Still Working Toward a Radical Approach to Sexuality in WGS: An Interview with Merri Lisa Johnson

By Catherine M. Orr

Last month, Jammie Price, Professor of Sociology at Appalachian State University, was placed on administrative leave for her “inappropriate speech and conduct in the classroom” for showing “The Price of Pleasure,” a film about pornography produced by Media Education Foundation which she checked out from the University’s library.  As the Chronicle of Higher Education reported last week, according to the Vice President for Faculty Affairs, “at least three students complained to administrators that the content was ‘really inappropriate.’”  Not surprisingly, as word of ASU’s response has spread, the comments elicited on both WMST-L (a listserv for WGS scholars and teachers) and from CHE readers focus mainly on issues of academic freedom.  According to Merri Lisa Johnson, Director for the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at University of South Carolina, Upstate, and author of the RWGS chapter, “Sexuality,” this is a missed opportunity.

Catherine M. Orr: So Lisa, in your chapter, you speak about how the field’s framing of sexuality is too often “left wanting” on the ideological level. This might seem pretty counter intuitive to a lot of WGS veterans, most of whom probably either tell stories about WGS’s beginnings as deeply embedded in radical feminism’s interrogation of normative sexualities and/or embrace the influence of queer theorizing in the field. But your perspective seems really appropriate given what’s going on at Appalachian State. Can you talk about how you would respond to folks who might not get what you’re saying here?

Merri Lisa Johnson

Merri Lisa Johnson:
The key issue here is the difference between the way the field understands itself as having interrogating normative sexualities and the way the field describes itself to the public. What was “left wanting” in feminist responses to the App State suspension or, as I explain in my RWGS chapter, in similar responses to the attack on sexuality studies by the Georgia legislature, is a viable and well-rounded public articulation of the place of sexuality in the WGS classroom. Gail Dines has made a smart intervention by reorienting the conversation about teaching pornography from a matter of graphic sexuality in the classroom to a critique of economic exploitation, but there are definite limitations in the ways this argument is playing out so far: (1) Dines mobilizes the danger narrative of sexuality, arguing that the exploitation of women in pornography must be exposed in order to be critiqued and curbed, and (2) the sociology profs mobilize the intellectual go-to of academic freedom. I agree with both arguments. Yet there is still no vocabulary for resisting the conservative moral framework that says graphic sexual material is inappropriate for the classroom, and no public statement of feminist pedagogy that says our notions of what is deemed proper in the classroom are part of the very status quo that WGS generally interrogates.

In packing up my research materials for the RWGS  chapter on “Sexuality,” I ran across an article by Deborah P. Britzman called “Is There a Queer Pedagogy? Or, Stop Thinking Straight” that I had at one time intended to include in my argument. In encouraging attention to “the unmarked criteria that work to dismiss as irrelevant or valorize as relevant a particular mode of thought,” and “[t]o engage the limit of thought–where thought stops, what it cannot bear to know, what it must shut out to think as it does” (216), Britzman provided one of the starting places for my own thinking about what has not yet been accomplished around discourses of sexuality in WGS.

Jane Sexes It Up

Since the publication of my first book, Jane Sexes It Up, I have been working in various ways on this problem of limited academic feminist discourse about sexuality. Ideas grouped under the admittedly problematic categories of “pro-sex” or “pro-pleasure” feminism (the more accurate terms would probably be libertarian, sex radical, and queer feminisms) have not been clearly or widely disseminated to the general public in the same way that cultural consciousness has been raised around issues of sexual assault or violent representations of sexuality in pornography. The feeling I have is that some of us have agreed internally that the study of sex work, pornography, oral sex, role play, sadomasochism, masturbation, fisting, faked orgasms, and the like are worthy of study and appropriate content for WGS courses, but that we introduce these topics in the seeming privacy of our classrooms, hoping never to be discovered by our conservative administrators, legislators, and constituents. This sensation that what we do must be done under the radar marks the work with an affect of shame, or vulnerability, and positions us to return to the same problem every few years as another professor or course falls under public scrutiny.

Something is missing here. Something is (still) left wanting.

CMO: In one of your four propositions for reclaiming a more radical approach to teaching sexuality in WGS, you say: “Stop Saying ‘Sex Wars’.”  Can you talk a bit about how WGS pedagogies that emphasize that framing of the field’s history as one of “battles” about sexuality have affected the field?  What do you want us to do differently?

MLJ: This semester I titled that section of my Feminist Theory & Methods course, “The Feminist Debate Formerly Known as the ‘Sex Wars’,” to both acknowledge that commonplace term and trouble it at the same time. The textbook I selected, The Feminist Philosophy Reader, gave me some interesting pieces to use in the service of this pedagogical approach, including Ann Ferguson’s critique of radical and libertarian feminist theories of sexuality and Chris Cuomo’s queer reframing of liberal gay rights debates. My goal in this section of the course was to introduce the usual perception of feminist sexuality debates as polarized and then to show the many nuances of each “side,” and even more interestingly, to take the conversation in other directions altogether. So we moved from Catharine MacKinnon’s critique of pornography as a representation of male pleasure and female masochism to a complex mixed genre piece by the Canadian lesbian sadomasochistic feminist collective, Kiss and Tell, to an article by Evelynn Hammonds that racializes this scholarly inquiry through the lens of black feminist theory, and on to the methodological intervention of Nancy Tuana in her piece on “epistemologies of ignorance” and the deliberate reproduction of biased and incomplete knowledge formations about female sexual anatomy. In other words, we ranged widely, departing from what the RWGS experience conditioned me to think of as “the usual suspects.” In short, my recommendation is to renounce the convenience of a polarized argument in the classroom and to demonstrate the incredible proliferation of ideas about sexual pleasure, sexual agency, sexual desire, sexual practices, sexual orientation, and sexual representation.

CMO: Your chapter is very much located–in many senses of that word–in a Southern U.S. context, in which you speak of a generalized discomfort with talking about sexuality, proposed legislation to defund state institutions teaching queer theory, as well as a kind of constant threat of anti-gay violence? Do you think teaching WGS is different in the US South as opposed to other places? If so, how?

MLJ: I couldn’t say for sure, since so much of my teaching (and living) has been done in this region. I taught in Ohio and upstate New York during my years as a graduate instructor, and I probably met with about the same mixture of students who yearn to speak openly about sexuality in the classroom and students who are shocked by such activity. In Spring 2011, after having completed the RWGS chapter, I read Lisa Duggan’s Twilight of Equality? (I was late to that party!) and learned about the politically motivated attack on WGS at SUNY New Paltz in the late 1990s through the vulnerable opening of a conference held by the WGS program on sexuality. Much earlier in my research for RWGS, I read Miranda Joseph’s discussion of politically motivated attacks on WGS at the University of Arizona through the vulnerability created by the institutional links between WGS and LGBT Studies. And then of course, there is the currently unfolding conflict at Appalachian State. With these cases in mind, along with Arlene Stein’s sociological study on gay rights in Oregon, I would suggest that my analysis of sexuality in WGS is located in a conservative and rural context, and that these traits—not its Southernness—link my experience here to similar experiences in other conservative and rural contexts across the U.S. that produce pressures and taboos around this academic subject matter.

CMO: Last year, you published Girl in Need of a Tourniquet, a memoir that focuses on your diagnosis with borderline personality disorder. This seems incredibly brave, especially for an academic. We are supposed to embrace this very narrow understanding of rationality and de-emphasize things like emotions and even our own personal struggles.  So, what are the good things that have come with that decision? And how has the memoir and being out with your diagnosis affected your current research and writing projects?

MLJ: Feminist literary nonfiction has schooled me in fearless self-revelation. “Because the machine will grind you into dust anyway,” Audre Lorde says, “whether or not we speak.” I operate most of the time as if the feminist methodological revolutions of standpoint epistemology and first-person narrative as a form of theory are generally accepted by academics. This deliberate self-deception gives me a lot of freedom to write and publish what strikes me as true and meaningful despite the risks of introducing the personal and the emotional into my professional academic work. What has been pleasant and wonderful is how little negative response I have received. The ones who admire my forthrightness tell me so. If there are others who are shocked or put off or who see my work as less rigorous as a result, they have kept it to themselves. Two recent theoretical fronts have been useful, I think, in shoring up the freedom to publish this kind of work and the credibility assigned to it. The first is the incredible surge right now around Disability Studies and the related area of “crip theory.” The second is the sustained attention to theories of emotion and affect or what Ann Cvetkovich and others have been calling “public feelings.” Between these two critical edges, my attention to states of emotional dysregulation and strategic negotiations with a particular diagnostic category finds a comfortable intellectual home. I didn’t really know much about either of these fields before I published Girl in Need of a Tourniquet. As a result of speaking and writing the experience, these communities of scholars suddenly became visible to me and offered me spaces to think collectively about issues that previously felt unique, private, and kind of embarrassing. I can see now that those feelings were culturally constructed to mystify the ways my experience is part of a shared social condition—shared by other borderlines, by other people with psychiatric and physical disabilities, and by the general population, all of whom experience overwhelming emotions at one point or another in life. The personal is political, again and again.

CMO:  So what’s next for you? What are you working on now?

Johson speaking at Southeastern Women's Studies Association Conference, 2012

MLJ: I’ve had two books in mind for the past two years. One is a scholarly monograph on cultural representations of borderline personality disorder that use the lens of crip feminism to unsettle popular misconceptions of the borderline personality and to demonstrate that discourses of emotional dysregulation absolutely saturate what we typically consider the “normal” cultural environment—in films, on television, and in just about every love song on the radio—and I am torn in this project between wanting to do the work of asserting and claiming the widely stigmatized cultural identity of borderline personality disorder, on one hand, and wanting to point out that this category is faulty and porous, on the other, to say that it overlaps with the life experience of people who do not have this diagnosis and do not identify as psychiatrically disabled, that “borderline” becomes a space where the disavowed realities of emotional dysregulation gets projected. That “borderline” is one version of what feminist disability studies scholar Susan Wendell calls “the rejected body.”   The other project is a sequel to Girl in Need of a Tourniquet, and it will shift the focus from abandonment issues to the opposite and far less frequently discussed issue of engulfment reactions, or what happens when a borderline personality gets married and goes up for tenure. In the immediate short-term, I’m planning to write a sabbatical proposal over the summer in hopes of securing reassigned time for turning these ideas into manuscripts.

MERRI LISA JOHNSON is Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of South Carolina Upstate. She has edited or co-edited: On the Literary Nonfiction of Nancy Mairs (2011); Third Wave Feminism and Television (2007); Flesh for Fantasy: Producing and Consuming Exotic Dance(2006); and Jane Sexes It Up: True Confessions of Feminist Desire (2002). She has also published a memoir, Girl in Need of a Tourniquet (2010) and just completed her term as president of the Southeastern Women’s Studies Association.

Does the Mainstream Press Finally “Get” Intersectionality?

By Catherine M. Orr

About  three weeks ago, an article appeared on the front page of the Style section of the Sunday New York Times: “A Woman Like No Other.” The accompanying graphic made clear which woman we’re talking about:  long straight blonde hair, aviator glasses, hip hugger jeans, and long, lean limbs.  It was the iconic image of Gloria Steinem.

Now I love it when feminism and its legacies are treated as newsworthy. But I also wince a little as I wade in, ready to be disappointed by some skewed bit of history (bra burning) or  one-line dismissal of early radical feminist theorizing (wages for housework or 24 hour day care centers or abortion on demand). It’s always a mixed bag.  And, let’s face it, it always has been; popular media both popularized and dismissed as completely wacky the work of the women’s movements of the 60s and 70s. Therefore, I greeted this article with the assumption that, once again, Gloria Steinem will be reified as some mouthpiece of feminist thinking both then and now.

So when I read in paragraph four, “Where is the next Gloria Steinem, and why — decades after the media spotlight first focused on her — has no one emerged to take her place?”, I let out an audible “ugh!”

Don’t get me wrong, starting from the abjection of Steinem’s brand of feminism characterized in early histories and biographies of late 20th century feminist activism, I’ve actually come a long way. Once I started listening what she had to say, I came admire this icon greatly.  As a straight, white, urban, comfortably middle-class feminist who got more than her fair share of media representation, I’ve found her analysis astute, especially about the intersections of gender, race, class, and sexuality.

In the 1970s, she made a point of speaking along side and continually promoting the ideas of other feminists, most notably Florynce Kennedy, an African American lawyer and civil rights activist who sued to get into Columbia University, represented the Black Panthers, and regularly challenged her audiences’ assumptions about race and gender. In a film I show on day two of my intro course titled, “My Feminism,” Steinem is one of the talking heads who provides the historical and theoretical content for visually rich images that make about a dozen feminist causes come to life in 53 minutes time. In it, she argues that all women must be invested in making “lesbian” a badge of honor as long as that label has the power to take away your job or your kids or your medical benefits, regardless of how you identify.  Somehow, Steinem’s words get through to my straight students in ways that the queer theory I teach seems to too often mystify them. I really appreciate that.

But the perennial focus on Steinem means that other feminists–feminists of color, feminists who do social justice work on issues other than gender, feminists who have more complex readings of the category “woman,” feminists who actually are lesbian–get squeezed out. And the assumption that these articles often make–that their own media norms had nothing to do with the Steinem-as-spokesperson phenomena in the first place–is absolutely maddening.  In fact, this laser-like focus on gender as a singular category of analysis seems to have changed little in press coverage, as Astrid Henry and I discussed earlier on this blog.

So imagine my surprise when the article’s 6th expert weighed in:

Latoya Peterson, editor of the blog Racialicious, said: ‘We’ve entered a period where there isn’t a single narrative about anything. “Feminism” has given way to what other women have termed “feminisms” — all the various ways that we seek justice and equality.’ Take Racialicious, for example. It’s a blog about race and pop culture, but conversations about sexuality, body image and gender stereotypes are regular features. The big political issues of yesteryear have been supplanted by messier sociocultural questions that a new generation debates in its own patois of activism, with terms like ‘rape culture’ and ‘slut shaming’ and ‘fat positive’ and ‘cisgender.’”

I nearly fell off my chair.  Finally, someone that is articulating intersectionality from an intersectional location like Racialicious (a blog I love, by the way) is part of the conversion in news coverage of feminism! Are we turning a page? Or, have I trained myself to keep my expectations so low for so long that even this feels like a game changer?

This was a puff piece after all, mostly an attempt to take a softer news angle on the recent debate on reproductive rights in the U.S. going on in section A.  But I felt heartened, nevertheless.  I want to believe that the versions of feminism that I teach in my Women’s and Gender Studies courses are seeping into the mainstream, even if it is on the front page of the Style section.  Since most folks do get to know feminism through its representations in pop culture–as opposed to their local feminist bookstore or in a WGS course–it’s good to know that those representations are starting account for the complexities and contradictions that have always been a part of feminist theorizing.

Feminist Futures and Redemptive Assessments?

By Diane Lichtenstein

As we, the editors of RWGS, state in the Introduction, we attempted to be careful not to reinscribe a “progress narrative” that assures us WGS is wiser than it was forty years ago and even ten years ago.  Despite our self-vigilance, we occasionally referred, however obliquely, to that narrative;  in the Preface, we wrote, “WGS practitioners at all levels will find in Rethinking Women’s and Gender Studies much to contemplate about the field’s current practices and future possibilities.” And in the Introduction we invited readers to help “to push WGS to a place where it has not been permitted to go (where it seemed it must not go)” as well as to “experience the same sort of astonishment and intrigue that we did to fuel their own passions for and about WGS.”

Clare Hemmings in Why Stories Matter: The Political Grammar of Feminist Theory provides for me an explanation of why it seems so difficult not to want and even need a vision of a future that is better (i.e. that resolves past conflicts).  Her paradigm posits three separate yet interconnected narratives:  loss, progress, and return. For the loss narrative, the fragmentation or depoliticization of feminism from its institutionalization in the academy is paramount, and the present exaults the importance of those who remember and can speak to, or at least speak for, a time when “politics and activism” were what feminism was all about.  On the other hand, “progress” indicates that the 70s was a time of activism but also ignorance as the singularity of the “woman” who constituted the feminist “we,” the 80s was a time correction based on critiques of feminists of color and lesbian who opened up questions about the relationship between feminisms and its subjects and got us rolling on “difference”, the 90s brought the much welcomed postmodern turn which put difference at the center, reconceptualized power, and complicated politics.  Progress is an optimistic narrative that sees the present as a time of plenty and the past as a place “we” don’t want to go back to. The “return” narrative rests on the insistence that we “not look back at the past too closely since…there were problems on both sides.  But let us instead turn to the tasks at hand, ones that crowd in on the present, and take action now to secure a better future.  The present is a time of material concern, then, but this concern must always be presented as emergent, as a forever new development that requires attention” (113).   Hemmings argues that the “vision of the future” of Western feminist theory “mobilizes affective investments to represent itself as both necessary and shared” (116).

I suggest that whenever we speak of goals, we speak of the future. And both the setting of and realizing goals imply a secular version of redemption.  In this era of assessment, we are supposed to understand measurement of student “success” as redemption, for us as instructors and for the students themselves.  But can a knowledge discipline set goals?  How would the discipline know when it had met its goals?  What would redemption mean for a discipline?  WGS does have goals, most often in the form of individual courses’ and programs’ goals.  And NWSA has goals: “leading the field of ws and gs in social and educational transformation” and “supporting scholarship that transforms knowledge of women and puts that knowledge into practice.” Individual members of NWSA are described as actively pursuing “a just world in which all persons can develop to their fullest potential – one free from ideologies, structures, or systems of privilege that oppress or exploit some for the advantage of others.”  (NWSA website)

Are any of these actual goals?  Can they be measured?  Are they predicated on a belief in the “progress” of women’s studies?

In addition to NWSA, I have been active in the professional academic organization dedicated to interdisciplinary studies.  The Association for Integrative Studies, “the professional association devoted to interdisciplinarity,” claims “Interdisciplinarity combines the insights of knowledge domains to produce a more comprehensive understanding of complex problems, issues, or questions ranging from comparison to fully realized integration.”  Its mission statement includes the following goals: “Promote the interchange of ideas among scholars, teachers, administrators, and the public regarding interdisciplinarity and integration; Advocate best-practice techniques for interdisciplinary teaching…[and] research; Advance the exploration of key terms and seek out new theoretical models essential to interdisciplinarity and integration; Sustain the development of real-world applications of interdisciplinarity and integration; Sponsor the development of standards for interdisciplinary program accreditation; and Offer best-practice methods for assessing interdisciplinary programs and coursework.”  Clearly, the organization sees the need not only to establish well-articulated goals and to take assessment seriously but also to insure interdisciplinarity’s future.

The Association for Integrative Studies wants to be both an advocacy group and an academic field’s professional organization.  Like WGS, Interdisciplinary Studies has become its own discipline, complete with a journal, newsletter, canonical texts, Ph.D.s, annual conference, tenure-track faculty lines, and … orthodox ideology about what is interdisciplinary work and who is doing that work.

If I compare the Association for Integrative Studies with NWSA, I see the former as having articulated more “measurable” goals than the latter.  Does this suggest that NWSA will accomplish less?  Be less effectively positioned to “progress” toward an imagined future?  I am not unaware of my implied conflation of NWSA—a professional organization–and women’s and gender studies—an academic field.  So, to distinguish between them, I will ask: does the field need the organization to insure its future?  Has NWSA also relied on a progress, loss, and return narrative?  With what result?  Is WGS preoccupied with the future of the field because of the progress, loss, return narrative?  If we told a different story, would we be discussing space rather than time, for example?  And if we spent less energy focusing on the disciplining of WGS, what would we be doing instead?

Interview with Astrid Henry, author of “Waves” chapter

Last month, both Astrid Henry, Chair of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies at Grinnell College and author of “Waves” in RWGS, and Catherine Orr, co-editor of RWGS, were interviewed by a reporter from USA Today about  Women’s and Gender Studies.  It seems that this article would be a follow-up to a previous piece about NOW’s 45th anniversary.  And while the reporter didn’t seem to be cooking up a piece with a negative spin or some sort of exposé, there was a definite disconnect between the reporter’s assumptions about what we were going to talk about and what we actually said (or tried to get across).  This echoed the very ideas that Astrid wrote about in her chapter: certain metaphors about the discipline “stick” even when they are shown to be inadequate.

Astrid Henry

Catherine Orr: So, Astrid, can you talk a bit about the interview with Sharon Jayson, the USA Today reporter?  What kinds of questions did she ask? What kinds of assumptions did she have about Women’s and Gender Studies?

Astrid Henry: She was primarily interested in trying to understand the concept of intersectionality and the idea that feminism today is no longer “just” a movement for women’s rights and gender equality. Much of our interview was spent discussing how and why the feminist movement now has a broader set of concerns beyond exclusively women’s rights.  For Sharon Jayson (the reporter), it was feminism’s “mono-focus” on women and gender equality (by which I think she meant women’s equality) that made second wave feminism so successful.  I would say that most of our conversation circled around this idea; for Jayson, something has been lost in our move to a broader, less cohesive form of feminism and feminist activism, and she was interested in hearing whether or not I also thought of this as a loss–which I don’t.

I think she was much less interested in hearing about feminism or WGS as it is studied and understood in an academic institution and much more interested in what the average American thinks about feminism today.

CO: Right, that’s the impression I got as well. It’s like the complexity of intersectionality was frustrating to her, and she really wanted us to get to something that would work better as a soundbite– “it’s about equality.”  Which brings me to your ideas in the “Waves” chapter in RWGS:  There you make a similar point when you talk about metaphors that “remain entrenched within feminism’s lexicon” (102).  Can you talk a bit about why metaphors like “waves” (or “equality”) are so appealing, even when they are so problematic?

AH: I think that terms and metaphors, like “waves,” help us to bracket and cordon off complex things, whether a broad span of history with a lot going on in it, competing ideas, disagreements in political strategy, etc.  In my Intro class, for example, even though we’ve spent most of our semester discussing a very wide range of feminist theories and theorists (plural) from what could be described, historically speaking, as the “second wave” period, when we get to third wave writing about the second wave, a flattened-out caricature of the second wave sometimes seems to take hold–even though students actually know much better having just studied “second wave” theory and history.

In a college or university class, of course, we can keep questioning these terms, even as we might end up using them as a form of shorthand.  What’s more difficult, I think, is knowing how to get this critique of waves (or any other simple category) out into the mainstream media, which takes me back to our interview with USA Today.  As you note, reporters often want a good “sound bite,” and using the waves metaphor makes for an easy sound bite, a quick way to sum up a certain kind of generational divide.

CMO: I think you’re putting your finger on a tension that seems to affect WGS as a discipline (perhaps more than others?): the intellectual/theoretical/historical project of WGS versus its pedagogical dissemination.  Is it our students’ individualism and sense of self-invention combined with their identification with “third wave” authors?  Or are we somehow un/intentionally structuring our courses as supercessionist narratives (as Wendy Kolmar talks about in her chapter)? Or do students come in kind of “hard wired” to read just about any historical narrative we introduce that way?  Interesting stuff!

Okay, but now I’ve got to ask you to your current projects, especially the one about feminist memoirs, since I think it fits right into how we theorize the past.  So what’s on the horizon in terms of your current research and writing?

AH: I’m currently working on several projects which, in various ways, are connected to my interest in feminist generations and how we theorize and “use” the past.  The first is a book-length project on feminist memoirs focused primarily on memoirs published in the 1990s and 2000s.  A central concept in this work is Audre Lorde‘s idea of “biomythography,” or the notion that memoirs and autobiographies always involve myth making and self invention. A central question that I’m exploring is what version of the feminist past do memoirists wish to put forward and why?

I’m also working on two articles on television series: one on AMC’s “Mad Men” and one on CBS’s now cancelled “Cold Case.”  In both pieces, I’m looking at how feminist and queer history is represented on television and the use of progress narratives in televisual texts, particularly as related to women’s and LGBTQ rights.  As with my work on memoirs, I’m interested in why particular moments in the past become representable, in this case on TV, and what the use of this “history” says about the present and our relationship to that past.

Finally, I’m at the last stages of finishing an essay I’ve been working on for several years that explores a number of “new feminism” texts published in Scandinavia in the early 2000s.  I’m comparing this Scandinavian “new” or “youth” feminisms with third-wave writing in the U.S. This project has involved a lot of translation (from Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish), which is a new scholarly endeavor for me.

ASTRID HENRY is the author of Not My Mother’s Sister: Generational Conflict and Third-Wave Feminism (2004) and has chapters in a number of anthologies including Different Wavelengths: Studies of the Contemporary Women’s Movement (2005) and Catching A Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the 21st Century (2003). She serves on the Executive Council of the National Women’s Studies Association. Her recent publications include an essay with a former student, Erica Hougland, in And Finally We Meet: Intersections & Intersectionality among Feminist Activists, Academics, and Students  and  an essay coming out this year in new collection on fashion, edited by Shira Tarrant and Marjorie Jolles, entitled Fashion Talks: Undressing the Power of Style.

It’s time for Rethinking Women’s and Gender Studies…the blog!


Edited by Catherine M. Orr, Ann Braithwaite, Diane Lichtenstein

Rethinking Women’s and Gender Studies re-examines the field’s foundational assumptions by identifying and critically analyzing eighteen of its key terms. Each essay investigates a single term (e.g., feminism, interdisciplinarity, intersectionality) by asking how it has come to be understood and mobilized in Women’s and Gender Studies and then explicates the roles it plays in both producing and shutting down possible versions of the field. The goal of the book is to trace and expose critical paradoxes, ironies, and contradictions embedded in the language of Women’s and Gender Studies—from its high theory to its casual conversations—that relies on these key terms. Rethinking Women’s and Gender Studies offers a fresh approach to structuring Feminist Theory, Senior Capstone, and introductory graduate-level courses in Women’s and Gender Studies.


Catherine, Ann, and Diane want to keep the conversation going!  So we’re including this blog in hopes that the work of rethinking the field of Women’s and Gender Studies is not just our own.  We will include our perspectives on current events, our own reading, relevant links, interviews with some of our contributors about their current projects, and conversations with folks (both students and faculty) who are using RWGS for courses.  We plan to post new material here three or four times a month.  So be sure to come back. :-)