Femininities, Masculinities, and the Politics of Sexual Difference(s)
Women's and Gender Studies
"'What Do We See Now?': Picturing Gender and Race in Nineteenth-Century US Periodicals"
Women engravers, designers, and illustrators participated in shaping the rapidly expanding visual culture created by the expansion of illustration in publishing after the Civil War. These women trained in the female schools of design organized in several American cities in the fifties and pursued commercial art careers in the second half of the nineteenth century. The history of these women illustrators and their images illuminates how tensions between expectations of femininity and actual market practices and possibilities for women helped to reproduce gender and race through the new forms of popular culture that emerged after the Civil War. Illustrations-pictures with captions-created a circuit linking many forms of reading to advertising and consumption.
"Stylistic Innovation and Masculinity in Jazz and American Culture During the 1940s"
This project is part of extended research I am doing for my next novel, focusing on the profound innovations that began to alter the shape of jazz and popular culture and their relationship to representations of masculinity, not only among the musicians and their devotees, but in American culture as a whole. The major facilitators of these extraordinary changes were mostly black and male, born either during or just after World War I, and weaned on Louis Armstrong's pioneering work, consolidating the organized instrumental solo within the framework of an ensemble. While revising the extending the vocabulary of Swing, these men also embodied a post-war spirit of black male assertiveness and racial consciousness that reacted against what was considered the crowd-pleasing, self-effacing demeanor of the previous generation. They also created an insider lingo, a mode of dress, and a stance that was adopted by a segment of the post-war young adult male urban population. Another movement within jazz modernism known as "Cool Jazz" became not merely a musical statement but part of an evolving male persona, emphasizing self-mastery and control in response to an existential crisis, resulting from the destructive potential of the atomic age. Keeping and not losing one's "cool" was the male mantra. My seminar paper will explore these evolving masculinities in the context of contemporary cultural and political developments, and alongside the femininities of successful female jazz musicians of the time.
Diverse Community Affairs and Lesbian-Gay Concerns
"The Afro Pomo Homo Vexing of Black Macho in Black Lesbian and Gay Writing, 1979 to 1996"
African-American gays and lesbians, like all Africans in diaspora, have a complicated relationship to the book. After World War II, black people in the United States-for the first time-seized the public to express their intention to subvert the white/Western domination of life and language. The process has not been fluid, though ongoing, in the streets, in the arts, and in politics. This project continues a conversation begun in my 1998 article, "Transferences and Confluences: Black Poetries, Black Arts, and Black Lesbian-Feminism" (Brandt, ed., 1999) about the uses by black gay and lesbian writers of the poetics of the 1960's black consciousness movement, especially by exponents of the Black Arts Movement, to push the agenda on radical transformation through reconfiguring black masculinity, femininity, and sexuality. Black macho expressivity seized the day in the sixties and early seventies, and from the late seventies onward, black lesbian and gay writers appropriated that aggressive expressivity to critique the predominantly white gay and lesbian movement for its racism and the black community for its homophobia, heterosexism, and sex role prescriptiveness.
Center for Women's Global Leadership
"Family Banishment: Exploring a Definition and Understanding of Honor Crimes in the United States"
Honor crimes, the murder or physical harm of female family members due to real or imagined "illegal" sexual behaviors, are often considered to be acts confined to Middle Eastern countries or those cultures governed by Islamic laws and practices. However, Western countries, including the United States, have their own familial responses to violations of notions of family status and honor. An understanding of family sanctions on the social and sexual behavior of their female members likely falls more along a continuum, and is present in most cultures. I propose to explore the ways families in the United States address these transgressions and the way women experience them, through research of the work of scholars and women's and human rights organizations that work to eliminate gender-based violence in all of its forms.
"Exposing Men: The Science and Politics of Male Reproduction"
Like no time before in American history, the early twenty-first century has witnessed the public exposure of men's private reproductive troubles. Newspapers report a world-wide drop in sperm counts and increasing rates of testicular cancer for men. Gulf War soldiers, like Vietnam veterans before them, father children born with bizarre, often fatal, childhood deformities and diseases. "Male seed" is bought and sold on the open market-stocked, packaged, and categorized by the height, weight, eye color, and skin tone if its male producers. What once seemed essential to masculine privilege-paternal authority and health and virility of the male reproductive system-have been confounded by such images of men suffering the social, technological, and political assaults of the twenty-first century. The public gaze, once focused almost exclusively on the female role in reproduction, has now turned an eye toward men. "Exposing Men" examines the competing social forces which seem to at once expose and embrace men's reproductive vulnerabilities as we enter the twenty-first century. Through historical and contemporary analysis, the book assesses the implications of this public exposure for ideals of masculinity, for gender power relations, for assumptions about the significance of biological sex differences for processes of procreation, and, ultimately, for prospects of more equitable relations of human reproduction.
"Queer Diasporas/Psychic Diasporas"
My project explores the material as well as psychic impact of Asian transnational and queer social movements on normative structures of family and kinship in the late twentieth century. Idealized notions of family and kinship have become notably porous and contested. We witness today not only the emergence of a spectrum of new social identities and formations (gay marriage and flexible citizenship, queer parenting and transnational adoption), but also the contemporary reinhabitation of traditional forms of family and kinship by subordinated groups once excluded from its idealized mandates. While in prior decades, feminists, gays, lesbians, and people of color sustained a radical critique of family and marriage, today many members of these groups have largely abandoned such critical positions. Indeed, they demand access to the nuclear family and the rights, recognition, and protection from the state that are associated with it. My project analyzes this contemporary (re)turn to the nuclear family, and it seeks to develop a poststructuralist account of family and kinship.
Graduate School of Education-Educational Psychology
"The Demise of Development in Early Education?: Femininities and Masculinities in Young Children's Cognitive Development"
I will explore the ramifications of a feminist perspective on contemporary thinking about young children's cognitive development and learning. Prevailing views of children's cognitive development and learning can be very generally characterized as symbolically male or female. The symbolically feminine mode emphasized knowledge that is situated, relational, contextual, social, and sensitive to diversity and difference. The symbolically male mode is logical, analytical, rational, linear, and abstract. It is my contention that prevailing practices in early education and childcare, typically known as "developmentally-appropriate practice," align well with the symbolically female modes of knowing. However, developmentally-appropriate practices clash with views characterizing traditional American schooling. Since preschool and childcare have functioned in a system relatively independent of the mainstream U.S. school system, these two orientations have co-existed quite comfortably. However, as preschool moves into public education school settings (e.g., the universal preschool movement, Abbot preschool initiative in New Jersey), this balance will be disrupted. I plan to study teachers and parents and their beliefs about young children's learning and development within these contrasting preschool settings.
"Gender, Power, and Performance in Urban Senegal"
This dissertation research explores the expression and experience of gender and power relations through Wolof women's dance events in Dakar, Senegal. I argue that performance provides a socially sanctioned arena in which women may contest and/or affirm constraints of social difference based on gender, age, caste, and sexuality. The project analyzes two urban dance events (tours and sabers) in comparison with ritual dance (baptisms and marriages) that constitute a new space in which women may openly display their sexuality through dance and song. In addition, I contend that women's tour associations (neighborhood dance groups) constitute innovative forms of community in response to widespread urbanization and social change. This study of the evolving dynamics of Wolof women's dance events will serve as a prism onto shifting gender roles in urban environments.
Germanic Languages and Literatures
"Gender Dynamics and the Struggle for Homosexual Emancipation and Sexual Reform in Fin de Siècle Germany"
The scope of this inquiry is to shed light upon the German fin de siècle homosexual emancipation movements and contemporaneous movements for sexual reform and to demonstrate how these contributed in informing, expanding, challenging, and subverting the preexisting hegemonic and theoretical discourses on masculinity and femininity. It will examine the scientific and sociological achievements of the homosexual emancipation movements with particular emphasis on the scientific, humanitarian efforts of Magnus Hirschfeld and his Institute of Sexual Science and similarly ideologically motivated sexual reform movements, the kinship between the homosexuality movement and the feminist movement within the context of nationalism and fin de siècle sexual politics. This study will expose the cultural and political mechanisms of power used to suppress homosexuals, women, and other sexual minorities and focus on the implications of these discriminations for contemporaneous identity politics. It will also raise the question of the emancipatory potential represented by a contemporary discussion and awareness of the legacy of Hirschfeld and similarly motivated sexual reform movements. It also poses the question of theoretical encounters between feminism and queer theory and the benefits that can be garnered from such encounters.
Women's and Gender Studies; History
"Gender and Slavery in Colonial New York"
The study of early modern slavery affords one an opportunity to think critically about the formation of raced and gendered identities. The development of slavery in colonial New York, in particular the transfer of the colony from the Dutch to the English, highlights shifts in European notions of gender and slavery and raises questions about the experience of enslavement for African people and their descendents. I intend to undertake an examination of seventeenth and early eighteenth century slavery in the City of New York in order to comprehend the way in which gendered institutions of marriage and family were mobilized and abandoned by slaveowners in search of social control, and, in turn, to understand the related experience of slavery, gender, and race among the colony's enslaved population.
"The Theatre of Adrienne Kennedy: Defining Melancholic Feminine and Racial Identity Against High and Popular Cultural Icons"
The theatre of Adrienne Kennedy has continued to perplex and mesmerize audiences since the middle of the 1960s. Tough both in form and content, her plays have been misinterpreted as both anti-black and anti-feminist. But instead of opposing either of these politics, Kennedy's plays drill deep into the psychic consequences that a culture, which appreciates only white and masculine values, has on a black female subject. Her representation of these psychic consequences is always multi-layered. She stages both the oppressive power of white culture as well as its irresistible lure, and femininity and motherhood are always portrayed not only as enjoyable or natural, but as painful to achieve. This study will look into the representation of the opposing forces of love and hate that are at the heart of Kennedy's plays through psychoanalysis and especially through the notion of melancholia. I presume that Kennedy's staging of the melancholic identifications with high and popular cultural icons, unlike how it might look like on the surface, speaks of love rather than hatred.
Center for the American Women and Politics/Political Science
"Sex, Laws, and Power"
My project attempts to examine the human face of sexual harassment law. I interviewed a dozen women who filed sexual harassment complaints against their employers. My research suggests that despite significant advances in sexual harassment doctrine and policy, the law is a blunt instrument which still fails to address the real life experiences of women, and does little to reduce the problem.
My most significant finding to date is that the prevalence of social attitudes which sexually demean and degrade women seem to cut across race and class barriers, and are often the primary obstacle in resolving the problem. The social acceptance of sexually degrading and offensive behavior toward women, and the institutional factors which place women in positions of relative powerlessness, are reflected in a profound disregard for sexual harassment laws, particularly by those who are supposed to enforce the law.
"A Grand Domestic Revolution? Home Economists and the Better Home"
This project will develop the third chapter of a dissertation that explores the intrinsic relationship between domesticity and liberal subjectivity in the early twentieth century. Examining white female professionals' involvement in the Better Homes in America campaign, this chapter will construe their reform activities as symptomatic of a discourse on the home that proved widely appealing during the 1920s. For many BHA leaders, home improvement helped to reinvigorate a liberal vision of society and revitalize the model citizen. Home economists tacitly challenged this implicitly male construct, however, by attempting to shape emergent gender ideals and their legitimating domestic performances. Their prescriptions consequently help to illuminate how spatial demarcation and sexual difference have figured into the longevity of an American political and cultural ideal. Such an insight raises questions regarding the constitutive role of difference, and it begs a discussion of domesticity's deployment in struggles for equality within a liberal ideological tradition.
"Performing Gender: Masculinity in Jazz Saxophone Performance"
The history and tradition of jazz saxophone performance have been created mostly by men. Because of this, jazz saxophone performance is normally associated with masculinity. It seems that masculine musical styles of the genre have excluded women and created masculine spaces in the jazz world. This project investigates how masculinity in jazz saxophone performance has been constructed and perceived in American society at large. In addition, I will examine how female saxophonists have broken into the male-dominated jazz world. My concern is how they authenticate their performances by playing a genre that is strongly associated with stereotypical notions of masculinity. Specifically, I will explore three issues that have not been fully investigated in the present scholarship: masculinity and its performativity in jazz, authenticity regarding race and gender in jazz performance, and relationships between homosexuality and masculinity in jazz.