Three Perspectives on Technology and Childbirth in America

Día 225: cabeza arriba y cabeza abajo (by Flickr user evaguein)

Thursday, September 3, 2009
4 PM, in the Women’s Resource Center, 775 Commonwealth Avenue
(in the George Sherman Union, lower level)
Boston MA — “BU Central” on the Green Line B-train

Panelists: Claudia Olivetti, Christina Michaud, and Eugene Declercq

Childbirth is the most common reason for hospitalization in the United States, and cesarean section is the most common form of major surgery. Yet childbirth also has significance for women’s sense of identity and our understanding of the meaning of family. This panel will offer a historical overview of the economic implications of technologically assisted birth, a discourse analysis of women’s birth narratives, and a public health perspective on birth practices and outcomes.

This event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served. Email for more information.

Sponsored by the Boston University Women’s Studies Program and the Faculty Network on Women’s Studies, Gender, and Sexuality

Roundtable on Feminism & Politics

Feminism & Politics: Gendering the Contemporary Debates in Political Philosophy
A roundtable discussion with Jean Cohen (Columbia), Etienne Balibar (Nanterre/Irvine), and Margaret Moore (Queens)

Wednesday September 16th at 4pm
Kardinaal Mercierzaal, H.I.W, K.U.Leuven

In a world of rapid changes and deep transformations with consequences we cannot yet begin to oversee, one thing appears unchanged: deep and persistent inequalities structured around the nexus of gender, race, class and capital. Although there have been some major steps forward in some realms of our lives and some parts of the world, this deep-seated inequality continues to exist on many levels. In this roundtable discussion, three political philosophers who have made it their business to address the political state we are in, will focus on gender, and its multiple intersections with contemporary politics. Each one of them has engaged deeply with feminist thought and practice, considering feminism not only as a useful but as a necessary perspective when discussing politics. However, current debates in political philosophy pay little attention to this perspective, in spite of the work that is being done by feminist academics and activists alike. This discussion does not just aim to put feminism on the map, but rather to demonstrate the urgency and importance of doing so in the face of the political challenges posed to us by globalisation.

Presented by the Centre for Ethics, Social & Political Philosophy of the Higher Institute for Philosophy of the K.U.Leuven. To register (free) or for more information:

Call for Submissions–Contemporary Feminist Pragmatism

In an article published in Hypatia almost two decades ago, Charlene Haddock Seigfried, asked, “Where are all the Pragmatist Feminists?” Seigfried found it curious that feminists had not integrated the intellectual tradition of the United States into their thinking as well as why American pragmatists had failed to engage feminism in a more meaningful manner despite the obvious points of contact between the two branches of thought.  Her question remains valid today.

Feminist pragmatist scholarship remains a marginalized, albeit robust, area of study.  What has occurred in the intervening two decades is the important feminist work of recovery.  In particular, through the publication of a number of books and articles, the writing of Jane Addams has been rediscovered as a classical American site of pragmatist philosophy.  Although engaging Addams has been intellectually fruitful, if feminist and pragmatism is to be a viable intellectual endeavor, its connection to contemporary thought, policy, and action will have to more explicitly emerge.  One way to frame the relationship between feminism and pragmatism is in their common commitments such as the importance of context and experience, the relationship of politics and values and the production of knowledge and metaphysics, and the need for diversity and thus dialogue among differently situated groups.  Contemporary Feminist Pragmatism offers the next step in this intellectual journey as site for engaging the intersection of these two dynamic fields of thought.

Contemporary Feminist Pragmatism is an interdisciplinary collection of original chapters that explores the present implications of feminism and pragmatism for theory, policy, and action.  Chapters in this volume can take a variety of forms including the drawing of contemporary inference from the work of classical American feminist pragmatist thinkers such as Addams, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Emily Greene Balch, Mary Whiton Calkins, Mary Parker Follett, and Ida B. Wells.  Other chapters may simply wish to work with the ideas of feminist pragmatism and apply them to current work being done in ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, or social philosophy.  Case studies or policy analysis may also frame chapters for this volume.  Because the anthology is intended for an interdisciplinary audience, we ask that authors address their contributions to an intellectual but not specialized audience.  Topics may include (but are not limited to): Ethical theory;  Epistemology; Social & Political Philosophy; Intersectionality; Utopian Thinking; Philosophy of religion; Social policy; Education theory/practice; The multicultural subject; Transnational feminism; Cosmopolitanism; Globalization; Feminist theory; Business Ethics; Sexualities Studies; Philosophy of science; Community organizing; Peace Studies.

The editors of Contemporary Feminist Pragmatism are Maurice Hamington, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and Philosophy and Director of the Institute for Women’s Studies and Services at Metropolitan State College of Denver, and Celia Bardwell-Jones, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies, Towson University.

Submissions from all fields are invited. For inquiries please contact Celia Bardwell-Jones at or Maurice Hamington at . The editors request that 300-word abstracts be sent electronically by October 1, 2009 to Maurice Hamington at   Abstracts will be evaluated for and comments/suggestions will be offered to those accepted for the volume. Completed chapters will be due by July 1, 2010.

PSA: Iranian Men in Danger of Melting, Fly Infestation, etc.

This photo, circulating online during the last week of June 2009 and during the more chaotic moments of the recent unrest in Iran, makes a strong statement: Iranian men are in grave risk of “insecurity” due to their (carelessly!) eschewing the hijab.

Veil is Security

Considering the hijab‘s myriad moral and social benefits for Muslim women, equal-opportunity veiling is clearly the next logical step for Iranian men. Too long has this “empowering” privilege been reserved for the lesser gender.

Intelligently (Re)Designed Abstinence Campaign

Though the Obama Administration has cut large portions of abstinence-only sex education from the 2010 budget, advocates of the movement are gearing up to continue their fight for unfulfilling, guilt-ridden sex for one and all. Remember when Creationism became “Intelligent Design”?

According to the Huffington Post, the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA) has refocused its energies by hiring PR companies to market the movement as scientifically based and holistic.

 A great deal of this involves modeling what the comprehensive sex education curricula and proponents have been doing so well, namely language and tools. For example, despite being well-known for presenting false and misleading information about condoms and contraception, abstinence-only groups are now holding that they’re medically accurate in their willingness to finally talk about contraception.

Instead of replying with an unnecessarily snarky admonishment, let me first state that, like any issue regarding a woman’s body, waiting for love, marriage or even just a bus, before having sex is not an issue open to ridicule—at least not for dignified adults. Sexual decisions are private decisions that must not be legislated upon by religious lobbying groups (a direct First Amendment violation) or dictated by the federal government. However, the underlying message of abstinence-only sexual education and other virginity cult movements, such as the loathsome True Love Waits organization, is that not only is sexual experimentation by both sexes prior to marriage morally wrong, but that the onus of virginity preservation lies on young women and, gulp, their fathers…

This is most evident in what has become a popular trend, particularly in Colorado Springs, Colorado, headquarters of Focus on the Family, and a politically conservative, religiously fundamentalist enclave in an otherwise generally liberal state. Teenage women are encouraged to pledge their virginities to their fathers, at least until marriage, and are often rewarded with a fancy Purity Ball—often at Colorado Springs’ swanky Broadmoor Hotel—and a sparkling ring to wear on their left ring finger. The fact that these girls are asked to “vow” something so private to their fathers, and not their mothers or their selves, is particularly telling. Abstinence-only education, no matter how “scientific” it is becoming, is still in practice a mode of patriarchy.

And, while many public intellectuals have openly and notoriously debunked the Intelligent Design movement as Creationism in the Academy’s clothing, little is being said about the damage that the abstinence-only movement poses for teenagers. Specifically, the question that no one seems to be asking is what this ideology means for a young woman’s psychological health. When an individual’s entire worth is dependent upon her pristine and uncharted vagina, and then eventually transferred to her identity as her husband’s wife, a young woman’s existence becomes indelibly bound to others, particularly the various men in her life. When it does come time for a her to enter into a sexual relationship with her husband—presuming she makes it to her wedding night as an “unmarred” virgin—she has never learned the art of self-fulfillment, either sexually or emotionally. She has placed so much energy on meeting others’ standards that she has never learned to ask what it is she wants and expects from her own sexual experience. Sexuality becomes the realm of the masculine, and women are meant to lie still and shut up about it–keep in mind, however, that “lying still” may alternatively displease one’s partner, so a virgin best have an encyclopedic (but not practical) knowledge of sexual acrobatics, you know, just in case. If, as advocates suggest, abstinence is, indeed, the “only form of safe sex,” they are entirely remiss on the gravely dangerous emotional affects of this movement.

“True Love,” after all, exists only when one truly loves oneself, independent of coercion or social mores, and with a fully informed and balanced sense of dignity. True love doesn’t “wait” for others; it’s available for anyone willing to claim it.

Modernity claims another victim

I confess to an electic nostalgia — I recall rotary phones with fondness, and the note-passing that was en vogue during high school, when texting meant one wrote in block characters rather then cursive. Accordingly I mourn the passing of trades made obsolete by so-called advances in technology, and the loss of all the technical art and skill that go with them. Who knows now how the elevator attendant managed all those buttons? Is there any alive now who can repair the wiring guts of an antique rotary phone? Eras vanish.

capt_photo_1224071924862-1-0Therefore it is with great sadness that I learn that the president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, has announced his intention to ban female genital mutilation. President Museveni addressed a gathering in his country’s eastern Karamoja district: “The way God made it, there is no part of a human body that is useless.” Nice to see that the President still supports the ancient art of theologically medieval, ad hoc rhetorical justification — the way God mad it, indeed! — even if advances in so-called medical science and moral ethics are forcing him to retire his country’s corps of genital mutilators.

Let me propose a means by which this revered craft can be preserved.Let’s relocate a colony of labia carvers and their apprentice scalpel handlers to, say, Vermont or New Hampshire. They can set up a craft community, give tours and daily demonstrations for the Luddite looky-loos — like Sturbridge Village, if instead of hammer and anvils the blacksmiths did their work with artfully jury-rigged genital mutilation tools of the kind displayed by the genital mutilator in the photo here. Oh forces of modernity. Is there no tradition or trade that you won’t destroy, no custom you will respect?


Abeyance in 1875, and in 1975

1875, from Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs by William Acton:

Women (happily for society) are not very much troubled with sexual feeling of any kind. What men are habitually, women are only exceptionally. It is true, I admit, … there are some few women who have sexual desires so strong that they surpass those of men, and shock public feeling by their consequences. I admit, of course, the existence of sexual excitement terminating even in nymphomania … but, with these sad exceptions, there can be no doubt that sexual feeling in the female is in the majority of cases in abeyance, and that it requires positive and considerable excitement to be roused at all; and even if roused (which in many instances it never can be) it is very moderate compared with that of the male. [as quoted on p.36 of The Social Meaning of Human Sexuality by John Petras, 1978]

1975, from Against Our Will by Susan Brownmiller:

Is it possible that there is some sort of metaphysical justice in the anatomical fact that the male sex organ, which has been misused from time immemorial as a weapon of terror against women, should have at its root an awkward place of painful vulnerability? Acutely conscious of their susceptibility to damage, men have protected their testicles throughout history with armor, supports and forbidding codes of “clean,” above-the-belt fighting. A gentleman’s agreement is understandable — among gentlemen. When women are threatened, as I learned in my self-defense class, “Kick him in the balls, it’s your best maneuver.” How strange it was to hear for the first time in my life that women could fight back, should fight back and make full use of a natural advantage; that it is in our interest to know how to do it. How strange it was to understand with the full force of unexpected revelation that male allusions to psychological defeat, particularly at the hands of a woman, were couched in phrases like emasculation, castration and ball-breaking because of that very special physical vulnerability. [Petras pp.195-6]

Does new Afghan law legalize rape in marriage?

The Telegraph is reporting that President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has signed the Shiite Personal Status Law, legislation allow the Shia community to settle family law cases involving sexual relations within marriage, divorce, inheritance, rights of movement, and other matters,  according to Shia tradition — sharia law — at the expense of equal rights for women. From the article:

The law, which has not been publicly released, is believed to state women can only seek work, education or doctor’s appointments with their husband’s permission. […] Only fathers and grandfathers are granted custody of children under the law, according to the United Nations Development Fund for Women. […]

The bill was passed in both houses of the Afghan parliament. Thus far, United Nations representatives have not been allowed to see a copy of the approved bill. [First seen at the JihadWatch blog]

feminist thought and action at boston university