Women’s Studies

Q&A with Lynn Comella, author of Vibrator Nation

lynn_comella_by_krystal_ramirez_smallLynn Comella is Associate Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. An award-winning researcher, she has written extensively about sexuality and culture for numerous academic publications and popular media outlets. She is coeditor of the comprehensive New Views on Pornography: Sexuality, Politics, and the Law, and a frequent media contributor. In Vibrator Nation: How Feminist Sex-Toy Stores Changed the Business of Pleasure—the first book to tell the story of feminist sex-toy stores and the women who pioneered them—she takes a deep dive into the making of the consumer market for sex toys, tracing its emergence from the early 1970s to today. Drawing on more than eighty in-depth interviews with retailers and industry insiders, including a stint working as a vibrator clerk, she brings readers onto the sex-shop floor and into the world of sex-positive capitalism and cultural production. Lynn Comella is on a national tour this fall and winter; check back here next week for a full tour schedule.

art1Why did you decide to research feminist sex-toy businesses and how did you conduct your research?

I’ve long been interested in the politics of sexual representation, from the feminist sex wars of the 1980s to debates over school-based sex education. When I started this project, which began as a seminar paper in graduate school, I was really interested in the various ways in which female sexuality assumed a public presence as opposed to being relegated to the privacy of the home. As luck would have it, a feminist sex-toy shop, Intimacies, had just opened in the college town where I lived. I decided to make the store the focus of a small pilot study in an effort to better understand what made this female-friendly vibrator business different from more conventional adult stores ostensibly geared toward men. I quickly realized that Intimacies was part of a larger network of women-run, educationally oriented vibrator shops located in cities across the country that had all adopted a similar way of selling sex toys and talking about sex. I wanted to know more about what united these businesses together and how they attempted to practice feminist politics through the marketplace. What were the sexual vernaculars, retail strategies, philosophies, challenges and paradoxes that had shaped these businesses?

Researching the history of feminist sex-toy stores sent me down a rabbit hole. It took years and multiple methods of data collection—ethnographic fieldwork, in-depth interviews, and archival research—to weave together the various historical threads that shaped these businesses and the larger women’s market for sex toys and pornography. Writing the book I wanted to write, one that took a deep dive into the making of a market, required a kind of methodological promiscuity: I worked as a vibrator clerk at Babeland in New York City where I sold my fair share of sex toys, answered customer questions, and crossed my fingers that my cash register balanced at the end of the night. I interviewed more than eighty feminist retailers, employees, and industry insiders. I toured dildo manufacturing companies and lube factories, and attended more than a dozen adult industry trade shows where I sat in on business seminars that discussed marketing sex toys to women, retail-based sex education, and the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon. I poured through dusty boxes filled with corporate documents, internal memos, customer letters, advertisements, news clippings, and more, and amassed a research archive teeming with sex-toy ephemera (which I’m having a lot of fun sharing on the vibrator_nation Instagram account).

What was it like for women to purchase sex toys before the mid-1970s? What were feminist entrepreneurs trying to change?

There weren’t a lot of opportunities for the average woman to comfortably buy vibrators in the early 1970s. Conventional adult stores weren’t designed with female shoppers in mind; reputable mail-order businesses that sold so-called marital aids were few and far between; and women walking into a department store—or any store, really—to buy a vibrating massager risked encountering a male clerk who might say, “Boy, you must really need it bad, sweetie pie.” What made the situation all the more frustrating for many women was that they were being told by feminist sex educators and therapists that they should masturbate and take control of their orgasms. Vibrators were being framed as tools of liberation, but getting one wasn’t easy. Early feminist retailers, such as Dell Williams, who founded Eve’s Garden in 1974, and Joani Blank who opened Good Vibrations several years later, stepped into this breach. They turned the traditional model of an adult store, with its “seamy” aura and X-rated style, on its head in an effort to appeal to female shoppers. What made these early feminist vibrator businesses so revolutionary, and what set them apart from their more conventional counterparts geared toward men, wasn’t just their focus on women, but their entire way of doing business. They led with sex education not titillation, and worked to advance a social mission that included putting a vibrator on the bedside table of every woman, everywhere, because they believed that access to accurate sexual information and quality products had the potential to make everyone’s lives better.

In the book you describe a “sex-positive diaspora” of feminist retailers. What do you mean by that?

One of the things that I found so interesting during the early stages of my research was the degree to which feminist business owners tipped their hats to Good Vibrations. Many of them credited the company’s founder, Joani Blank, a sex therapist with a master’s degree in public health, with helping them start their businesses. Blank had a very non-competitive approach to running a company and strongly believed that the more businesses that were doing what Good Vibrations was doing—selling vibrators and talking openly about sex—the better. Blank freely shared information and vendor lists with aspiring entrepreneurs, and in the early 1990s she started a short-lived internship program to train people how to run a business like Good Vibrations. The first, and only, two people to complete the internship program were Claire Cavanah, who along with Rachel Venning would go on to found Babeland in 1993, and Kim Airs who started Grand Opening in Boston that same year. Blank’s communitarian, non-competitive ethos created a ripple effect and by the early 1990s, Good Vibrations’ DNA had begun to spread to cities across the country. In time, people who worked at Babeland and Grand Opening branched out and started their own feminist vibrator shops and Good Vibrations’ sex-positive mission continued to replicate. I wanted a phrase that captured this movement and dispersal, and the description “sex-positive diaspora” seemed to do that.

What role have lesbians and queer-identified retailers and people of color played in the history of feminist sex-toy business?

Lesbians and queer-identified retailers, along with queer and transgender employees, have played a major role in shaping the history of feminist sex-toy businesses. They opened stores, worked on the sales floor, started sex-toy manufacturing companies, wrote “how to” guides, and made pornography. In these different ways they’ve been important nodes of transmission and sources of queer sexual knowledge, including for straight people. In fact, I’d argue that the history of feminist sex-toy stores is also, and very much so, a story about queer entrepreneurship and cultural production. For many of the businesses that I write about in Vibrator Nation, their identities as queer and trans-inclusive companies are as important, if not more so, than their feminist identities. And yet, it’s also the case that these businesses have historically been very white. If you look at photos of Good Vibrations staff from the 1980s, for example, everyone is white and female. So it’s perhaps not surprising that some customers got the impression that Good Vibrations was a white women’s store—even as the company worked hard to change that perception and diversity its staff. This was certainly how Oakland-based retailer Nenna Joiner, the founder of Feelmore, experienced Good Vibrations when she first discovered the company in the late 1990s. Although she loved what the store offered, she didn’t see any images that represented her. She realized there was a need in the African American community for more diverse sexual images and resources, and decided to start a business that could deliver what she felt was missing from other women-run sex-toy stores.

How have feminist sex toy stores remained true to their mission while also turning a profit?

The ongoing tension between profitability and social change is a thread that runs throughout Vibrator Nation. Many of the retailers I write about started their businesses because they saw their stores as a feminist way to empower women (and eventually everyone). They led with a mission of social change rather than capitalist aspirations. Good Vibrations’ Joani Blank once told me that profits were secondary to everything that was important to her about running a successful business. And if you read the mission statements of many of the businesses that followed in Good Vibrations’ footsteps, they’re all about promoting sex education and personal transformation and creating a more passionate world. There’s almost no mention of making money. As one of my interviewees pointed out, if you don’t put profitability in your mission statement, it’s easy to forget about it. In some cases, it took a severe financial crisis for retailers to realize they needed to cultivate new forms of business expertise and foster attitudes in which money was seen as friend instead of foe, something that not only greased the wheels of social change but kept those wheels spinning.

How did feminists end up changing the adult industry?

Perhaps the most dramatic shift over the past forty years is the acknowledgment on the part of mainstream adult retailers, manufacturers, and porn producers that the sex industry is no longer a world of men. In a post Sex and the City and Fifty Shades of Grey era, this statement might seem glaringly obvious, but it wasn’t that long ago that women found themselves marginalized in an industry largely dominated by men and steeped in sexism. I heard stories during my research of female product buyers with budgets of upwards of $3,000,000 annually who couldn’t get the time of day at adult novelty trade shows. Men would look right past them. And that was in the early 2000s. Feminists played an absolutely central role in creating a market that is now widely regarded as one of the hottest growth segments of the adult industry. Today, women are trusted authorities who routinely hold the microphone in seminar rooms filled with wholesalers, distributors, retailers, and content producers eager to mine their expertise. There have been other important changes, too, most notably in regard to sex-toy manufacturing and marketing. By the early 1990s women were placing new demands on the adult novelty sector. Good Vibrations began offering warranties and started sending defective merchandise back to manufacturers, letting them know they weren’t going to settle for cheaply made products that conked out after one use. Manufacturers started making products that looked prettier, had better motors, and used non-toxic and body safe materials. Sex-toy packaging with images of sultry porn starlets has been replaced with softer, more colorful, and sanitized imagery. Messages about sexual health and education, rather than titillation, are regularly used as marketing platforms. Art school grads and mechanical engineers are bringing elements of sleek design and quality manufacturing to an industry that used to revolve around the idea of planned obsolescence where nothing was made to last. It’s a far cry from what the adult industry looked like in the early 1970s when Dell Williams and Joani Blank took a bold leap of faith and started their small, women-friendly vibrator businesses.

What are some of the challenges of doing scholarly work on the sex industry?

What it means to do scholarly work on the sex industry has changed quite a bit over the past 15 years. When I was completing my Ph.D. in the early 2000s, academic research on the adult industry was hardly typical and it wasn’t unusual for someone to raise an eyebrow when I told them that I was researching feminist sex-toy stores. They were intrigued but often skeptical about the scholarly merits of such research. Although academic research on the adult industry is still not the norm, there’s a growing, international network of sexuality scholars—historians, sociologists, media studies practitioners, and others—who study pornography and other facets of the adult entertainment industry in an effort to better understand this extremely profitable yet under-examined segment of popular culture. This scholarship is increasingly finding institutional support not only in the form of tenure-track academic appointments, but in academic journals and professional organizations, too. Additionally, more and more academic presses are realizing that there’s a market for well-researched books about pornography and the sex industry, and are building their lists according. As for the nitty-gritty of researching the sex industry, it’s really no different than studying any other cultural phenomenon: you approach it ethically, rigorously, and systematically. The less we exoticize sexuality research, and the more we treat it with the seriousness that we might approach other scholarly topics, the better this research will be.

You can order Vibrator Nation from your favorite local or online bookstore (print and e-editions available) or order directly from Duke University Press. Use coupon code E17COMEL to save 30%.

 

Women’s Equality Day Reads

Saturday is Women’s Equality Day, and we couldn’t be more glad for an occasion both to commemorate strides in women’s rights and to renew the call for further progress. Today we’re contributing to the cause by sharing some of our most recent scholarship in women’s studies.

In the 1970s a group of pioneering feminist entrepreneurs launched a movement that ultimately changed the way sex was talked about, had, and enjoyed. Boldly reimagining who sex shops were for and the kinds of spaces they could be, these entrepreneurs opened sex-toy stores like Eve’s Garden, Good Vibrations, and Babeland not just as commercial enterprises, but to provide educational and community resources as well. In Vibrator Nation Lynn Comella tells the fascinating history of how these stores raised sexual consciousness, redefined the adult industry, and changed women’s lives.

While news of the Rwandan genocide reached all corners of the globe, the nation’s recovery and the key role of women are less well known. In Rwandan Women Rising Swanee Hunt shares the stories of some seventy women—heralded activists and unsung heroes alike—who overcame unfathomable brutality, unrecoverable loss, and unending challenges to rebuild Rwandan society.

Developed in the United States in the 1980s, facial feminization surgery (FFS) is a set of reconstructive surgical procedures intended to feminize the faces of trans- women. In The Look of a Woman Eric Plemons foregrounds the narratives of FFS patients and their surgeons as they move from consultation and the operating room to postsurgery recovery. Plemons demonstrates how FFS is changing the project of surgical sex reassignment by reconfiguring the kind of sex that surgery aims to change.

In Politics with Beauvoir Lori Jo Marso treats Simone de Beauvoir’s feminist theory and practice as part of her political theory, arguing that freedom is Beauvoir’s central concern and that this is best apprehended through Marso’s notion of the encounter. Beauvoir’s encounters, Marso shows, exemplify freedom as a shared, relational, collective practice.

In The Labor of Faith Judith Casselberry examines the material and spiritual labor of the women of one of the oldest and largest historically Black Pentecostal churches in the United States. This male-headed church only functions through the work of the church’s women, who, despite making up three-quarters of its adult membership, hold no formal positions of power. Focusing on the circumstances of producing a holy black female personhood, Casselberry reveals the ways twenty-first-century women’s spiritual power operates and resonates with meaning in Pentecostal, female-majority, male-led churches.

wpj33_4_23_frontcover_fppIn “Interrupted,” a special issue of World Policy Journal penned entirely by female foreign policy experts and journalists, contributors imagine a world where the majority of foreign policy experts quoted, bylined, and miked are not men. The issue challenges the perception that women are not policymakers by showcasing the voices of female experts and leaders. Contributors to this issue address topics such as feminism in Chinaabortion laws across the Americascombating violent extremism by working with religious leaders, and women in media. The issue also features a conversation with Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of Mauritus.

In The Economization of Life Michelle Murphy provocatively describes the twentieth-century rise of infrastructures of calculation and experiment aimed at governing population for the sake of national economy. Murphy traces the methods and imaginaries through which family planning calculated lives not worth living, lives not worth saving, and lives not worth being born. The resulting archive of thick data transmuted into financialized “Invest in a Girl” campaigns that reframed survival as a question of human capital. The book challenges readers to reject the economy as our collective container and to refuse population as a term of reproductive justice.

Lori Merish, in Archives of Labor, establishes working-class women as significant actors within literary culture, dramatically redrawing the map of nineteenth-century US literary and cultural history. Delving into previously unexplored archives of working-class women’s literature, Merish recovers working-class women’s vital presence as writers and readers in the antebellum era. She restores the tradition of working women’s class protest and dissent, shows how race and gender are central to class identity, and traces the ways working women understood themselves and were understood as workers and class subjects.

Among Arab countries, Egypt has witnessed the largest production of feminist writings as Egyptian women begin to write in the mainstream. A themed section on Egyptian women writers and feminism from the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies features three articles about Egyptian women writers and their novels, which investigate the role of gender assignation in late twentieth-century Egyptian society. These literary works interrogate assumptions about the ways in which men and women are seen and are expected to behave.

For more books and journal articles on women’s issues, check out our Read to Respond post on feminism and women’s rights. These articles are freely available until December 15, 2017.

New Books in August

We hope you’re enjoying your summer! Our fall list is now in full swing with lots of new books to check out in August.

LazarreIn her memoir, The Communist and the Communist’s DaughterJane Lazarre tells the fascinating history of her father Bill, a radical activist who, as part of his tireless efforts to create a better world for his family, held leadership positions in the American Communist Party, fought in the Spanish Civil War, and organized labor unions.

In The Look of a Woman, Eric Plemons explores the ways in which facial feminization surgery is changing the ways in which trans- women are not only perceived of as women, but in the ways it is altering the project of surgical sex reassignment and the understandings of what sex means.

Jason Dittmer, in Diplomatic Material, applies new materialism to international relations and offers a counterintuitive reading of foreign policy by tracing the ways that complex interactions between people and things shape the decisions and actions of diplomats and policymakers.
Hough-Snee and Sotelo Eastman

Dexter Zavalza Hough-Snee and Alexander Sotelo Eastman’s collection, The Critical Surf Studies Reader, is an innovative exploration of the history and culture of surfing that recasts wave-riding as a complex cultural practice and reclaims the forgotten roles that women, indigenous peoples, and peoples of color have played in the its evolution.

In Disturbing Attachments, Kadji Amin challenges the idealization of Jean Genet as a paradigmatic figure within queer studies to illuminate the methodological dilemmas at the heart of queer theory, bringing the genealogy of Genet’s imaginaries of attachment to bear on pressing issues within contemporary queer politics and scholarship, including prison abolition, homonationalism, and pinkwashing.

art1Nicholas De Genova’s The Borders of “Europe” examines the perceptions of the staggering refuge and migration crisis in Europe, demonstrating how it stems from migrants exercising their right to the freedom of movement, leads states to create new technologies of regulating human movement, and prompts the questioning of the very idea of Europe.

In Vibrator Nation, Lynn Comella tells the fascinating history of how feminist sex-toy stores such as Eve’s Garden, Good Vibrations and Babeland raised sexual consciousness, redefined the adult industry, provided educational and community resources, and changed the way sex was talked about, had, and enjoyed.

Alexandra Chang’s catalog, Circles and Circuits—which examines Chinese Caribbean art in Cuba, Trinidad, Jamaica, and Panama—accompanies the exhibition, Circles and Circuits: Chinese Caribbean Art, presented in two parts: History and Art of the Chinese Caribbean Diaspora at the California African American Museum from September 15, 2017 through February 25, 2018, and Contemporary Chinese Caribbean Art at the Chinese American Museum from September 15, 2017 through March 11, 2018.

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Tatiana Flores and Michelle Ann Stephens’ Relational Undercurrents accompanies an exhibition by the same name that opens at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, California in September, 2017. The exhibition and edited volume call attention to the artistic production of the Caribbean islands and their diasporas, challenging the conventional geographic and conceptual boundaries of Latin America.

Both exhibitions, Circles and Circuits and Relational Undercurrents, are part of the Pacific Standard Time Art Project. 

The largely unknown story of the FBI’s surveillance operations in Latin America during the 1940s is the topic of Marc Becker’s The FBI in Latin America. He provides new insights into leftist organizations and the nature of the U.S.’s imperial ambitions in the western hemisphere.

Ambassadors of the Working ClassIn Ambassadors of the Working Class, Ernesto Semán tells the story of Argentina’s diplomatic worker attachés dispatched to further Peronism, organized labor became a crucial aspect in defining democracy and perceptions of social justice, freedom, and sovereignty in the Americas.

Kojin Karatani’s Isomania and the Origins of Philosophy questions the canonical glorification of philosophy and democracy in ancient Athens by placing Western philosophy’s origins in Ionia, a set of Greek colonies located in present-day Turkey that practiced isonomia—a system based on non-rule and a lack of social divisions whereby equality is realized through individual freedom.

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Gendered and Sexual Mobilities

ddmew_13_2_coverThe most recent special issue of Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies (JMEWS), “Gendered and Sexual Mobilities,” edited by miriam cooke, Banu Gökariksel, and Frances S. Hasso, is now available.

This issue highlights the significance of mobility for our understanding of gendered and sexual difference. The four articles explore the role of spatial mobility and immobility in the construction of gendered and sexual bodies and subjectivities. Contributors Anna J. Secor, Camila Pastor de Maria Campos, and Fatma Umut Beşpınar recognize how rarely scholars examine the perspective of marginalized gendered and sexual subjects who are deemed morally dangerous. Questioning mobility and difference, therefore, enables us to illuminate how issues of difference are fixed and framed through regimes of visibility, certification, and regulation.

Explore the table-of-contents and read the preface to the issue, now freely available.

Read to Respond: Labor

R2R final logoOur “Read to Respond” series addresses the current climate of misinformation by highlighting articles and books that encourage thoughtful, educated debate on today’s most pressing issues. This post focuses on labor, worker’s rights, and neoliberalism. Read, reflect, and share these resources in and out of the classroom to keep these important conversations going.

Labor

These articles are freely available until December 15, 2017. Follow along with the series over the next several months and share your thoughts with #ReadtoRespond.

Read To Respond: Feminism and Women’s Rights


R2R final logoOur “Read to Respond” series addresses the current climate of misinformation by highlighting articles and books that encourage thoughtful, educated debate on today’s most pressing issues. This post focuses on feminism and women’s rights with articles tackling topics from abortion laws, maternity leave, Islamic feminism, and more. Read, reflect, and share these resources in and out of the classroom to keep these important conversations going.

Feminism and Women’s Rights

These articles are freely available until December 15, 2017. Follow along with the series over the next several months and share your thoughts with #ReadtoRespond.

Read to Respond: Articles for Student Activists

R2R final logoOur “Read to Respond” series addresses the current climate of misinformation by highlighting articles and books that encourage thoughtful, educated debate on today’s most pressing issues. Read, reflect, and share these resources in and out of the classroom to keep these important conversations going.

Articles for Student Activists:

These articles are freely available until August 15, 2017. Follow along with the series over the next several months and share your thoughts with #ReadtoRespond.

Personhood Is a Weapon by Eli Clare

Today’s post is an excerpt from Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure by Eli Clare, with an introduction by the author.

In this political moment as hate violence is on the rise, Trump is trying to ban Muslim refugees from the country, and the Attorney General has blamed disabled students for the lack of civility and disciplinbrilliant-imperfection-covere in public schools; so many groups of marginalized peoples are being treated as unworthy and disposable, essentially denied full personhood. The following meditation on personhood is excerpted from my newly released book, Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure. I wrote it thinking about white disabled woman Terri Schiavo, who died over a decade ago after a well-publicized and protracted legal struggle over ending her life. But I could as easily have been writing about significantly disabled Black lesbian teenager Jerika Bolan, who after expressing a desire to die wasn’t provided counseling and community support. Rather she was allowed to commit medically sanctioned suicide six months ago. Or I could have written about the unnamed Salvadoran asylum seeker, who in mid-February collapsed at a Texas ICE detention center, was taken to a hospital, diagnosed with a brain tumor, and then in the midst of treatment forcibly taken back to the detention center. If Jerika Bolan had been granted full personhood, she’d still be alive; if the Salvadoran asylum seeker had been granted full personhood, she wouldn’t be locked up in a detention center. More than ever, I believe personhood can be used as a weapon.

Some of us are granted personhood as our birthright, but others are required to prove and defend it every day. And when we fail this perverse test, we’re in trouble. Listen. I want us to remember Terri Schiavo. Debates about her raged in the news in 2004 and 2005.

Whatever happens after we die, our body-minds composting back to earth and air, I hope it’s more peaceful than Terri Schiavo’s last few days as she died of dehydration. Everyone — her parents, her husband, her doctors, the media — had an opinion about her and the feeding tube that had just been removed from her stomach.

She was a white woman who collapsed one day, her body-mind changing radically in a matter of minutes as oxygen stopped flowing to her brain and then started again. Some say she lost her ability to communicate, to think, to feel. Or perhaps we lost our capacity to listen. We’ll never know what floated beneath her skin. I want us to mourn for her.

Pundits and reporters, activists and scholars have written about her endlessly. I don’t know why I’m adding to their pile of words, except my memory of her won’t leave me alone.

She was a heterosexual woman whose husband decided she’d rather die than be disabled. Her hands curled, stiffened, joints freezing into contraction. He asserted his patriarchal ownership, refusing to let nurses slide rolled towels into her hands to help loosen her muscles. Nor would he allow them to teach her to swallow again, even though there was every sign that she could. He spent all his court-awarded settlement money on lawyers rather than care, comfort, and assistive technology. What words or fluttering images did she hold in her muscles and bones?

So many people surrounding Terri Schiavo assumed that she knew and felt nothing. Over and over again neurologists, journalists, judges made decisions about her body-mind based on the beliefs that language and self-awareness make us worthy, that death is better than disability, that withdrawing the basic human rights of food and water can be acts of compassion.

I could ponder self-consciousness, spiritual connection, and the divide between human and nonhuman. I could argue with the bioethicists who separate humanness from personhood, declaring pigs and chimpanzees to have more value than infants and significantly disabled people. But really, I’m not interested. I want us to rage for her.

She was a woman living in a hospital bed, referred to as a vegetable more than once. Did she lie in a river of shadow and light, pressure and sound? That too, we will never know. When she died, did we call her name?

Body-minds have value. Certainly I mean our own human selves, but I also mean heron, firefly, weeping willow. I mean dragonfly, birch, barn swallow. I mean goat and bantam rooster, mosquito and wood frog, fox and vulture — the multitude of beings that make home on this planet. I mean all body-minds, regardless of personhood.

She appeared to track the motion of balloons across her hospital room and grinned lopsidedly into the camera. Her life hung between a husband who said one thing and parents who said another, between legal pronouncements and diagnostic judgments. Do we remember her? I don’t mean the editorials, the pro-life versus pro-choice rhetoric, the religious and secular arguments, the political protest and vigil staged outside her hospice, the last-minute drama as Florida’s governor Jeb Bush and the U.S. Congress tried to intervene. I mean: do we remember her?

Too many of us acted as if Terri Schiavo’s body-mind stopped being her own. Depending on who we were and what stake we had in her life or death, we projected our fear, belief, hope, disgust, love, certainty onto her.

I’m trying to say that life and death sometimes hangs on an acknowledgement of personhood. Trying to say that personhood is used all too often as a weapon. Trying to say that while personhood holds tremendous power, its definitions are always arbitrary. Trying to say—I stutter over the gravity of those words.

Copyright Duke University Press, 2017. To order Brilliant Imperfection from us at a 30% discount, enter coupon code E17CLARE at checkout.

 

Celebrating International Women’s Day

InternationalWomensDay-portraitToday is International Women’s Day (IWD), a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. Since the early 1900s, this day has been a powerful platform that unifies tenacity and drives action for gender parity globally. IWD organizers are calling on supporters to help forge a better-working and more gender-inclusive world. In honor of this year’s International Women’s Day, we are pleased to share these recent books and journals from Duke University Press that support this year’s IWD theme: #BeBoldForChange.

Trans/Feminisms
a special issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly

tsq_new_prThis special double issue of TSQ goes beyond the simplistic dichotomy between an exclusionary transphobic feminism and an inclusive trans-affirming feminism. Exploring the ways in which trans issues are addressed within feminist and women’s organizations and social movements around the world, contributors ask how trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary issues are related to feminist movements today, what kind of work is currently undertaken in the name of trans/feminism, what new paradigms and visions are emerging, and what questions still need to be taken up. Central to this special issue is the recognition that trans/feminist politics cannot restrict itself to the domain of gender alone.

This issue features numerous shorter works that represent the diversity of trans/feminist practices and problematics and, in addition to original research articles, includes theory, reports, manifestos, opinion pieces, reviews, and creative/artistic productions, as well as republished key documents of trans/feminist history and international scholarship.

Living a Feminist Life

978-0-8223-6319-4In Living a Feminist Life Sara Ahmed shows how feminist theory is generated from everyday life and the ordinary experiences of being a feminist at home and at work. Building on legacies of feminist of color scholarship in particular, Ahmed offers a poetic and personal meditation on how feminists become estranged from worlds they critique—often by naming and calling attention to problems—and how feminists learn about worlds from their efforts to transform them. Ahmed also provides her most sustained commentary on the figure of the feminist killjoy introduced in her earlier work while showing how feminists create inventive solutions—such as forming support systems—to survive the shattering experiences of facing the walls of racism and sexism. The killjoy survival kit and killjoy manifesto, with which the book concludes, supply practical tools for how to live a feminist life, thereby strengthening the ties between the inventive creation of feminist theory and living a life that sustains it.

1970s Feminisms
a special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly

ddsaq_114_4For more than a decade, feminist historians and historiographers have engaged in challenging the “third wave” portrait of 1970s feminism as essentialist, white, middle-class, uninterested in racism, and theoretically naive. This task has involved setting the record straight about women’s liberation by interrogating how that image took hold in the public imagination and among academic feminists. This issue invites feminist theorists to return to women’s liberation—to the texts, genres, and cultural productions to which the movement gave rise—for a more nuanced look at its conceptual and political consequences. The essays in this issue explore such topics as the ambivalent legacies of women’s liberation; the production of feminist subjectivity in mass culture and abortion documentaries; the political effects of archiving Chicana feminism; and conceptual and generic innovations in the work of Gayle Rubin, Christine Delphy, and Shulamith Firestone.

The Revolution Has Come: Black Power, Gender, and the Black Panther Party in Oakland

978-0-8223-6286-9In The Revolution Has Come Robyn C. Spencer traces the Black Panther Party’s organizational evolution in Oakland, California, where hundreds of young people came to political awareness and journeyed to adulthood as members. Challenging the belief that the Panthers were a projection of the leadership, Spencer draws on interviews with rank-and-file members, FBI files, and archival materials to examine the impact the organization’s internal politics and COINTELPRO’s political repression had on its evolution and dissolution. She shows how the Panthers’ members interpreted, implemented, and influenced party ideology and programs; initiated dialogues about gender politics; highlighted ambiguities in the Panthers’ armed stance; and criticized organizational priorities. Spencer also centers gender politics and the experiences of women and their contributions to the Panthers and the Black Power movement as a whole. Providing a panoramic view of the party’s organization over its sixteen-year history, The Revolution Has Come shows how the Black Panthers embodied Black Power through the party’s international activism, interracial alliances, commitment to address state violence, and desire to foster self-determination in Oakland’s black communities.

Reconsidering Gender, Violence, and the State
a special issue of Radical History Review

ddrhr_126In bringing together a geographically and temporally broad range of interdisciplinary historical scholarship, this issue of Radical History Review offers an expansive examination of gender, violence, and the state. Through analyses of New York penitentiaries, anarchists in early twentieth-century Japan, and militarism in the 1990s, contributors reconsider how historical conceptions of masculinity and femininity inform the persistence of and punishments for gendered violence. The contributors to a section on violence and activism challenge the efficacy of state solutions to gendered violence in a contemporary US context, highlighting alternatives posited by radical feminist and queer activists. In five case studies drawn from South Africa, India, Ireland, East Asia, and Nigeria, contributors analyze the archive’s role in shaping current attitudes toward gender, violence, and the state, as well as its lasting imprint on future quests for restitution or reconciliation. This issue also features a visual essay on the “false positives” killings in Colombia and an exploration of Zanale Muholi’s postapartheid activist photography.

Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology

978-0-8223-6295-1The editors and contributors to Color of Violence ask: What would it take to end violence against women of color? Presenting the fierce and vital writing of INCITE!’s organizers, lawyers, scholars, poets, and policy makers, Color of Violence radically repositions the antiviolence movement by putting women of color at its center. The contributors shift the focus from domestic violence and sexual assault and map innovative strategies of movement building and resistance used by women of color around the world. The volume’s thirty pieces—which include poems, short essays, position papers, letters, and personal reflections—cover violence against women of color in its myriad forms, manifestations, and settings, while identifying the links between gender, militarism, reproductive and economic violence, prisons and policing, colonialism, and war. At a time of heightened state surveillance and repression of people of color, Color of Violence is an essential intervention.

World Policy Interrupted
a special issue of World Policy Journal

wpj33_4_23_frontcover_fppThis issue is penned entirely by female foreign policy experts and journalists and “imagines a world where we wouldn’t need to interpret to be heard at the table. In reconstructing a media landscape where the majority of foreign policy experts quoted, bylined, and miked are not men, we quickly gain deeper insight into a complex world, one historically narrated by only one segment of society,” co-editors Elmira Bayrasli and Lauren Bohn write. Bayrasli and Bohn lead Foreign Policy Interrupted, a program that mentors, develops, and amplifies the voices of women in the international policy field. Foreign Policy Interrupted combats the industry’s gender disparity through a visibility platform and a cohesive fellowship program, including media training and meaningful mentoring at partnering media institutions. The program helps women break both internal and external barriers.

Stay up to date on women’s studies scholarship with these journals on gender studies, feminist theory, queer theory, and gay and lesbian studies:

Camera Obscura
differences
GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies
Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies

 

Feminist Perspectives on the 2016 Military Coup Attempt and Its Aftermath in Turkey

We are pleased to share this guest blog post by Banu Gökarıksel, co-editor of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies. The most recent issue of the journal, volume 13 and issue 1, features a special forum on Feminist Perspectives on the 2016 Coup Attempt and its Aftermath in Turkey.

ddmew_13_1Feminist critiques of political power reveal the central function of gender, sexuality, and difference in maintaining that power. Yet, in current events, a feminist geopolitics is rarely considered and has been absent from analysis of the 2016 coup attempt and its aftermath in Turkey. Much more than tallying the number of women who participated in protesting against the coup, a feminist approach reveals the ways in which the coup attempt (and responses to it) in Turkey relied on the exercise of masculine discursive and material power (Gökarıksel 2017). Violence was both engineered by a powerful institution, the Turkish military, as well as opposed by the political power of the AKP backed by other state institutions such as the police and gendarme. Both coup plotters and their opponents played a significant role in constructing and symbolizing normative masculinity and heterosexuality (Arat 2017). The eruption of violence reinforced the hegemonic relationship between the military, the state, and the nation (Açıksöz 2017; Korkman 2017).

Feminist critique reveals that under President Tayyip Erdoğan’s leadership, the AKP government has taken increasingly repressive and alarmingly authoritarian measures against minorities, women, and girls (Arat 2017), and has galvanized a populist nationalist masculinity that Erdoğan himself embodies. The crowds of civilian men, police officers, and anti-coup soldiers who fought against the putschists, sometimes without any weapons, also legitimate and embolden a nationalist masculinity built on religious and social conservatism and populism.

The stepping up of its war against the Kurds is part of the government’s attempt to reestablish its nationalist and patriarchal power. Despite the magnitude of horror and human cost of this war, it could be thought in connection to a regulation for the chemical castration of sex offenders (Korkman 2017) and the ‘rape’ bill proposal introduced in November 2016 (that would have absolved rapists who marry their victims under 18 years of age from any criminal punishment but met with huge demonstrations and did not secure enough votes to pass). Without attending to the bolstering of this masculinist power in the streets and in government, analysts miss a crucial dimension of how a political environment of fear and intimidation has been legitimated and how violence and militarization have recast Turkish subjects.

The coup attempt on 15 July 2016 was unexpected but not entirely surprising given Turkey’s history. What was surprising was what happened afterwards. Following Erdoğan’s call to defend democracy over a FaceTime call broadcast live on television and constant prayer calls from minarets, people in huge numbers poured out to the streets, breaking the curfew. Although some women were present (Akınerdem 2017; Başdaş 2017), the overwhelming majority were men. The civilian men joined the police and anti-coup soldiers to fight against the putchists. Waving Turkish flags and shouting “Ya Allah, Bismillah, Allahuekber”, they attacked soldiers and tanks.

By the following morning it was clear that the coup attempt had failed. 241 people were killed and more than two thousand were injured during the coup. Crowds came out to occupy public squares to celebrate the defeat of the putschists in ‘democracy vigil’s that continued for weeks (Açıkerdem 2017). Some of the people who attended these democracy vigils did not seem to fully support democratic ideals and norms, asking for the immediate hanging of all the putschists (Başdaş 2017) and declaring unconditional loyalty to Erdoğan’s leadership.

The Turkish government’s reaction to the coup attempt has also been to the detriment of an already deteriorating democratic environment in which freedoms and rights of most citizens, mostly importantly of women and minorities have been increasingly restricted. Initiating a familiar re-militarization of society (Açıksöz 2017), the AKP government quickly and violently acted to restore its masculinist power, repressing any expression of difference from its normative Turkish citizenship. It declared a state of emergency which persists and strengthened its grip on power through arrests, purges, travel bans, and property seizures. The initial targets expanded from coup plotters, supporters, and anyone associated with Fethullah Gülen’s hizmet movement, which the government alleges masterminded the coup, to all critics of government policies, especially its war against the Kurds. Hundreds have been detained or arrested; thousands have been fired from their jobs or forced to resign; over one hundred media outlets have been closed down since July. Academics who signed a peace petition, journalists who wrote anything critical of the government continue to become targets as late as February 2017.

The coup attempt and the AKP’s response to it are manifestations of masculinist political power. The aggressive, violent masculinities that the coup attempt and its aftermath bolstered constitute the architecture of a security state. Political power is never gender-neutral but works through gendered and sexual production of bodies that belong and that do not, that need protection and that are threats, and through the gendered and sexual construction of borders and territory. A feminist critique provides insights into the production of an environment of increasing consolidation of masculinist power, rhetoric of national unity, violence, and militarism (Açıksöz 2017; Akınerdem 2017; Arat 2017; Başdaş 2017; Gökarıksel 2017; Korkman 2017). But it also shows the possibilities for building solidarities and working towards a different future built on pluralism, non-violence, and peace.

Read the Special Forum: Feminist Perspectives on the 2016 Coup Attempt and its Aftermath in Turkey here.