Women’s Studies

Poem of the Week

978-0-8223-7084-0It’s National Poetry Month, and we’re celebrating by sharing a poem with you each Wednesday in April! Today’s choice is from Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s brand-new poetry collection M Archive, which documents the persistence of Black life after an imagined worldwide cataclysm, told from the perspective of a future researcher uncovering evidence of the conditions of late capitalism, antiblackness, & environmental crisis.

 

this thing about one body. it was the black feminist metaphysicians who first said it wouldn’t be enough. never had been enough. was not the actual scale of breathing. they were the controversial priestesses who came out and said it in a way that people could understand (which is the same as saying they were the ones who said it in a way that the foolish would ignore, and then complain about and then co-opt without ever mentioning the black feminist metaphysicians again, like with intersectionality, but that’s another
apocalypse).

the Lorde of their understanding had taught them. this work began before I was born and it will continue . . .

the university taught them through its selective genocide. one body. the unitary body. one body was not a sustainable unit for the project at hand. the project itself being black feminist metaphysics. which is to say, breathing.

hindsight is everything (and also one of the key reasons that the individual body is not a workable unit of impact), but if the biochemists had diverted their energy towards this type of theoretical antioxidant around the time of the explicit emergence of this idea (let’s say the end of the second-to-last century), everything could have been different. if the environmentalists sampling the ozone had factored this in, the possibilities would have expanded exponentially.

that wouldn’t have happened (and of course we see that it didn’t) because of the primary incompatibility. the constitutive element of individualism being adverse, if not antithetical to the dark feminine, which is to say, everything.

to put it in tweetable terms, they believed they had to hate black women in order to be themselves.

even many of the black women believed it sometimes. (which is also to say that some of the people on the planet believed they themselves were actually other than black women. which was a false and impossible belief about origin. they were all, in their origin, maintenance, and measure of survival more parts black woman than anything else.) it was like saying they were no parts water. (which they must have believed as well. you can see what they did to the water.)

the problematic core construct was that in order to be sane, which is to live in one body, which is to live one lifetime at one time, which is to disconnect from the black simultaneity of the universe, you could and must deny black femininity. and somehow breathe. the fundamental fallacy being (obvious now. obscured at the time.) that there is no separation from the black simultaneity of the universe also known as everything also known as the black feminist pragmatic intergenerational sphere. everything is everything.

they thought escaping the dark feminine was the only way to earn breathing room in this life. they were wrong.

you can have breathing and the reality of the radical black porousness of love (aka black feminist metaphysics aka us all of us, us) or you cannot. there is only both or neither. there is no either or. there is no this or that. there is only all.

this was their downfall. they hated the black women who were themselves. a suicidal form of genocide. so that was it. they could only make the planet unbreathable.

Learn more about M Archive.

Celebrating the Editorship of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies

MEW-logoWe are excited to share the final post in our month-long series highlighting the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, a letter from current editors Frances S. Hasso, Banu Gökarıksel, and miriam cooke that summarizes the past three years of their editorship of the journal. Their tenure ends in May, when the editorship of the journal will shift to Soha Bayoumi, Sherine Hafez, and Ellen McLarney.


JMEWS is the official journal of the Association of Middle East Women’s Studies and has been published in three issues per annual volume since 2005. With the 2015 volume, the JMEWS Editorial Office shifted to Duke University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Concurrently, JMEWS moved to being published by Duke University Press Journals. The new Editors took the opportunity to continue the strongest features of the journal and instantiate a new vision for structure, content, and design that aimed to widen the transnational impact of the journal theoretically and across disciplines and sites.

Structurally, we re-organized the journal into three sections: Articles, Review Essays and Reviews, and Third Space. The revised structure facilitated improvements in content because it allowed for more consistent editorial expectations for published articles, including in their engagement with relevant feminist and sexuality scholarship. Article content was also revitalized by active recruitment of thematic manuscripts and an annual open call for papers whose theme is determined by a JMEWS North Carolina-based Editorial Collective of feminist scholars. Since our editorship, JMEWS has published thematic article sections on Everyday Intimacies (July 2016), The Gender and Sexuality of Militarization and War (November 2016), Egyptian Women Writers (March 2017), Gendered and Sexual Mobilities (July 2017), and Borders and Margins (November 2017). These sections include invited prefaces written by scholars who widen the intellectual reach of the journal.

Content changes include review essays and individual reviews that discuss books as well as museum exhibits, academic panels, films, and web-based projects, facilitating provocative engagements with a wider variety of texts. Review Essays and Reviews under our editorship depend on more intentional solicitation of objects of review structured by the editorial vision.

Interventions published in Third Space, which are typically solicited and internally edited, include timely activist, creative, and scholarly interventions of different forms and lengths that vary from 500 to 4,000 words, although they are usually less than 1,000 words. This part of the journal offers thematic initiatives, such as on contemporary challenges of autonomous feminist formations from Morocco to Iran (March, July, and November 2015), implications of the Turkish military coup attempt (March 2017), and feminist reactions to the Trump presidency (November 2017). It also includes visually-based essays and wide-ranging interviews, such as between Judith Butler and Nayereh Tohidi (November 2017) and Jasbir K. Puar and Kathryn Medien (March 2018).

In a meeting of structure, design and content, Third Space includes short Art Concept essays by the cover artist and editor that connect the art with the content of each issue. Other content innovations include vibrant cover art, visual essays, and Duke Press design. These shifts in structure, content, and design have opened opportunities for productive cross-disciplinary discussions about art among the editors and the Editorial Collective.

JMEWS has benefitted from less visible shifts that affect content. The Managing Editors Tamar Shirinian (cultural anthropology) and Rachel Greenspan (literature), the first readers of all article manuscript submissions, were competitively chosen advanced graduate students trained in feminist theory. The Review Editor, Amy Kallander, is a feminist historian of North Africa who is actively involved in articulating the vision of the journal and instantiating it. We have expanded the expert reviewer base to be more international, cross-disciplinary, and multi-generational. In order to facilitate generative conversations across area studies and disciplines, we often include non-area studies or out-of-discipline expert reviewers and we encourage writing that speaks across knowledge areas, languages, and sites. Many more kinds of “stakeholders” and voices are involved in the JMEWS project as authors, including those not trained in US and European academies.

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JMEWS is the official journal of the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies. This interdisciplinary journal advances the fields of Middle East gender, sexuality, and women’s studies through the contributions of academics, artists, and activists from around the globe working in the interpretive social sciences and humanities.

Do you want to learn more about the journal? Sign up for latest issue alertssubscribe to the journal, and follow along with the JMEWS blog series.

Popular Culture: A Call for Papers from JMEWS

MEW-logoAs part of our month-long series highlighting the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, we’re excited to share this call for papers for an upcoming issue of the journal. JMEWS is the official journal of the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies. This interdisciplinary journal advances the fields of Middle East gender, sexuality, and women’s studies through the contributions of academics, artists, and activists from around the globe working in the interpretive social sciences and humanities.
Call for Papers: Popular Culture

The Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies invites sexuality and gender scholars working in any discipline or interdisciplinary area in the interpretive social sciences and humanities to submit area-focused manuscripts of no more than 10,000 words on any topic related to popular culture for an issue to appear in 2019.

Competitive manuscripts 1) substantiate a thesis based on original scholarship; 2) are
conceptually coherent and clear; 3) are grounded in primary sources (literary, visual, archival, textual, ethnographic, artistic, legal, and so on); and 4) engage with pertinent questions that emerge from region-focused or transnational feminist and sexuality scholarship. Possible foci within the broad domain of popular culture include but are not limited to girl studies, masculinity studies, aesthetics and art, music, social media production, television (talent shows, talk shows, soap operas, game shows, serials), film, refugee studies, tourism, graffiti, advertisements, and consumer culture.

Submission guidelines may be found at jmews.org. Manuscripts are due on June 15, 2018 to the journal’s online submission system: www.editorialmanager.com/jmews. Questions may be directed to the editorial office.

Do you want to learn more about the journal? Sign up for latest issue alertssubscribe to the journal, and follow along with the JMEWS blog series.

Dissident Subjects: In Honor of miriam cooke

MEW-logoAs part of our month-long series highlighting the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, we’re excited to share a special section titled, “Dissident Subjects: In Honor of miriam cooke,” featured in the most recent issue of the journal (volume 14, issue 1).

This section features seven original essays and one poem honoring the contributions of JMEWS co-editor miriam cooke, Braxton Craven Professor Emerita of Arab Cultures at Duke University, on the occasion of her retirement. The pieces in this section build on cooke’s concerns or reflect her multifaceted career, which includes intellectual production and institution building.

ddmew_14_1_cover

Topics include

Do you want to learn more? Sign up for latest issue alerts, subscribe to the journal, follow along with the JMEWS blog series, and watch this video with miriam cooke talking about the journal.

JMEWS is the official journal of the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies. This interdisciplinary journal advances the fields of Middle East gender, sexuality, and women’s studies through the contributions of academics, artists, and activists from around the globe working in the interpretive social sciences and humanities.

Colonialism, Imperialism, and War

MEW-logoAs part of our month-long series highlighting the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, we’re excited to share a “Colonialism, Imperialism, and War” mock syllabus from the JMEWS, curated by the editors. JMEWS is the official journal of the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies. This interdisciplinary journal advances the fields of Middle East gender, sexuality, and women’s studies through the contributions of academics, artists, and activists from around the globe working in the interpretive social sciences and humanities.

Colonialism, Imperialism, and War

 

International Women’s Day

On International Women’s Day, we’re excited to celebrate the achievements of women globally and energized to continue pressing for gender equality. If you’re looking to learn the latest in women’s studies, consider exploring a few of our newest works in this impactful and progressive field.

978-0-8223-7086-4From experimental shorts and web series to Hollywood blockbusters and feminist porn, the work of African American lesbian filmmakers has made a powerful contribution to film history. But despite its importance, this work has gone largely unacknowledged by cinema historians and cultural critics. Assembling a range of interviews, essays, and conversations, Sisters in the Life, edited by Yvonne Welbon and Alexandra Juhasz, tells a full story of out African American lesbian media-making spanning three decades.

Trump-WomensMarch_2017-top-1510075_(32409710246)On January 21, 2017, over 5 million people marched all over the world in support of women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, environmental policy reform, reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion, and worker’s rights, among other causes. A few weeks ago we shared recent scholarship on the 2017 Women’s March itself, as well as continued journal scholarship on feminism and women’s rights. Check out “Positions in Solidarity: Voices and Images from the US Women’s Marches” by Deborah Frizzell in Cultural Politics and “The Women’s March: New York, January 21, 2017” by Caroline Walker Bynum in Common Knowledge.

978-0-87273-184-4A landmark exhibition organized by the Brooklyn Museum, We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85 examines the political, social, cultural, and aesthetic priorities of women of color during the emergence of second-wave feminism. The Brooklyn Museum published two volumes related to the exhibition. The first, the Sourcebook, republishes an array of rare and little-known documents from the period by artists, writers, cultural critics, and art historians such as Gloria Anzaldúa, James Baldwin, bell hooks, Lucy R. Lippard, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Lowery Stokes Sims, Alice Walker, and Michelle Wallace. The second volume, New Perspectives, includes original essays and perspectives by Aruna D’Souza, Uri McMillan, Kellie Jones, and Lisa Jones that place the exhibition’s works in both historical and contemporary contexts, and also includes two new poems by Alice Walker. The exhibition is currently on display at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY, through May 27.

readtorespondOur Read to Respond: Feminism and Women’s Rights reading list features journal articles and books 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.

978-0-8223-6257-9In the spring of 1994, the tiny African nation of Rwanda was ripped apart by a genocide that left nearly a million dead.  After the violence subsided, Rwanda’s women—drawn by the necessity of protecting their families—carved out unlikely new roles for themselves as visionary pioneers creating stability and reconciliation in genocide’s wake. 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.

In The Pursuit of Happiness Bianca C. Williams traces the experiences of African American women as they travel to Jamaica, where they address the perils and disappointments of American racism by looking for intimacy, happiness, and a connection to their racial identities. Through their encounters with Jamaican online communities and their participation in trips organized by Girlfriend Tours International, the women construct notions of racial, sexual, and emotional belonging by forming relationships with Jamaican men and other “girlfriends.”

wpj33_4_23_frontcover_fppWorld Policy Journal (WPJ) is the flagship publication of the World Policy Institute. For over thirty years the journal has been home to both distinguished and emerging thinkers from around the globe. Articles inject new ideas into international debates on the world’s most pressing issues. Essays and reported pieces cover global security, regional conflict, political controversy, and cultural and social change. The journal is known for lively, intelligent writing that challenges conventional wisdom and offers fresh perspectives on underreported issues. We’re highlighting three important articles from WPJ for International Women’s Day, made freely available until the end of the month:

978-0-8223-7003-1In Considering Emma Goldman Clare Hemmings examines the significance of the anarchist activist and thinker for contemporary feminist politics. Rather than attempting to resolve the tensions and problems that Goldman’s thinking about race, gender, and sexuality pose for feminist thought, Hemmings embraces them, finding them to be helpful in formulating a new queer feminist praxis. She shows how serious engagement with Goldman’s political ambivalences opens up larger questions surrounding feminist historiography, affect, fantasy, and knowledge production.

Sara R. Farris, in In the Name of Women’s Rights, examines the demands for women’s rights from an unlikely collection of right-wing nationalist political parties, neoliberals, and some feminist theorists and policy makers. Focusing on contemporary France, Italy, and the Netherlands, Farris labels this exploitation and co-optation of feminist themes by anti-Islam and xenophobic campaigns as “femonationalism.” She shows that by characterizing Muslim males as dangerous to western societies and as oppressors of women, and by emphasizing the need to rescue Muslim and migrant women, these groups use gender equality to justify their racist rhetoric and policies.

978-0-8223-7004-8In Passionate and Pious Monique Moultrie explores the impact of faith-based sexual ministries on black women’s sexual agency to trace how these women navigate sexuality, religious authority, and their spiritual walk with God. These popular ministries exist largely beyond the traditional church, with dialogues about sex taking place in chat rooms and through text messages, social media, email, and other media. Moultrie reframes biblical interpretations and conceptions of what constitutes a healthy relationship to provide a basis for sexual decision making that does not privilege monogamy or deny female pleasure.

ddmew_13_3_coverWe’re spotlighting the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies this month to celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. Follow the blog or sign up for email alerts to read more of the JMEWS blog series featuring the most widely read articles, a theme on war and empire, a special feature on co-editor miriam cooke, and more.

In seventeenth-century Lima, pious Catholic women gained profound theological understanding and enacted expressions of spiritual devotion by engaging with a wide range of sacred texts and objects, as well as with one another, their families, and ecclesiastical authorities. In Embodying the Sacred, Nancy E. van Deusen considers how women created and navigated a spiritual existence within the colonial city’s complex social milieu, transforming early modern Catholicism.

978-0-8223-7002-4In Domestic Economies, Susanna Rosenbaum examines how two groups of women—Mexican and Central American domestic workers and the predominantly white, middle-class women who employ them—seek to achieve the “American Dream.” By juxtaposing their understandings and experiences, she illustrates how immigrant and native-born women strive to reach that ideal, how each group is indispensable to the other’s quest, and what a vital role reproductive labor plays in this pursuit.

Want to show your feminism to the world? We now offer Feminist Killjoy t-shirts, inspired by Sara Ahmed’s book Living a Feminist Life, in both adult and children’s sizes! You can pick one up (or grab one for a friend) here.

Feminist Killjoy Groupkids front and back

Top Ten Most Read Articles from JMEWS

MEW-logoWe’re excited to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, as well as Women’s History Month, by spotlighting the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies (JMEWS) throughout March. JMEWS is the official journal of the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies. This interdisciplinary journal advances the fields of Middle East gender, sexuality, and women’s studies through the contributions of academics, artists, and activists from around the globe working in the interpretive social sciences and humanities.

Interested in reading more? Here are the top ten most frequently read articles from JMEWS from the past year:

 

 

Recent Scholarship on the 2017 Women’s March

On January 21, 2017, over 5 million people marched all over the world in support of women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, environmental policy reform, reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion, and worker’s rights, among other causes. We are excited to share this recent scholarship that analyzes the Women’s March itself, as well as continued scholarship on feminism and women’s rights.

“Positions in Solidarity: Voices and Images from the US Women’s Marches” by Deborah Frizzell in Cultural Politics

Trump-WomensMarch_2017-top-1510075_(32409710246)In this article featured in Cultural Politics, Frizzell features photographs and remembrances of the Women’s Marches in New York City and Washington, D.C. The article addresses the efficacy of mass marches and similar forms of protest and poses questions about the nature of the March, what it achieved, and questions if solidarity can be sustained in an environment of ongoing divisiveness.
An excerpt from the article:
On the morning of January 21, 2017, I reviewed a PDF file from the National Lawyers Guild and the Black Movement Law Project to prepare for participation in the Women’s March in New York City. As I dressed for a mild winter’s day, I wrote with a Sharpie pen on my forearm the guild’s legal support hotline number in case of arrest. My good friend and colleague Sharon Vatsky and I decided to attend the march together. Although we had experience protesting in a number of marches over the years, especially during the 1960s and 1970s, we were not sure what to expect in 2017 with militarized police forces and escalating violence deployed by Trump supporters as a tactic against Muslims, Latinos, people of color, Jews, and LGBTQ communities.
Read the full article, made freely available.

“The Women’s March: New York, January 21, 2017” by Caroline Walker Bynum in Common Knowledge

Women's_March_2017-01_(04)Bynum wrote this article, featured in Common Knowledge, two days after the Women’s March in New York City. It describes the event while focusing on two specific aspects: the March’s multi-issue focus and its response to the denigration of women’s expertise represented in much of the hostility to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Bynum argues that “a pernicious and often unrecognized denigration of female voices and female expertise forms an undercurrent of contemporary political debate that needs to be much more widely resisted.”

An excerpt from the article:

Indeed, the staggering diversity of issues was one of the most obvious aspects of Saturday’s march. Even among those in my little group, there were many reasons for turning out. Our signs spoke of defending Obamacare, Planned Parenthood, gun control, the inner cities, the environment. If there was no clear agenda, why does it seem so important that my friends and I marched?

Above all, it is important because it was a women’s march—a fact that the commentators have not fully noted and understood.

Read the full article, made freely available.

 

Additional Scholarship on Feminism and Women’s Rights

Read to Respond: Feminism and Women’s Rights

readtorespondOur “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 blog post on Feminism and Women’s Rights features journal articles and books 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.

“Borders and Margins,” a special issue of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies

ddmew_13_3_coverThis special issue of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, “Borders and Margins,” approaches borders and margins through the lens of gender and sexuality.  Borders and margins are productive spaces to examine both the power and contingency of normative gender and sexual ideals and how gendered and sexual bodies participate in the production and reconfiguration of the nation-state. Essays in this issue analyze how women on the margins of society expose the exclusionary and gendered logics of nation-state formation and then generate new engagements with embodied politics and religious practice. This examination of borders and margins continues the feminist and gender-based analyses of material and discursive spaces and mobilities examined in previous issues.

The issue also features a special forum on Trump’s Presidency and Middle East Women’s Studies, examining topics such as the Muslim ban and the gendered side of Islamophobia. This special forum is freely available until May 2018.

Start reading with Sara Smith’s preface to the issue, freely available now.

“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.

Start reading now.

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

ddtsq_3_1-2Feminism and trans activism don’t have to be mutually exclusive, argue the contributors to “Trans/Feminisms,” the most recent issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly.

This special double issue, edited by Susan Stryker and Talia M. Bettcher, 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 issue is the recognition that oppressions intersect, converge, overlap, and sometimes diverge in complex ways, and 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.

Start reading now.

“World Policy Interrupted,” a special issue of World Policy Journal
wpj33_4_23_frontcover_fppIn “World Policy 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.

Start reading now.

Marianne Moore

The most recent special issue of Twentieth-Century Literature, “Marianne Moore,” edited by Heather Cass White and Fiona Green, is now available.

TCL_63_4_coverThe five essays collected in this special issue focus closely on the period many have identified as a turning point for poet Marianne Moore: the poems and essays she published between 1935 and 1944. The recent editions of The Pangolin and Other Verse and What Are Years account in part for this focus, but there are particular aspects of Moore’s career in this crucial decade that also compel attention. Like other poets of her generation, Moore turned her mind more fully to national and world events in the 1930s; with this came the explicitly ethical emphasis in her writing discussed in the first and last essays in this issue, by Heather White and David Herd, respectively. Like these two, the other articles make their larger claims—about criticism, about revision, about verse form, about performance, about politics—by means of detailed case study.

Read the introduction to this issue, now freely available.

The Trouble with White Women

Kyla SHC Oct 17 croppedToday’s guest blog post is written by Kyla Schuller, author of the new book The Biopolitics of Feeling: Race, Sex, and Science in the Nineteenth Century.

Broad swaths of the left and liberal-leaning U.S. public newly dedicated themselves to political activity in the wake of Trump’s ascension to the White House and the GOP’s control of the Senate and the House. Amidst the awakening of a liberal grassroots, a new enemy crystallized: the white woman voter. She emerged as the victim of a kind of false consciousness forged not in the factory, but in the college classroom and suburban mall. In dominant media narratives, her ubiquity came as a shock. The stats are repeated as incantation: 53% of white women voted for Trump a mere four weeks after video emerged of Trump bragging about sexual assault. 63% of white women voted for Roy Moore in December’s Alabama Senate special election, despite mounds of credible evidence of Moore’s molestation of young teen girls. Why, the narrative muses, would white women betray their own interests? And why are black women—98% of whom voted for Moore’s opponent Doug Jones—seemingly immune to electoral self-sabotage?

I wish to suggest a frame that has not emerged in the mountain of copy addressing the problem of white women. Feminists have generated many useful analyses – white women’s investment in patriarchy, the class structure, the racial status quo—underlining the material benefits conservative politics offer white women. There is a deeper, more structural reason why white women vote for misogynist, white supremacist candidates despite a century and a half of feminist organizing, however. Simply put: sex difference is itself a racial structure.

978-0-8223-6953-0Sexual difference, as a concept, emerged as a function of race. This is particularly salient in the nineteenth century, the era in which modern notions of race and sex difference solidified. My new book, The Biopolitics of Feeling, zeroes in on this generally overlooked phenomenon (outside of the history of evolutionary thought): that a wide variety of scientists, writers, and reformers articulated full sexual differentiation as the unique achievement of the civilized. The binary entities of man and woman were newly understood as thoroughly distinct in terms of mental, physiological, emotional, and psychological capacity. Sex difference was presented as the singular attainment of a teleological evolution moving toward ever greater specialization. The primitive races, by contrast, were cast as unsexed, as insufficiently evolved in both anatomy and character. The category of womanhood emerged in modern times as a unique quality of civilization. Its ramifications are still visible in electoral politics across the country.

The Biopolitics of Feeling uncovers the foundational role of sex difference to biopower. It unearths how sex difference functioned as a key technology of biopower’s racializing structures, which operate to choose some members of the population for life and cast others into disposability and death. Sex difference helped qualify individuals for life. I reveal how the position of the feminine was carved out not only to exemplify social evolutionary achievement, but also to protect it. Scientists identified the key quality of the civilized body to be its impressibility, or the capacity to be affected over time. Receptivity to sensory impressions determined a body’s capacity for growth, mental development, and even, in this Lamarckian and pre-genetic era, the transmission of acquired characteristics to descendants. Impressibility thus served as the ontological basis of progress. Impressibility also, however, entailed a frightening vulnerability to influence and environment, rendering the civilized body in need of careful protection.

I argue that two central technologies were developed in the nineteenth century to manage the constitutional vulnerability of civilization: sex difference and sentimentalism. The civilized body was cleaved in two, and the female half were assigned the liabilities of heightened impressibility as well as increased emotional faculty to mediate temptation to impulsive response to impressions. The male half were thus stabilized as masters of reason and moderate feeling. Sentimentalism, in turn, was a vast technology particularly, but far from exclusively, assigned to women to regulate the growth of the individual and the evolution of the population through managing the flow of impressions throughout a milieu. Both sex and sentiment were deployed as stabilizing forces regulating responses to sensory stimulations and thus their effect on the individual and racial body.

The legacy of womanhood as itself a stabilizing structure of whiteness reverberates loudly today and is particularly resonant in the trope of the white woman voter. The conservative ideology in which women’s role is to protect the private sphere is an element of the biopolitical logic that women’s role is to secure the stability of the civilized races. White Republican women who vote for sexual assaulters are not identifying with their whiteness over their gender, as has often been claimed. Rather, they are enacting their womanhood itself: both absorbing and smoothing over the flow of sensation and feeling that makes up the public sphere, ensuring that white men remain relatively free from the encumbrances of embodiment and are susceptible only to further progress. Our anger at white women conveniently spares the white male voter, who supported Trump and Moore in even larger numbers. The problem with white Republican women is the problem with woman as a category in the first place.

Feminism, too, is revealed in The Biopolitics of Feeling to function as an apparatus of biopower that translates allegedly inherent natural categories into political identities and platforms. But it doesn’t have to be so. Twentieth-and twenty-first century women of color feminists have been strikingly clear that the position of woman has largely been denied to non-white groups, and they have refashioned the meanings of the term woman in the process. Women, as a political group, need no longer be tied to biological discourses of race or anatomy, but this requires explicit excavation and refusal of the term’s lingering past.

Multiethnic feminisms lead the way to disentangling feminism from biopower, and woman as an entity from naturalizing logics. Intersectional and assemblage feminisms and multiethnic #MeToo campaigns are pointing to a new politics in which women no longer serve as civilization’s remainder, the sponge to absorb the impressions and stimulations of which power is itself constituted. Feminism may be born of the biopolitical logic of sex, but it thus also contains the seeds of biopower’s demise.

Pick up Kyla Schuller’s new book The Biopolitics of Feeling for 30% off by using coupon code E17SCHUL at dukeupress.edu.