Tag Archive for Feminist Gender and Sexuality Studies

Pitts-Taylor Wins Merton Book Award for The Brain’s Body

Victoria Pitts-Taylor, left, was presented with the Merton Book Award by Mary Frank Fox of the Georgia Institute of Technology, a council member for the Science, Knowledge, and Technology Section of the American Sociological Association.

Professor of Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Victoria Pitts-Taylor, pictured at left, received the Robert K. Merton Award for her book, The Brain’s Body: Neuroscience and Corporeal Politics (Duke University Press, 2016). The award was presented at a meeting of the Science, Knowledge, and Technology Section of the American Sociological Association in Montreal, Canada on Aug. 14.

The Merton Award is given annually in recognition of an outstanding book on science, knowledge, and/or technology published during the preceding three years.

The Brain’s Body previously won the 2016 prize in Feminist Philosophy of Science given by the Women’s Caucus of the Philosophy of Science Association.

Pitts-Taylor also is professor of science in society, professor of sociology.

Rubenstein Discusses Theories of the Multiverse on Studio 360

Mary-Jane Rubenstein

Professor of Religion Mary-Jane Rubenstein was a guest on WNYC’s “Studio 360” recently, in a show titled, “The Theoretical Physicist Wore a Toga.” She addressed existential “what if” questions and the idea of multiple universes—an idea, she explains, which “is about 2,500 years old.”

“For the ancient Atomist philosophers [in Ancient Greece], the most desirable thing about what we’re now calling the multiverse was that it got rid of the need for a god. If it is the case that our world is the only world, then it’s very difficult to explain. How is everything so perfect? How is it that sunsets so beautiful?” she said. “What the Atomists believed was that religion and the belief in these kinds of benevolent gods actually caused people to behave terribly to one another, so they wanted to find a different explanation. So their explanation was that it’s not the case that some anthropomorphic god or gods made the universe so it was just perfect the way it is, but that actually that our world was just one of an infinite number of other worlds that looked totally different from our world, and that worlds were the product just of accident, of particles colliding with one another and randomly forming worlds.”

“It sounds a lot like modern physics,” she added.

What are the practical effects of such theories?

“Every major development in modern Western science since Copernicus has been advertised as this radical de-centering of our importance. […] As science progresses, we learn that we are less and less important than we thought we were. That’s one argument. But of course, it doesn’t seem to be the case that these purported decentralizations of the importance of the human have in any way contributed in any way to our feeling like we’re insignificant. We still tend to think that we run the planet.”

Rubenstein is also professor of science in society, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Environmental History Class Produces Radio Program

This year, students in Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker’s class, Seeing a Bigger Picture: Integrating Visual Methods and Environmental History, had an opportunity to share what they learned in an unusual format. They produced an hour-long radio program, which debuted on WESU 88.1 FM on Memorial Day. It will air again on the station this summer, and can be heard on wesufm.org or on SoundCloud.

Rosie Dawson, a producer at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), teaches Phie Towle '20 and Alea Laidlaw '20 about radio program development. 

Rosie Dawson, a producer at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), teaches Phie Towle ’20 and Alea Laidlaw ’20 about radio program development.

The course introduces students to key landmarks in the visual history of environmentalism and environmental science, from the 18th century to the recent past. The class studies the power and the limits of visual representations, addressing how images of nature have changed as well as how the nature of images has been transformed in the past 250 years, according to Tucker, who is also associate professor of environmental studies, associate professor of science in society, and associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies. The students received training in radio storytelling from Rosie Dawson, a producer at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

Tucker and Dawson first met two years ago, when Tucker contributed an essay to a BBC series that Dawson was producing

McAlister Writes Op-Ed on ‘Demystifying Vodou’

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister, chair and professor of religion, is the co-author of an op-ed on CNN titled, “Haiti and the distortion of its Vodou religion.”

Together with her co-author, Millery Polyné, a Haitian-American professor of African-American and Caribbean history at the Gallatin School–NYU, she provides an introduction to the Vodou religion—the creation of African slaves who were brought to Haiti and converted by Roman Catholic missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries. While Vodou shares much with Christianity, and its initiates must be Roman Catholic, it departs in its views of the cosmos. Vodou teaches that there is no heaven or hell, and humans are “simply spirits who inhabit the visible world in a physical body.”

They explain:

Historically, Vodou has been an emancipatory faith that enslaved people turned to when they were brutalized.

For that reason, French slave owners considered Vodou a threat and that is why it has been grossly misrepresented by white colonists and Haitian political and spiritual leaders alike.

Indeed, Vodou spirits inspired the revolution against Haiti’s French colonizers more than 200 years ago that established Haiti as the second independent nation in the Americas after the United States — and the first to abolish slavery.

It was during a religious and political gathering that enslaved Africans and Creoles mounted an insurrection against plantation owners in August 1791. This famous nighttime meeting — known as the ceremony at Bois Caïman — was a tremendous feat of strategic organizing, since it unified Africans assembled from different plantations and diverse ethnic groups.

At this clandestine ceremony, a leader named Dutty Boukman led an oath to fight for freedom. A priestess named Cecile Fatiman consecrated the vow when she asked the African ancestral spirits for protection during the upcoming battle.

Under a tree, she slaughtered a black pig as an offering.

Two weeks later, the rebels set plantations ablaze and poisoned drinking wells, kicking off the revolution.

Panicked slave owners throughout the Americas reacted by clamping down with extra force on all African-based religious practices.

They circulated stories that linked the religion with blood and violence, images that endure to this day.

McAlister is also professor of American Studies, professor of African American studies, professor of Latin American studies, and professor of Feminist, Gender & Sexuality studies.

 

Tucker Comments on Victorian Pseudoscience, Romance

Jennifer Tucker

Jennifer Tucker

The pseudoscientific myths about love and sexuality that abounded in the Victorian era, many of which seem “cruel and oppressive” by today’s standards, could also offer women relief from the era’s “rigid gender politics,” according to Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker, who comments on the topic for a Broadly article.

For much of the 19th century, the Western world was fascinated with a variety of pseudosciences, or theories that lack a basis in the scientific method.

“Definitions of science were malleable and hotly contested in the 19th century,” said Tucker, who is also associate professor of science in society, associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and associate professor of environmental studies. “Far from being on the sidelines of intellectual life, spiritualism and other unconventional forms of knowledge often provided a means for Victorians from a variety of different social backgrounds to question scientific authority and to ask what counted as a proper science, or as a ‘scientific practice.'”

“One of the great myths about the Victorian age [was] that it was sexually repressive; on the contrary, Victorian society was obsessed with sexual reform, heterosexual and homosexual love, lust, and sex (as well as of the policing of sexual desires),” added Tucker. “Love and sex were both controversial and politicized.”

Pseudoscientific theories included phrenology (which was used to explain the different propensities of men and women toward love and sexual desire); the use of love potions made of dangerous ingredients such as arsenic and belladonna; beauty face masks made of raw beef; cures for low libido such as bull testicles; and vibrators used to treat “hysteria” in sexually frustrated women.

According to the story, “Victorians were also surprisingly progressive on what would eventually evolve into more enlightened views on gender.

“Theosophists [occult philosophers] believed that life in male and female bodies taught different lessons; for some, this meant that it was necessary for the Ego to incarnate many times as both female and male,” Tucker explains. “Many theosophists believed, for example, that in their evolutionary progress men reincarnated as women, and women as men. Therefore at any given time, as one believer in this theory said in 1892: ‘We have… men in women’s bodies, and women in men’s bodies.'”

Crosby Authors Essay on Injury and Grief

Christina Crosby, right, pictured with her partner Janet Jakobsen at a March 2015 event at Barnard College focused on Crosby's memoir, "A Body Undone: Living On After Great Pain."

Christina Crosby, right, pictured with her partner Janet Jakobsen at a March 2015 event at Barnard College focused on Crosby’s memoir, A Body Undone: Living On After Great Pain.

Christina Crosby, professor of English, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, is the author of an essay on injury and grief in a special issue of Guernica magazine on “The Future of the Body.”

Titled, “My Lost Body,” Crosby’s essay explores the grief she has experienced since a bicycle accident 13 years ago, just after her 50th birthday, left her paralyzed. The accident was the topic of her memoir, A Body, Undone: Living On After Great Pain (NYU Press, March 2016).

She writes, “Because of my transformation, I have worked hard to conceptualize how embodied memory works—like the muscle memory that allows you to ride a bike even if you haven’t been on one for years. Some phenomenologists use the neologism ‘bodymind’ and teach us that there is no separating body from mind. I think that’s right. What am I to make, then, of my profoundly altered state? The loss of the body that I was and the life that I had made is affectively as well as physically profound, and the sense of loss can be suddenly piercing when I see a cyclist with good form or ocean kayaks strapped to the roof of a car. For an instant, a vividly embodied memory of riding or paddling will come over me. Then the light will change, making a claim on my attention I can’t ignore, but the preemptory present cannot make me feel less alien to myself in such moments.

I recognize in that alienation the force of grief. Grief is a current running below the surface of my unremarkable days, sometimes drawing me into eddies where I spin round and round, sometimes pulling my mind insistently away from the day’s work and rushing me downward. Stiff-minded resistance is of little avail. We are counseled to surrender ourselves for a time after loss to the sheer force of grief, because only by giving yourself over to it will the pain lessen.”

Grabel Warns of Threat to Embryonic Stem Cell Research in Op-ed

Laura Grabel

Laura Grabel

Laura Grabel, the Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of biology, warns in a new op-ed that the progress of embryonic stem cell research in this country, always subject to the ups and down of politics, is currently under threat.

Co-authored with Diane Krause of Yale University, the op-ed in The Hartford Courant notes that Tom Price, President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services, is on record opposing embryonic stem cell research. They write:

As stem cell researchers, we fear that this appointment would endanger human embryonic stem cell research in the United States and reverse the substantial progress made in recent years. There are promising clinical trials underway for macular degeneration, spinal cord injury and diabetes with more possible, including for Parkinson’s disease.

The authors explain what has made this research so controversial, and argue why it is singularly valuable in its potential to treat life-threatening diseases and injuries.

Grabel also is professor of environmental studies, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Alumni Discuss Reproductive Rights with Students, Faculty

Dr. Blackstone earned her medical degree from SUNY at Stony Brook School of Medicine in 1983. She is certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and currently is on the NARAL Pro-Choice America Board for Connecticut. She is a practicing OB/GYN in Bristol, Conn. Matt Lesser is a member of the Connecticut House of Representatives from the 100th district. 

On Oct. 10, Amy Breakstone ’79 and Matthew Lesser ’10 returned to campus to discuss reproductive rights and abortion politics with the campus community. The event was sponsored by the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department and the Wesleyan Doula Project. Dr. Breakstone earned her medical degree from SUNY at Stony Brook School of Medicine in 1983. She is certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and currently is on the NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut board, an affiliate of NARAL Pro-Choice America. She is a practicing OB/GYN in Bristol, Conn. Matt Lesser is a member of the Connecticut House of Representatives from the 100th district.

The event included a screening of the movie Trapped, which focuses on anti-abortion laws and regulations in certain states. The panelists, Wesleyan students and faculty discussed the role that NARAL plays in fighting for reproductive rights and various laws in Connecticut.

The event included a screening of the movie Trapped, which focuses on anti-abortion laws and regulations in certain states. The panelists, Wesleyan students and faculty discussed the role that NARAL plays in fighting for reproductive rights and various laws in Connecticut. (Photos by Rebecca Goldfarb Terry ’19)

Pitts-Taylor Recipient of Feminist Philosophy Prize

Victoria Pitts-Taylor

Victoria Pitts-Taylor

The Philosophy of Science Association (PSA) Women’s Caucus awarded Professor Victoria Pitts-Taylor with the Women’s Caucus Prize in Feminist Philosophy of Science for her recent book, The Brain’s Body: Neuroscience and Corporeal Politics. This prize is awarded biennially for the best book, article, or chapter published in English in the area of feminist philosophy of science within the five years prior to each PSA meeting. The winner receives an award of $500, which is presented at the PSA meeting.

The Brain’s Body: Neuroscience and Corporeal Politics (2016, Duke University Press) draws on feminist philosophy, feminist science studies, queer theory, and disability studies to uncover and analyze key epistemological and ontological assumptions in contemporary neuroscience research. The book uses these tools to explore and critique neuroscientific phenomena and the way they are understood in neuroscientific practice. In addition to critique, Pitts-Taylor argues for the usefulness of an alternative conception of the brain as plastic, social, and embodied. This book contributes to a growing literature of feminist philosophy of science and science studies engaging directly with the specifics of current scientific practice both critically and constructively.

Pitts-Taylor is professor and chair of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, professor of science in society and professor of sociology. She is a past recipient of the American Sociological Association’s Advancement of the Discipline Award and a former co-editor of WSQ (Women’s Studies Quarterly). She served as the first elected chair of the American Sociological Association’s Section on the Body and Embodiment. At Wesleyan, she teaches Feminist Theories, BioFeminisms and Sex/Gender Critical Perspective.

Pitts-Taylor Edits Collection on Feminist Science Studies and the Brain’s Body

9781479845439_FullVictoria Pitts-Taylor, chair and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, is the editor of Mattering: Feminism, Science and Materialism published by NYU Press in August 2016.

Anthony Hatch, assistant professor of science in society, co-authored a chapter in the collection titled “Prisons Matter: Psychotropics and the Trope of Silence in Technocorrections.”

Mattering presents contemporary feminist perspectives on the materialist or ‘naturalizing’ turn in feminist theory, and also represents the newest wave of feminist engagement with science. The volume addresses the relationship between human corporeality and subjectivity, questions and redefines the boundaries of human/non-human and nature/culture, elaborates on the entanglements of matter, knowledge, and practice, and addresses biological materialization as a complex and open process.

President Roth, Ulysse Respond to Recent Black Men Killings, Police Murders

In a July 11 Roth on Wesleyan blog, President Michael Roth responds to two recent killings of black men by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota, and the murders of five police officers in Texas. In the blog, titled, “On What Matters” Roth shares his own thoughts and the reflections of others that he found meaningful. He writes:

Too often I have written blog posts about tragedies, violence, injustice. From attacks in other parts of the world to devastation right here in the USA, I have expressed sorrow, anger—and often a feeling of solidarity with those who have suffered, are suffering. Readers have pointed out that my compassion, like other forms of attention, is selective. There are plenty of injustices that have gone unremarked in this space, either because of my own ignorance or my judgments about what I should be writing about in this Roth on Wesleyan blog.

I have followed the news reports and commentaries closely over the last week. What horror unfolds before us! The brutal killings by police officers in Minnesota and Louisiana and the vicious murders of police officers in Dallas that followed have underscored how violence can destroy individual lives while shaking communities to the core.

In her latest piece in The Huffington Post, Gina Athena Ulysse, professor of anthropology, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, responds to the recent killings of black men.

She writes:

My optimism wanes and my patience continues to be tried with each new extra judicial killing, each exoneration. Each one is more confirmation of the deep rootedness of our inequality. We bear the weight of history so unequally. It is written on our bodies and etched in the color of our skin. Human chattel. Property. Slaves. That is the undue burden, the inequity we live with, that simply cannot be undone unconsciously. Its transformation, if that (I am not naïve), requires so much more than will. To bring about a modicum of change we must not only intentionally attempt, but also be determined, to shift. It will not happen par hazard. Because history has seen to it that the exchange, use, and sign value ascribed to Black lives remains unequal to that of Whites. We are differentially positioned and invested.

What story do you tell yourself to assuage the comfort you find in the social luxury of being in an unmarked body. Your silence is your complicity. Where is your outrage as we all bear witness to this moment?

Read more here.

Gruen Weighs in on Killing of Gorilla at Zoo

Lori Gruen

Lori Gruen

Writing in The Washington PostLori Gruen, the William Griffin Professor of Philosophy, argues that fingers are being pointed in the wrong direction after Harambe, an endangered lowland gorilla, was shot and killed at the Cincinnati Zoo after a 4-year-old child entered his enclosure. “The real culprits are zoos,” she writes.

Many in the animal protection community contend that the gorilla didn’t pose a real threat to the boy, and are questioning if zoo staff did enough to try to separate Harambe from the child. Others are blaming the boy’s mother for not properly supervising him.

Gruen writes:

For me, the real question is not who to blame, but why anyone was in a situation in which they had to make a choice between the life of a human child and the life of an endangered teenage gorilla in the first place. Keeping wild animals in captivity is fraught with problems. This tragic choice arose only because we keep animals in zoos.

Though killing is less common at U.S. zoos compared with the regular practice of “culling” at European ones, zoos are nonetheless places that cause death. Harambe’s life was cut short intentionally and directly, but for many zoo animals, simply being in captivity shortens their lives. We know this is true for whales in SeaWorld. Elephants, too, die prematurely in zoos. So why have zoos?

One of the reasons often given is that zoos protect and conserve endangered wild animals. A few zoos do fund conservation efforts — the Cincinnati Zoo is one of them. These efforts are laudable, and I would hope that in light of the tragedy the Cincinnati Zoo will spend more to help protect lowland gorillas. Their habitat, as is true for so many wild animals, is under threat.

But captive animals, especially large mammals born in captivity, like Harambe, cannot be “returned to the wild.” These sensitive, smart, long-lived gorillas are destined to remain confined, never to experience the freedom of the wild. They are, at best, symbols meant to represent their wild counterparts. But these symbols are distortions, created in an effort to amuse zoo-goers. Zoos warp our understanding of these wonderful beings and perpetuate the notion that they are here for our purposes.

If we really need someone to blame, maybe we should look at our society, which supports these types of institutions of captivity. If zoos were more like sanctuaries, places where captive animals can live out their lives free from screaming crowds and dangers not of their own making, no one would have had to decide to kill Harambe. Sanctuaries are places where the well-being of animals is of primary concern and animals are treated with respect. Four-year-olds and their families could see gorillas in Imax theaters, where their curiosity could be safely satisfied and gorillas could live with dignity, in peace.

Gruen also is chair of philosophy, professor of environmental studies, professor of science in society, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies. She also commented in The Christian Science Monitor’s coverage of the gorilla’s killing, and wrote this piece for the Center for Humans & Nature.