Archives for posts with tag: gender studies

Earlier this semester I spoke with a friend back home in Virginia who was working in the field with a Transgender activist. During the interview my friend accidentally slipped up and called her by the wrong pronoun: he.   Immediately he knew he messed up and was prepared to apologize when she “blew up” and began slinging a slew of curses about his disrespect to her personhood.  The interview stopped to allow everyone to return to a calm enough state to continue, with my friend taking a less active role for a teammate to continue the main questions.

Immediately I thought, should this be the proper response for such a situation?  This person who is transgendered has probably spent her entire life being called by the wrong gender and I’m sure it’s very traumatic as all the past events have built up.  As such I don’t feel she was in the wrong to be this upset, especially when she was supposed to be a in a situation where something like this shouldn’t happen: an interview about the perspective of being transgendered.  In these “safe spaces,” like our academic gender studies class, there is a certain decorum to learning how to say and do things to be respectful to everyone across the gender spectrum.

However, we have to remember this is not how “the real world” behaves or reacts.  People are taught to see the world as a gender binary and realize the personal characteristics that make someone look like a male or a female.  While a trained person will recognize an transgender women, the rest of the world sees a man in a dress.  While we can educate each other to learn to see otherwise, we have to be patient and realize that most people aren’t used to it yet.  It hasn’t developed in the vocabulary.  It’ll take time.  When someone starts to yell it immediately puts people in defensive mode and emotions will flare.  While my friend is respectful, many will not be and it can only put them off to be yelled at.  This doesn’t make the community look good and people unlike my friend will come away from the experience remembering that he was chastised for his ignorance and maybe nothing else.  Perhaps a calmer, but still stern comment is all it should take to set someone “straight?”  Education is key.

–Brian Falatko

So I love Björk. There, I said it. It was no real secret, but I suppose this post should start with that declaimer. Let’s continue.

In continuing with the trend and adding another Björk music video to our viewing pleasure, I wanted to pose this little gem.

This was my first exposure to Björk about six years ago, and it still intrigues me. The lyrics of Cocoon talk about an unexpected yet highly pleasurable sexual encounter between a guy and a gal. As far as pop culture goes, a sexual encounter is nothing new in the music business, but the music video is where entirely new and unique happens. Red thread grows from her nipples, wrapping around her until she becomes this nipple cocoon and floats away. Lady Gaga may have a meat dress and hatches from an egg, but she’s got nothing on Björk.

The video starts with a row of black and white naked Björks in a white world, standing lifeless as if they were robots turned off. Soon one Björk comes alive and moves to her own white area, where the song begins and the nipple thread comes out to play. As the red thread floats and tangles around her body, she playfully sings and embraces this experience in its entirety. The lyrics progress further into the sexual acts and the cocoon slowly covers more and more of her body. At the song’s end, after being fully cocooned and wiggling for a hot second, she stops moving and floats away.

It seems like this video is about the female sexual experience and sexual autonomy. Through having this experience, Björk gains life and pleasure unlike the other Björks from beginning. Also, in this black and white world, the only other color, red, came from her nipples and gave her this strange mix of pleasure and insecurity, perhaps from inexperience or the unexpected thread play. Björk gained this carefree sense about her that the other Björks lacked, and even colors they didn’t have.

There also seems to be a potential critique on sexual inequality faced by women. Though her nipple thread gives her immense pleasure, they ultimately cocoon her and take her away. This could be read as the reproductive potential faced by women that men aren’t burdened with. Of course, many people want to have children and even as Björk is almost totally cocooned she still seems happy and in this euphoric state. Is it a critique on sexual inequality or something else? It’s strange because though she cannot move her arms and eventually cannot move at all, nothing seems to stand out that would suggest this is negative. Perhaps the nipple cocoon resulting from this sexual experience symbolizes a growth into something beautiful by embracing one’s sexuality. Maybe she’s making a statement about women being unaware of the oppression they endure (she was almost orgasmic the whole video, though taking no notice of the cocoon forming and suppressing her movements). What if Björk is just being… Björk?

Either way, this video is super interesting and makes Björk more and more enticing. Swan dress, nipple cocoon, and cat marriages are just a few glimpses from the mind of Björk. I don’t know how else to end this post without just saying it.

Björk is perfect.

-Lucas Zigler

As I was signing up for my classes this fall, I was excited to learn that finally I could take IU’s Human Sexuality class. I heard many good things about the class and I figured that it would coincide quite well with my Gender Studies’ major. I walked in the first day, sat down, and eagerly awaited the traditional “first day spiel”. The speech I heard was what I had expected: forms for parental consent, talk of watching porn, and an overview of the syllabus. However, as the semester went on, I became very confused; this class started to sound like something I was critiquing in my Gender Studies classes. The information given to the class was what I would call “a good effort” to inform, but for the most part many of the students and even the teacher a time seemed to be ignorant of Queer issues. I was baffled and found myself wanting to correct the information that she was giving the students. I could not believe that this type of knowledge still existed. Why did this woman come before a class of college kids and not know the difference between a transsexual and a transgendered person? Better yet, if she didn’t know the difference or didn’t seek to explain it to the class, why did she include this in her power point presentation? It was a rude awakening. I felt at that moment like the world would never catch up, would never understand the queer world, and that the “average Joe” would never understand me; I felt as if I had entered a time machine which was set to the beginning of my college career, before my Gender Studies awakening. But then I thought, who is “right” here and does Gender Studies even matter if this is the mainstream interpretation of sexuality? It made me wonder how I could spread the Gender Studies word? Oh, but how frustrating it was that these people did not know or understand queer issues, was it even worth getting my panties in a twist attempting to explain anything to them? Well, I decided to see how the rest of the semester developed and vowed to say something when I could. But then a very good day came, a day which was devoted entirely to transgendered issues. Although it did not contain an analysis of these issues, it at least recognized and sought to inform the class about this category of people. It was actually a very beautiful moment because for once the heterosexual and birth control was left behind and a full two hours was for trans; in a mainstream, essentially, a health sexuality class!!! I had to commend my professor at that moment.

A "real world" reality?

I ask myself even now, will there ever be a true space for Gender Studies in health classes? Or will Gender Studies classes be the health classes of the future with a focus on having a queer conscious tone? I can only hope. We are nowhere near close, but I think it is a possibility. I guess that my purpose for writing about this for my last blog is to revisit the “old world” and my “old self”. I definitely would not like to stay there, but it is a good inclination for me, as I am about to graduate and hopefully go to law school, the work that needs to be done and the level of understanding I must have in order to relate to the world. Let’s just hope that the “real world” is ready to change!

-Katie Schaffer

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