PCA/ACA in Washington DC

As you may know, in March, I went to the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association Annual Conference in Washington DC. The conference was really a fun and thought provoking event, and I'd like to share some of my experiences. To frame the event, I want to mention a tweet (whose author I cannot remember or find, sorry!) that acknowledged the challenge posed by such conferences where participants must move smoothly between, or even simultaneously inhabit, the spaces of "fan" and "scholar." I must admit that I didn't always do a good job of balancing those two perspectives, but I tried to balance the two by using my fan-ness to chose which panels to attend and my scholar-ness to evaluate and engage with the material of the papers presented within those panels. I thought that was a decent compromise. :)

Doctor Who

I heard one paper by Jamie Dessart about the series 3 episode Blink. For those who aren't familiar, this is the episode that introduces the Weeping Angels, who will attack whenever possible but are immediately frozen into stone statues whenever someone is looking at them. During her presentation, Jamie insightfully analyzed the way that this episodes uses screens, and the penetration of screens--the Doctor penetrates the screen of the tv through the recording of his image on the videotape and most shocking to me (fan alert!) the audience penetrates the screen of the world of Doctor Who by watching the angels to keep them frozen when characters in the show can't. Crazy!

I listened to a couple of papers, one by Antoinette Winstead and one by Heather McHale, about the companions of Doctor Who. This included a consideration of what the Doctor Who series says about female agency (re: not good things) and a consideration of the way that companions often move from peace-loving adventures to gun toting rebels.

Once Upon A Time, Twilight, and 50 Shades of Gray

Perhaps my favorite panel of the conference was one in which these three topics were discusssed. Stephanie Hartley gave an interesting paper wherein she observed that in Once Upon A Time women are forced to chose between power and love but that men in the series can have both. Ashley Donnelly gave a fascinating paper about how she uses Frankenstein and Breaking Dawn together to talk about the creation of non-human lives as a way to distance students from baggage that prevents them from really engaging with abortion debate. What an awesome and creative way to approach that topic! And Jessica Van Slooten gave some analysis of 50 Shades of Gray and its message about power/submission and femininity.

Downton Abbey

I went to a panel about Downton Abbey (choice made as a fan) and then realized that the panel was not from the scholarly perspective that interested me (re: feminist)... so I must admit I was a bit disappointed there, but that was my own fault and no one else's.

HBO's Girls

I went to two panels were we ended up discussing the feminist, post-feminist, and/or anti-feminist messages of Lena Dunham and Girls. Interesting papers were presented by Michael Winetsky and Sara Lewis. Having not seen the show, I couldn't really weigh in, but the conversations were engaging and thought provoking. And I'm still not sure if I want to watch the show or not.

I went to some other interesting papers and panels, and my own presentation went well too. Oh, and I got to cruise around on the metro and meet up with some good friends and eat yummy food, and someone even asked me for directions (so I must have looked like a local= win). All in all, it was a very enjoyable, if somewhat exhausting, trip.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of these shows, and if you're interested, I'd love to share a coffee or meal with you at PCA/ACA 2014 in Chicago!

NWSA Annual Conference: fascinating topics and challenging interactions

Last weekend I got to attend the National Women's Studies Association annual conference. I went to the conference with a sense of dread (as is common for young professors going to their professional conferences) but it turned out to be a fantastic, if very challenging, experience. I'm sure that you don't want a play-by-play of my experiences (I took 4500 words worth of notes!), but I do want to give you the highlights to show you some of the things that some awesome people are thinking about. So, here are some of the really interesting panels and papers that I got to hear:

  • A super helpful panel on strategies of publishing in academic journals. This is an essential skill for the young academic, so it was really good to hear from the editors of specific publications about what they look for and how they do peer reviews. Now I just need to submit some articles!
  • An engaging panel on different approaches to teaching Intro to Women's Studies (West Virginia University). This panel was based around using props, so we heard about teaching with cells (from a medical perspective), condoms (from a public health perspective), corsets (from a historical perspective), and blow up dolls (from an activist perspective).
  • A paper by Danielle Henderson (University of Wisconsin-Madison) on her Feminist Ryan Gosling tumblr. You guys, she is awesome, and you really need to see her memes. Such an interesting critique/use of feminist theory!
  • Two really useful papers by Jenn Brandt (High Point University) and Kate Drabinski (University of Maryland, Balitmore County) on using Twitter and Blogs in the feminist classroom. I am definitely going to try to incorporate these approaches in my spring courses. There are challenges to using those technologies, but I think that teaching students to write publicly and to engage in public debates is so important.
  • A fascinating paper by Safiya Noble (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) that highlighted the way that a Google search for the phrase "Black Girls" almost always returns porn while a search for the phrase "White Girls" returns new articles. Her work demonstrates that Google's algorithm works to perpetuate racism and sexism. Mind blown.
  • A really challenging paper by Leandra Preston-Sidler (University of Central Florida) on the existence of "pro-ana" communities on Tumblr that promote anorexia as a lifestyle choice and the ways that those communities' postings are bleeding over into mainstream society as "thin-spiration" photos. Pinterest is another places where these photos abound. Leandra said that even though she is a trained feminist researcher, after spending hours looking at these photos she notices that she thinks about her own body and eats differently....just think about what these photos are doing to young girls who aren't thinking critically about the impact of the photos. Scary stuff.
  • A controversial conservation about the place of men within feminist action and organizations. My friend John wrote a really interesting blog post about this. His post is entitled "Please Excuse Me for Having a Penis", and it is definitely worth a read. It is my personal opinion that feminists must work to ensure that no one feels silenced, so if men are feeling silenced within NWSA they need a caucus to express those concerns. Even if men have privilege every other day of their lives, we should still not deny them a voice at our conferences. We simply must begin to enact within our organization the dynamics of equality that we want to see in larger society.
  • An interesting paper on the labor and ideology involved with being a professional dominatrix. Ayu Saraswati (University of Hawai'i at Manoa) explained that a dominatrix's labor works in 5 ways (discursively, semiotically, affectively, emotionally, and cryptically) to produce pain as a commodified product. Crazy fascinating.
  • A very well attended (aka standing room only) panel on Nicki Minaj. I'm not going to lie, I didn't actually understand some of the points in these papers, but I am super interested in what Nicki Minaj means to hiphop, to women, to the music industry, and to performance in general.
  • And another panel/discussion on using Facebook in the feminist classroom. We had a really interesting conversation about whether you should use your own personal Facebook profile to interact with your students. We also said that if feminism is about de-stablizing the power relationships in traditional education, then it seems problematic for the professor to have a secret life that the students don't have access to while at the same time we ask students to let the course material impact their personal lives. Word.

 

All of those topics were great to engage with and many of these papers and panels challenged me to think about things in a new ways. Additionally, the question and answer time of each session really gave me a chance to hear what feminist around the country think about this things...and in some cases I spoke up and asked some questions as well.

Additionally, this conference let me connect with some new collogues, plan some collaborative projects, and talk with some publishers about my manuscript. All of these aspects of the conference were professionally helpful, but demanded an amount of extroverted-ness that I found a bit exhausting.

So anyway, that is a general overview of the conference, and I'd love to discuss any of these topics in more detail.

What are your experiences of attending professional conferences? Did any of these ideas strike up your interest? If you were at this conference, what were some of the most meaningful sessions for you?

As always, thanks for reading!