unconventionality of Dr. Paul Farmer as profiled in Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains. Couple that with stories of female education and empowerment (a la Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran), and you have a book that everyone should read. It’s one of those stories that proves that vision and determination can lead to social change, and that something small can turn into something much bigger. Three Cups of Tea certainly has its share of hard facts, but it provides the dream of an uplifting future, even in regions where the Taliban sometimes control civilization.

[NOTE: Apparently, a sequel entitled “Stones into Schools” was released in December 2009. I haven’t read it yet, but I plan on it.]

And this brings me to my next item of discussion. I need book recommendations. As you may or may not have gathered, I will soon be starting a graduate program in Women’s/Gender/Sexuality Studies. Since,  beginning in August, I’ll be reading and writing nonstop for the next two, five, six, or twelve years, I figure I might as well get started now.

  • While my undergraduate work allowed me to explore a variety of women’s and gender issues both national and internationally, theory was largely absent. I need both feminist theory and queer theory. What are those works you consider essential reading?
  • More specifically, one of my primary research interests concerns gender and athletics, particurally gender in what has historically been considered “feminine sport.” (I’m thinking figure skating, gymnastics, beach volleyball…) I’ve found some work on men (and to a lesser extent, women) in boxing and wrestling, as well as a bit of work on “the body in sport.” However, if anyone has interesting suggestions concerning gender (especially femininity) in sport, I’d love to hear.
  • My second research interest considers how non-binary gender identities are presented in the media. While I plan to explore the academic writing in this area, I’d love to be pointed towards any books/magazine articles that present transgendered, genderqueer, or otherwise gender-variating individuals. I’d be especially interested in this portrayal in young adult lit, although I haven’t searched out if such books even exist.
  • The last request is the most personal. I have this complicated and uncomfortable relationship with the term “femme” and even I can’t quite figure out quite where my discomfort is coming from. What are your favorite books on queer femininity and butch/femme identities?

My friends, followers, and random passerbyers, please share. Let’s talk about books, baby.

Arizona Girls

I spend the last few days visiting a graduate program in Arizona.

On the flight home, I was seated next to two (male) prospective PhD students in engineering. We were talking about how beautiful the campus was and how much we liked the professors.

“Everyone was really friendly,” I said. “Maybe it’s the constant sunshine.”

“Yeah, and most importantly, those Arizona girls were hot,” one of the men said.

Ye-ah, I like that they seem to be competing for who can wear the least clothes around campus,” the other added.

Half-naked girls. The most important part of any graduate school decision.

Observations on the 2009 NWSA Conference

I spent November 12 through 15 at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in Atlanta. It was a delightful weekend full of way too many thoughts on gender, sexuality, and equality. It’s taken me a while to write about the experience because I wanted to let some of my powerful reactions to simmer for a while. Now that I’m almost two weeks removed, I have a few comments to make:

1) Feminists do have style. I know the reputation: Feminists are ugly. They are dowdy. They have hairy legs and saggy breasts. They don’t show any skin. It’s all lies. There were beautiful women abound in all shapes, sizes, and colors, of all ages, wearing some of the cutest ensembles I have ever seen.

2) The sex wars continue. When studying feminism, I’ve encountered lots about the so-called “sex wars” of the late 1970s and the 1980s. In my idealistic worldview, I like to pretend that these are over. We now recognize that sexuality is often an important part of human existence, and that as long as sex occurs between consenting adults, it is just a (often fun) part of life. Yet, the topics of BDSM and female submission kept popping up. Even in sessions on entirely unrelated topics, participants would suggest that womenfolk’s lower place in society is because of the inherent degrading nature of heterosexual sex, the “female torture” that occurs within BDSM, or the “pornification” of American culture. Inevitably, someone else would counter that sexual freedom and expression is a valuable component in society. Really, it’s been thirty years and the great sex wars still continue?

If you’d ask me, I’d say it’s time to get over it. Sex is fun. Sex is good. Sex is an expression of desire and attraction, as well as the more animalistic nature within us all. Sex can be loving and vanilla, sex can be rough and kinky. I can be sexually dominant, I can be sexually submissive. I can have sex within long-term relationships or I can have sex with my friends. I can be aware and responsible for my own actions, while also assuring that my partner(s) are fully consenting. The sex wars have been going on for a decade longer than I’ve been alive, and even I’ve got this figure out. Isn’t it time to move on and focus on some more pressing issues upon which we can all agree?

3) Some people never change. Related to the previous observation, I was surprised at how unwilling certain participants were to consider new viewpoints. For example, on a presentation about transgendered individuals as part of the feminist movement, I had to listen to the two older ladies sitting behind me trading snide remarks for the duration of the hour. “The one on the left, that’s a he/she,” one of them said. The other added, “He can’t be part of the feminist movement, he’ll never be a real woman.” I think it can be valuable to admit what you don’t understand or are not comfortable with, but some of the comments I heard were downright disrespectful.

4) Race divides. For a conference entitled “Difficult Dialogues” that focused on issue of intersectionality, there were surprisingly few intersections happening. While I will admit that there were some truly inspiring presentations delivered to diverse crowds, there also seemed to be some strong racial divides. Even during Angela Davis’s keynote speech, the audience was largely split by skin color.  In my life, I try to break down barriers and have difficult dialogues. On the institutional level, however, it was difficult to observe.

5) Women’s centers can be powerful community resources. I am probably going to get in trouble with my friends for saying this, but the women’s center at my university does very little. In the past, it was a valuable community resource, and I’ve heard great things about the events they sponsored. Even last year, Inga Muscio, author of Cunt, spoke on campus. I don’t want to place blame on the women’s center leadership, as I think the problems lies more in the structure of the center and its position under student government than in a lack of passionate leaders. Anyways, women’s centers at other colleges and in other communities are doing so many things. They are financially independent! They have full time, professional employees! They attend conferences and discuss the challenges and successes they experience. They organize not only social events, but cultural and political events. They are resource centers and activist gathering places. We need more.

Don’t get me wrong. The conference was amazing. Next year in Denver, anyone?