Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Un-Thinking Gender?

February, the shortest month, has traditionally been one of the most ambitious, most exhausting, and most rewarding for CSW. Our signature conference, Thinking Gender, opens the month, as we host graduate students from snowier regions to balmy southern California lured by the conference’s well-earned reputation as an incubator of rigorous interdisciplinary exchange. Thinking Gender represents a genuine collaborative effort of faculty and graduate students, the latter running the conference and disseminating their research, the UCLA feminist and LGBTS faculty volunteering their time and expertise by providing written feedback on papers by graduate students from around the globe. 

This year, the 23rd annual Thinking Gender, CSW hosted over 200 attendees from Germany, the United Kingdom, Austria, Norway, Canada, as well as the United States. A highly competitive conference, it features the cutting-edge research of younger scholars who are arguably among the select few most likely to obtain tenure-track positions, making the volunteer labor of already overburdened faculty rewarding enough to keep signing up, year after year, to chair and discuss. Making this conference possible is our unique partnership with UCLA’s Graduate Division, provider of funds for a graduate student coordinator whoin addition to the more specialized training in the vetting of research abstracts and plenary paper selection—gains translatable real-world skills in project management and events programming.

During a lunch chat with Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Education Robin Garrell and Vice Chancellor of Academic Personnel Carole Goldberg at this year’s conference, I hazarded that the range of research on women, gender, and sexuality reflected in the program represents a significant expansion and diversification of women’s issues and feminist activism beyond the days of our early assistant professorships. Garrell shared that it was not uncommon in those days to see pin-ups in the labs in Chemistry. Indeed, if we think of this year’s Thinking Gender as a laboratory of collaborative exchange on the topic of gender, sexuality, and women, it is striking that our program and poster image for the conference—our pin-up, as it were—has come what seems full circle: a gender-indeterminate figure dressed in jeans, hoodie, and athletic shoes, crouched in a culvert with back to the camera. This gender-indeterminate figure, one body length from emerging into the sunlight, might be considered on the cusp of naissance, entering a (hopefully) nurturing new environment after, let’s say, a 23-year–long labor down the canal. This figure doesn’t displace or serve in quite the same way as the pin-up in the organic chemistry lab, which might have been a visual pun on that other meaning of “chemistry”—sexual attraction, the erotic connection or intimacy lived definitely outside the lab even as its amino acid, peptide, and amine components might be studied inside it as molecules. Nevertheless, I extend the laboratory conceit because Thinking Gender has functioned precisely as an experimental space of bringing together organic components—here, graduate student and faculty researchers—mixing and crossing them in conventionally controlled as well as surprising, even volatile combinations to yield new discoveries and unexpected results. To wit, the figure on our poster would most likely not have been the combinatory result expected for those casting about on the subject of women’s rights (with a very middle-class white presumption of who that woman was) in the mid twentieth century.

It is sometimes difficult for those, conceiving of labs and studios as high-cost repertoires of action occurring in brick and mortar spaces, to perceive the more nimble and periodic structure of Thinking Gender as a crucial laboratory infrastructure that gathers individual researchers and cross-pollinates humanistic, social scientific, life, and physical science research.  My mission for this commentary is to illuminate the role Thinking Gender plays and to propose that its documented success in generating interdisciplinary collaboration needs to be expanded further to more tangible outcomes level. One way to do this would be to select plenary panelists for extended research collaboration facilitated by CSW across the year. Tangible here also refers to the inputs (the necessary funding of innovation) for these synergies in cross-training and collective results making. Concretely, these students would be enrolled in weekly Google-hangout meetings, share the results of their work, and collaborate on a multi-authored project that experiments in a networked and blended approach. Happily, this mission aligns with current priorities in bringing more parity to the distribution of funding for graduate students across campus. CSW looks forward to partnering with Grad Division and with private and public foundations to inaugurate this second phase of our exciting, innovative, and renewed laboratory experiment: Un-Thinking Gender—decidedly not; rather, Gender Lab: TG 2.0.

Rachel Lee

Rachel Lee is Acting Director of the Center for the Study of Women and an Associate Professor in the departments of English and Gender Studies at UCLA

From the June Mazer Lesbian Archives: Lesbian Schoolworker Records

In 1978, Proposition 6 was presented on the California State ballot. This initiative, proposed by conservative legislator John Briggs as well as California Defend Our Children (CDOC), and later nicknamed the Briggs Initiative, rallied to ban gays and lesbians from teaching within the public school system. This later extended to possibly include any supporters of gays or lesbians as "advocates of homosexuality." A CDOC pamphlet in circulation at the time argued that the purpose of the initiative would not deny gays or lesbians their human rights, but instead “protect the rights of innocent children from people who choose their position as a teacher,” maintaining that “there is no inherent right for an individual to hold a teaching job.”

One of the first (and smallest) collections I processed was the Lesbian Schoolworkers Records, which contains information regarding organizational history, principles of unity and structure, press releases, newsletters, flyers, paste-ups, and photographs. With a commitment to "fighting racism, sexism, class, and oppression within our own movement and this society," the group organized in 1977 to defeat Propositions 6 and 7. While this organization was among the many to rally against the bill, it also actively campaigned against anti-lesbian and pro-death penalty laws and sought to identify the relationship between Third World oppression and the oppression of all lesbians. Throughout the election fight, the Schoolworkers emphasized that the struggle was not about a single campaign issue or even a fight for civil rights, but instead proclaimed “that we are all suffering at the hands of a common enemy."

Comprising a core group of 20 and over 70 participants, the Schoolworkers planned educational activities, sponsored cultural events, and produced leaflets and newsletters aimed at defeating the legislation and educating voters. Representatives often went before various civic groups, councils, and educational organizations to speak against the measures, and were notorious for their slideshow, "Don't Let It Happen Here." Designed to inform others of the dangers of the Briggs Initiatives, the slideshow drew together crucial struggles over abortion, the death penalty, and oppression of women and lesbians. Amber Hollibaugh, a political activist from San Francisco, traveled throughout small but crucial Northern California towns presenting the slideshow and participating in public debates.

The collection includes material about pro- and anti-Briggs organizations; a San Francisco Board of Education study on the possibility of including "gay lifestyle" into school curriculum in family and health studies; and a Oregon State Task Force of 1977 report that collected "information on homosexual men and women in Oregon in order to make recommendations on legislation and administrative policies that would ensure the civil rights of all Oregonians."

In end, the Briggs Initiative failed miserably, even after first receiving overwhelming support. With help from Harvey Milk, public opinion was soon swayed; groups seen as traditionally heterosexual, such as the trade union movement, the teachers’ associations and unions, child-care workers, health-care workers, and even churches, largely opposed Proposition 6 in end. While the defeat of the Briggs Initiative did not solve the discrimination of California’s gay and lesbian citizens, it did for the first time—as explained by Hollibaugh in a 1979 interview—“expose sexual dynamics as central in this society” by discussing homophobia as an intrusion of basic human rights.

—Kimberlee Granholm

Kimberlee Granholm is a Graduate Student Researcher at UCLA Center for the Study of Women.

The finding aid for this collection is available for viewing at the Online Archive of California (http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8wq04k3/?query=lesbian+schoolworkers). Digitized materials from the collection and the finding aid will be available for viewing on the UCLA Library’s Digital Collections website. This research is part of an ongoing CSW research project, “Making Invisible Histories Visible: Preserving the Legacy of Lesbian Feminist Activism and Writing in Los Angeles,” with Principal Investigators Kathleen McHugh, CSW Director and Professor in the Departments of English and Cinema and Media Studies at UCLA and Gary Strong, University Librarian at UCLA. Funded in part by an NEH grant, the project is a three-year project to arrange, describe, digitize, and make physically and electronically accessible two major clusters of June Mazer Lesbian Archive collections related to West Coast lesbian/feminist activism and writing since the 1930s.

For more information on this project, visit http://www.csw.ucla.edu/research/projects/making-invisible-histories-visible
For more information on the activities of the Mazer, visit http://www.mazerlesbianarchives.org

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Doll Power: Female Action Figures as Multimedia Tie-Ins

Particularly since the 1970s, action figure tie-ins have served as an integral part of the merchandising strategy for cross-platform multimedia entertainment, including comics, film, television, and gaming. While initially designed for and marketed to children, many figures are now geared just as often to adult collectors.

This exhibit is devoted to female action figures tied to action-centric, fantasy, and superhero narratives. The figures in this exhibit, from the private collection of librarian Diana King, demonstrate a range of marketing and design features.They depict female characters and the female form itself through a variety of cultural and industry lenses. The exhibit also includes a selection of books on media paratexts, tough women in popular culture, and comics history.

Doll Power: Female Action Figures as Multimedia Tie-Ins: UCLA Arts Library, from February 11 to April 14, 2013.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


The UCHRI working group UCFemTechNet is proud to host "Feminist Infrastructures and Technocultures: Cross-Disciplinary Legacies and Futures" an assembly at University of California, San Diego from the evening of April 18 through the morning of April 20, 2013. This event is hosted by UCFemTechNet, a UC-wide interdisciplinary working group supported by the UC Humanities Research Institute, the the University of California, Santa Barbara Center for Information Technology and Society, and at UCSD the Science Studies program,the Department of Communication, the Critical Gender Studies program. Below a description of the event.

The working group UCFemTechNet has more than 60 members. There were more than thirty participants at the brainstorming session which took place last October at the UCLA Center for the Study of Women, where the seeds were planted that have resulted in this assembly.

Register, see the program, see the speakers, and get more information at: https://quote.ucsd.edu/feministit