Disability and Decolonizing Time/Knowledge on the Tenure Clock

by Danika Medak-Saltzman (Syracuse University), Deepti Misri (University of Colorado Boulder), and Beverly Weber (University of Colorado Boulder)

In this post, the three of us draw on our shared experience at a predominantly white public university in order to share some initial responses to the following question: How are the neoliberal academy’s modes of organizing labor and valuing knowledge steeped in spatiotemporal logics that are both settler colonial and ableist in nature? Our motivation in tracing these logics stems directly from having observed “faculty with disabilities” at our university “running against the tenure clock” under expectations that are as ableist as the metaphor, as well as seemingly abled women faculty, faculty of color, and contingent faculty, who have strained against the academic clock and ended up debilitated in the process. 

Our discussion here engages primarily with the peculiar temporalities produced by the tenure clock. While we focus primarily on our own observations as tenured and tenure-track faculty, the tenure clock inevitably also impacts adjunct faculty who work in proximity to the clock, often absorbing onto their bodies and lives the effects of the (limited) “protections” offered to tenure-track faculty, receiving low priority in matters ranging from teaching times to course preferences, deprioritized for research and conference funding, all while often dealing with ever-increasing numbers of students. Accordingly, we acknowledge that the tenure clock already positions some within the academy (including us) in a space of relative privilege, and that the project of addressing the adjunctification of the university and its embeddedness in settler time (Rifkin) and the neoliberal academy is equally urgent. Below we outline how ableist time and settler time intersect in the neoliberal academy’s production of the tenure process as an endurance test where only the fittest survive. In our conclusion we will suggest some ways of unsettling time in the settler academy (Morgensen).

We take inspiration from a mounting body of feminist and decolonial scholarship that has detailed how the neoliberal university is underpinned by masculinist, imperial, plantation and settler colonial histories, methodologies and imperatives (Chatterjee and Maira; Mountz et al.; Tuitt et al.). For example, Scott Morgensen describes how the “settler academy” is consolidated by alternately marginalizing and assimilating Indigenous scholarship (Morgensen). These twin strategies of marginalization and management rely heavily upon the very imagination of “good”—i.e tenurable—scholarship as “new”, “exciting” and “cutting-edge.” In The Slow Professor, Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber observe how “The corporate university’s language of new findings, technology transfer, knowledge economy, grant generation, frontier research, efficiency, and accountability dominates how academic scholarship is now framed both within the institution and outside it” (Berg and Seeber 63). The image of “frontier research”says it all: the solo author “breaks new ground” and plants a flag bearing their name on the terrain they have discovered. Implicit in this notion are familiar colonial tropes of spatial discovery, Indigenous dispossession and their attendant temporalities: the forward movement of time through the “discovery” (and occupation) of space.  The “shift from content to counting” observed by Mountz et. al. is another example of the settler academy at work (12). 

At times of evaluation, the settler academy requires that colleagues take on positions reminiscent of a border regime—armed, as they are, with the ability to bestow or deny full and tenured academic citizenship. These structures, like so much else in the academy, are based on a set of standards, or academic laws, if you will, often imagined and presented as unbiased or fair, when they actually disproportionately benefit those for whom they were originally created. For such systems to continue to work, they must maintain the illusion that the academy functions, at least in part, as a meritocracy. The violence of the settler academy and attendant systems of employment and evaluation are also enacted through the control of income levels tied to merit reviews or access to healthcare. 

The border patrol imperatives of frontier research are also implicitly ableist. Jina B Kim warns about “intensified levels of scholarly productivity that mark us as fit or unfit for academic citizenship, as well as the systemic exhaustion of women of color (WoC) intellectuals, who typically assume greater service/mentoring duties while receiving less mentorship and support.” In this way, the neoliberal border patrol functions to protect the settler academy’s political economy of belonging/citizenship by eliminating any potential threats to, or potential drains on the status quo of the established system (in terms of the rising cost of healthcare, the need for accommodations, and “unproductive” uses of time for reasons of health and disability).

How, then, might we seek to decolonize the organization of time and knowledge in the academy, and in particular (for our purposes in this piece) the tenure clock? We would have to begin, we suggest, by clearing space for alternative habitations of time that may be at odds with the fixity and linearity of the tenure clock. Disability Studies scholars such as Alison Kafer and Ellen Samuels have written eloquently about the process of doing academic work on “crip time.” In Alison Kafer’s words, crip time “bends the clock to meet disabled bodies and minds” rather than bend disabled bodies and minds to meet the clock (27). Often the response to experiences of illness, disability, and debility is a clock stoppage or time extension. Yet, clock stoppage itself is flawed, in that it locates faculty bodies in a singular settler time-space. 

The rhythms of what many in Native North American communities call “NDN time” offer other ways of bending the clock. It is frequently assumed that NDN time means arriving or beginning later than a prescribed start time. While this might be the consequence of NDN time, particularly with regard to its use as a resistance tactic, it is more accurate to think of NDN time as the time it takes to do things in a good way. While this might seem an amorphous definition, the charge of “doing things in a good way” is more important than the fixed amount of time it takes to do something (Chisholm Hatfield et al.; Marino and Lazrus). For this reason, it might be easier for those unfamiliar with NDN time to conceive of it as an understanding of, and approach to, the world we live in—particularly as it relates to the cyclical nature of seasons, moon phases, life phases and ceremonial calendars. Built into NDN time is the flexibility required to uphold and honor one’s personal and communal responsibilities, for maintaining right relationships with all beings and with the land itself. Settler logics and strategies of erasure have included overwriting Indigenous understandings of time that are rooted in deep knowledge of specific territories (further see Rifkin 3). By design, NDN time, like POC time, account for the potential, the provisional, and the realities of precarity that settler rule, settler time and the settler academy do not, and cannot yet, account for. “POC time” is not simply a means of “foot dragging” that slows down the economic and temporal efficiency of white or settler systems—although this use has also been deployed strategically. Rather, and importantly, these more flexible understandings of time refuse the impositions of settler logics, settler time, and the settler academy because they allow both space and time to respond to the expected and unexpected flux and challenges that are a part of human experience. Such an understanding of time must play an important role in any ethics of care. 

A consideration of “bending time” means that those of us inevitably involved in petitioning our universities to “accommodate” faculty members with disabilities, must avoid exclusive reliance on an accommodationist model that only addresses itself to those who are already (legally or institutionally) recognized as disabled, and merely elongates the clock through clock stoppage or extension. Such strategies often leave those who are most precarious subject to reduced salaries that must be made up through later teaching. They further presume a straightforward return to an “able-bodied” state, or consider “adding time” as adequate support.

We believe that the following are steps to a more just conception of time, and call on our tenured colleagues to consider adopting some of these paths:

  • Bend the clock: Flexible paths towards tenure, and flexible modes of assessment and promotion that are oriented towards the goals of support and promotion rather than gatekeeping.
  • Develop an ethics of care that emerges from more expansive conceptions which can better account for the same or similar tasks requiring different amounts of time to complete or address. Such an ethics of care will also require that tenured faculty advocate for better working conditions for faculty who are not in tenure line positions.
  • Develop a more holistic approach to valuing the impact of a faculty member on a campus particularly when it comes to evaluating a candidate’s tenure file. We want to be clear here that, at the risk of adding to the categories of assessment that are used to feed the gatekeeping neoliberal border patrol work of the settler academy’s tenure process, we also believe that we must acknowledge the different weight, import and value placed on particular kinds of service work—to the campus, to the ability of POC faculty and students to feel comfortable and thrive at a PWI, to facilitate attracting students and grant funding to individual campuses, and to diversifying curriculum. Furthermore, we should value public scholarship—which may particularly benefit underserved populations. For decades now, various studies have highlighted the fact that women faculty and faculty of color engage in disproportional levels of service work and public scholarship that positively impacts student experience and earns the University “diversity cred,” yet these activities are not counted towards tenure. We must understand that saying “learn to say no” is an inadequate response to the exploitative conditions that the tenure clock creates, particularly given that such a response effectively blames and punishes people for work central to oft-touted University missions and to fostering student satisfaction.
  • Move away from the perpetual investment in the “new,” while foregrounding collaboration, radical contextualization and citation of what has come before. Speaking particularly from a humanities perspective, we also reject the over-emphasis on individual achievement, which manifests in logics that value hyperindividualist productivity (countable single-authored pieces over quality, valuing co-authored scholarship less than single-authored work). This is not to dismiss the possibility of original thought, but rather to observe how an over-investment in “frontier research” has served again and again to efface prior insights of women and BIPOC scholars, much as colonial tropes of discovery erase the material presence of Indigenous populations that were already there. While original thought is possible and valuable, we value collaborative modes of knowledge that emphasize building on and carrying ahead bodies of knowledge rather than “breaking new ground.”
  • Work less, and make arguments for working less. The Marxist feminist Kathi Weeks’s provocative feminist call for a “post-work society” is helpful here. Weeks argues in her book The Problem with Work that a “feminist time movement” should entail shorter working hours for everybody. We believe this may also be a crucial step towards addressing the unacknowledged disability employment gap within academia, where faculty with disabilities are sacrificed on benchmarks of productivity. While we acknowledge the widely—if unevenly—dispersed pressures of the neoliberal university on all within it, we nevertheless wish to ask: how might we initiate conversations within our departments and universities about the need to work and produce less, rather than doing more and meeting ever higher benchmarks? With Weeks, we invest in the political possibilities of a utopian demand for less work.
  • Rely on an ethics of feminist leadership work that can challenge the imperatives of neoliberal settler time. This entails leadership work that challenges the dominance of an assessment and audit culture at the university (further see Mbembe). Here we refer you to Hester Baer’s piece, “Strategies for Feminist Leadership in the Neoliberal University,” available online at the Digital Feminist Collective. 

Works Cited

Baer, Hester. “Strategies for Feminist Leadership in the Neoliberal University.” Feminist Scholar-Activism at the Digital Feminist Collective.https://digitalfeministcollective.net/index.php/2018/06/21/strategies-for-feminist-leadership-in-the-neoliberal-university/.

Berg, Maggie, and Barbara Seeber. The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy. U of Toronto P, 2016.

Chatterjee, Piya, and Sunaina Maira. Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent. U of Minnesota P, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Centralhttp://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ucb/detail.action?docID=1693973.

Chisholm Hatfield, Samantha, et al. “Indian Time: Time, Seasonality, and Culture in Traditional Ecological Knowledge of Climate Change.” Ecological Processes, vol. 7, no. 1, July 2018, p. 25. BioMed Central, doi:10.1186/s13717-018-0136-6.

Kafer, Alison. Feminist, Queer, Crip. Indiana UP, 2013.

Kim, Jina B. “Toward a Crip-of-Color Critique: Thinking with Minich’s ‘Enabling Whom?’” Lateral, 15 May 2017,http://csalateral.org/issue/6-1/forum-alt-humanities-critical-disability-studies-crip-of-color-critique-kim/.

Marino, Elizabeth, and Lazrus. “We Are Always Getting Ready”: How Diverse Notions of Time and Flexibility Build Adaptive Capacity in Alaska and Tuvalu.” Contextualizing Disaster, edited by Gregory V. Button and Mark Schuller, Berghahn Books, 2016.

Mbembe, Achille Joseph. “Decolonizing the University: New Directions.” Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, vol. 15, no. 1, Feb. 2016, pp. 29–45. SAGE Journals, doi:10.1177/1474022215618513.

Morgensen, Scott Lauria. “Destabilizing the Settler Academy: The Decolonial Effects of Indigenous Methodologies.” American Quarterly, vol. 64, no. 4, 2012, pp. 805–08, doi: 10.1353/aq.2012.0050.

Mountz, Alison, et al. “For Slow Scholarship: A Feminist Politics of Resistance through Collective Action in the Neoliberal University.” ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, vol. 14, no. 4, Aug. 2015, pp. 1235–59. https://www.acme-journal.org/index.php/acme/article/view/1058

Rifkin, Mark. Beyond Settler Time: Temporal Sovereignty and Indigenous Self-Determination. Duke University Press, 2017, doi:10.1215/9780822373421.

Tuitt, Frank, et al. “Plantation Politics and Neoliberal Racism in Higher Education: A Framework for Reconstructing Anti-Racist Institutions.” Teachers College Record, vol. 120, no. 14, 2018, https://www-tcrecord-org.colorado.idm.oclc.org/library/exec.asp?ContentID=22379.

Weeks, Kathi. The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries. Duke UP, 2011.

Counting and Accountability: Collaboration in and Against the Neoliberal University

by Carrie Smith (University of Alberta) and Maria Stehle (University of Tennessee, Knoxville)

In our 2016 book Awkward Politics, we write about what collaboration can or might do within, or to, the academy. We write of its subversive and revolutionary quality, of its ability to push back against assessment mechanisms of the university and against the theoretical canon at the foundation of the humanities. Further, we speak at length about our own collaborative relationship that grew from tentative dates via email to long chats on Skype, tracing its origins in a shared sense of academic and feminist political urgency, but also in a mutual understanding that the tools of our discipline, German Studies, should not onlyuse, but must also dotheory in a broad sense. Doing theory can only have meaning when the resulting thinking reaches well beyond the object or subject analyzed, beyond the pages of the book, the frames of the film, the pixels of the video; when that theory has social and political value. Throughout our collaboration, the personal nature of our relationship was bound up in our intellectual and political commitment to feminisms. As Lauren Berlant and Lee Edelman write in the preface to their conversation in Sex, or the Unbearable: “our own conversation includes and exceeds us at once” (x). While our thoughts in that book are at times utopian, at their very core lies an understanding that for theory to be written, read, and mobilized as social practice (Berlant and Edelman), the work must be collaborative in conception and execution. 

Thus, there is an urgency to collaboration as social process and our responsibilities to and for each other; Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing writes in The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life after Capitalism, “without collaboration, we all die” (28). Collaboration, thus, is also about accountability: to each other and to the worlds around us. In the context of the neoliberal university, it is also about counting: what counts as whose publication? How much does collaboration count?

Our shared collaborative history does not read revolutionary. We have been collaborators on a range of projects, from grant writing (SSHRC Insight Grant from Canada), the co-written book, a co-edited volume on digital feminism, articles, talks, roundtables, workshops, and the Digital Feminist Collective—the website/open-access publication project, which we manage together with others and on which this piece appears; indeed, central to our collaboration are the constellations we form with others, at times joining teams in partnership, at times separating to join others in different collaborations. We are both in tenured positions; while we started to work on the grant together before we had tenure, we both already had a first, single-authored monograph in publication. We had something that, unquestionably, would count for tenure. We also both had very young children at the time we started our collaboration; these children, too, have grown with and within our work. As we cared for others, we also continued to feel accountable to each other for doing the intellectual work we had committed to doing. Sometimes, writing felt like another task on a long list of things to do, but most of the time, our intellectual collaborations sustained us.

Each collaboration has a different cycle and tempo and connects across different time zones; as we write, discuss, and research, we become differently bound to disciplinary and institutional regimes. When we are in the thick of writing, we often chat with each other throughout the day. Carrie might be at the grocery store or swimming lessons, but she is also working through a particularly complicated passage with Maria, who is snatching moments of writing between teaching. Mobile technology offers the height of neoliberal availability, even in a collaboration intended to question neoliberal cooption. In crafting this collaborative articlewith Hester Baer, we recognized this conundrum and inserted screenshots of our three-way chats into the article to show how, at particular times when writing about the video works of Afro-German artist Noah Sow, we might also be having a conversation together about diapers or the weather or our institutional woes. We write about this directly in the piece itself, which we excerpt at length here: 

Our attempt to conserve the process of collaboration is a fib. We selected just a few of the many comment bubbles we generated while writing this essay and inserted them back into the document after we had discussed, addressed, and deleted them. The process of collaboration is a temporal process that can be traced and collected, but not easily captured and certainly not frozen onto a single screen. During our writing process, we had various digital channels of communication to exchange ideas, coordinate writing, complain about distractions, and discuss delays. Our process of writing thus also offers a perspective on speed in the 24/7 regime: while, in many ways, the work of three minds outpaced our individual thinking, the process itself was slower than we anticipated. The rapid changes as three of us write, edit each other’s words, delete paragraphs, and change arguments are disorienting at times and such disorientation is, of course, utterly unproductive in the most specific sense of labor market productivity now central to academic assessment structures. Essentially, we found ourselves producing while also working within an impasse, a feminist bind to which we, too, attempted our own aesthetic reorientation. In the face of neoliberalism and the neoliberal academy, we tried joyfully to embrace these moments of unproductive disorientation and turn them on their heads, shaping them into what counts as something productive for us, as academics: an article. Further, since moments of utter confusion are part of almost any such process of academic writing, we could much more easily confront this confusion because we were in it together; different forms of collaboration and community offer ways to work within the impasse. (21–22)

This honest response is good. It gets at the amorphous quality of the process of collaboration, created of multiple fleeting moments of connection and disconnect and at the confusing way in which we needed the neoliberal problem of impasse in order to work within and beyond it. But what it doesn’t address is that by collaborating in the way that we do, we are also always on, always productive, at least seemingly. If feminism has become increasingly popular over the past two years, fueled by the rise of the fascist right, it has also become coopted and sold for popular consumption. Collaboration, too, has risen in popularity throughout a variety of institutional settings. Must we work against structures of neoliberalism in feminist collaboration? Or is there a way of working with and within such structures productively? Is feminist collaboration itself being coopted as a mode of fulfilling expectations, albeit an alternative one? Is this cooption necessarily a problem? In a lecture on 9 March 2017at the University of Alberta, Sirma Bilge cautioned against utilizing the term cooptionwhen speaking of feminism, for it is predicated on an assumption of an initial purity of feminism. Similarly, Tsing writes in Mushroom at the Endof the World, “everyone carries a history of contamination; purity is not an option” (27). While categorically denouncing neoliberalism and its cooption of “feminism,” white feminism in the academy perpetuates the hegemony of whiteness, for example, by institutionally capitalizing on—and coopting—intersectionality often in ways that do not value race. This concern can be expanded to other cooptions internal to feminist and queer activist struggles that subsume differences into hegemonic structures in popular or political arenas alike. Critically and carefully thinking through mechanisms of such cycles of cooption opens avenues into understanding the possibilities for creative forms of resistance, also in the academy.

Collaboration is a form of assemblage, a way to (re)gain “our ability to notice the divergent, layered, and conjoined projects that make up worlds” (Tsing 22). Our argument is that collaborations in and with the academy must replicate this process of becoming and coming into politics in the same manner. Even if collaboration replicates in many ways the rigid structures of the academy it pushes against, it also necessarily works against linear structures of time and output. In her forthcoming monograph How to Make Art at the End of the World, Natalie Loveless writes about the world-making power of stories (stories thought of as research questions) as a political capacity and argues for new disciplinary paths and collaborative kinships to challenge fields, discourses, and assessment categories; thinking with Loveless, can we consider our collaborative practices one such kinship, itself rewriting discursive fields in order to walk a new path that tells a different political story? Our collaborations are forms of contamination. When thought in this manner, collaboration messes with the structure of things, messing with the “it has always been done that way” adage not merely to offer a new dominant structure, for there is no politics in offering a new status quo, but rather to open up all of our insular practices—the disinfected and hermetically sealed borders of our academic spheres of influence—to chance, to infection, to contamination. As Tsing writes, “we are contaminated by our encounters; they change who we are as we make way for others” (27). Contamination becomes a way of rendering the walls between our silos porous. At the same time, the process is scary, for it suggests the potential of disfigurement, destruction, and possible death of the very disciplines and structures on which our academic identity (or at least our history and training) is founded and which effects how we nurture future generations of thinkers and researchers in undergraduate and graduate student cohorts. If contamination must necessarily lead to such impact, then it also offers a way of thinking about what happens then, after disfigurement, destruction, and death. 

So: “how to think collaborative survival” (Tsing 19) within the neoliberal academy? Survival means that we believe in a future that takes into account the mechanisms that place that very future at risk. Said differently, the danger that feminist collaboration will become a meaningless, neoliberally-driven mode for increasing productive outcomes and neoliberal marketability is always a part of our research practices; collaboration itself is one of the elements of contamination, a contamination that drives possible futures. Collaboration offers a way of reading that emphasizes process, craft, and creation, one that maintains awareness of circularity and contradictions; it is political engagement andcreative work as theory and practice combined. Collaborating, thus, means to always be responsive and in flux, making visible the often-cruel mechanisms of neoliberal capitalism, racism, and sexism not in a corrective manner, but instead by exposing their contradictions and by disrupting, by contaminating them. 

If we think of collaboration as an open process of contamination, against containment and purity, we become hard to assess and evaluate since “without self-contained units, it is impossible to compute costs or benefits, or functionality, to any ‘one’ involved” (Tsing 34). Counting becomes a slippery process. For example, when we collaborate, who claims what or which parts? Our book, since we co-wrote it, “counts twice” and is claimed twice—or does it only count half, 50% dangling in each institutional setting? The answer to these questions is also contextual: the way Carrie’s work counts for the processes of evaluation at her university might not line up with Maria’s at her institution; the different manner in which we count further impacts our ability to engage with the structures beyond our individual institutions. Open access and web publications, for example the website on which we are publishing this piece, multiply, cross-contaminate; or are they deemed worthless contaminants, not counting at all, but continuing to exist, grow, invade, and hold accountable? When we think within the matrix of the neoliberal university and the obsession with quantifiable achievements and data, the contamination offered by collaboration might force us to stop emphasizing countability and instead accountability, and through accountability, amplification. When we collaborate, we can inflate and multiply things as a way to subvert quantifications. The algorithms of collaboration perform amplification as accountability.

Works Cited

Baer, Hester, Carrie Smith-Prei, and Maria Stehle. “Digital Feminisms and the Impasse: Time, Disappearance, and Delay in Neoliberalism,” special issue of Studies in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Literature24/7: Neoliberalism and the Undoing of Time, ed. by Necia Chronister and Lutz Koepnick, 40.2 (2016). 

Berlant, Lauren and Lee Edelman. Sex, or the Unbearable. Duke UP, 2013.

Bilge, Sirma. 2017. “Neoliberalism, Intersectionality & Feminism: Dissenting Knowledges in Researchand Teaching.” Vimeo, March 9. https://vimeo.com/207840795.

Loveless, Natalie. How to Make Art at the End of the World: A Manifesto for Research-Creation. Duke UP, forthcoming (2019).

Smith-Prei, Carrie and Maria Stehle. Awkward Politics: Technologies of Popfeminist Activism. McGill-Queens UP, 2016.

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life after Capitalism. Princeton UP, 2015.

Ph.D. in German Studies or the Possibility of Becoming an Unhappy Queer

by Simone Pfleger

In the fall and winter of 2017, I spent the majority of my time revising my dissertation, which I then defended successfully in December of that year. Like many of my fellow graduate students, I was working on my dissertation while constantly keeping an eye on the job market. Keeping an eye on things is necessary to know what is happening in the field and to stay informed, but it also means that my attention is directed elsewhere or redirected. Continue reading “Ph.D. in German Studies or the Possibility of Becoming an Unhappy Queer” »

Digital Feminisms and Feminist Futures: Assemblage, Race, Power, and Bodies

Carrie Smith-Prei | Maria Stehle

@BetülUlusoy und @KübraGümüşay: Wie erklärt ihr euch die Vereinbarkeit von Eurer pro- Erdoğan- und pro-IGMG-Gesinnung (Erdoğannahe Organisation in Deutschland), die ihr seid Jahren in diversen Eurer Tweets und Postings offensichtlich (Ulusoy) und teilweise durch die Blume (Gümüşay) ausdrückt, mit eurer Aussage, dass ihr “Feministinnen” sein wollt und für Frauenrechte kämpft? […] Feminismus […] bedeutet […] nämlich: neben der Bestrebung nach der Beseitigung von geschlechtsspezifischen Ungleichheiten im eigenen Leben und Gesellschaft vor allem der kritische Hinweis auf patriarchal-frauenfeindliche Strukturen in der eigenen Community – ich kann solche Tendenzen bei keinem von Euch erkennen.

—(Lady Bitch Ray, excerpt of her Facebook posting July 19, 2016)

[I]n den letzten Tagen versuchte man mir Anhängerschaft zu verschiedenen Parteien und Organisationen anzudichten. Mich enttäuscht der Argwohn, das Lagerdenken und das Unvermögen Differenziertheit zuzulassen. Doch das sagt viel aus über unser Jetzt. Unsere Gesellschaft. Uns. Deshalb, einmal für alle. […] Ich bin weder pro dies, noch pro das. In meiner Person und Arbeit vereine ich mehrere Identitäten und Ideale, die in allen politischen Lagern der Türkei (aber nicht nur dort) auf die eine oder andere Art und Weise anecken, wenn nicht gar fundamental widersprechen. […] Statt in Lagern denke ich in Solidaritäten.

—(“10 Punkte, einmal, für alle.” Ein fremdwörterbuch, Blog by Kübra Gümüşay, posting on July 27, 2016)

Ehrlich gesagt finde ich Deine Stellungnahme vom 27.07.2016 zu meinem Posting, falls man diese überhaupt als an mich gerichtete Antwort betrachten darf, ziemlich schwach, liebe Kübra. Es ist eine schwammige, in Harmoniesucht getränkte Wir-haben-uns-alle-lieb-Haltung, mit der Du keine Antworten auf meine Fragen gibst. Du beziehst wieder keine klare Position in solchen Blogs und Beiträgen – oder besser gesagt nur allgemeine, doppeldeutige Botschaften. Ist das Absicht, Naivität oder politische Strategie?
I don’t know. […] Aus der Position einer alevitisch-muslimisch sozialisierten Deutsch-Türkin der zweiten Generation heraus, die mit keinem Verband, Organisation oder Institution (außer Universitäten und Hochschulen) verbunden ist: Ist es Absicht, dass Du – obwohl Du Dich aktiv in IGMG- und AKP-nahen Kreisen bewegst – spezifische Themen in Deiner anti-rassistischen und feministischen Agenda bewusst rauslässt? An welche Themen ich da denke: Erdoğans Frauen degradierende Politik in der Türkei, die Ächtung von Homosexuellen in der Türkei, die dortige Hetzjagd auf LGBTs und Transgender-Menschen, die Lage von Aleviten und Alevitinnen im Besonderen, konkreter: die Vergewaltigungen und Folter von Kurdinnen in Cizre und Muş-Varto in diesem und letztem Jahr, (natürlich immer aus kritischer Perspektive), Etwas allgemeiner: Die Folter von IS-Kämpfer*innen von Jesidinnen?

—(Lady Bitch Ray, excerpt of her Facebook posting in response to Kübra Gümüşay’s Blog, July 29, 2016.)

These are excerpts from a social media debate triggered by a posting by Lady Bitch Ray, stage name of academic-artist-activist Reyhan Şahin, on her Facebook site, a debate that addresses Muslim feminism, feminist positionality, and feminist politics more generally. Her first posting was inspired by the failed military coup in Turkey and by her longstanding suspicion that some Muslim feminist activists, specifically Kübra Gümüşay and Betül Ulusoy, who are active mainly in the digital realm, hide their association with orthodox Muslim organizations and might support (aspects of) the pro-Erdogan government in Turkey; in the public sphere of Germany, these digital activists feature themselves as anti-racist feminists who are also devout Muslims, but, according to Lady Bitch Ray’s argument, they take a different tone when speaking to the Muslim community. Lady Bitch Ray’s postings triggered many responses: some were in favor of starting the debate, others were openly hostile; some accused her of being divisive and playing into the hands of racist white mainstream feminists, others praised her courage to speak up as a Turkish-German academic in a complicated political debate.

One of the key complications of the debate is the manner in which it uncovers the potential for siloing within the contemporary landscape of feminisms in Germany. The social media debate between Şahin and Gümüşay inspired Sineb El Masrar to publish an article in in taz that states:

Wenn sich weiße, nichtmuslimische Feministinnen dem Diskurs zuwenden, gilt dies als selbstverständlich. Vor allem wenn die neue Generation der sogenannten Popfeministinnen der alten Riege Kopfschmerzen bereitet ob ihrer Positionen zu Prostitution, Porno und Islam. […] Die irritierten Reaktionen [auf die Debatte zwischen Lady Bitch Ray and Gümüşay] – übrigens auf beiden Seiten – offenbarten, wie viel Unkenntnis und Uneinigkeit beim Thema ‘Islamischer Feminismus’ noch immer herrscht und dass sachliche Kritik innerhalb postmigrantischer Gruppen zum Teil als Verrat gilt. (Sineb El Masrar)

El Masrar shows that Muslim feminist of color in Germany navigate an almost impossible range of political currents. Şahin as a scholar, and, in a rather different way, Gümüşay as a journalist, are not only aware of these currents but also try to make them useful for their respective causes and positions. Their different approaches and strategies are clearly born out of different political positions, something apparent even without their having to assume membership in any particular organizations. Traditional notions of the descriptors conservative, right-wing, racist or anti-racist, even feminist, however, do not seem to adequately describe the terrain.

The various layers of this brief example speak directly to questions of position, voice, and appropriation of certain voices for certain causes, all of which is heightened in the age of digital media; it also speaks to the politics of racialization and to anti-racist activism and to debates about religion and Islamophobia. Moreover, fostering a politics of solidarity, albeit differently and maybe ironically, is the stated goal of both Gümüşay and Şahin. While feminism has certainly come to the forefront of conversations around anti-racism in Germany, increasingly since the New Year’s Eve events in Cologne (prompting Die Zeit to ask in a January 18th discussion between Christina Klemm and Sabine Hark: “Sind wir über Nacht zu einer feministischen Nation geworden?”), the public entanglement of race and feminism has also further complicated the increasingly contested definition of feminism, including what individual feminists looks like, say, and represent. These questions are at the center of debates about feminist activism today: voice and appropriation, the politics of digital activism, race and religion, the true form of feminism, and the meaning of feminist solidarity. If traditional binaries do not appear to trigger a productive political debate, one can either try to find positions outside of these binaries (which is what Gümüşay stands for) or insist that confronting these tensions is the only way forward (as Şahin seems to suggest), even in a seemingly unproductive debate that threatens to backfire. Said differently, this position argues that we need to go for and to the political impasse and cause trouble.

Indeed, these questions are “trouble” and, as we call for in our book Awkward Politics, citing Donna Haraway, we need to “stay with the trouble.” For (white) academic feminists, however, this seems to be a difficult demand. Why does staying with the key issues of this debate seem like too much trouble? And is there a point at which we (white) academics ourselves become (too much) trouble? Beyond being specifically about the current situation in Turkey, Germany, and Europe, this debate raises a more theoretical question about patriarchy and complicity, about populist appropriations of feminism and right-wing populism, and about (the limits of) global feminist solidarity. In this discussion, both, Gümüşay and Şahin, are “willful,” as defined by Sara Ahmed:

To affirm willfulness does not mean prescribing a set of behaviors […] as if they are an appropriate or necessary way of doing politics. […] Willfulness could be thought of as a political art, a practical craft that is acquired through involvement in political struggle, whether that struggle is a struggle to exist or to transform our existence. Willfulness might be thought of as becoming crafty. (133)

But does Ahmed’s concept of “willful obedience” (137ff) also describe parts of Gümüşay’s political craft? Her insistence on her Muslim identification, on her veil, is, in most situations, a willful act. In others it might be willful obedience—and this is precisely what Şahin seems to point to: that there is a politics of willfulness that changes according to context and that this, precisely, is where we need to carefully and self-critically examine our solidarities. Gümüşay calls for solidarity, for listening and for telling our stories, for open communication (see her blogs and lectures on video), but she refuses to engage directly with Şahin’s questions. Again, is this a willful political act of evasion or is it a perpetuation of power structures in a political sphere that is constructed as “elsewhere” (in Turkey, maybe, or within certain communities) but that is, in fact, also always very much “here” (in Germany, in the US, globally)? The answer to these questions depends completely on position, but due to the political urgency of these questions, relativism cannot be an option. A simple posture of “well, that depends” is an expression of privilege (and not an option for Şahin, for example). Solidarity appears selective, then, and becomes part of a questionable political power play.

Added to Gümüşay’s willfulness is Şahin’s own, as Lady Bitch Ray. On January 15th, 2016 an interview with Şahin was published in the online edition of Die Welt in which she claims the mass sexual assaults that happened during as well as the racists responses to the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne stand in for a national problem that should prompt Germany, and German feminism, to redefine itself:

Deutschland hat gerade viele Baustellen. Vor allem bezüglich seiner Selbstdefinition als Einwanderungsland und mit dem Umgang mit ‚anderen’ Menschen. […] Wir brauchen eine Neudefinition des Deutsch-Seins. Daneben entwickelt sich der Medien-Feminismus in Deutschland zu einem mit Wasser aufgeblasenen Kondom, der, wenn er platzt, nichts außer stinkender Plörre hinterlässt. Ich finde, wir sollten auch über einen klügeren und wirkungsimmanenten Feminismus sprechen.

Here she criticizes not only the racist and anti-Islamic images that are associated with the violence against women on New Year’s Eve, but also the media culture that allows for and promotes such racism and violence, a media culture equated with Medienfeminismus that presents feminism as harmless and easy to consume. In this interview, Şahin utilizes playfully pornographic language—the marker also of her music and fashion creations, other writings, and popular Bitchsm seminars—that underscores the normalization of violence and consumption: “Ich würde alle Männer auffordern, von nun an 69 Klitorislängen Abstand von Frauen zu halten und einen höflichen Umgang einzuschlagen, wenn sie sich entscheiden, mit einer Frau zu sprechen. Und ich fordere mehr Raum für vaginal-votzige Selbstbestimmungsrechte und weniger Schwanzimperialismus.”

Her sexualized and very physical word creations, here and elsewhere (also in the debate discussed here, for example when she opens the July 29 posting on Facebook quoted above with the demand: “Pussytionier’ Dich!”), function not only as communicative tool but also as material that can be reconfigured, thereby gaining body, oversized and excessive. The suggested “69 Klitorislängen Abstand” in this interview excerpt, is of course a reference to the Cologne mayor’s remarks in response to the New Year’s Eve events that women should remain “eine Armlänge” from strangers at all times, which sparked the digital campaign #einearmlaenge that preceded #ausnahmslos. The excessively extended body part—the 69 clits—of Lady Bitch Ray’s comment points toward the ridiculousness of one-arm’s-length; the clits and the arm function as indexes for the violence of sexist and racist culture while also highlighting feminist political wilfulness as an of aesthetic disturbance. Ahmed opens her 2014 Willful Subjects with a reading of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tale “Das eigensinnige Kind.” The fairy tale tells of a child who never listens to its mother and even in death extends its willful arm out of the grave. Ahmed uses this story to speak of willfulness or the willful as part of feminist, queer, and racialized existence. Here, the material is willful; the pornographic words are on bad behaviour, naughty. Ahmed concludes her book with the following:

When arms come up, they disturb the ground. Can we learn not to eliminate the signs of disturbance? Disturbance can be creative: not as what we aim for, not as what grounds our action, but as the effect of action: disturbance as what is created by the very effort of reaching, of reaching up, of reaching out, of reaching for something that is not present, something that appears only as a shimmer, a horizon of possibility. (204)

In Lady Bitch Ray’s interview, the clits become these arms, they are raised #einearmlaenge to point toward a creative process of assemblage that here and in the example of the debate is made possible in the digital sphere. At the same time, they point toward possibilities for utilizing the methodologies of digital feminism in the non-digital world. In digital feminisms, a whole host of themes as cultural forms founded on exponential difference collide, awkwardly: present and future, race and anti-racism, consumerism and critique thereof, nation and internationality, body and material. These collisions can be thought of as assemblages in which, to quote Puar, “[c]ategories—race, gender, sexuality—are considered events, actions, and encounters between bodies, rather than simply entities and attributes of subjects” (52). Assemblages “de-privilege the human body as a discrete organic thing” (57); when the human and identity or subjectivity are no longer privileged sites for analysis, the body is expanded to include all forms of matter, material, and institutions, and urgent themes rise to the surface. Puar writes, assemblage is about,

design, layout, organization, arrangement, and relations—the focus being not on content but on relations, relations of patterns (Phillips 2006 , 108 ). […] Concepts do not prescribe relations, nor do they exist prior to them; rather, relations of force, connection, resonance, and patterning give rise to concepts. (57)

In many ways, assemblage is also about deviance (see Heather Love, “Doing Being Deviant”), discipline, and control; thinking “the intertwined relations of intersectionality and assemblages […] can help us produce more roadmaps of precisely these not quite fully understood relations between discipline and control” (Puar 63). Both, Gümüşay and Şahin try to not only uncover the process of assemblage but also to take control of the female body as assemblage; relations of force assign their bodies a place within patriarchal concepts (in Schwanzstrukturen, as Şahin would describe them) but their visibility as willful, deviant, and feminist, produces relations of connection and resonance.

Moreover, that the debate began on the official Facebook page of Lady Bitch Ray shows the willfulness of the aesthetics in that disturbance. The platform, which itself is highly commercial and driven by individually tailored ad revenue, and the page, which carries all the markers of Lady Bitch Ray’s sexualized, irreverent, and poppy visual language, become a further component assembled onto the question of race, power, and solidarity, one that spurs on perhaps unexpected, vitriolic, or confused affective responses in a broad range of participants. Thus one manner of addressing these political questions is by looking at aesthetic forms and their affective resonance (aesthetics as defined in its broadest sense as the way in which we address our relationship to the world around us; affect as what happens in us and between us in our confrontation with that world), which might help to politicize this trouble. Lady Bitch Ray works with hyper-visibility and awkwardness (as we describe in Awkward Politics) and Gümüşay “confronts the relationship of her work to the public by challenging a particular form of visibility and by resignifying the limits of the political” (Weber 3). Both approaches represent and also confront an impasse, the impossibility of situating the racialized, sexualized, gendered body in any sphere outside of the realm of power politics and violence. The digital realm, however, opens up different sets of relationships between forms of violence, bodies, aesthetic forms, and social realities.

In our work on digital feminisms, we think through the digital not only for its distribution of feminist topics, but also for the fundamental restructuring of the material culture of feminism, with broad-reaching aesthetic, affective, and political implications. We engage in theoretical thinking about the material culture of digital feminist work, the aesthetics of feminist protest in the digital age, and the consequences of digital feminism for contemporary antiracist, feminist, and queer theory and methodology. When we speak of digital feminisms, we reference feminism as an ongoing process of continual becoming, one that also contains its histories and futures. Digital spaces are places of political collaboration or community building as well as spaces of divergence, deviation, and transition. A definition (and dismissal) of digital feminism that focuses on activism powered by social media and ignores the theoretical and methodological possibilities that digital feminism might offer is short sighted. In their introduction to Digital Anthropology (2012), Heather A. Horst and Daniel Miller discuss how the digital intensifies the dialectical nature of culture. The digital is made up of binary code, 0s and 1s. Thus, it creates a dialectical system of differences that expand and reproduce themselves ad infinitum and at breakneck speed. The 0s and 1s in the code represent simplest and most abstract thought, as the infinite possibilities for the production of differences cannot be conceived of conceptually. Horst and Miller warn that while this description of the digital seems idealistic, as it could suggest the potential to lead toward a new equality and openness, this idealism is deceptive; gender parity in most digital cultures and arenas is a long way off.

This understanding of the dialectical nature of digital code, a code founded on difference, can be extrapolated onto an understanding of new cultural forms made possible in the digital sphere, but also those communities, cooperations, and collaborations—even the contentious ones—arising there. Assemblage helps us to get at the materiality of digital feminism as a coming together of bodies of all sorts that hold gendered, racial, ethnic, national, or economic meanings, a coming together that can only be read as an event of identity, one that continually constitutes itself anew, much like the 0s and the 1s of the digital code. In their writings on digital anthropology, Horst and Miller emphasize that the important relationship between the digital and the material allows for a different approach to normalization. They explain this as the tendency to quickly accept new material cultures of the digital as “normal.” In digital feminism, this normalizing tendency is political, the politics of which become apparent as an aesthetics of disturbance. That disturbance is willful.

In the example of the debate sparked by Gümüşay and Şahin, it is precisely the pushback against the normalizing tendency of media discourse—that which at first appears contentious or shocking becomes quickly subsumed by the constant barrage of images—that acts as a disturbance, one with aesthetic dimensions. At the same time, it would seem the more personal attacks between the two would also ask after the normalizing tendencies of cultures of violence, of the control of the body, and of the unilateral desire for fixed political (feminist) definitions and allegiances. All of this is slippery in the digital. Digital feminisms offer strategies for creating willful disturbances also in the non-digital world by developing connections and new discourses through assemblage. These strategies include hypervisualization, cooption, quotation, flattening, disappearance—all as a disturbance of the social order, of the (digital) dialectic of difference. Specific themes and images leave the digital arena and appear again, synchronized to the quickly changing tempo of their political aims. But while oriented toward futurity, this does not mean that digital feminism is ahistorical. Instead, it offers new forms of engagement that ask us to change our political reading habits and our community-building strategies.

If there is only space for antagonism, we are in a realm where we cannot reassemble zeroes and ones in new contexts. We freeze. There is, however, room for the creation of new reading habits and new strategies of community building. If Gümüşay is supporting a violent regime in parts of her work, then there has to be room for feminist critique without dismissing her anti-racist and feminist work in Europe. What one might want to call a queer reading of our digital-material realities implies that we can question solidarities in one space while, at the same time, we may foster solidarities in another. To act as (digital) feminists, then, means to welcome critique when we use gendered and racialized tools for power and control, or when we see them in use, but it also means to call for willful solidarity when we face these very tools together.

Works Cited

Ahmed, Sara. “A Willfulness Archive.” Willful Subjects. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.

—. “Willfulness as a Style of Politics.” Willful Subjects. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.

Barad, Karen. “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter.” Alaimo and Hekman 120-54.

El Masrar, Sineb. “Frau muss genau hinschauen.” Taz, August 6, 2016. Accessible at: http://m.taz.de/!5324213;m/

Haraway, Donna. “SF: String Figures, Multispecies Muddles, Staying with the Trouble.” Keynote Lecture presented at the University of Alberta, Edmonton. March 24, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1uTVnhIHS8.

Horst, Heather und Daniel Miller. Digital Anthropology. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012

Gümüşay, Kübra. ein fremdwörterbuch. Blog Posting “10 Punkte, Einmal, Für alle.” July 27, 2016. Accessible at: http://ein-fremdwoerterbuch.com/2016/07/10-punkte-einmal-fuer-alle/

Lady Bitch Ray, official Facebook Site, postings July-August 2016.

Love, Heather. “Doing Being Deviant: Deviance Studies, Description, and the Queer Ordinary.” Differences 26.1 (2015): 74-95.

Puar, Jasbir. “I Would Rather Be a Cyborg Than a Goddess: Becoming Intersectional in Assemblage Theory.” PhiloSOPHIA 2.1 (2012): 49-66.

Şahin, Reyhan. “Frauen werden behandelt wie verfügbares Frischfleisch.” welt.de, 15 Jan. 2016, http://www.welt.de/regionales/hamburg/article151041833/Frauen-werden-behandelt-wie-verfuegbares-Frischfleisch.html. Accessed 25 Aug. 2016.

Smith-Prei, Carrie and Maria Stehle. Awkward Politics: Technologies of Popfeminist Activism. McGill-Queens UP, 2016.

Weber, Beverly. “Kübra Gümüşay, Muslim Digital Feminism and the Politics of Visuality in Germany.” In Feminist Media Studies. Digital Feminisms: Transnational Activism in German Protest Cultures, edited by Christina Scharff, Carrie Smith-Prei, and Maria Stehle. Spec. issue of Feminist Media Studies 16.1. New York: Routledge.

 

One Year Later / Charleston Strong

One Year Later / Charleston Strong

Mary Catherine Lawler

Being in Charleston one year after the shooting at the A.M.E. Church has been surreal in that superficially everything runs business as usual, but traces of memorialization are visually present throughout the city (and a remembrance ceremony and a memorial concert across from A.M.E. are scheduled for tonight).

Symbols of the slogan “Charleston Strong” appear throughout the city – nine doves – for the Charleston 9 shot dead last year – form a white palmetto tree against a dark blue rectangle, a clear parallel to the South Carolina state flag.

 

DSCN9362
Charleston Strong banner in the French Quarter.

While brunching at Toast on Meeting Street, I noticed a staff member wearing the same design on the back of his Charleston dark blue t-shirt. Little and big signs like this in the big little city seemed to point to a universal cognizance and recognition of the tragedy in an everyday manner.

In returning from Fort Sumter, however, I saw the larger scale and passed through the affective borders of the space in front of the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church on Calhoun – a plethora of flowers accumulated at the foot of the church’s steps, sweetgrass crosses woven and attached to the wrought-iron gates, dark blue and white flag displayed.

 

DSCN9425
Flowers and memorializations at the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church on Calhoun Street.

Two white men stood holding a printed banner with the Charleston 9’s photos and names – the banner read “say their names” / “Charleston 9” / “never forget” – while black congregation members sharply dressed gathered nearby. Across the street, setup for an evening concert in memory of the nine had begun, white ribbons fixed to white chairs, speakers plugged in and tested.

 

DSCN9447
A shop window on King Street replaced goods and wares with bios of the nine, sweetgrass roses, and an expression of prayer.

Even on the highly commercial King Street, known for mid- to upscale shopping, a shop window featured posterboard backing a newspaper cutout of the Charleston 9, adorned with sweetgrass roses and partially framed with a notice that prayers were with the A.M.E. Church.

While it’s unnerving to walk through a “nice neighborhood” like the one in which the A.M.E. Church is located and think that someone could walk by with a weapon and into a church full of people like those next to you on the street, at the same time it felt good to see both black and white members of the community expressing solidarity in Charleston identity. Much work must still be done in terms of gun laws in the U.S.; perhaps Charleston can be a source not only of race discourse, but also of gun violence going forward.

Here the Charleston City Paper article – “Mother Emanuel: One Year Later”.

DSCN9465
Park bench on Meeting.

Signing off from the Holy City.

DSCN9467
A sweetgrass rose of peace.

 

Pride Month, Flag Day, and the Heteronormative Laugh of Dismissal

Pride Month, Flag Day, and the Heteronormative Laugh of Dismissal                                                  

Mary Catherine Lawler

Republican Fundraiser, Media Sensationalism

Last night I attended a fundraiser for a state candidate campaigning here in South Carolina. My parents had been invited and I attended, half-disturbed, half-fascinated, having decided that as long as none of my money contributed via my presence, I was ok with observing a different political culture.

I’m trying to process what’s happened in Orlando and how it’s been dismissed that the shooting took place at a gay nightclub. People are stocking up on guns and yelling on Fox News about Muslims and I’m scared for the LGBTQ people I know.

My parents voted this morning – for a conservative state candidate – and I’m very divided. The people (read: Republicans) last night were hospitable and on the whole didn’t seem unkind, but they obviously aren’t what the candidate termed “Muslim sympathizers” and the host’s wife, morbidly pregnant, laughed about me getting out of state just under the wire as the shooting in Orlando happened.

DSCN9086
My father’s voting confirmation, stuck to our deck behind which a patriotic half-cockade sags proudly.

In his not-so-brief speech of gratitude that wandered through local politics and gratefulness, the candidate mentioned that his opponent had gone knocking on people’s doors, telling them that he “wasn’t a Christian, was a Muslim sympathizer, and didn’t believe in this country”, to the response of much mmm-mmm-ing and headshakes from the small assembly gathered round. “But none of this bothered me,” he said, “until he attacked me and said I wasn’t really an Eagle Scout”. Har har – who cares about being lumped in with them there ferners but daggone it if someone questions the one afternoon you spent doing “community service”.
I don’t know what to make of all this, and I can’t imagine how the LGBTQ community is feeling if I’m uncomfortable.
This morning I went to work out at the county club gym (close to a voting location across the road), where campaign signs out front encouraged people to participate in the Republican Primary.

DSCN9082
Flag Day as the State Election Day. Taken in our driveway after I borrowed the election sign to photograph.

The Elliptical and the House of Commons
After channel-hopping through crap like Cougar Town and reality nonsense, I landed on C-SPAN, which was broadcasting live the US House of Commons; each speaker was given five minutes on the floor. While some spoke about arbitrary, distracting topics like small business owners and the history of some colonel in Michigan, others commanded with moving presence, like Al Green, who expressed gratitude that members of the non-African-American community had helped black Americans to where they are today, and encouraged those Americans who “owed a debt to others” to repay it now by standing with the LGBTQ community, and ended with the pledge of allegiance, clutching an American flag, or Nydia Margarita Velázquez, who did not thank Mr. Speaker, but began by reading the names of those murdered in Orlando, voice often breaking with emotion. She followed this list only with a simple statement that those who were killed would not be forgotten and would inspire action to better the States, finishing early.

DSCN9085
Star-Spangled Spatulas – an attempt to recover Americana. Made in the USA. Domestic patriotism.

The Material Culture of Americanness
Where does Orlando leave us in the age of bi-partisan politics that will not end? I bought the star-spangled spatulas in Miami, a place obviously proud and patriotic, as evidenced by the many American flags highly visually present on Ocean Drive and elsewhere. In thinking through the material culture of Americanness, through things like voting stickers, outdoor flags and banners, flag-shaped cooking utensils, and corrugated voting propaganda, I realized that most of my American identity derives from a connection with an American “thing”. A flag, a bald eagle meme, a stars-and-stripes bikini at Walmart made in Cambodia, a US flag speedo worn on Miami beach. Captain America paraphenalia, etc – the more insecure the American identity becomes, the more tangible – and commodified – it becomes. You can literally hold Americannness in your hands; you can rotate red, white, and blue, you can cover your sex with it, and flip your pancakes with it.
The Gun Argument – Cowboys and American Masculinity
This is part of the reason – perhaps a stretch – that guns are so embedded in American identity. The more precarious the male American ego, the more tightly clenches the fist round a clip of ammunition and a hard barrel. This is why – even following mass shootings involving military-style assault rifles – that gun laws are not changed. A gun in the hand is an American in the making. America’s problem – admittedly, one of many – is that it holds so tightly to the identities and supposed ideals of the “founding fathers” that is evolution is retarded almost to the point of regression.
This is an on-going thought process. More soon, from a proud and patriotic American, ex-pat, academic, moderate, June Cleaver Gloria Steinem love child – a walking contradiction in terms.

European Crises – Europe Crazies: Futures, Racism, and a Different Kind of Silence

European Crises – Europe Crazies: Futures, Racism, and a Different Kind of Silence

Maria Stehle

 

At a children’s birthday party in a park, I suddenly found myself in a conversation so uncomfortable that I longed for an interruption: for one of our children to call for me, for my husband to need my help, for any of the other guests coming over to say good-bye. This is a rather uncommon feeling at such a party, where, usually, I long for a few minutes of uninterrupted adult conversation with parent friends that I had not seen in a while.

But: the party was almost over, most guests had left, and most children were peacefully playing at the playground after having consumed cake, cupcakes, and strawberries. A bit to the side, I got caught in this conversation with a father, a man I had not met before the party. One of my friends introduced him to me as a scientist from France, who, as my friend insisted, also spoke German. His German was better than my French, I admit, but the easiest way to communicate would have certainly been in English. And, unfortunately in this case, since this allowed for a much more elaborate speech, he switched from his rather broken German to English after I asked him if he was considering moving back to France—or might I have said “Europe”? He answered that he was not sure since the current situation in Europe was so bad. I was not sure how he meant that and I was still not sure exactly what he meant when I finally managed to, however awkwardly, leave the conversation. I listened (see previous blog posting “When to Shut Up and Listen”) but my silence was born out of confusion, which, I believe, he took as ignorance and possibly even interest in what he had to lay out for me. He insisted that the whole idea of the EU was orchestrated by the US. That I should simply look at all the positions the US took vis-à-vis the EU in the past, say, five years, it need not be more than that, and convince myself that this was true; that the EU is, basically, the extended arm of the US. Sure, he admitted, European countries were good at waging wars against each other. I chuckled and said, yes, Germany certainly was. And he quickly stopped me to point out that no, no more talking about the past. He corrected me: we are not guilty of the past—while I had not even spoken about guilt—and that this was about the future. If he were the French president tomorrow (I chuckled again, but his face remained serious), within 24 hours, he said, France would leave the EU. He argued that the structure of the EU was not clearly democratic or participatory, and I agreed, but suggested that maybe it was also because people do not appear to even care to vote in EU elections. His more pressing issue, however, so it seemed, was the fact that the nation-states just needed to make their own decisions and mistakes, in their interests and with their own futures in mind.

Why do I think and write about this anti-EU rant and this, not just man-splaining, but lecturing posture of a man whose name I do not recall and who, most likely, I will never see again? I have not done the reading or “research” into the US positions on the EU that he assigned to me so that I could, as he suggested, “form my own opinion.” I am, however, involved in a research project on European film; we are looking at intimacies on screen, mainly between non-legal or migrant characters and European citizens, to argue for moments that allow an imagination of alternative futures for, in, and beyond Europe. I also presented talks related to the so-called “refugee crisis” and the general perception of Europe in crisis that considered gender, media perception, and political appropriation for right-wing political causes. But somehow, his tirade caught me off-guard and I did not engage; I listened, I asked some questions: probably not the right ones and certainly not provocative ones, since I had no interest in trying to persuade this man who clearly thought of himself as rather persuasive, and: I was not interested in a political argument at a children’s party. I also kept wondering: is my affective attachment to the idea of Europe simply very “German” of me? If this were the case, wouldn’t that confirm his argument, that, in some way, above all, it is all about national belonging and national “characteristics” albeit, in this case, learned and historically determined ones? He tried to persuade me by approaching me as “a German” by absolving me of any sense of collective guilt and by asking the rhetorical question of why the Germans should pay for Greeks’ laziness. Wouldn’t I agree that this makes little sense? I am not sure what, according to his opinion, the US interest in this example would be and I certainly think there are many German interests involved in keeping Greece in the EU and in the Euro-zone, and these reasons are certainly not primarily altruistic ones. I did not engage him about on the question of Greece. As I carefully pointed out that, despite what he appeared to see as the US pushing the EU to accept Turkey into the union, Turkey had not (yet) joined the EU, he ignored me. Turkey is EU’s Other and the EU’s buffer zone. Turkey is a NATO country. Turkey is a very complicated country. Turkey and Germany, well, have a complicated and intricately interwoven past and present, and, in the current refugee crisis, Turkey is a key player. And so is Greece. I did not push him, again, maybe because I just wanted him to stop talking about this. And maybe because I was I afraid to find out what really was behind his rant. That, possibly, this is all about keeping the “wrong” people out of Europe and protecting or luring back the “right” ones?

So, right there in this park in a university town in the US, the question of reading the “crisis” became central. Whose crisis is this? A crisis that might prevent a highly educated, clearly patriotic, ex-pat of France from returning to France while many refugees from Syria, Africa, the Middle East, are stranded in camps somewhere or drown in the Mediterranean Sea trying to enter the EU. And right here, under the large Oak trees on the side of a playground, the kind of unique racism of Europe can be voiced as a politically persuasive argument: it is just about our future. Leave the past behind, genocide, colonialism, etc… and move on, think of the future. Let the Others of Europe, of the other Europe, outside of Europe, make their mistakes and let us (in this case the French, but this could easily be the Germans, the Britons, etc…) make our own decisions about our futures. Who are these French people and whose future is this? The future of the people who live in Europe or of the people this European, French-man, thinks should live in Europe and decide on Europe’s future?

Musical Cliteracy: The Clitoris and Womyn’s Herstory

Musical Cliteracy: The Clitoris and Womyn’s Herstory

Mary Catherine Lawler

 

Dorian Electra and Refinery29’s music video on becoming “cliterate” touches on Freud, Master’s and Johnson, and why women were tortured and killed for being “witches” (read: engaged in sexual pleasure).

While the pastiche pop, over-the-top aesthetic calls to mind a Barbie dreamhouse vibe and ’90s style, with props like a hot pink plastic flat clitoris held up by a carefully poised clear plastic hand, the retro feel infuses the video with a historical distance to the present that forces the viewer to think about how the clitoris and female pleasure are categorized and discussed today.

By making visible a part of the body normally hooded from view, Refinery29 and Dorian Electra expose the patriarchal discourse around the visibility of pleasure and gender. Additionall

 

Our Musical Ode To The Clitoris We proudly present a musical ode to the MOST fun part of the female body

Posted by Refinery29 on Wednesday, March 2, 2016