Race and Ethnicity Research Cluster, Fall 2011

Maggie Tate on Race and Ethnicity presentations by Lady Adjepong and Kate Averett

On Friday, December 2nd, the Sociology department’s Race and Ethnicity research cluster met for the final discussion of the semester.  Lady Adjepong, a first year student and Kate Averett, in her second year, presented papers in progress as part of the group’s goal to create a space where students can work through theoretical ideas about race and how race intersects with gender, sexuality, and class.  Lady Adjepong’s paper, “Black Female Masculinities,” grappled with the way black women who perform masculinity fit into discourses of gender and gender non-conformity.  Adjepong is critical of previous research on female masculinities that describes a return to masculinity as male bodied.  Because cultural stereotypes already align black women as closer to masculinity and thus further from femininity than white women, discussions of black female masculinity tend to reify traditional norms regarding racialized notions of beauty and gender.

Kate Averett’s paper, “The Anxious Public: Disruptive Bodies, Troubled Spaces, and Anxious Response,” discussed the anxious public response that followed Bobby Montoya’s wish to join the Girl Scouts of Colorado.  Bobby, a seven year old whose assigned sex was boy but who identifies socially as a girl, was denied entry into the Girl Scout program in the fall of 2011 because he “had boy parts.”  Averett analyzed news websites that reported the story, as well as the comments that were posted in response to the news reports and found a pattern of sensationalism in the reporting and gender anxiety on the side of the public.  Averett argued that because spaces coincide with a somatic norm, when bodies that don’t fit that norm attempt to inhabit those spaces, the response is characterized by anxiety and terror.  The co-construction of bodies and spaces maintains the masculinity/femininity binary, and disruptions to the boundary threaten to destabilize the identities of individuals.  But more than this, Averett argues, the Girl Scouts’ historical role in shoring up American values means that the separation of the sexes/genders is part of the construction of a national identity. Thus, individual gender anxieties become national gender anxieties.  Questions for further discussion to Adjepong’s paper include how we can theorize gender presentations without returning to traits or characteristics embedded in the body, and how Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech might inform contemporary discussions of the intersection of race and gender.  Questions for further discussion to Averett’s paper include to what extent “strange” bodies in spaces are required to construct somatic norms, how much anxiety around identity and Girl Scouts is a future oriented fear, and how Bobby Montoya’s racial identity contributes to the anxiety her presence produces.

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