Archives for posts with tag: foucault

After discussing Valentine’s issue with categorizing “transgender” folks, we discussed ways to explain “transgender” and “Gender Studies” to outsiders . This made me begin to think as to why this was so difficult; I started to rack my brain to find a cookie-cutter solution to this issue. However, every explanation required my use of Gender Studies’s jargon or entailed a long-winded response. This made me think: Who are we, really? Yes, we have the jargon, the feeling of community, and the willingness to explore others who are different from us, but what does that really mean if it cannot be applied? Are we so inclusive that our ideas, beliefs, and knowledge can only related to by each other and others who can understand the terms which we discuss? This only seems to be a portion of the battle for a structure which allows equality, understanding, and change. This brings me back to one of my original questions: Where can Gender Studies actually be applied? Especially to those individuals who Valentine encountered. Are we also guilty of creating a structure and culture which speaks in terms of the categorical? Can we relate successfully with people from other cultures, classes, and society? I don’t really know, but in this blog I will seek to create a solution to the question, “Who are we?”. This, however, is only my interpretation.


For one, we are department which speaks to “society” in defense of the “Queer”. The queer who needs to be recognized in this one-track minded society in order to gain equal status and legitimacy. Equality and acceptance are at the top of the agenda which makes our target the “big, bad wolf”, society. A society which gives unearned privileges to some and discriminates against others. We swear that those who have these unearned privileges are to blame, yet within our logic, we grant privilege to the most queer and leave those who can fend for themselves, to do exactly that. Now, this is not to say that we queer folks have no agency, that would be a sin to imply. But, is our way to counteract society by asserting our knowledges to be truth any better? Now, take a deep breath, we must remind ourselves that we are “the good guy”. Even though we have good intentions, will our knowledge ever help those who need it most? Will it really make things better in our society? I think its too soon to tell. This may seem like a pessimistic approach to a subject which we all love and identify with, but I am only attempting to be critical of our approaches.

I think that we are even we are obsessed with power, even though, we try to balance it out, it’s really one of the main subjects we explore in Gender Studies. At this point, are we any better than the big bad wolf? In this search, I am constantly thinking about Foucault’s revelation that “we are the Victorian prude”. Just as people during the Sexual Revolution thought that they were freed from the Victorian prude sexuality, are we Gender Studies folk freed from a society which is obsessed with power? Now, I dont mean to be offensive by any means, I just wonder if an education, which denotes power, is even necessary to be considered a Gender Studies major? If we believe what I think most of us do, why do we consider ourselves the masters, the innovators, the activists? Really, I think Gender Studies needs to be from the ground up; it’s everywhere and this is why it is so difficult to describe. Experience and “street smarts” need to be incorporated into Gender Studies. The transgendered identity has offered us a starting place to see experience equal to knowledge, but in the world I’m imagining, Gender Studies needs to be more like a lab, where we are constantly in touch with those who may have different knowledge to offer us and our understandings. We cannot isolate them from the classroom, we must bring the classroom to them and let each body of knowledge  be incorporated into a flow chart of understanding, for if we only take our knowledge from what is on the paper we read, we are no better than the “power prude” of modern society.

Now, this is all to be taken with a grain of salt, for I cannot speak for everyone and their experiences and knowledge; some may even consider themselves to be doing what I have described. But, all I am saying is that who we are, is not just a funded program at a university who answers to an institution; we are people who have the potential to exceed the education we receive, if only we truly acknowledged those who are not “us”, queer or not, educated or not.

This is more of a call to begin a conversation than a well thought out solution, I must add; to me it makes sense, but I may be getting ahead of myself. I just wonder what will become of us in years to come. Will we be looked at as people within society who were obsessed with identity and power? I certainly hope not…. Now, I have to go wash my mouth out.

-Katie Schaffer

After reading Janice Irvine’s “Disorders of Desire,” I realized just how “the system” works. Not that I was clueless beforehand, but Irvine’s discussion (as well as ours in class) about the specific way in which someone seeking a transition to “the other” gender must go about the process is particularly telling.

Just as a recap, the process generally has to follow this outline:

1)      A person decides they want to hormonally/surgically alter their body

2)      They must feel awkward and terrible about this desire for some time before finally seeking out professional help.

3)      Then, they must say something to the effect of, “I feel like a man in a woman’s body” (or vice versa.

4)      Finally, the little lightbulb above the psychiatrist’s head goes off, all the paperwork is signed, and the individual is free to begin a highly regulated and medicalized process of transition

So what’s the issue here? The person obviously got what they wanted and everyone is happy, right? Maybe… But, by forcing this person to parrot a magic sentence in order to unlock the hormones/surgery they desire, “the system” is implicitly ensuring that the voices of trans-identified people are effectively silenced. What if Sue, for instance, really doesn’t “feel like a man in a woman’s body”? If Sue understands his/herself differently, nobody (outside of similarly identified people, friends, family, etc) will ever get to understand because Sue’s viewpoint isn’t “allowed” to be expressed. Moreover, what if a young person has these feelings? They’ll probably end up at a psychologist who will “explain” their feelings for them…

We can see where this is going...Hopefully Mark actually wanted to change his name and adopt the feminine persona...

As an aside, this reminds me of Foucault’s “monster.” Society has decided that transitioning is “ok” as long as it is done one specific way on very rigid terms. So basically, “we’ll allow you to break the cosmic law, just don’t shatter it.”

This process can be found in several other places in society. If you’re trying to get financial assistance from the government, you better be willing to jump through about 10 different hoops, and lay out your whole personal life for some random person’s scrutiny, or you’re not going to get anywhere. If you don’t tell them exactly what they want to hear, and devise a paper trail to mimic that, don’t get excited about possibly breaking through the poverty line!

This is not to say that requiring people to legitimate their desire for body alteration or need for financial assistance is inherently wrong, but the current system encourages (and sometimes mandates) people to strategically create versions of the truth that probably don’t fall in line with their actual situations. If we’re ever going to be able end discrimination against gender nonconforming people, or fix our terrible welfare system, we’re going to have to come up with a radically different way of delving into people’s personal lives.

-Mika Baugh

Reading Michel Foucault’s Abnormal allowed me to see how other people classify deviance.  Personally, I feel that devience in society is what makes the world interesting.  And, society causes this devience by categorizing anything as “normal”.  The three figures, the monster, the incorrigible/the individual to be corrected, and the masturbator were put into perspective for me after our class discussion.  I still find it hard to believe people think it is okay to classify outcasts by levels of abnormality.  Who has the right to say what is not “normal”?  Something that is normal to one person may not be to another.  Peoples lives vary to such a larger degree.  The reading talked about the “seceret” of masturbation, that everyone does it, but no one will admit it. I can’t help but wonder where this all came from and how it got started.  When was it first thought of that maturbation was something so wrong that it needed to be hidden and left unspoken? And, how does society not realize that pointing out devience only worses the matter.  A person was probably acting abnormally to cause trouble in the first place and drawing attention to the situation and trying to correct them will only cause them to rebel even more! A large portion of the reading was dedicated to “fixing” the abnormal, depending on their severity, by placing them in the proper institution.  This is ridiculous! Placing someone into an institution for exploring their sexuality through masturbation is the most insane thing I have ever heard of!  And if everyone is masturbating and only those that admit it are being penalized, those who are lying are being rewarded.  Also, if the masturbator is formed through the family, the bedroom, and the body, how is a child supposed to know this is so wrong when it is not talked about unless masturbation becomes a problem?  This terrible act that causes a person to become a monster and could force them to be institutionalized.  Overall, I enjoyed the reading, although I do not fully agree with the idea, I liked the view point of another person classifying diffrences in people.

Alexandra Fath

As I was helping my six year old brother with his homework this weekend, I realized with startling clarity that his basic math worksheets really weren’t basic at all. I’d bet that you probably don’t remember your 1st grade homework, but if your assignments looked anything like his do, you probably spent a good deal of time trying to figure out which one “didn’t belong.”

 As we’re going through one particular sheet, he comes to a set of pictures and instead of quickly determining which one was “different,” he looked  at me with a questioning expression and said: “Mika, these are all the same…?”

 He was starting fixedly at a picture of an apple, orange, peach, and banana. This was the last and most difficult question on the page because they are all the same in that they’re fruit. But, the correct answer was clearly the banana since its shape is significantly different from that of the other three. I probably wouldn’t have thought anything of his dilema with the fruit picture if I hadn’t just finished reading Michele Foucault’s lecture on (ab)normality. While Foucault discusses the concept of abnormality in the context of the human body and “hermaphrodites,” the link between his lecture and this simple homework problem was obvious to me.

We’re still teaching our children to quickly, almost reflexively, decide which member of a group “doesn’t belong.” This wouldn’t be such an issue if a negative connotation weren’t almost inevitably attached to being different. Practically everyone is guilty here… even Sesame Street!

 I realize that categorization and differentiation are critical skills, but it just makes me wonder what deeper lessons I’m teaching my brother if I make him single out the banana just because it looks a little different. This is a little overdramatic, but is he going to go to school and shy away from a child of a different ethnicity because he’s worried that this child is the metaphorical banana? Or, what if my brother feels like the banana for whatever reason? Is he going to be afraid to play with the apples and oranges?

I found this whole situation interesting because as I was reading Foucault (prior to the homework episode), I found myself wondering how so long ago they came to the conclusion  that someone had broken the “cosmic law” or was a “monster” just because their genitals looked different, and how even today we still sometimes think in a similar way. Even after finishing the piece I’m still not sure where they got the idea that it is somehow OK to pass judgments on the entirety of a person just by looking at one physical characteristic. I mean, think about it… What if people with green eyes were “abnormal”, problematic monsters who violated the proper working of the universe? Where would we be then?

In the end, I simply explained to my brother the reason that circling the banana would be the correct option. Of course, this was only one small homework assignment and I have far more confidence in my ability to share the right messages with him than apprehension about what stereotypes and detrimental lessons he might learn in first grade. I suppose the point here is that we can do anything and everything to try to teach children that we shouldn’t be mean to Johnny just because his skin is different or make fun of Katie because she has two daddies, but there are still so many forces counteracting this effort; most of which we likely don’t even notice.

-Mika Baugh

After reading and discussing Foucault’s lecture on the “Abnormal,” I wondered about what might constitute the “human monster” in today’s society.  According to Foucault, “what defines the monster is the fact its existence and form is not only a violation of the laws of society but also a violation of the laws of nature” (55-56).  Furthermore, “the monster was also someone with two sexes whom one didn’t know whether to treat as a boy or a girl…”(65).  This particular quote reminded me that those with an undefinable sex are still seen as monstrous in modern society, as people are at odds as how to categorize them.  Specifically, I was reminded of a popular news story from a couple of years ago about a woman runner, Caster Semenya.  Semenya consistently outran her competition, and her muscular, masculine build started raising questions about her “true” sex.  She was forced to undergo medical testing in an attempt to “prove” her female sex, and therefore continue to be allowed to compete in the women’s category.  This medicalization of Semenya’s sex coincides with Foucault’s description of the monster in that he asserts that the monster’s existence “provokes either violence, the will for pure and simple suppression, or medical care or pity” (56, emphasis added).  After some genetics testing, it was realized that Semenya has androgen insensitivity syndrome (or AIS), which we learned about in Angier’s Woman: An Intimate Geography.  If you remember, AIS means that the individual has X and Y chromosomes with feminized genitalia.  It is very possible that Caster Semenya was completely unaware that she indeed had AIS.  I find it ridiculous that Semenya’s sex was even called into question in the first place, simply based on the idea that she was simply too athletic, too good at running to possibly be a “real” woman.  Don’t even get me started on what I think about the farce of “real” womanhood or manhood, anyway.  Let’s just say I think it’s bullshit.  In the end, it was decided that Caster Semenya can continue to run with the girls.  As it turns out, a lil’ ole Y chromosome doesn’t make you a good runner!  Who would’ve guessed?!  So what was all this medicalization of Semenya’s body really for anyway?  It goes to show that even in today’s “insightful” society, there is an uncontrollable need to categorize sex according to narrow specifications.  We still have a lot to learn.  -Stephanie Halsted