ArtIntersectional

Hello kind readers

Allow me to explain this space and the intention behind it.  I am an artist and critical theory scholar, who teaches Gender Studies at a college in rural Indiana.  I am always looking for teaching tools and have developed, with the help of many people, a wide variety of activities, articles, and materials that I find useful in understanding critical thinking, social justice, and art.  I am always frustrated by how often the materials that we find out in the world are decontextualized- they appear outside of a broader framework to try and make sense of them, their individuals projects, and how those projects connect to other disciplines, fields, and objects.

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My aim here is to provide some context and some materials to help anyone who is interested in learning more about art, gender studies, critical race theory, sexuality, popular culture and the intersections of all of these ideas.

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We often assume a certain level of fluency with visuals and with critical thinking.  However, not everyone has the skills or the practice in reading and analyzing cultural texts. The above image may seem obviously feminist to some, demonstrating that a woman can wear a hardhat, ie, do labor traditionally coded as male, and that a man, with his oven mitts, can manage domestic labor, coded as female. However, after teaching Gender Studies for a number of years, I know that many educated and capable people have not learned these skills.  Moreover, while we often see images, we rarely “read” them, or analyze them deeply.  The above image may seem feminist, but what type of feminist?  Certainly not Third Wave, as the image continues to perpetuate a gender and sex binary that many scholars no-longer embrace.  Where is an intersex person meant to see themselves in this image? Or someone who eschews the gender binary? What are we to understand about gender roles from this image- that they have simply flipped?  Is there liberation in that, or just a new class of marginalized people? Where is race? Is it really a coincidence that the figures are white, or is it just the overwhelming cultural script that the default race is white, and that anything else is a deviance from the norm or white supremacy?

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The title of this blog is meant to evoke  intersecting fields of study, but more importantly  it is meant to evoke the feminist analytic of intersectionality. Intersectionality describes the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.

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As an analysis, intersectionality takes into account how two or more identity categories, like race, gender, sex, sexuality, class, religion, nationality, immigration status, etc, interact. This idea comes from critical race theory, specifically the work of Kimberlé Crenshaw, and has been applied widely by Women of Color Feminists in particular.

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Intersectionality can be a difficult idea if you are not familiar with it or the ideas that white middle class cis-gender women are often placed at the fore front of feminist discourse. May I suggest following short video “On intersectional Feminism and Pizza” from the wonder Akilah Hughes.

As all oppression is connected and much art has to do with oppression or marginalizatoin in one way or another, intersectionality must be something that is discussed more in the arts. As the project of this blog is both education and liberation, I offer here a collection of works and hopefully the context to make sense of those works. I appreciate feedback and hope that readers will contribute their own materials, other possible uses for the materials here, and helpful comments.

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GWS & Art: Parallel Shifts

As this is an art and GWS blog, allow me to link some of the ideas and history of GWS to art.  As I stated in the last blog post, GWS began as Women’s Studies, a field devoted to the contributions and unique oppressions faced by women. While women had been studied and had made contributions for millennia, the field of Women’s Studies comes out of the Civil Right’s Movement, specifically the Women’s Movement. The field then morphed in the 1980’s and 1990’s into Gender Studies, which looks more specifically at Gender and Sexuality, although Queer Studies also looks at these things. The field is in the process of shifting again, something paralleled in the move to Fourth Wave Feminism, and has shifted to studying a much broader set of objects, many of which do not appear innately gendered, but have complex power relationships.

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I want to touch briefly on what this looks like in art- I will be doing a longer post in the future about Women in Art, specifically the shift from Objects to Artists, and a look at the history of Feminist art, and Menstrual Art, but for now I just want to provide a visual art context for the shifts in GWS.

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Women have been making art all along. New evidence suggests that much cave art, which was assumed to be made by men because of it’s depiction of hunting themes, was actually made by women. Much of the art women have made has been labeled crafts and dismissed or ignored in the art history cannon.  This includes needle work, ceramic painting, weaving,  sewing, and a whole host of incredibly skilled and beautiful traditions. Take for instance the Bayeux Tapestry (1476 or earlier), infamous for it’s depiction of the Conquest of Normandy in 1066, which was most likely created by women, all 230 feet of this 20 inch tall tapestry.

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We also find women making art all along, not just “craft”. Take for instance the Renaissance artist Sofonisba Anguissola, who was primarily a court painter.

Anguissola. Family Portrait, 1559.

Women artist’s continue to appear through out history from Élizabeth Vigée Le Brun, court painter to Marie Antoinette, to Camille Claudel, who apprenticed with Rodin, to Berthe Morrisot, one of “les trois grande dames d’Impressionisme”.

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Le Brun. Marie Antoinette and Family, 1787.
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Claudel. L’Abandon, 1886.
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Morisot. The Cradle,1872.

However, these artists were seen as one offs, so to speak.  Unusual incidences and not the norm for artists.  Usually, they were wealthy and could pursue their art a a passion, that might also be profitable. Also they were often the daughters of artists or good friends of male artists, who would train them or help them gain access to academies and shows. (I will discuss more of this when we talk about Linda Nochlin’s work Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists).

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In the 1960’s, at the same time as the Women’s Movement, female artist’s like Judy Chicago, Mirriam Schapiro, and Carolee Schneeman, began making Feminist art that was meant to reflect and interrogate the experience of being female. These works were not merely aesthetic objects, but fueled by conceptual art practices, were meant to incite engagement in the political. By asking the viewer to question established ideas about women and femininity, these works sought to change cultural and bring about equity between the sexes.
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Hanecdote. Stitched Feminist Art Meme, 2016.

Judy Chicago created The Dinner Party (1974-1979) to draw attention to all of the famous women that history has ignored.

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Chicago. Place Setting for Emily Dickinson.
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Chicago, The Dinner Party.

Miriam Schapiro created Dollhouse (1972) as part of the Womanhouse Exhibition. An assemblage connstructed from scraps and designed to reference childhood play, each room in the dollhouse signified a particular role woman play in society and the conflicts that arise from these roles.

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Schapiro. Dollhouse, 1972.

Carolee Schneeman depicted the female nude not as a closed form presented for male pleasure, but as a living, breathing, bleeding, body in her work Interior Scroll, where the artist pulled a scroll from her vagina and read a text about a lost female artist from it in a live performance.

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Schneeman. Interior Scroll, 1975.

These artists are analogous to Women’s Studies and are focused on women as artists, women’s issues as the subject of art, and women’s equality as the political goal of the work. However, as Women’s studies evolved into Gender Studies, so many artist’s works have shifted to focus more on gender and sexuality.

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Catherine Opie is a photographer that looks at the relationship between the mainstream and subcultures, particularly queer subcultures. Her work investigates the ways in which gender is performed.

Image result for Catherine Opie                                                                Opie. Chicken, 1991.

Yasumasa Morimura, Portrait (Futago) (1988) is another example of art that interogates gender. In the work the male Morimura plays the coquettish Olympia, from Manet’s famous painting, a street walker and a famous figure in art because of her sexuality and because of Manet’s Post-Impressionist flat painting style.  More than a gender switch, the work also plays with race, casting the often desexualized Asian male as a sexually-avaliable as desirable figure. Morimura also casts himself as the figure of Olympia’s maid, in a form of black face, pointing to the role of the maid in the original work to heighten the sexual tension and exoticism of the brothel scene. Morimura even recasts the black “pussy” cat at then end of Olympia’s bed as a Maneki Neko, or Chinese Lucky Cat.

Morimura. The Portrait (Futago), 1988.

Kent Monkman’s varied works also deal with gender and indigeneity. In his paintings and performances Monkman, an Irish/Cree First Nations artist from Canada, paints images of queer desire and Berdache, or Two Spirited Identity.

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Monkman. Dance to Miss Chief (Film Still), 2010.

Two Spirited is a native term that refers to the fact that the gender binary, or the idea that there are only two sexes or two genders, is a European idea that was brought to America with the colonialism.  In Native American and indigenous beliefs there were unto six different gender arrangements.  Individuals who did not align with what we call “traditional” gender roles, were often valued members of the community. Monkman’s works deal with sexuality, gender, colonialism, race and religion.

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Monkman. Heaven and Earth, 2010.
This is a very brief look at the shifts in art that in many ways parallel the shifts in GWS. These works provide insight into GWS as a visualization in the differences between Women’s Studies and Gender Studies.  Reciprocally, the shift in Women’s Studies to Gender Studies provides a point of entry and an analytic framework to understand these works of art.

Let’s start at the very beginning: What is Women’s Studies?

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When I teach Gender and Women’s studies, I always begin with a discussion of what the field is. Many of my students do not know what a discipline is, or even a field of study, and definitely do not know there are different methodologies attached to different fields. I begin with Women’s Studies, as historically it exists as a discipline before Gender Studies.I often assign a section of the book Introducing Feminism from Jenainati and Groves. The book is a bit dated, it ends with Third Wave Girl Power, but it’s in comic book form and very easy to read and  accessible.

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As many of my students are unfamiliar with WS I make sure to point out that WS is not necessarily feminism. Feminism is often a part of WS, but it is an political movement and an analytical tool. For example, while feminism seeks equality between the genders, one could study the contributions of women without an overt interest in this leading to some form of equality.  It would still be Women’s Studies, but would lack the political and activist goals of most feminism.

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Women’s Studies emerged out of the Civil Right Movements of the 1960’s. It was an intervention into the educational institution through the offering of class that emphasized women, particularly the inequalities that women face.

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I explain to my students that this may not seem particularly radical, but that is because they have grown up with the benefits that WS and the Women’s Rights/Civil Right’s movement’s secured for them.  I remind them that the field, as a distinct field labeling itself Women’s Studies,  is less than 50 years old. The first accredited classes were taught at Cornell in 1969, the first Women Studies program was established in 1970 at San Diego State University. Since  then the field has exploded, with 2000 degrees in Women’s Studies being conferred in 2015.

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I ask my students why they think Women’s Studies has become so popular? And we usually arrive at a discussion of need, that WS is filling a void or a need. I ask them if they know of other programs that have come out of the Civil Right’s movement. Sometimes they know about Afro-Studies, more often than not they do not know that most of their favorite classes (Afro, Asian-Am, Chicana/o, Women, Gender, Queer, etc) come directly out of the Civil Rights Movement.

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I emphasize to them that without the Civil Right Movement’s work in education and things like Title IX (which prohibits sex based discrimination in education) and Title VI (which prohibits race based discrimination in school) most of them would not be in my classroom.  I wouldn’t be in my classroom both because classes like it didn’t exist and because there were, and continue to be, so few female professors. Moreover, if the women in my class were in college before the Women’s Rights movements, many of them would have been encouraged to go there not to pursue a career, but to get a husband and an M.R.S ( or Mrs. degree).

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From Women’s Studies we move on to discuss the emergence of Gender Studies. Gender Studies comes also comes out of the Civil Right’s Movement and LGBTQ movements, but as a field of study doesn’t gain traction until the 1980’s and 1990’s when the need for a field to study sexuality and gender, as well as sex. Judith Butler was a pivotal figure in the creation of the field of Gender Studies, although gender had been a topic discussed by WS scholars and feminists like Simone de Beauvoir for a long time. Screenshot 2017-05-26 13.03.14

We discuss the fact that the field is shifting yet again, because academic disciplines and fields are almost always evolving to address contemporary concerns and contemporary student needs.

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Where as WS has tended to study objects (eg. books written by women, art made by women, or women themselves) and GS had studied identities (eg. How does a black lesbian from South Africa navigate the health care  system in her homeland, how does identity become visible through its performance and is it then the performance that creates identity), the filed has evolved to analyze things that do not appear to be immediately gendered, like space. Since WS and GS have evoled into an analysis of power and how power circulates, it can also analyze things that do not have the actors of power actually present. I use my classroom as an example: I ask my students to imagine a Pizza delivery person comes in- Who does he walk up to first?  Me, at the front of the room standing, or one of you sitting at your desks.  He comes to me, because it is presumed I am in charge because of the arrangement of space and bodies.

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Now imagine, you walk into an empty classroom-like you did a few minutes ago- why did you sit at a desk and not the lectern? We know from the arrangement of space in the room who “belongs” where, even if the room is empty. Similarly, even when bodies are not present we know who belongs in a space.

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There are no bodies present in the space above, but we can tell who the space is intended for, we can almost here the high pitched squeals that would echo from here.  The above “Barbie Aisle” is a pretty easily analyze space though, gender is very visible. But new feminist analysis look to spaces like the following:

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I ask my students who they think belongs in this space.  They are usually very reluctant to answer- some I break it down, are the people you expect to see in this space male of female?  I tell them we are relying on stereotypes for this activity, it’s not about who we want to see in the space, or who would actually be in the space, which could be anyone, but who the space is intended for. They usually say male- because they imagine there are lawyers or criminals here because it looks like some sort of court or legal building. I ask them what race the people are and the become more uncomfortable. I say, imagine this is the opening credits of Law and Order, what race are the lawyers?  They say mostly white. Are there other races here?  Yes, criminals are usually depicted as people of color, also there is usually a cop or a token lawyer who is a person of color. I ask them, about age (is this a place for children?), gender (do you expect to see someone who is not performing as cisgendered here? Do you think you will see a drag queen?), and then I ask them about ability.

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Do you think you will see someone in a wheelchair here? They tend to look at me funny and then it slowly dawns on them that there is no ramp.  I inevitably have a student say, well there has to be a ramp somewhere. To which I respond, yes, but do you think the space makes someone is a wheelchair feel welcome and included? Or do you think it would be stressful to have to figure out where the ramp is, and awkward to tell the people you are with that you will have to meet them inside because you have to go around to the side of the back of the building, and what if their appointment was on another floor and the elevator was out of order? And how much more time would it take to figure all of this out and navigate all of the obstacles. This gives them an opportunity to see how feminist analysis can be applied to things that do not necessarily look like they would fit in a GWS (Gender & Women’s Studies) course, but have to do with power and marginalization, which is at the heart of feminist analysis.

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I end my discussion of the history of the field by having them watch the film On Strike: Ethnic Studies 1969-1999. This is a great film that looks at both the origins of Ethnic Studies at Berkeley with protests and walkouts in 1969 by students of color and women and the hunger strikes in 1999 by students who were protesting to keep their hard won ethnic studies programs. While GWS and Ethnic Studies continue to expand and services huge numbers of students around the country, those same programs are often first of the chopping block by administration who sees our contributions as trivial or just catering to special interests, instead of part of a long tradition of scholarship and activism by and for marginalized people and our communities at large. The film focuses on the students who refused to allow their university to cut programs that are vital to the inclusion and success of a diverse student population. I ask my students to think about the following while they watch the film:

  • What does “The personal is political mean”? How does it relate to our readings and video?  How can you connect the term to your own life?
  • What are your thoughts on the student protesters from the On Strike video?  Do you feel the same about the protester’s from the 1960’s as those from the 1990’s?  Is their cause, the inclusion of gender and ethnic studies, worth protesting and fighting for? What do you think about their literal actions, like the use of sit ins, marches, and strikes, including a hunger strike?
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My students often end up debating the ethics of hunger strikes, as well as a discussion about who should make decisions on university campuses.  This is also a great place to ask them to reflect on college, why are they here, why did they choose this school, what is their role in the institution and in their own education?  These are often questions that have never entered their minds: it’s an illuminating discussion for them and for me, since until I began asking them these questions, I assumed that my students knew a lot more about the institution like what an R1 school meant vs a teaching college, etc.

I find that this all give my students a good place to start from in terms of history, types of analysis, activism and what the rest of the class will look like.  It also helps them put themselves into the material by thinking about their own role in institutions and education and how those can be activist activities and liberatory experiences.

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Resources:

Women’s studies has changed over the years — and it’s more popular than ever

The History of Women’s Studies 

‘The Evolution of American Women’s Studies’

Music Videos as Teaching Tools for Critical Thinking

music-videos-970x550.jpgA number of years ago as a teaching assistant, the professor I worked with would start each class with a music video.  At the time, I thought this was a smart way to give the students time to settle into a big lecture class- it allowed those running late a couple minutes to slip in and gave the others something to do while waiting.  In general, in centered the class, not something easy to do with a group of 200 students.  Since then I have adapted this practice to my own small class room and have turned it into a critical thinking activity. I pick music videos from both popular and more indie artists to acquaint the students with new cultural productions. I also pick videos that somehow relate to each of my classes topics, or at least to a topic we have covered, so that the students see how ideas can be put into artistic productions, but also how ideas are spread through ideological apparatuses like the media. I then routinely ask my students, why I showed them this particular music video?  What does it have to do with Gender studies? With our recent topics?  I ask them, what might we be talking about today, based on the video? I continue by asking the students to ground their answers in the music videos- what about the videos- the lyrics, the images, the style, the artists’ identities, make them think that they are about X.  The students often need some help going through some of the videos, but they really enjoy the process.  If I don’t show a video, they often ask me why there is no video and they send me recommendations for videos along with a rationale as to why they should be included.  I will be posting a series here on the videos I use, what I connect them to, why I use them, and what I ask my students to think about with each video.

I begin this series with a fairly direct, but fun video from Todrick (Toddy) Hall and Ru Paul, Low. maxresdefault

This is a fun video that students can connect with because it is a play off of the Wizard of Oz and Wicked, both popular and well known works.  Familiarity gives the students something to grab onto during their analysis.  I often ask, so what is this about?  And when they say, the Wizard of Oz, I then ask, ok, now how is it different?  Race comes up, and a conversation about The Wiz (which has recently seen a resurgence of interest after a live TV reboot on NBC), gender is usually discussed, since the protagonist is male or a drag queen, as well as goodness/evilness, since rather than Dorothy, the Wicked Witch is the star.  We also talk about queer culture since Ru Paul is fairly well known to my students because Ru Paul’s Drag Race on VH1 and LOGO, and what it means for him to be portrayed here as male.

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Sometimes, the furthest I can get my students to go with the video is that its about difference, really a celebration of different bodies, body types, races, genders, performances, and even stereotypes, since the Wizard of Oz is such a gay/queer cult icon.  Sometimes, I can get them to go a lot further in thinking through ideas of beauty, normalcy, and how that is projected onto goodness and that by embracing the Wicked Witch, perhaps there is a commentary about the way marginalized people are vilified by many forms of popular media. Or that by dressing as both the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch, Hall is showing that no one is wholly one thing or another.  Either way, it gives them a starting point for how analysis works, how you need to ground your thoughts in the object you’re analyzing, and that popular media is well worth studying, something that often comes as a surprise to my students.  be4a744412e72e183a232fd756c6d7a9.jpg

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