Beneath the Surface: a Look into Invisible Disability

Beneath the Surface: a Look into Invisible Disability

 The intersection of invisible disability and gender studies is still a forming field of study. Illustrated through the work of forerunners such as Maureen Fitzgerald, Kathryn Paterson and Karen Depauw. And more clearly developed through the more recent voices of Ellen Samuels, Aimee Valeras, Margaret Vickers, Kendyl Klein, Samantha Bassler and Denarii Monroe.  Mental illness within women, especially eating disorders, is a subset of invisible disabilities studies that demonstrated a strong link with gender studies and show how physically bound the subjects are. These authors analyze the difficulties of invisible disability, particularly disclosure, and how society oppresses people with hidden disabilities.

In the article “The Hidden Disability Dilemma for the Preservation” of self Maureen Fitzgerald and Kathryn Paterson address specific difficulties of women with invisible disabilities. Published in 1995 at the forefront of gender studies in intersection with disability, “The Hidden Disability Dilemma for the Preservation” of self-relates many of the challenges women with invisible disabilities face in contemporary times. Easiest to relate is the ever present question of disclosure and consequences with both informing people of invisible disability and hiding it. This ties directly to analysis, of identity which is grounded within the studies of women with invisible disability. By focusing in on two case studies where women from Hawaii and women from Australia were compared. These two groups of women with invisible disabilities, the women from Australia with hidden Multiple Sclerosis(MS) and the women from Hawaii with Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome(TMJ), are able to convey the ways in which invisible disability affects certain ways beyond a case by case basis. One problem the women from this study face, as others with an invisible disability do, is the issue of legitimizing disability. Because invisible disability is generally not apparent to others it can be difficult to get recognition for the really impacts a condition has on an individual’s life. In the case of one woman who was deaf but did not seem that way she began carrying a white pole, not because she needed it but rather because people would not accept that she was deaf. There is a possible weight in revealing a disability, a weight on identity-based on people’s reactions to disability. Many women from this study hide the level of pain they are in and the symptoms they have for various reasons. But this isolation of themselves comes at a cost while being interviewed, many of the women admitted that they were not as happy or as fit as they used to be. There is a negative correlation between invisible disability and self-worth. This study ends with a need for invisible disability to be taken seriously so that people with them don’t have to emphasize them as much for valid assistance.

Karen Depauw constructs the significance of space in the context of the society in  “Space: The Final Frontier”: The Invisibility of Disability on the Landscape of Women’s Studies.” Through analyzing the breadth of subjects that gender studies encapsulate within intersectionality Karen Depauw noticed a lack of solid research in disability and how it connects to women, gender and identity. Published in 1996 Space: “The Final Frontier”: The Invisibility of Disability on the Landscape of Women’s Studies” is at the forefront of disability studies with Maureen Fitzgerald and Kathryn Paterson. By narrowing her view to the lens of space Karen Depauw is better able to articulate how disability dictates movement through space, also how disability can alter perceptions of space. Perception of space can be integral parts of identity and gender.  In working with space in relation to invisible disability she explains the ways in which spaces can differ based on interpretation. Her focus, particularly on mental disorders, illuminates how societies categorization of things and people can give stifling identities. Because of the individuality of invisibility disabilities, not to mention the different severities, it is limiting to categorize and clump disabled people. Furthermore to marginalize people because they do not fit into a normative format cramps them to the margins of society, into boxes that confine them. People with hidden disabilities are presented with two boxes, one in which they hide their differences and the other in which they may emphasise their differences in order to be believed and categorized as disabled.  Though there is more room for nuance than those two categories the exceptions are limited and never fully void of the decision that the individual with hidden disabilities makes about disclosure.  

The struggle of middle-aged women with chronic invisible disabilities who also work full time are argued by Margaret Vickers in “Unseen Chronic Illness and Work: Authentic Stories from “Women-Inbetween.”” Published in 2001 this article helps show many facets of being a woman and having an invisible disability. The eight women in this study explain some of the different difficulties. Like finding time for a doctor’s appointment, being assumed healthy at work, and trying to juggle a full-time career and caregiving. By adding in occupational difficulties Margaret Vickers shows another dimension of invisible disabilities effects. The added weight of gender is shown by the caregiver position that women are expected to fill, these mothers not only work full-time jobs but run households. Margaret Vickers explains how these roles stack up to burdens that leave these women not fully attending to themselves and struggling to show other people how much they are handling. Because hidden disabilities are not visible it adds to the dimensionality of whether people chose to believe in the legitimacy of these disabilities. Simple recognition of invisible disability would help in easing the weight of these women but in order to better understand their burdens society, gender roles, and other intersections must be scrutinized.

“My Body, my Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-out Discourse” by Ellen Samuels gives a more recent commentary on invisible disability. Published in 2003 this article focuses on disclosure of invisible disability. The approach of “My Body, my Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-out Discourse” is slightly unorthodox in its comparison of coming out in terms of sexuality and revealing an invisible disability. Through juxtaposing the two narratives “My Body, my Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-out Discourse” articulates the nuances of disclosure around invisible disability. Ellen Samuels explains how coming out keeps intact the binary that assumes heterosexuality and able-bodiedness are the norms and that it is necessary to reveal yourself as other if you are not strictly within those loosely defined boxes. One piece that is particularly addressed in revealing invisibility is the assumption with disabling that people are placed under but don’t necessarily want. In several people’s accounts disclosing an invisible disability are more about explaining it to others and less about accepting it yourself.  As addressed in “The Invisibility of Disability on the Landscape of Women’s Studies” is a pioneering article on disability studies with Maureen Fitzgerald and Kathryn Paterson the accusation of fraud around invisible disability is still an issue that keeps some people from disclosing at all. Ellen Samuels does an excellent job of explaining the weight and privilege that invisible disability holds: “Like racial, gender, and queer passing, the option of passing as nondisabled provides both a certain level of privilege and a profound sense of misrecognition and internal dissonance”(Samuels) Because invisible disabilities, in most circumstances, can be hidden there is consistent choice of disclosure. Unfortunately, both revealing and covering disability can have burdens. In elaborating on the issue of disclosure Ellen Samuels states a few times that people with invisible disabilities can “pass” as abled. However, even within just that word, she is still showing how disjointed they are from society and othered. People with hidden disabilities are in a weird in-between that fluctuates greatly by disclosure and can fluctuate with the severity of conditions on a day to day basis. Because hidden disabilities are a case by case dependent they have real tolls on people’s sense of identity and self-worth.

Specifically addressing mental disorders with the sector of invisible disability “Gender differences in mental health” address societal impacts on health. Through sharp analysis of statistics regarding men and women’s mental health, there are direct correlations to gender, particularly with anorexia and eating disorders. “Gender differences in mental health” show that not only is society ignoring mental illness they are often promoting it. The research, though published in 2007, holds many insights particularly in how gender relates to these illnesses. Mental disorder studies reflect how oppression can cause more people in a minority to develop them. Rooted in intersectionality, minorities are more vulnerable to mental instability and disorders. Another factor that affects mental disorders is the location, developing Arab countries women are more vulnerable and more likely to have mental instability. There is not one cause of mental illness or invisible disability and they can remain out of people’s perceptions. This can make invisible disability dangerous and endorse harmful societal norms. There needs to be recognition of invisible disability and wholesome approaches that don’t leave those with hidden disability awkwardly marginalized.

Identity is tightly associated with ability and disability. “”We don’t have a box”: Understanding hidden disability identity utilizing narrative research methodology” by Aimee Valera’s constructs the weight of hidden physical disability and explains the mental toll that it takes as well. By looking at the lives of six different people and their non-obvious physical disabilities, her study and analysis were written in 2010 provides insight into the complex layer of identity in relation to invisible disability. Core to Aimee Valeras’ argument like those of Maureen Fitzgerald, Kathryn Paterson, and Ellen Samuels is the pressure of disclosure. As framed in Aimee Valera’s study the six adults she picked chose to assimilate and push against the label disabled. Aimee Valera’s also takes the time to explain how intersectionality is essential to how people’s invisible disabilities affect their lives and identities. Researcher Aimee Valeras found about adolescent development of self-worth in conjunction with visible compared to invisible disability. One of the more recent and reliable studies showed that students with invisible disabilities had more emotional distress because of anxiety around possible exposure. To have an invisible disability takes people out of the obvious binary of able or disable: “The hidden disability experience, thus, falls in the misunderstood gap between the dominant disability paradigms, the medical model and the social model” (Valeras).

Much like the article “Gender differences in mental health,” “Why Don ‘t I Look Like Her? The Impact of Social Media on Female Body” reveals the specific impact society, especially social media, has on the mental conditions of college-aged women. Reviewing at this very specific study in 2013 of invisible disability in the form of mental illness it is easy to see how gender and white patriarchal society tie into the analysis of invisible disability. Kendyl Klein’s research show how unrealistic beauty standards have disproportionately affected young women. Additionally, her psychoanalysis provides insight into the direct ways in which social media harms women’s mental self-worth and mental stability. There are facts too that show the presence of eating disorders in college-aged women: “between 4% and 9% of college women have diagnosable eating disorders, but more frightening, 34% to 67% experience disordered eating at sub-threshold levels” (Klein). What Kendyl Klein articulates also is the endorsement of these unhealthy standards within America’s culture. The severity of eating disorders and mental illness have been dismissed by parts of society and the beauty industry. One particularly striking paragraphs of Kendyl Klein is the increased depression and suicide rates of those with eating disorders. This level of body dissatisfaction shows just how toxified societal views have become. In a personal account of Kendyl Klein, when she was struggling with body image, it is clear that her mental illness was spurred on by the media and society. Gender studies and invisible disability are tightly bound at the point of mental illness.  

Samantha Bassler constructs an argument that correlates music therapy with hidden disabilities in  “”But You Don’t Look Sick”: Dismodernism, Disability Studies and Music Therapy on Invisible Illness and the Unstable Body.” By first presenting invisibly and music therapy separately she is able to give a solid basis of both before connecting them. Similarly to many of the previous articles published before hers, published in 2014, Samantha Bassler explains the intricate issue of disclosure around hidden disability. Her article grapples with the impact that people’s disbelief around hidden disability has on people who struggle with them. What makes this article stand out is Samantha Bassler’s inclusion of music therapy as a potential avenue to help those with hidden disabilities. Samantha Bassler’s presentation of healing through music is that the music can not cure but rather helps the patient in dealing with their disability. Her final words on the matter of invisible disability tie it to feminism through looking at the normalization of society.

Tying feminism and a modern tone into the analysis of hidden disability Denarii Monroe explain the effects her own invisible disability has had on her life in her article “3 Ways My Learning Disability Affects My Life.” Written this year, Denarii Monroe explains the intricacies of living with an invisible disability.  One thing she addresses is the stigma people still have around disability and an avoidance to reveal her condition. Particularly focusing on the workplace she explains how revealing disability can cause discrimination, less pay or just not getting hired in the first place. Elaborating on occupational effects hidden disability can have she also explains the opposing argument that understanding can make a huge difference and communicating disability can relieve bad dynamics. Essentially reiterating that disclosure around invisible disability is really an individual decision and can help or hurt depending on the situation. Intersecting invisible disability to feminism Denarii Monroe argues that feminists are working for the equality of people and that people with invisible disabilities are among the marginalized. She creates an even stronger argument for intersectionality in her criticism of capitalism, patriarchy and the way in which conformity is institutionalized. The intersections minority people have are layers of oppression and greatly affects a person’s privilege. Truly intersectionality is at the core of starting to understand the complexities with individuals and even within invisible disability. Because there are many forms and accumulations of oppression that go unseen and acknowledged. Denarii Monroe explains the weight invisible disability can have on self-worth and confidence. Hiding disability and openly sharing it both come with their own burden. With sharing the information of invisible disability people sometimes doubt it’s legitimacy, categorizing the person as disabled or at least associating the condition with the person. To conceal the disability leaves the person open to the risk and vulnerability of exposure. Denarii Monroe concludes with the need to deconstruct societal boxes and embrace differences.

Intersectionality is core to understanding marginalization and different oppressions of society. Invisible disability and gender studies are better understood in the context of each other. The articles by Maureen Fitzgerald, Kathryn Paterson Karen Depauw, Ellen Samuels, Aimee Valeras, Margaret Vickers, Kendyl Klein, Samantha Bassler and Denarii Monroe provide a small window into an intersection of health and gender that is often overlooked. By focusing in on mental illness within the intersection of invisible disability and gender studies it is clear the influences society has.  

Sources:

Bassler, Samantha. (2014).  “”But You Don’t Look Sick”: Dismodernism, Disability Studies, and Music Therapy on Invisible Illness and the Unstable Body.” Voices: A World Form for Music Therapy.

Depauw, K. P. (1996). “”Space: The final frontier”: The invisibility of disability on the landscape of women’s studies.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 17(3), 19- 23.

(2007) “Gender differences in mental health” Singapore Med Journal.

Image Fitzgerald, M.H., & Paterson, K.A. (1995). “The hidden disability dilemma for the preservation of self”. Journal of Occupational Science, 2, 13-21.

Klein, Kendyl M. (2013) “Why Don ‘t I Look Like Her? The Impact of Social Media on Female Body” Claremont McKenna College.

Megan Jones, “‘Gee, You Don’t Look Handicapped. .’: Why I Use a White Cane to Tell People That I’m Deaf,” Electric Edge, July-August 1997

Monroe, Denarii. (2016) “3 Ways My Learning Disability Affects My Life” Everyday Feminism.

Samuels, E.J (2003). “My body, my closet: Invisible disability and the limits of coming-out discourse.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 9, 233- 255

Valeras, A. B. (2010). “”We don’t have a box”: Understanding hidden disability identity utilizing narrative research methodology.” Disability Studies Quarterly, 30(3), 1- 23.

Vickers, M. (2001). “Unseen chronic illness and work: authentic stories from “women in-between””. Gender in Management, 16(2), 62-74.

The Female Student-Athlete’s Body Image

One idea that we discussed in GSS101 and that I focused on in my book review was body image, and we particularly focused on this topic in week 4 when we discussed bodies, ads, and fat studies.  Although every week in this class definitely taught me something new and helped me realize my own ignorance in different topics, this week in particular was probably the most eye-opening for me.  I have always thought about how the media portrays unrealistic body images and ideals, and I have been aware of eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorders, and other problems that have to do with body image, but this week made me aware of so many more aspects that come into play when discussing body image.  For example, I had never before discussed or understood fat studies.  I had also never thought about many of the ideas Rosie Molinary discussed when she came to class and talked about her new book Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance, such as her critique of deodorant and how companies make us believe that we need it.  Being exposed to these ideas and concepts questioning body norms made me contemplate every ad and body enhancement product I saw, including products that I would have never seen as being a body enhancement product (like deodorant) before taking this class.

Because I’m a student-athlete, I have seen intersections between these body image ideas and athletics, and having the knowledge I now have about body image has given me the ability to critique and have a different perspective on so many things that I would have never questioned before taking this class.  For example, almost everyone on my team seems to have some part of their body they are not okay with, or think there is something they can fix with enhancement products like deodorant, makeup, or hairstyling.  It also seems like we all think about what we eat way too much, wondering about the calories and fatty content that might add some unwanted curves, instead of thinking about how it might fuel our bodies for a grueling practice.  This discomfort with our bodies, of course, is not strictly limited to the girls or student-athletes, and many of these problems are consistent throughout the female population in America, and surely extends to more than females, for that matter.

However, in focusing on Davidson’s campus and the population in which I spend a lot of time because of my gender and being an athlete, I plan to address female student athletes’ body image at Davidson.  In order to do this and attempt to make a difference using the knowledge I have gained from GSS101, I will start out by sending an anonymous poll in order to ask questions and assess how female student-athletes at Davidson view themselves, and what body image issues are prevalent.  I can then use these answers to put together a presentation on body image for female student-athletes (similar to a previous presentation by a female Davidson swimmer called “Get Ovary It”) and discuss points such as those brought up in Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance.  I can also use Socrative during the event in order to give everyone an opportunity to directly address and discuss problems.  I will likely start out doing this with my own team to provide a smaller environment so that everyone is comfortable talking about such intimate issues, and I can then attempt to expand these ideas and the presentation to help Davidson’s whole population of female student-athletes.

From Theory to Praxis: Medical Care of LGBT Individuals

Over this semester, I have been exposed to a broad spectrum of concepts, issues, and questions through our readings and discussions. GSS has given me a new lens through which I see the world and a deeper understanding of the structures and institutions in place that govern our lives. As a senior, I will soon be entering the job market and am really looking forward to taking my newly acquired GSS knowledge to my future endeavors. I am looking for a job in the medical field, a field in which LGBT individuals are underserved and often reluctant to pursue care. In this context, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals are often grouped together in a way that implies homogeneity, which is not the case. These individuals are distinct in terms of race, socioeconomic status, age, and ethnicity in addition to their gender and sexual identities. What groups these people together is the underlying discrimination and stigma that they face in society as a result of living at the intersection of multiple different groups. The intersectionality of marginalized groups is a topic that came up frequently in our class discussion and has really opened my eyes as to how a person’s identity is not defined by just one element or trait, it is the combination of these interlinked traits that make up one’s identity.

There has been a long history of discrimination stemming from a lack of understanding of LGBT individuals in the medical field (i.e. the listing of homosexuality as a mental disorder in the DSM). However, as understanding has improved, the treatment of LGBT individuals in the medical setting has gotten somewhat better. There are certain diseases that disproportionately affect the LGBT community such as HIV and other STDs, and these disparities stem from structural and legal factors, social discrimination, access and availability of medical care, and the lack of culturally informed health care.

There are many things that those in the medical field can do to encourage an inclusive and welcoming medical environment. Below are some suggestions to be implemented in different medical environments, which I hope to bring with me to my future occupation:

  1. Allow patients to privately self-input information about gender identity and sexual orientation (ensure that there are a wide range of options on the questionnaire).
  2. Allow patients to specify the pronouns that they prefer.
  3. Be open and non-judgmental when collecting sexual histories of patients.
  4. Refrain from making assumptions about individuals based on appearance.
  5. Do not assume heterosexuality (i.e. Ask “Do you have a
    partner?” rather than “Do you have a boy/girlfriend?” when conducting sexual
    history).
  6. Make sure all staff are trained to interact respectfully
    with LGBT patients (i.e. ensuring use of their preferred pronouns).
  7. Make sure that the medical environment has a non-discrimination policy that includes discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation and publicly display this policy.
  8. The use of brochures and medical information that include images of LGBT people as well as medical information that specifically addresses concerns that
    these individuals face.

All of these suggestions are important, as a clinician may be one of the first people whom an individual discloses non-heterosexual behavior to, and for this to happen, individuals need to be in a space where they feel comfortable. The goals of medicine include providing quality and effective care, and through these suggestions and the scope of my GSS knowledge, I plan to do my best to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for all patients.

Works Cited

http://www.lgbthealtheducation.org/wp-content/uploads/Improving-the-Health-of-LGBT-People.pdf

http://www.aafp.org/dam/AAFP/documents/medical_education_residency/program_directors/Reprint289D_LGBT.pdf

From Theory to Praxis: Introduction of Mixed Gender Day Camp Groups at Summer Camp

During the past 12 summers I have attended YMCA Camp Minikani, first as a camper, then a counselor, and now as an administrator. With this new role in a leadership position, the responsibility of creating an environment for kids to learn and interact outside of normative constructions of the outside world is on my shoulders. Positive youth development in a camp setting is all about creating an environment of equality and respect for campers to pass on to people in their outside lives. Minikani actively works against destructive societal norms to promote originality and kindness towards others. As a leader of the organization, I aim to continue to work against constructions to promote individual and community wide respect. One way we can address this is through the reexamination of Minikani’s gender grouping.

For more than half of Minikani’s history, camp was extremely gender exclusive as only boys were allowed to come to camp. In 1967, the YMCA allowed for females to become campers, and soon after, counselors. Since then, however, there has been little change made regarding gender practices. The camp is currently set up with a day camp and an overnight camp, both of which separate groups into male and female groups. After taking this course, the necessity of demolishing the binary ideas of gender and sexuality became obvious. Anne Fausto-Sterling, along with other authors and theorists, has illuminated the history of assigning gender to bodies, the disconnection between ideas of binary genders and evidence of multiple genders, and the bias in the medical field with regards to sexing the body. These ideas make it clear gender is a construction, and limiting humanity to a binary viewpoint is limiting people’s ways of viewing themselves.

One of the YMCA’s core tenants includes the notion of diversity and inclusion. On their website, one can easily find this statement: “Together we work to ensure everyone—regardless of gender, income, faith, sexual orientation or cultural background—has the opportunity to live life to its fullest”. This is a goal that the YMCA at large, and Minikani in specific, have actively worked towards. Yet the continuation of binary gender divisions in camper groups has promoted an idea that is limiting to people’s constructions of themselves. Therefore, I am proposing a change starting in the day camp unit of Camp Minikani. We would, instead of organizing groups based on male or female and age, only organize groups based on age. This mixing of genders can help to teach cooperation and friendship with people who identify differently than you. More importantly, the lack of naming day camp groups in binary terms promotes inclusion and a non-limiting viewpoint on gender. Starting with the day camp groups in summer of 2017 can be a jumping off point and eventually lead to changes in the overnight camp unit to breakdown binary gender ideas as well. Even if no campers come to camp identifying outside of male or female, the breakdown of the binary system will lead to a respect and appreciation for mixed gender groups and a gender inclusive world.

From Theory to Praxis: Bringing My GSS Experience Abroad

The most powerful aspect of Gender and Sexuality Studies that I will take with me after this class is how to examine the world intersectionally, through a lens that always includes race, gender, class, and all other factors that vary the experiences of people. I have found myself unable to turn off my critical eye when interacting with people, consuming media, and taking my classes at Davidson. I know that the analytical skills I gained from this class will stay with me as I travel abroad to Stockholm, Sweden for the fall 2017 semester. Sweden has been known internationally for its liberal and open policies in regards to gender parity, sex education, social programs, and government in general. After taking this class, I have seen how many structural and systemic power structures there are that are designed in order to hold down people sexually, politically, and socially and I think it will be interesting to experience a culture that did not form the way the United States did. While abroad, I’m hoping to collect information and learn more about what makes Sweden so different than the United States in hopes of returning and being able to join dialogues about what we as citizens can do in order to make our country a more open and equal environment for all.

In my time aboard, I hope to not only take my classes but also to learn outside the classroom and bring back to the United States the culture lessons that Stockholm teaches me. In my research on Sweden, I have learned that Sweden is considered one of the most progressive countries when its come to women’s rights. Half of Sweden’s government ministers are women and almost half (44%) of their Parliament is female. For my theory to praxis, I would like to look at the differences in the societal and political systems in Sweden as compared to the United States in order to find out why there is such a difference in the power of women in both countries. Although the American and Swedish systems of government are very different, I hope to experience the feeling of tolerance that is so foreign to our country and bring back that experience to America.

I can connect my travel to Sweden with my literature review by examining the differences in the ideas of masculinity in both countries. The problems that plague America, such as rape, police brutality, and domestic violence, are seen in much lower levels in Sweden. I believe it is because, unlike America, there is no institutionalized idea of masculinity that is bred into boys from an early age. The power systems that are at work in the United States and are pushed by our capitalistic, patriarchal societal design place men and women on very different levels, allowing men to feel as though they have a right to women’s and other marginalized people’s bodies. By removing not submitting to this power system, Sweden has been able to stop many of the rampant problems of toxic masculinity still happening in America today.

Works Cited

Edsall, Thomas B. “Why Can’t America Be Sweden?” The New York Times. The New York Times, 29 May 2013. Web. 07 Dec. 2016.

“Sweden and Gender Equality.” Sweden.se. Swedish Institute, 21 Nov. 2016. Web. 07 Dec. 2016.

The Making of Man?

Advertisements should ideally be smart and catchy, leaving viewers with an immediate desire to purchase that product. In the United States, some see the Super Bowl, with its hefty fees for commercial time, as the pinnacle of advertising. In 2014, an ad for Summer’s Eve Cleansing Wash appeared on screens across the country. The ad begins with a husband showering and using what he believes to be body wash while his wife brushes her teeth in the bathroom. When she realizes he is using the wash designed to douche, she explains the benefits of this brand to him – a quick sell of the product. The husband, however, ignores all the information his wife describes after she first mentions its intended use. His face sinks, as he feels his masculinity threatened, and proceeds to attempt an outrageous amount of tasks to assert his manliness, such as drumming like a true rock star and prepping for a boxing workout by eating raw eggs. He finishes these activities by jumping onto the couch next to his wife, crushing a beer can against his skull as she rolls her eyes, most likely intending to mirror the look on viewers’ faces as they watch this ridiculous sequence. Despite the silent, eye-rolling critique from the wife, this ad does not give a powerfully positive message about gender equality or inclusivity. Instead, on the largest stage in advertising, Summer’s Eve chose to display gender conventions. Specifically, while the creators of this ad intended to make the man look foolish and the woman look smart and realistic, a deeper analysis reveals this ad as more offensive than progressive.

The horrified look on the husband’s face as his wife reveals the advertised nature of the product he is using re-emphasizes obsolete gender stereotypes, hinting that not only should women avoid talking about their bodies, but that men cannot even comprehend these conversations. As the wife begins discussing the benefits of her cleansing wash, the man immediately stops listening, more worried about his threatened identity, and, in the end, contributing to a woman’s lack of confidence in opening up a dialogue about her body. This ad, as many have before, manages to sell a product to women by shaming its key clients. In the Victorian Era, “True Women were defined by their distance from lust” and any sexual topics, and, in a way, this ad brings women back to that time period, suggesting many people, especially men, will not listen to a discussion as “inappropriate” as one about a woman’s bodily functions (Katz 232). In an attempt to deflect the conversation from a potentially uncomfortable topic, the husband physically leaves the scene and begins a new activity, leaving the wife appearing like a lecturer as opposed to a participant in a dialogue. While this ad is clearly targeted to women, portraying her husband as a child-like figure who ultimately discourages her discussion about her body, only further strengthens those dichotomous gender stereotypes.

The extremity of the activities the husband takes part in to recover his masculinity ignores any attempts to disrupt timeworn gender stereotypes, showing that any signs of femininity in a man must be eradicated. The husband karate chops wooden blocks, tows a car with his teeth, and even fashions himself a Spartan helmet, all in an effort to cleanse himself of any traces of femininity stemming from accidentally using the genital wash. While the man is clearly mocked in the ad for his excessive actions, this parody ultimately affirms the hegemonic structure that men are fundamentally different from women, and therefore need specific products. This ad exemplifies this facet of the marketing industry that “spend[s] massive amounts of time and money ratifying and supporting the versions of masculinity that we enjoy and trust,” (Halberstam 1). Validating a world in which men must be completely masculine, this ad “depend[s] absolutely on the subordination of alternative masculinities,” (Halberstam 1). The ad ignores the existence of men who can still enjoy playing sports while being the primary caregiver for their children or manicuring their appearance. Or even use a vaginal wash product manufactured for and advertised to women that, in fact, is basically just soap.

The characters in this commercial represent a white, seemingly upper class, heterosexual relationship, again omitting many other gender, sexual, and even race and class identities from the customer base of the product. Many ads today attempt to cast diverse actors, in order for their products to appeal to more people. This commercial not only displays traditional gender norms, but also portrays a stereotypical heterosexual relationship, which does not exist for many people, including those who might want to purchase the product. Even as scientists and sociologists alike release more information debunking previous assumptions about gender and sexuality, “a scientific fact, once established, may sometimes be disproved in one field, remain a “fact” in others, and have a future life in the popular mind” (Fausto-Sterling 169). While many more people today are realizing and accepting non-heterosexual and/or gender queer people, advertisements like these are still ignoring the emerging acceptance of these lifestyles. This ad, even while using younger actors who may be part of this tolerant generation, does not cater to those who identify outside of gender and sexuality norms.

Advertisements must balance between appealing to the masses and pioneering the portrayal of new societal trends, but this ad focuses much more on old and insulting conventions of gender roles as opposed to engaging people in the 21st century. The creators undoubtedly thought an ad, even one meant for a women’s product, playing during the Super Bowl, must connect with the typical audience of a football game, again making assumptions about the gender make-up of the audience. This targeting, however, not only excludes many people, but also makes gross stereotypes about those who enjoy sporting events. While not everyone today recognizes or accepts the changing discourse on gender and sexuality, advertisements have the ability to change public opinion. An ad created specifically for a women’s product, therefore, should best portray the shifting culture acceptance of previously undermined groups, like women and those who do not identify with traditional ideas of gender and sexuality.

 

Works Cited

Fausto-Sterling, Anne. Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

Halberstam, Judith. Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke University Press, 1998.

Katz, Jonathan N. The Invention of Heterosexuality. New York: Dutton, 1995.

Wilchina, Riki Anne. Quuer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer. Los Angeles: Alyson, 2004.

Between Women: The Diversity of Same-Sex Relationships of Women in Victorian England

Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England by Sharon Marcus is a convincing, captivating, and original analysis that uncovers the importance and significance of the relationships between women in typical Victorian life. Marcus discusses how not many women in Victorian England had sexual relationships with each other or lived together in long-standing relationships like marriages. However, she also examines how women in Victorian England were involved in close and intimate relationships, which people at the time “believed cultivated the feminine virtues of sympathy and altruism”—that often had an element of objectification and closeness and affection (in a sexual manner). Marcus’s assertion that female bonds were “not only tolerated but promoted as necessary elements of middle-class femininity” (259) proposes an essential counteracting to the domineering opinions today that people in Victorian England saw all same-sex relationships as disgraceful and appalling.

Marcus goes on to argue that the wishes and needs of women at the time were motivated by consumerism and capitalism, and their friendships were recognized, reinforced, and strengthened by their “families, societies, and churches.” As she explains across a sequence of close readings, same-sex relationships and intimacy occurred in tandem and agreement with and even often promoted heterosexual relationships. Therefore, of course the people around women would support these same-sex relationships because these relationships in turn promoted heterosexual relationships, which led to reproduction and other societal expectations of women at the time.

Marcus goes on to support that images of women in the media at the time did not turn women into submissive and passive people, but on the contrary, represented the “erotic appetite for femininity” of women at that period. The appeal for femininity and fulfilling the ideals and expectations of being a woman in Victorian England drove women to this “erotic appetite. ” Marcus also showed how the relationships between women were a vital and central element of femininity through the analysis of literature, memoirs, letters, and more, and her immense collection of evidence further proves her argument.

When exploring the array of different types of female friendships, she focuses on how in many cases, female friendships just meant regular friendships, and how other times it meant lesbian relationships. Marcus goes on to describe how when same-sex “female marriages” were formed, that to her, they were not the controversial topic that same-sex relationships are today or that people thought they were. Even though these marriages were not legally formed, they were acknowledged in more wide scale social groups. Marcus also writes about a different sort of same-sex relationship between women and that is the relationships between mothers and daughters, and daughters with their dolls that were depicted in illustrations, and how these images had deceptive masochistic and sadistic insinuations and implications.

Sharon Marcus is the Orlando Harriman Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Her area of study is 19th-century British and French literature, specifically, she focuses on “performance studies, theater, and the novel; literary theory; gender and sexuality studies.” (Columbia U. Website) She is the author of Apartment Stories: City and Home in Nineteenth-Century Paris and London (University of California Press, 1999) and also won the Perkins Prize for best study of narrative for Between Women, along with several other awards for this book. Her essays have appeared in The Blackwell Companion to Comparative Literature, The Cambridge History of Victorian Literature, and more. Marcus has also written for The Boston Globe, The Chronicle Review, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times Book Review. Marcus was also the recipient of Fulbright, Woodrow Wilson, and ACLS fellowships, and a Columbia Distinguished Faculty Award. In 2014, Marcus was appointed Dean of Humanities at Columbia University.

In conclusion, Between Women by Sharon Marcus is a persuasive and unique examination that unearths the meaning and substance of the interactions between women in standard Victorian life. Very few women in Victorian England had sexual or long-lasting relationships like marriages. Marcus discusses how women in Victorian England were often involved in close and intimate relationships, which they thought encouraged the feminine features of compassion and selflessness. Her claim that female relationships were not only allowed but encouraged and endorsed as necessary for conventional femininity suggests an fundamental response to the widespread opinion that the people in Victorian England saw all same-sex relationships (no matter the degree of sex or sexuality played in the relationship) as outrageous and horrifying.

Queer Theory, Gender Theory

Book Review

Throughout Queer Theory, Gender Theory, Riki Wilchins explores topics such as LGBTQ rights movements, politics of meaning and self, identity politics, feminism, and race. Wilchins analyzes the many complex concepts in such a crafted way, always being careful to never segregate a specific subject. By doing this, she points out that all aspects of gender and queerness intertwine with not only each other, but other social constructions as well. For the entirety of the book, Wilchins encourages readers to step outside of their own identity box momentarily to explore and question what gender truly means, what queerness truly means, and what identity truly means.

Her first few chapters are a very good way for readers to ease into the intricacy of gender and queer theory, but by the end of the book she is challenging readers by asking the big questions. Why has society created such strict binaries, of which we must follow in order to create an identity that others can easily recognize as an identity? Why is it so hard for society to deconstruct these binaries, and is it even possible to do so? How does power work, even within certain rights movement groups, and why does it always tend to create a hierarchy? She uses a range of well-renounced theorists such as Michel Foucault and Judith Butler in order to support her arguments, but she recognizes that the big questions she herself is asking are far too complicated to possibly answer. However, the book was not written to answer the big questions, but rather adventure into and expose the complexity of theory.

Riki Wilchins has written two other books and several essays and articles. Queer Theory, Gender Theory was written in 2004 and is her most recent book. She is a post-operative transgender woman, meaning she has had sex reassignment surgery. This can be offered up as an explanation as to why she first began her career as a leader in the transgender rights movement. In 1995, Wilchins founded GenderPAC, which is the first national transgender advocacy group. Her group, active for 14 years, strived to make public places safe and comfortable for those who did not conform to the traditional roles and attributes of the gender binary. In her writing, she works to examine gender in a post-modernist theoretical light, hoping to bring some of that theory into politics and activism.

Wilchins’ first three chapters are all about rights: women’s rights, gay rights, and transgender rights. Right off the bat, she states, “queer theory is at heart about politics−things like power and identity, language, and difference” (Wilchins 5). Thus, this sets the tone for not only her first chapter on women’s rights, but for the several chapters to follow. She makes references to the black civil rights movements and how it has been a big part of the foundation of the LGBTQ rights movements we see today. “For it is in the black civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s that the familiar tools of modern civil rights movements…all come together for the first time” (5). This emphasizes the intersectional lens that Wilchins uses throughout the book to view gender concepts and constructs. She goes on to point out that although at times feminists can seem quite progressive, they often leave out groups of people, thus arguing that even those fighting for equality can get caught up in the power of the all imposing gender binary.

Wilchins then dives into the politics of meaning, which is what she titles chapter 4. She uses the philosopher Jacques Derrida and builds off of his ideology to come to the conclusion that “gender is a language, a system of meanings and symbols, along with the rules, privileges, and punishments pertaining to their use−for power and sexuality…” (35). Wilchins points out that language is flawed in the sense that it can only get us so far. There are certain things we can talk about with language and certain things we simply cannot, for “language favor the Same” (35). So, when people blur the lines of the gender binary, it’s difficult for us to talk about it as a society because language does not allow us that privilege. For example, a trans woman is often not seen as a “real” woman, but rather someone just trying to mimic a woman. Yet, as Wilchins later points out, how do we define a “real” woman? Furthermore, why do these categories of two genders seem to be so exclusive?

This leads Wilchins to dive into Foucault and his theories surrounding power. The authoritarian, end-all-be-all attitude of science often prevents us from obtaining true knowledge. “…the new Science was not interested in knowledge about Sex, but rather power over it” (53.) The discourse that our society has created around gender only allows us to make sense of two certain types of bodies (male and female), which often times makes people who push the binaries of “objects of discourse, not participants in it” (61). Wilchins speaks to repressive and discursive power, and their effects on our perspectives of queerness and what it means to be queer. Which further prompts Wilchins to question our perspectives on sex, something we have often thought of as set in stone and unchangeable. However, intersex people often fall into a very blurry category of sex, one of which our society does not know how to conceptualize, which has in turn led to doctors performing procedures on intersex babies at birth to give them a “real” sex.

Wilchins ties the binaries of race into the binaries of sex. Society has placed significant meaning on what it means to be white and black in this country, just as it has placed significant meaning on what it means to be a man and a woman in this country. “…a central problem for gender theory has been that no matter what telling points are made about gender, Sex lurks right behind, pulling everything right back in the direction of immutable biology” (84). It seems to be that one can just not deconstruct sex. It is an irrefutable Truth. However, Wilchins points out that if this was the case, then we wouldn’t have to teach children what their sex is. If sex were actually an irrefutable Truth, children would just know this about themselves. Wilchins argues that perhaps sex is just another way for society and science to apply cultural meaning to differences that may not be as different as we presume.

The last quarter of the book is quite dense. Wilchins explores post-modernism, its effects on queer theory, and the critiques of it as well. She then explores the deconstruction of race, and how it is much less widely acceptable to deconstruct race than it is to deconstruct gender. Wilchins describes that perhaps race is a “matter of identification created by shared experience and cultural memory” (111). She continues to intertwine race and gender by writing about gendering race and racing gender, stating that the two cannot be separated and by talking about one, you must always talk about the other. Then Wilchins introduces Butler and the problem of identity. The categories of man and women are troubling to both Wilchins and Butler, for “assuming commonality to any identity…can mean assuming a unity that doesn’t exist in reality” (124). So, perhaps Wilchins did answer one of her big questions. Women as a category and identity is something our society has created and bound to us, when in fact, being a woman is far too nuanced to condense into one group.

Throughout Queer Theory, Gender Theory, Wilchins carefully writes about and constructs extremely perplexing and layered topics. The single greatest strength of this book is the way intersectionality continues to come up again and again. It is never neglected, and Wilchins always acknowledges that these concepts must be viewed with several different lenses, in order to fully grasp the complexity of them. The way she writes about race and gender in conversation with each other is necessary for a book like this, but nevertheless still extremely intricately difficult. Wilchins makes sure to never let the reader forget that in order to try and deconstruct gender, one must look at nearly all aspects of our society. She gracefully points out to us that even spaces in which we may think of as un-gendered, actually still are gendered, for it is hard to escape the gender binary society has created. However, as prevalent as intersectionality is throughout this book, at times it was difficult to fully follow. I found myself questioning whom this book was directed towards, and if it was directed towards an audience of which does not identify as LGBTQ, then perhaps it could have been too dense for them. The book is a relatively quick read, however if one has not done previous research on queer theory, then Wilchins’ probably would not be a good introduction to it.

As a Gender & Sexuality Studies major, I very much enjoyed reading this book. It was written concisely and included several real life examples, which sometimes theory fails to do. The book was relatable for me, as I’m sure it was for many others. Wilchins included several philosophers and theorists throughout the book and framed them in a way that was easy to understand and apply to her argument. I believe it would be a great read for others studying queer theory, however as mentioned before, perhaps too dense for someone just introducing themselves to the topic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Wilchins, Riki Anne. Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer. Los Angeles:

Alyson, 2004. Print.

High School Monograph: A Review of Pascoe’s Dude You’re a Fag

 

High school, while being a time in a adolescents life where the most growth, physically, emotionally, and psychologically, is looked on by many to be a stressful and miserable period full of bullying, angst, and feelings of inadequacy. Why do so many people hate high school? While it is a tendency of the 21st century to assert that we, as citizens of the United States, have made progress regarding how we accept people of different races, ideologies, and sexual identities, the normal high school environment proves otherwise. The four years adolescents spend in high school form the cornerstone in which they build their beliefs and how they come to interact with the world as adults. C.J. Pascoe’s academic monograph Dude You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School is a case study of a high school in Northern California. In her work, Pascoe interviews numerous students and faculty and observes the daily workings of the institution for over a year. What she finds is an environment where adolescents ages 14 to 18 are bred to join the heteronormative, patriarchal society that we are all too familiar with.

Pascoe asserts that commonly held notions of gender, masculinity, and sexuality are solidified during the years in high school. During these formative years, Pascoe argues, important social events are central to the development of sexual and gender identity. Formal occasions such as prom, Friday night dances, and homecoming solidify heteronormativity by encouraging teenagers to pair up, girl and boy, and interact romantically in a social setting. Also examined by Pascoe is how the male students interact in ways that are misogynistic and homophobic. She uses the example of the “fag” epithet to show that teenage boys are forced to prove their masculinity and sexual orientation to their peers in order to gain their respect. If a boy is seen as effeminate or weak, they are more likely to be regarded as a “fag”, which is associated with not being “man” enough. One student that Pascoe interviewed said of being called this insult, “To call someone gay or a fag is like the lowest thing you can call someone. Because that’s like saying you’re nothing” (55). This student is pointing to a central idea in Pascoe’s book and a glaring problem of homophobia that is still present today. Being labeled as “gay” when you identity as a straight, cis-gender male delegitimizes the careful presentation of masculinity that many try to portray to the world. Pascoe also discusses how race plays a factor in determining masculinity. She found that black teenagers were automatically placed on a higher level of masculinity as their white counterparts, and because of this they were more likely to be seen as stronger, more aggressive and sexually domineering. The distinction between the types of masculinity led to more black boys being disciplined by the administration and their teachers. The intersectionality between race and masculinity is a vital part of Pascoe’s thesis and is also very relevant to today’s political and social climate, where the demonizing of black bodies is all too common. Pascoe’s monograph leads us to the starting point of the many issues we all face and grapple with in today’s world.

The author and researcher behind this monograph is C.J. Pascoe, a professor of Sociology at the University of Oregon. Pascoe graduated with a degree in sociology from Brandeis University and received her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley. Her research focuses on the masculinity and femininity, youth, and sexuality studies. Her monograph Dude You’re a Fag won the American Educational Research Association’s 2007 Book of the Year Award. Pascoe’s knowledge expands beyond masculinity and into the realms of anorexia and its prevalence in society today and how social media and technology is changing how teenagers communicate and grow up. The expertise Pascoe brings to this subject is a deep understanding of adolescents and the developmental milestones they hit during high school. The knowledge gathered by the researcher from many years in academia and the practical world qualify her to write such a book.

Pascoe’s monograph is considered a case study of a singular high school that she uses to draw conclusions about educational institutions and their effect on students throughout the United States. Over an eighteen-month period, Pascoe interviewed numerous students, faculty, and administrators while also observing classes and conversations among students. Pascoe also attended common high school events where socializing takes places such as sports games, dances, and school sanctioned assemblies. Both by quoting directly and drawing conclusions based on conversations, Pascoe comes to find that at a working class, diverse high school gender norms and heteronormativity are deeply ingrained into the students. She observes school authorized events, such as the high school’s homecoming assembly before the dance, in which male students dress up and dance scandalously (in ways that would be considered unacceptable for girls to do) and attempt to win votes and be crowned the king. Other occurrences analyzed by Pascoe are the school plays, the only occasion where it is acceptable for boys to dance, wear makeup, and act flamboyantly in public, and the meeting of the Gay Straight Alliance club (GSA), a place where the margins of the school come together for support. What her observations found is not surprising. There are a very small number of students that participated in the GSA and sponsored activities, while many students either acted in or attended the school plays. The thin line between when it is acceptable to embody traditionally feminine characteristics and when it is considered taboo is shown through these events. Pascoe’s discovery of how deeply the notions of masculinity and femininity are pushed, even through our education system, asks if any progress has been made.

The paramount strength of Pascoe’s work is how she takes into account and analyzes the importance of intersectionality when looking at masculinity. By bringing race into conversation, Pascoe solidifies her argument even further. As noted earlier, the black students at River High were almost excluded from the “fag” discourse so commonly heard. Protected by what Pascoe calls “hip-hop culture” it is socially acceptable for the black students to pay attention and care to their appearance and dance in public without fear of being referred to as a fag. Pascoe pinpoints this phenomena as an underlying racist attitude that, because black men are seen as meaner, sexually aggressive, and domineering, they are hypermasculinized. Another succinct intersection is that of masculinity and queer identity in America’s high schools. One student at River High, Ricky, an openly gay student, is discussed about in length as an example of how queer students are treated in high school. Ricky describes his experience as violent and unpredictable at the hands of the male students attempting to assert their masculinity. If Pascoe were to leave out these very important intersections of masculinity, her book would not have had the weight and argument that it has.

The way Pascoe chooses to draw conclusions based on the observed actions of the students can be problematic at times. While Pascoe has and listens to numerous conversations with and among boys about their various sexual conquests with girls, she rarely receives female viewpoints. She instead analyzes the interactions of the students, which sometimes border on sexual harassment, and reports on them. In many of these scenarios, Pascoe reports that the girls are most often willingly submissive to the physical dominance of the males without giving a reason why from the girls’ perspectives. The lack of primary information the readers get calls into question Pascoe’s diligence in her research.

This particular monograph examines a subject that is relatable to anyone who graduated from an American high school. Though this may not have been the experience for everyone, River High is a portrait of the American, public, educational institution that casts its influence over the rest of society. Its explicit and easy to read format makes it accessible to readers that are not academics, while its well-researched and deep arguments make it attractive to those who are. I think that this book is analyzed deeply and has an argumentative and interesting take on an experience that is so common to so many people, even today.

 

Works Cited

“CJ Pascoe.” Department of Sociology. University of Oregon, 2016. Web. 24 Oct. 2016.

Pascoe, CJ. Dude You’re a Fag: Sexuality and Masculinity in High School. Berkeley: U of California, 2007. Print.

Pledged: Teagan Monaco

The Separation Solution: Single-Sex Education and the Politics of Gender Equality

9780520288966Separate but equal. These three infamous words, coined by Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, heightened the ever-present racial divide between black and white individuals until struck down in 1954 by Brown V. Board of Education. Just sixty-two years later, after working to rid this axiom from our norm, we have three new words to examine: different but equal. This time, the focus shifts to the sex divide between men and women.  Juliet A. Williams, author of The Separation Solution: Single Sex Education and The New Politics of Gender Equality, assesses the ideas behind single-sex public schools and how these ideas are constructed, especially in terms of sexist and racist stereotypes and economic inequality.

Williams considers single-sex education in public schools and examines how advocates and critics frame their cases and analyze how “gender differences have been defined and positioned within these competing frames” (Williams 28).  She argues to focus on the different beliefs about gender that parlay discourse about racial and economic injustice in education so that a more “constructive trajectory” can be set for future dialogue.  With the integration of women into the previously male-dominated schoolrooms in the 19th century, sociological and biological arguments surfaced, such that this combination would place strain on female reproduction. However, the cost of keeping up with this as well as the dominance of one room houses eliminated the concept of separatism in education until it reemerged following Brown v. Board of Education. As much of society still posed racist sentiments, the thought of white girls and black boys being taught in the same room spurred single-sex education until this argument proved ineffective as Civil Rights activists brought notice to the changing sex discrimination laws. However, at the turn of the 1980’s, the “Black Male Crisis” emerged when advocates claimed black male students were often marginalized in coeducation because they were placed in environments run by female teachers, and often came from single-mother families so they had no male role model and viewed education as “feminine” as a result.  These arguments discriminated against women and so the discourse shifted in the mid-1990’s to single-sex schools for females as “an effective means to build girls’ self-esteem and encourage greater female participation in the traditionally male dominated fields” and break down the existing heteronormativity (Williams 30). The discussion continued to grow for single-sex schools as advocates claimed that boys’ and girls’ brains are “hard-wired” to learn differently and therefore require separate learning situations, but these dubious arguments championing biological determinism were later shut down along with the majority of single-sex public schools.

Juliet A. Williams received her Ph.D. from Cornell University in New York, and is additionally trained as a political theorist.  Currently, she serves as a professor of Gender Studies and as the Associate Dean of the Division of Social Sciences at the University of California in Los Angeles.  Williams’s research focuses on feminist theory, masculinity studies, gender and the law, gender and education, and cultural studies.  She has additionally written Liberalism and the Limits of Power and contributed to Public Affairs: Politics in the Age of Sex Scandals.

Williams notably frames her arguments through cross-disciplines: history, sociology, and biology. A series of court cases, specifically Plessy v. Ferguson, Garret v. Board of Education, United States v. Virginia, are used to set the historical context and establish precedents for building arguments for and against same-sex public schools. Moreover, relevant acts and laws, such the Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Education Opportunity Act and the Women’s Educational Equity Act served to exhibit the political history and legal studies behind same-sex education and the decisions behind those in office.  By developing the terms gender, education, race, ethnicity and examining how men and women learn and react to learning styles differently exudes a sociological and biological argument respectively. Moreover, Williams did not not conduct any studies herself, but furthered the discussion based on court cases, research studies, and news and media studies in local areas. She specifically emphasizes the pre-existing arguments of Kimberlé Crenshaw, Rosemary Salome and Leonard Sax. Crenshaw, who coined the term intersectionality, continually examines how women of color can be marginalized by feminist and antiracist agendas especially in single-sex education. Salome builds an argument against the “conflation” of gender into racial discussions that halted the worthwhile single-sex public school initiatives and urges for dissenters of single-sex education to “move beyond ideology”, while failing to address the origins and effects of “conflation” and recognize many dissenters opposed the discussion from analysis based off past programs (Williams 100). Sax argues for same-sex public schools, with the basis of his argument being they will curb the reinforcement of traditional gender roles, believing these stereotypes will persist in coeducational environments because they will mimic society’s structure. This way, students can be successful with techniques geared toward their specific gender. Beyond Crenshaw, Salome and Sax, William’s referenced the work of numerous other scholars to build her argument.

Williams effectively examines the role of intersectionality in the discussion about single-sex education and builds upon Kimberlé Crenshaw’s research on the topic.  She quotes Crenshaw, who asserts that “the failure of feminism to interrogate race means that the resistance strategies of feminism will often replicate and reinforce the subordination of people of color, and the failure of antiracism to interrogate patriarchy means that antiracism will frequently reproduce the subordination of women” (Williams 77). Williams continually frames the discourse on single-sex public education in terms of interesectionality to thoroughly illustrate one of main controversies over over black single-sex institutions—black girls. This concept introduced how they are specifically marginalized more so than their peers by single-sex specifically black institutions.  More so, arguing through an intersectional lens underscores the complexity and ignorance of using a “single-axis” approach to advocate for women because in doing so, the shortcomings black students face are ignored. This incorporation of intersectionality additionally highlights the “strategic leveraging of difference to fracture potential coalitions” and expands this debate beyond the gender discussion (Williams 79). Williams examines not just the way intersectionality is used to characterize identities, but also how it is used to characterize the politics on the issue as well.

Although William’s evaluates the role of separate public schools for boys and girls, she does not thoroughly examine those who do not fit under this rigidly classified system.  Queer students are overlooked and only mentioned in a couple pages at the conclusion as way of afterthought.  The discussion needs to be expanded to fit the ever-changing definitions of gender and sexuality. It is a significant gap in the argument to overlook the specifics of whether a student who identifies as one gender but bears a different sex is forced to conform to the male-female binary, and how this argument can be used for future discussion on single-sex public education.

Ultimately, The Separation Solution reads extremely informative as it provides well-framed, fact based arguments for and against the formation of single-sex public schools. Government officials and school board officials as well as anyone in the field of education should read this book because it poses relevant information on what it means to separate gender in learning environments, and how other factors have to be considered in this separation. Moreover, Williams makes note how putting the spotlight on marginalized categories may seek to provide fair learning environments but in fact generates social divides that created disadvantages and advantages for specific groups in the first place. So we are finally left to consider whether gender-specific problems really garner gender-specific solutions.

 

Work Cited:

Williams, Juliet. The Separation Solution?: Single-sex Education and the New Politics of Gender Equality. N.p.: U of California, n.d. Print.