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Fall 2013 Issue 40

More than a tête-à-tête The intersectionality of race and gender

Assistant professor Priya Kandaswamy joined local radio host C.S. Soong in a lively interrogation of race and gender theory, springing off of Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s influential 1986 book Racial Formation in the United States. The following excerpts were taken from the Pacifica Radio Network’s broadcast of the show Against the Grain. Links to the full interview and Kandaswamy’s essay are provided at the end of this article. Soong: Let’s focus a little bit on Omi and Winant’s emphasis on race. We’ve heard a lot in recent years about race not being a biological category, about it being socially constructed. What does that means?

Kandaswamy: One of the most valuable contributions that Omi and Winant make is that race is a social construction. Race is not just physical difference, it’s the meaning that is invested in physical differences or the ways that certain kinds of physical differences get attached to structures of power. So for example, we as a society have taken something like skin-color and have invested it with a great deal of meaning. It’s that process of investing physical differences with a set of meanings, that are linked with a struggle over power, that is social construction. Continue on page 6

In This Issue 2...Faculty Updates 3...New Courses 3...Student Awards

4...Social Media & Politics 6...Intersectionality

9...Quigley Fellowships 10...Quigley Summer Grants 12...Backpage


Faculty News Elizabeth Potter

Will be on sabbatical during the spring semester 2014. Potter recently published her article, “Scientific Judgment and Agnoistic Democracy” in the journal Philosophical Studies.

Priya Kandaswamy

Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Faculty 2013–2014 WGSS Judith Bishop Priya Kandaswamy Elizabeth Potter Art & Art History Meryl Bailey Moira Roth

Will be the acting department chair during the spring semester 2014 and will lead the Senior Project class. She will also teach a new course, The Politics of Care, in the spring, described in this newsletter.

Anthropology Ann Metcalf

Kandaswamy’s article, “Gendering Racial Formation,” appeared in the anthology Racial Formation in the 21st Century published by University of California Press. Kandawamy was recently interviewed on the KPFA-FM radio show Against the Grain, where she discussed her essay and research. An excerpt from the interview appears in this newsletter.

Economics Zohreh Niknia Siobhan Reilly Nancy Thronborrow

Judith Bishop

Will be teaching a new course during the January term, Sustainability and Spirituality, described in this newsletter. Bishop was awarded a 2013–14 Quigely Fellowship, also covered in this newsletter, and was featured in a fall 2013 Mills Quarterly article about the new Religious Studies program. She also received the Trefethen Faculty Award for the year 2013–14, supporting curricular development and research. Selection criteria include outstanding teaching, curricular innovation, scholarship and college and community service. Bishop presented her paper, “Conviviencia and Conception: Comparative Genealogies of Medical Discourse around Human Generation,” at the Summer Institute for College and University Teachers in Barcelona, Spain sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. She also presented her paper, “Hungry Foxes, Careless Saints, and Bibliophilic Seals: Beasts, Books, and Humans in Early Medieval Irish Literature,” at the Annual Meeting of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies in Phoenix. The Meg Quigley Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Department at Mills College Department Chair: Elizabeth Potter Newsletter Editor: Lyra Frederick Phone: 510.430.2233 Email:

Book Arts Kathy Walkup

English Diane Cady Rebekah Edwards Ajuan Mance Kirsten Saxton Ruth Saxton Cynthia Scheinberg Ethnic Studies Deborah Berman-Santana Vivian Chin Melinda Micco Julia Oparah French & Francophone Brinda Mehta History Bert Gordon Music Nalini Ghuman Public Policy Carol Chetkovich Social Sciences Edith Kinney Sociology Margaret Hunter Hannah Emery Spanish Language & Lit Carlota Caufield Mario Cavallari

New Courses WGSS 180: The Politics of Care *offered Spring 2014

In this course, we will examine how race, gender, sexuality, and ability shape the organization of care. Historically, heteronormative discourses about the family have functioned to naturalize the caring for others as women’s work. At the same time, processes of colonialism, slavery, and racism have often relegated people of color to caregiving roles, and today, as caregiving is increasingly a form of paid work, women of color are disproportionately employed in caring professions such as child care, domestic work, and nursing. Simultaneously a site of love and exploitation, intimacy and subordination, kindness and coercion, caring labor presents many contradictions. We will pay particular attention to approaches to theorizing care within Marxist feminism, post-colonial theory, disability studies and queer studies in order to gain a deeper understanding of how care is organized within the global economy. In an effort to imagine different ways of organizing care, we will examine social movements organized both by caregivers and people in need of care, caring practices within queer communities, and other utopian visions of a caring society.

REL 180: Sustainability and Spirituality *offered January (J-Term) 2014

How does a sampling of world spiritual traditions illustrate the relation between human and non-human entities: i.e., non-human animals, the environment, and the cosmos. What are the implications of these relationships for our contemporary concepts of sustainability? How do these same religious traditions address what we understand today as personal sustainability? Although we understand contemporary society to be uniquely stressful, many of the ancient spiritual traditions regularly foregrounded the need to take time to be “apart”—to separate oneself from the stresses of daily life. From the Jewish Shabbat, to the concepts of pilgrimage, and Buddhist meditation: How have these ancient traditions addressed the need to recharge and refuel? This course explores the different ways ancient traditions have emphasized the need to develop practices that contribute to what we today might term personal sustainability.

2013 Student Awards Congratulations to Jessica Glennon ’13 and Ashley Redfield ’13, both winners of the Women’s and Queer Studies’ writing contests! Each of the winners received a cash award and their work archived at the Mills Library. Jessica Glennon also won the Zimmer Award for demonstrating outstanding scholarship and community service. Glennon was a regular contributor to this newsletter and provided a front-row view on campus events. Congratulations to WGSS major, Skylar Crownover ‘16, who was awarded the Staff Scholarship Prize for First-Year Achievement. This monetary award recognizes the returning sophomore who achieved the highest cumulative GPA during the year.


A Powerful Tweet

Student inspired by internship with Sentator Brittne Walker ’14 was one of those 8-year-old girls who wanted to be the President of the United States someday. The adults around her said that she’d change her mind—and she did—but then she’d just as frequently come back to the idea of one day being addressed as Madam President.

interest in Walker’s career goals and got her resume to the Senator, helping to land an internship for Walker at the Senator’s local district office this past summer. Walker’s excitement about the position carried her through the balancing act of maintaining the unpaid internship with a second job working as a nanny. Little Politics reappeared on her horizon did she know how exciting this last fall when Walker attended summer internship would turn a class called Women and out to be. Political Leadership. The class, mainly focusing on California Senator Davis became an overgovernance, piqued her interest night political hit and social media in the politics of her hometown sensation this past summer, while of Arlington, Texas. After learning staging an athletic filibuster to more about the background defend reproductive rights in and views of her district’s Texas. Davis threw her gauntlet representative, Senator Wendy with a Tweet—not only towards Davis (D), Walker was inspired her opponent, Gov. Rick Perry to seek out more opportunities (R), but, perhaps inadvertently, to experience politics first hand. at mainstream media as well. “She has an amazing backstory “Before the press release went and on most of the issues we’re out, she posted on Twitter. So pretty consistently aligned,” says the filibuster started on Twitter,” Walker. “So I told my professor confirms Walker, who first that I wanted to do this, and I’m heard about the Senator’s plans not sure how to go about doing it.” on the social media feed, even before hearing about it from her The instructor, Ann Moses, took an colleagues at the Senator’s office.

Typical of a tech-savvy millennial, Walker frequently uses social media to stay connected with her community. The status updates and hashtags shared among family and friends back home, help keep an eye on what’s important, and offers a daily infusion of hometown culture that helps ease the transition of attending college in a new state. But Walker discovered a new side to social media that night. While she picked-up her charges from school and made them dinner, she stayed connected with the Senator’s filibuster through several social media channels, including a live video stream from the state capitol on YouTube and a Planned Parenthood event hosted on Facebook. Walker was impressed that while the mainstream news was reporting on blueberry muffins that night, it was social media that was providing continuous coverage of the event. “That was, I think, incredibly powerful, and the first time that I interacted with social media in a political way,” says Walker. As a senior in the Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies program

at Mills, Brittne Walker will be fulfilling the course requirement in Fieldwork this semester. She’s decided to continue to explore the role of social media in politics and apply what she’s learned about the feminist methodology of participatory action research. “I’m going to do a blog and open up my research project to the world, so-to-speak. I’ll advertise on Twitter and Facebook and hopefully my friends on there will advertise it further. I’m just hoping to reach out and talk about social media through social media,” says Walker.

After graduation, Walker hopes to join Annie’s List, an organization that works to support pro-choice democratic women candidates in Texas. The program conducts an all expenses paid campaignschool leading to placement on an election-year campaign as a fulltime paid staff member. While contemplating her future potential, Walker reflects on the influence of this past summer’s experience, “Just getting to watch someone like Wendy stand up for people, inspires me to be the kind of politician that she is.”

Developing Leaders at Mills The I n s t i t u t e f o r C i v i c Leadership offers a t w o semester p r o g r a m in developing the knowledge and skills needed for civic leadership and access to internship and mentorship opportunities. A Leadership Development Series was recently launched by the Office of Student Activities, and awards a certificate after participating in their program of monthly workshops. Weekly training in public speaking is being offered by the campus club, Word Mill, a partner with the Toastmaster’s local chapter. New Media & Politics Research at Mills The Civic Engagement Research Group received a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to continue research on new media and youth participation in politics. The second phase of research examines the potential benefits and risks of youth and participatory politics.


More than a tête-à-tête The intersectionality of race and gender Continued from front page Soong: Okay, well then if we move from race to gender. If we look at gender, what then can we say about the degree to which it represents a natural, biological category, or like race, is socially constructed?

Kandaswamy: That kind of thinking—that sex is biological and gender is socially constructed, or sex is natural and gender is socially constructed—has really been interrogated within feminist theory in the last 20 years. Sex is just as socially constructed as gender. And I think it’s difficult for us to think about the ways that sex might be socially constructed but, in some ways, it’s very similar to what I was saying earlier about race. There’s physical variation in human bodies but we pick a particular axis to group that variation. So sex, a structure of categorization, is something that develops through medical processes or scientific analysis. Those kinds of categorizations are also produced in particular social contexts. And there are social contexts where there are more than two sexes. Soong: But what about, you know, genitalia. I mean certainly there can be ambiguous genitalia, but we are use to a binary. And for the majority of people that binary does hold. So, doesn’t that suggest that sex does have a very distinct and characteristic biological component?

Kandaswamy: Sometimes people with penises don’t feel as though they’re men and don’t live as men. They become categorized through an institutional process as men and that is actually, what we’re talking about when we say that sex is socially constructed. The idea that all people who have penises have some inherent, essential characteristics in common that make them men, that they all belong to the same category of person—is socially constructed. Soong: Intersectional analysis is not confined just to race and gender, but in terms of those two categories, how would you define what intersectionality wants to do?

Kandaswamy: Intersectionality is a concept that’s used to signify the idea that different structures of domination such as race and gender, cannot be thought of in separation of each other. Intersectionality, as a term, comes from the critical race theorist Kimberlè Crenshaw, who in the early 90s used the term in the context of law. Crenshaw’s analysis points out, that for people who are discriminated against, for example as black women, that presents a legal problem, because it is not discrimination based on race-only and it’s not discrimination based on gender-only. So, there’s this vacuum in the law. And in many cases the law doesn’t recognize that discrimination is discrimination at all, because it doesn’t fit the categories that are used in the law.

Soong: Social movements often do that as well. So people organize under the banner of race, or under the banner of gender. What have you, and other intersectional theorists, concluded about what that does to those movements?

Kandaswamy: One of the reasons why it is so important for us to really step back and think about how all of these different structures of domination are interconnected is the danger in the ways that social

movements often frame their demands. When organizing on one axis such as gender or race, the danger is that these singular categories of difference often produce a politics that lead us to try to seek inclusion into the state by marginalizing other people.

For example, when we think about mainstream feminism, the first issue we think about is reproductive rights. In particular—the right to abortion. Many women of color have argued that that singular focus ignores the reality of working-class women and women of color. A politics that centers on those experiences would also focus on universal access to healthcare and the capacity to have children and raise them in a context that supports both the mother and her children. It would also think much more rigorously about the long history of population control and forced sterilization.

Continue on page 8


More than a tête-à-tête Continued from page 9

Soong: And Priya, one of the other things that you’re interested in is why the left was not able to propose a significant challenge to the efforts by Clinton and the political establishment to reform welfare in the 1990s. What reasons might there have been that relate to what you’re talking about race and gender?

Kandaswamy: The heart of this complex lies in the concept of deservingness. Most of the responses to the law stayed in that terrain of deservingness vs. un-deservingness. And so you’ll see, for example, immigrant rights activists saying that this is a terrible law because it excludes immigrants from TANF receipts and, “we are in fact very deserving subjects. We have strong families, we work hard, and we deserve to get certain forms of assistance.” As long as we use that idea of deservingness to make our political claims, we ultimately will fail because really what we’re doing is saying that—I’m deserving and those other people are not. We’re sort of engaging in that process of marginalization that I talked about earlier. That just reinforces the racist discourses that are being employed. Omi and Winant refer to that process as a process of insulation, making demands upon the state in the language of the state.

Intersectional politics helps us. For example, feminism’s most interesting and exciting activism that you’ll find today, is activism that’s being done by low-income trans women of color who are organizing against things like the prison industrial complex, or organizing for access to housing and employment and healthcare. In many ways that organizing comes from this really radical perspective, because they don’t have a claim to deservingness. And they recognize that the rubric of deservingness is a mirage. It’s a trap. You have to ground your claims in political power rather than this idea of being a deserving subject, and entitled.

Priya Kandaswamy’s article “Gendering Racial Formation” appeared in the anthology Racial Formation in the 21st Century These excerpts were taken from the radio show Against the Grain, broadcasted on Pacifica Radio Network, KPFA-FM.

2013–14 Quigley Fellowship Awards The Quigley Fellowship is awarded once a year to faculty engaged in substantive work that furthers the field of women’s, gender, sexuality, and queer studies. A fellowship provides the awardee with a semester-long course release, allowing for an increased focus on research.

Dean Morier, professor of psychology, will conduct a new series of

experiments examining the degree to which women will challenge sexism and homophobia when it occurs during a group discussion. Earlier research found that women were much less likely to actually confront sexism in a group discussion paradigm than previously predicted. Several psychological factors found to be related to confrontation and a willingness to respond: first, diffusion of responsibility to act in the presence of others, second the social pressures to be polite, and third, concern about retaliation. Research psychologists and other scholars have been investigating ways to increase women’s willingness to confront sexism. One way to do this is to identify what factors prevent or encourage women to challenge those who are sexist or homophobic. This investigation will examine several potential moderating variables of this behavior: social identity, group membership, and cognitive priming.

Judith Bishop,

assistant professor with the Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Department, will be working on the completion of the book manuscript, “Brigit: A Saint with Three Lives,” (provisional title). As a scholar of early medieval Ireland, Dr. Bishop is frequently asked by both members of the reading public and colleagues in women’s and gender studies to recommend a scholarly but accessible study regarding the popular figure, St. Brigit of Ireland. Was she really a goddess dressed up as a Christian saint? Does she represent a golden age of gender egalitarianism in the “celtic” church? Are she and her nuns evidence of a fire worshipping priestess cult in early medieval Ireland? There is no book length publication that places the early texts on Brigit in their historical context and analyzes these tantalizing questions in the light of such a context. This project addresses that lacuna.


2013 Quigley Summer Grant Recipients Since 1993, Quigley Summer Grants have encouraged Mills faculty to develop an interdisciplinary approach to women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. These projects are selected for their ability to raise the public’s awareness of women’s contributions to society, and for research that develops the growing field of gender and queer studies.

Filomena Borges

Translated the literary works of Natàlia Correia—a mid-20th century intellectual, poet and social activist from Portugal. Correia is known for her impassioned public expressions announcing a vision of feminism, matricismo, that upheld women’s rights and demanded that women in politics not imitate patriarchy and instead transform the use of power. She was condemned to 3 years in prison for her work Antologia da Poesia Portuguesa Eròtica e Satìrica (1966) which was considered offensive by authorities. She was elected to Parliament as a member of the PPD (Partido Popular Democràta) in 1980.

Ajuan Mance

Assembled “The Collected Writings of Gertrude H. Dorsey Brown. “ This will be the first one-volume anthology to include all of the known writings produced by this early 20th-century, African American, author from Ohio. Of particular interest is the serial novella that appeared between April and October 1906 in the Colored American Magazine. “A Case of Measure for Measure,” a ground-breaking story in which the white characters pass for Black in a series of scenes that reveal to them the profound injustice of Jim Crow segregation on southern railroad cars. Dorsey probes and critiques many of the categories and assumptions that defined turn-of-the-century conceptions of identity, in the South and throughout the United States, from colorist and class differences within the Black community, to white racist violence.

Ann Murphy

Continued her investigations into the role of place and landscape in the development of modern dance choreographers by researching the popculture infused, post WWII Southern California of Twyla Tharp. One of the significant effects of Tharp’s new brand of dance was that it liberated women from the narrative roles that had dominated modern dance, and freed expressions of female sexuality from the mythic frames devised by the early pioneers, like Martha Graham. Tharp’s dancers were sassy, sexy and strong. Looking like ordinary athletic coeds, often ambivalently female, her dancers borrowed tropes from the movie screen and the love song.

Cornelia Nixon

Completed several revisions of her novel “My Life as a Goat,” a fictional exploration of divorce between two visual artists. Beginning the night that the husband announces, after twenty-five years of marriage, that he is in love with one of his grad students, the narrative steps back to earlier periods, to develop their relationship and show the moments when their contract with each other was unconsciously established, as well as tough times when their mutual support kept them going.

Juliana Spahr

Spahr joins with poet Anne Boyer in compiling a new feminist anthology “Armed Struggle Against Patriarchy.” By reexamining second-wave feminism and the struggle against patriarchy as an anti-capitalist struggle, the editors called upon an international chorus of feminist activists, artists and scholars to debate about how best to counter patriarchy.

Priya Shimpi

Continued her research with intergenerational patterns in heritage language maintenance and loss. Gathering narratives from Latino and Chinese mothers and grandmothers, Shimpi will document how distinct cultures attempt to preserve heritage languages. A specific focus will be applied to young children and English-speaking mothers who do not fluently speak the second language they would like their children to learn, as well as their mothers (grandmothers) who do speak the heritage language.

Kathleen Walkup

Continued researching the history of women and print. Combing through UCLA’s library archives to deepen her knowledge of the social, cultural and political climate of 17th-century Europe, Walkup hopes to shed light on the often over-looked contributions of women in print. Walkup’s research chronicles the participation of women in print, starting with a group of nuns near Florence, Italy in 1476, through 19th-century England and the Early American colonial era, and into the 20th-century intersections of Modernism and second-wave feminism.


Kelly Services’ Never-Never Girl, 1971 Source: The Office, January 1971, p. 19. Reprinted from Erin E. Hatton, The Temp Economy: From Kelly Girls to Permatemps in Postwar America. (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2011).

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Fall 2013 WGSS Newsletter  
Fall 2013 WGSS Newsletter  

More than a tête-à-tête—the intersectionality of race and gender.