Category Archives: Gender and Sexuality

Myra Marx Ferree on Globalizing Universities and Growing Gender Equality

by Rachel Karen 

On Friday, February 16, the Sociology department’s Power, History, and Society (PHS) working group hosted its  PHS Annual Distinguished Lecture featuring Professor of Sociology Myra Marx Ferree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Ferree discussed her comparative work on feminism and higher education in the United States and Germany, and provided an overview of the dialectic inherent in feminism.  She pointed to two major university transformations during the last century.  First, the potential student body is larger and more diverse. Second, the feminist movement went beyond expanding women’s access to education, by enabling women to learn what they want to know, and be able to find employment afterwards.  This access was crucial for women to both join professoriate and institutionalize the creation of new knowledge in the creation of Women and Gender Studies programs. The second transformation driving the restructuring of higher education was decolonization.  Former colonial subjects also want access to knowledge on a more self-determined basis, and technological advances helped facilitate international research.

Ferree then turned to her work on the feminist agenda in American and German universities.  Here, she brought in a discussion of the dialectic in feminism.  She conceptualized two models of feminist intervention based on two characters—Cassandra, who in Greek mythology was cursed to speak true prophesies that no one believed, and Pollyanna, a character from a 1913 novel whose name is now used to describe those who always have a positive outlook. The “Cassandra approach” is combative and critical, and the “Pollyanna approach” holds that by accessing power structures, change can happen from the inside. Dr. Ferree urged us all to recognize both approaches are right, and both are limited. She acknowledged that feminist knowledge production emphasizes change as the only constant. Globalization is not a unidirectional process of modernity: globalization is part of a contested struggle about whose knowledge counts.

For Dr. Ferree, pragmatic feminist advocacy means efforts should be concentrated at the national level, in order to focus on institutionally specific structures to be able to act and make change. Universities are a place of citizenship, and Dr. Ferree believes democratic norms can be used to challenge all academic inequalities. Furthermore, feminists should identify where market leverage exists for specific policy changes, since in this era of academic capitalism, administrators must create a university that can work and compete in the market. Because of this, Dr. Ferree is hopeful that feminists can indeed enact positive change at the university level.


Rachel Karen is a first-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology. Her research interests include state formation in Africa and European responses to the 2008 economic crisis. 

Follow the Thread and Leave Room for Serendipity: Reflections on the PHS Graduate Workshop with Myra Marx Ferree

by Marta Ascherio

Roter faden is the German term for “red thread,” and is used to mean common thread. “Unlike most of German academia, it borrows from sewing,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor of Sociology Myra Marx Ferree, during UT Austin Sociology’s annual Power, History, and Society workshop. “Women’s practical knowledge.” Whether we intend it or not, there is always a red thread in what we study. It’s about what we do with the red thread that matters.

The red thread that runs through Dr. Ferree’s work is now emerging as a network, called the Society of Gender Professionals. This society will set professional standards, share job opportunities, and work to institutionalize the legitimacy of gender experts. She is particularly interested in how expertise gets used, and how certain types of expertise are credited or discredited. For instance, one of her students researches family law reform in Chile, and finds that gender experts are discredited, with economists being perceived as a more legitimate form of authority.

Dr. Ferree also discussed the debates that took place in the 1980s about whether Women’s Studies should be its own discipline or a sub-specialty in another discipline. “Both ways actually succeeded beyond the expectations of anyone on either side of that debate,” Dr. Ferree told us, which is refreshing to hear in a moment when it seems like the only constant is the reproduction of inequality, and even progressive social movements often re-package existing power relationships.

In the first few minutes of Dr. Ferree’s arrival, as we set up food, she engaged every single graduate student, as attentively as if we were her advisees, commenting on the relevance of our research topics, suggesting literature, and offering introductions.  She leaned back in her chair, so much at ease. Here is some of the advice she had for graduate students:

Keep track of your ideas. C. Wright Mills kept all his ideas on notecards, said Dr. Ferree, and Charles Tilly kept a filing cabinet full of all the topics he would write about if he lived to be 150. She advised us to do the same. “You can’t pursue every idea, so you have to cut them off, but don’t throw them away!”

Leave room for serendipity. “I don’t pick projects. Projects pick me,” said Dr. Ferree. “When we do our dissertations, we often think that we choose them, but when we dig a little bit deeper, we see that it has to do with where we are located in time and space.”

Avoid identifying with one particular method. More than using quantitative or qualitative methods, Dr. Ferree observed, scholars seem to have “quantitative or qualitative identities.” She believes this quantitative/qualitative binary is a barrier to being relevant. Prioritize staying relevant, she said, and learning new methods. Methods are not something you learn once and set aside. You will be learning methods for the rest of your life.

Remember that methods and theories can be subject to trends. Dr. Ferree explained that sociological methods and theoretical approaches can fall in and out of fashion. For instance, while she was writing her dissertation, multi-dimensional scaling was all the rage, but the way she learned it became obsolete shortly after she spent a year grappling with it. If you are interested in getting a job, consider learning or using trendy methods, but do not forget that they may be subject to change. You have to see what works for you.


Marta Ascherio is a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology and a graduate fellow of the Urban Ethnography Lab. Her research interests include immigration, crime, and social control.

UT Austin Sociology at SWS in Atlanta

by Jamie O’Quinn and Katie K. Rogers

Feminist sociologists from UT Austin and members of the department’s gender working group, Fem(me) Sem, were well-represented at the annual winter meeting of Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS) this year in Atlanta, Georgia. The conference offered presentations, sessions, and workshops that engaged the theme of “They Persisted: Feminism, Work, Activism, Resistance.”

This year’s meeting addressed pedagogy and academic freedom in the age of hate speech and “fake news,” and tackled ongoing issues of race and racism in the academy, the discipline of sociology, and SWS as an organization. SWS President Adia Harvey Wingfield of Washington University in St. Louis convened plenary sessions on topics such as gender and precarious labor, feminism in the academy, and race, gender, and feminist activism.

(Left to right) UT-Austin PhD Kirsten Dellinger (now Professor of Sociology at the University of Mississippi) with current graduate students Jess Goldstein-Kral and Caitlin Carroll

Plenary sessions and workshops spotlighted the voices of faculty and activists of color who, in addition to sharing critiques of existing systems, offered strategies for the path forward. They urged feminists to make careful decisions about how to reform and transform their departments without experiencing burnout. They reminded young scholars that joy exists in research and teaching, even within institutions that can feel impossible to change. They also pushed white feminists in the audience to reflect on their own politics of solidarity, and consider how they might show up more effectively to build coalitions with feminists of color in their institutions, organizations, and networks. Ultimately, they challenged all feminist scholars to, as stated by sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom of Virgina Commonwealth University, “figure out the difference between performance politics and solidarity.”

Sociologist Kimberly K. Hoang asks a question during a plenary session on feminism in the academy

A contingent of feminist sociologists from UT Austin represented the department, with presentations that centered gender in varying ways. One highlight was a session that grew from Fem(me) Sem‘s Spring 2017 conference, “The Gender of Ethnography and the Ethnography of Gender,” which was organized by a group of  sociology graduate students who were interested in using feminist methods in their research. The session, called “Feminist Ethnographies: Dilemmas from the Field,” featured Professor Christine Williams as a discussant, and UT Austin graduate students Shannon Malone, Vrinda Marwah, Ruijie Peng, Beth Prosnitz, and Katie K. Rogers as panelists. They grappled with a number of questions related to feminist methods, including what exactly makes a research design “feminist,” how to manage demands for “proof” in response to situated knowledge, what it means to “gain access,” and how to reckon with accusations of “bias,” particularly with respect to projects that center a researcher’s own community (“me-search”) or emerge from explicitly feminist commitments.

(Left to right) “Feminist Ethnographies” graduate student panelists Vrinda Marwah, Shannon Malone, Katie K. Rogers, Ruijie Peng, and Beth Proznitz
(Left to right) Professor Christine Williams and panelists

UT Austin also exhibited a presence among the individual paper presentations, with graduate scholars sharing feminist research on topics that ranged from intimate relationships to the gendered state to issues of gender, race, and labor.

A list of individual papers by UT Austin graduate students is as follows: 

Caitlin Carroll
“Antiviolence Organizations in Sweden and the Reproduction of Gender Regimes”

Jess Goldstein-Kral
“The Relationship Dynamics of Polyamorous Triads: Resisting and Reproducing Inequality”

Jamie O’Quinn
“Emerging Sexualities: Girls’ Sexual Agency and the State”

Katie K. Rogers
“Gender, Race, and Class in the U.S. Legal Cannabis Industry”

Kara Takasaki
“Racialized Masculinities: How Work Shapes the Lives of Asian American Men”

All told,  the feminist scholarship and engagement of graduate students, alumni, and faculty affiliated with UT Austin Sociology helped make this year’s SWS conference an event to remember.

 


Jamie O’Quinn is a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology. Her research interests center around sexuality, gender, race and ethnicity, and social inequality. She is currently researching state efforts to regulate young people’s sexualities.

Katie K. Rogers is a third-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her current research examines how women who work in the U.S. legal cannabis industry reconfigure the meanings of “dealers” and “users” during legalization.

 

Gloria González-López in Ms. Magazine

Gloria González-López, Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, has published a piece in which she asks what the #MeToo movement can do for survivors of sexual violence in intimate spaces, such as the family. In the piece, she draws on research from her recent book Family Secrets:  Stories of Incest and Sexual Violence in Mexico (2015, NYU Press) to articulate a vision for dismantling gender inequality and sexual violence within the family. 

She writes:

What does it mean that uncles are the most frequent perpetrators of sexual abuse? Hollywood moguls aren’t the only ones who feel entitled to girls’ and women’s bodies—men in familial settings sadly often do as well.

One of the most important feminist revolutions has to take place at home. How could the #MeToo movement prompt a reckoning in our most secretive, intimate sector?

Sexual violence against girls and women in the context of family life is deeply rooted in gender inequality. The women who shared their lives with me were socially trained to serve the men in their families—in the most extreme case, an eight-year-old girl was cleaning, sweeping and mopping the room of an uncle in his forties. In these family patterns of gendered servitude, men who are expected to be served by the girls and women in the family may feel entitled to be sexually served by them as well.

Read more at Ms. Magazine.

Reflections from NWSA 2017

by Jamie O’Quinn

On November 16, 2017, the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) began its annual meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. I was thrilled to have my first NWSA conference oriented around the 40th anniversary of the prolific Combahee River Collective (CRC) Statement, a call for radical Black queer feminist practice.

This year’s NWSA meeting was unapologetically activist-oriented, with plenaries connecting the CRC’s aims to the current Movement for Black Lives. Scholars noted the continued relevance of the CRC Statement in its ability to address the overt racism of the Trump presidency and color-blind racism of #AllLivesMatter. The spirit of intersectional resistance that permeated the conference can best be described in one passage from the document:

“If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.” (CRC Statement, 1977)

#Blacklivesmatter co-founder Alicia Garza and abolitionist, feminist activist and scholar Angela Davis kick-started the conference in the Keynote Address, discussing the urgency of Black radical feminism in the Trump era. In a plenary session, original members of the CRC, including Barbara Smith, Margo Okazawa-Rey, and Demita Frazier, spoke alongside intersectionality theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw about the importance of reclaiming intersectionality and embodying a Black feminist politic. In still more sessions, scholars whose work I have been reading since I was an undergraduate student discussed theorizing radical, “unruly” feminist ethnography and reimagining possibilities for reproductive justice.

I was overwhelmed in the best possible way.

(Left to right) NWSA President Barbara Ransby, Alicia Garza, and Angela Davis at the Keynote Address (photo courtesy of NWSA.org)
(Left to right) Loretta Ross, Lynn Roberts, and Whitney Peoples discuss their new edited volume, Radical Reproductive Justice, at a local bookstore event

Throughout the weekend, I couldn’t help but note my gratitude at feeling a sense of political urgency at an academic conference. Too often, activism is pushed to the margins of the social sciences, delegated to a fringe panel on public sociology and absent from plenaries and major events. This  raises questions about the role of activism in the academy and the politics of representation.

Professors (and even graduate Teaching Assistants) have recently come under attack for their progressive politics. As educators, what does it mean to embody our radical, queer, anti-capitalist, anti-racist, feminist consciousness in the classroom? Can we imagine a world in which activist-oriented scholars of color, women, and LGBTQ+ folks are not marginalized in the academy  for their politics, or, as often happens, accused of conducting “me-search” for their “activist agenda”?

Here’s to hoping ASA’s 2018 meeting, “Feeling Race: An Invitation to Explore Racialized Emotions,” will centralize the importance of theory translating to feminist praxis. See you all in Philadelphia!

(Top row left to right) Me, Sarah Atwood-Hoffman, Sasha Suarez, and (bottom row) Leah Roberts after our panel, Body Talk/Talking Bodies: The Intersections of Power, Education & Resistance

___________________________________________________________________________

Jamie O’Quinn is a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology. Her research interests center around sexuality, gender, race and ethnicity, and social inequality. She is currently researching state efforts to regulate young people’s sexualities.

What Disney’s Andi Mack Reveals about Asian Americans – Kara Takasaki’s blog post in Racism Review

Andi Mack, a television show that features three generations of Asian American women, premiered on the Disney Channel earlier this month.  The lead character “Andi” is a thirteen-year-old, mixed-race girl, who lives with her barely-middle-aged grandmother, and—spoiler alert if you haven’t watched the first episode—her mother, “Bex”, short for Rebecca, who looks and dresses, as if she could be in her early thirties.

The premiere of Andi Mack is noteworthy because Asian Americans in mainstream American entertainment are so rare. When they do appear, Asian Americans are usually “white-washed,” replaced by white actors or actors of mixed-ethnicity, most recently in ‘Doctor Strange,’ and ‘Ghost in the Shell.  In the few American films where there are Asian American protagonists, like “Better Luck Tomorrow,” “21 and Over,” and “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,”Asian American women are veritably absent and silent; they exist to develop men’s characters.   Click here for full post.

 

Rafiul Alom Rahman Explores How Gay Men Adjust to Life in India’s “Big Cities”

Earlier this month, first-year graduate student, Rafiul Alom Rahman, shared some of his insights on how gay men from small towns in India adjust to life in larger cities, living in what he terms a “self-imposed exile.” He notes that:

For gay and bisexual men from small towns who flock to urban centres for higher education or employment opportunities, the city has much to offer. But, as my friend suggested, this also comes at a cost—an exile from one’s roots in an alienating city.

 

SOURCE: Money Sharma / AFP / Getty Images
Delhi Queer Pride Parade, 2015   (SOURCE: Money Sharma / AFP / Getty Images)

Rafiul goes on to describe the variety of ways that gay and gender-nonconforming people who relocate to larger metro areas like Delhi must utilize the anonymity of the city, as well as online spaces such as YouTube and gay dating apps, to explore their identities. With this growth  comes a comfort in participating in public events, such as the Delhi Queer Pride Parade. Rafiul states that:

Delhi’s LGBT movement, like that of many major cities in India and, indeed, globally, has been criticized for its lack of critical engagement with questions of caste and class, among other things. For the first time ever, 2015 saw a public articulation of caste in the Delhi Queer Pride Parade. A gay man and a Dalit, the assistant professor had hailed the “coming out” of three young Dalit queer individuals, Akhil Kang, Dhiren Borisa, and Dhrubo Jyoti, at Pride. “Our pride is incomplete without acknowledging and celebrating our caste identity as Dalit queer individuals,’’ they had said. The first Telangana Pride March that took place last year also made a point of drawing a connection between the anti-caste and queer movements—it was flagged off by Dalit rights activist Kancha Ilaiah and led by members of the local hijra community.

Splitting his time between his village and Delhi, the assistant professor says life in the big city has been both a boon and a curse. “It is better than what it could have been if I had stayed in the village. But at the same time, you feel a sense of rootlessness. And living in semi-closets is never fully liberating and freeing. The bigger anxiety is of what will become of us in old age, especially living away from family and with no children or spouse,” he says.

 

Read more from Rafiul at Live Mint Lounge!

Brandon Robinson on LGBTQ Homeless Youth

SOURCE: Lezbelib.com
SOURCE: Lezbelib.com

Sixth-year doctoral student Brandon Robinson discusses the complexities around LGBTQ youth homelessness, emphasizing that the circumstances that lead to youth homelessness are “beyond” family rejection:

Most discussion surrounding these disproportionate numbers focuses on family rejection, that lesbian, gay, and bisexual homeless youth are often kicked out or run away from home because of family conflict about their sexuality. Indeed, 73 percent of gay and lesbian and 26 percent of bisexual homeless youth report that they are homeless because of parental disapproval of their sexual orientation. Service providers indicate that 68 percent of the LGBTQ homeless youth they work with experience family rejection. These statistics paint a picture of homophobic and transphobic parents – many of them religious – casting their child out onto the streets. However, as a recent Huffington Postpiece captures, the lives of LGBTQ homeless youth are complex. LGBTQ homeless youth are also disproportionately racial/ethnic minorities, and they often come from family backgrounds of instability and poverty. Perhaps then there are other factors compounding these experiences of homophobia and transphobia?

Read more at The Huffington Post!

Vrinda Marwah and Sharmila Rudruppa on the Surrogacy Bill in India

Gratzer/Lightrocket/Getty Images
SOURCE: Gratzer/Lightrocket/Getty Images

Both second-year doctoral student Vrinda Marwah and professor Sharmila Rudruppa have pieces discussing the new legislation on surrogacy in India.

Vrinda notes:

Since the 1990s, India has seen a fall in the labour force participation of women, and a rise in informal sector jobs that are characterized by poor pay and difficult working conditions. This is not to say that surrogacy is the answer to the problems of this class of women; if anything, research has also shown that these lives, lived on the margins of society, are too precarious to be greatly improved by one, or a few, lump-sum payouts alone. And yes, the working conditions for surrogates in India leave much to be desired.

However, bans are certainly not the answer to these problems. Bans create black markets and greater vulnerability. We know this from the kidney trade. And they also take away an economic option from working-class women, without doing anything to ease the crippling precariousness that characterizes their lives. All bans do, then, is alleviate our conscience with the thought that we have acted, when actually we may have done more harm.

Read more from Vrinda at Live Mint!

SOURCE: IndianSurrogateMothers.com
SOURCE: IndianSurrogateMothers.com

Sharmila argues:

Feminist ethicists have been asking for deeper regulations of the surrogacy industry in India. But on August 24, 2016 the Indian government went ahead and moved closer to deregulating the industry when the Union Cabinet cleared the Surrogacy Bill 2016. The new bill bans commercial surrogacy altogether, but leaves the door wide open for altruistic surrogacy where no money shall be exchanged between birthing mother and commissioning parents. This new bill will lead to far deeper exploitation of indigent women who are now expected to labor for free.

This is not to say that the practices of global surrogacy have been egalitarian. In various fora, along with other feminist ethicists, I have argued that surrogacy in India has been based on unfair labor conditions for surrogate mothers. The regulations to date had privileged clients over surrogate mothers; provided no enforceable guidelines on the number of embryos to be transplanted; no guidelines on the number of times a woman could be hormonally hyper-stimulated for the purposes of commercial pregnancy; no choice for the surrogate mother to carry her pregnancy to term or opt for an abortion, or even choose how to birth her contracted child; and finally, very little ability to bargain for better wages or working conditions.

Read more from Sharmila at The Huffington Post!

On Jane Ward’s “NOT GAY”

On February 25th, the Department of Sociology and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies had the pleasure of hosting Professor Jane Ward for a public job talk on her most recent book, Not Gay: Sex Between Straight Men (New York University Press, 2015). The talk entitled “NOT GAY: The Homosexual Ingredient in the Making of Straight White Men,” traced the historical relationship between same-sex behaviors and practices and the construction of (white) masculinity, particularly addressing arguments around the increasingly more common phenomenon of “heteroflexibility.”

Her entire talk is available on YouTube via the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies:

As evidenced by the packed room (with undergraduate and graduate students spilling out the door!), Dr. Ward’s work has inspired a lot of excitement, thoughtfulness, and reflection. Additionally, Dr. Ward shared some of the reactions to her work, with critiques (surprisingly) mainly being directed at her by self-identified gay men. Overall, the talk and subsequent discussion were a useful and important intervention in how to think about white “heterosexual” masculinities and what implications and/or possibilities might exist for men of color’s sexual identities.