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!

why i am vegetarian

I decided to become vegetarian (ovo-lacto) about seven years ago. In 2005, as I looked at the Thanksgiving turkey on the table in front of me, I decided that I just couldn't eat meat anymore. People cite all kinds of reasons for their vegetarianism. Some people choose to be vegetarian for health reasons (less fat, etc.), some because of concerns about the ethical treatment of animals (agribusiness, intensive fish farming, etc.), some for environmental reasons (water use, methane, etc.), some for religious reasons (Hinduism), and I am sure there are many other reasons. All of these reasons are important, and they probably contributed to my decision too, but my main motivation was actually feminism.

The connection between feminism and vegetarianism is not frequently discussed, so let me explain.

First, if we understand feminism to be primarily about highlighting the innate ontological equality of all humans, then I think we must work to ensure that all people have access to enough food to survive. This of course requires an immense system of food production and delivery, but more fundamentally, it requires that the earth be able to produce enough calories to provide what is necessary for each person to consume..... and the more people, the more required calories. But, in the meat production process, a very large percentage (some say 50-90%) of the calories present in the plants that are feed to the livestock is lost before the animals reach anyone's plate. Therefore, eating high on the food chain results in humans having access to far fewer calories than they would if everyone ate lower on the food chain. Put more bluntly, if we want to feed everyone, we must minimize calorie loss..... which means, we must eventually become vegetarian.

But that argument didn't fully convince me because I don't want to privilege human life over all other life forms. I don't want to say that all of earth's resources must be controlled to allow the most humans possible. I value human life, and I want every human to have the necessary number of calories each day.... but I don't think that humans have a right to reproduce exponentially until all other life forms on earth are overtaken.

So, my second connection between vegetarianism and feminism is ecofeminism. Ecofeminism is a field of feminism that asserts that humanity currently relates to the earth in the same way that patriarchy has related to women-- through a relationship of exploitation. In light of that, if I want to oppose all forms of oppression/exploitation, I must also oppose exploitation of animals (and nature in general). This is why I'm definitely opposed to agri-business and intensive farming of animals and fish. Yes, I am opposed to the specific ways that those animals are mistreated, but I am also opposed to the worldview that undergirds that mistreatment. I am opposed to a worldview that allows (and even necessitates) exploitation.... of women, of animals, of nature, of anything.

For those two main reason, I decided to become vegetarian, and I haven't knowingly eaten meat in 7 years. Unlike some vegetarians, however, I'm not militant about this. I acknowledge that I have eaten soup with chicken broth in it; I have eaten french fries fried in duck fat; I've eaten pudding with gelatin, I've eaten pizza that I picked the pepperoni off of (someone else ordered it), and I'm sure I've eaten cheese made from/with renin. If I find out that a food item has one of those ingredients, I try to avoid it.... but I've eaten things and found out later or been careless about reading the ingredient list or been hungry without other choices....so yeah. In short, I try, but I'm not perfect. Furthermore, I acknowledge that other people need to get meat occasionally (for cultural, religious, health, or interpersonal reasons), and I don't hate them for doing so. I also acknowledge that meat can be raised responsibly, ethically, and sustainably (when carefully incorporated into a family farm, etc.). If the animal lives a happy life and the sacrifice of its life is taken seriously, then I think that is perfectly acceptable (and in that case eating meat would also be very rare anyway). Personally, however, I don't need to eat meat, and not doing so causes me very little (or no) harm or inconvenience; therefore, for me, it seems reasonable and responsible to avoid meat.

In addition to avoiding meat, drinking cow's milk freaks me out a bit. Forcing female cows to lactate for much longer than they naturally would seems to be another clear form of exploitation.... and is again demonstrative of a worldview where women's bodies (whether human or cow) are seen as a factory, little more than a machine that makes a product that can yield profit. Furthermore, humans are the only animal that drinks milk passed infancy and the only animal that drinks the milk of another animal.... so that is just gives me the heebeegeebees. I do, however, eat things that have milk in them... because that is nearly impossible to avoid.... and because I love cheese (philosophically weak reason I know, but there it is).

I also do eat eggs, but only free range ones. I acknowledge that "free range" does not ensure that those chickens had a happy life nor that they were not exploited, but again, I try. Ideally, we could have our own chickens (or maybe our neighbors could because I'm scared of birds) and then we could ensure that the chickens lived happily... and eating their unfertilized eggs doesn't hurt them so that seems fine.

And I do buy leather products. This is more difficult to justify, and if I were really committed, I would like to stop doing this. Large leather items (especially coats) also give me the heebeegeebees, but for some items (shoes, belts, etc.), leather actually lasts longer than synthetic products and therefore exploits the earth less than repeatedly replacing something made from oil. And sometimes leather is just more practical (re: dog hair doesn't stick to it), which again is a philosophically weak reason, but it is what it is.

So, these are my perspectives.... some of these choices may seem inconsistent or strange, and I fully admit that these commitments are open for critique and for change.

Please join the conversation: Were you previously familiar with these perspectives on vegetarianism? What are your feelings about eating meat? About eggs and milk? About leather?  Have you ever considered not eating meat? Do you think there are responsible and irresponsible ways to eat meat? Please let me know what you think!

Here we go again...

I have tried several times to start blogging regularly and have obviously never succeeded. But, the time is now; I must blog.

So here are some topics that might appear on this blog:

  • Transgressing the boundaries between public and private life
    • trying to gain an online "public" presence (Twitter, Facebook, blogosphere, etc.) while navigating privacy
    • trying to believe that other people might be interested in reading my thoughts
  • Transgressing the boundaries between personal and professional life
    • being Facebook friends with my students and my mentors
    • giving students my cell phone number
    • having students call me by my first name
    • time management- how to be an athlete, a coach, a teacher, a writer, a family member, and a healthy individual
    • being young and female in the classroom (issues of respect, etc.)
  • Transgressing boundaries within the academy
    • trying to cross the boundary between adjunct and tenure track professorships
    • trying to be feminist and egalitarian in an inherently hierarchical academy
    • being a woman in a man's profession/university
    • going from a conference outsider to a conference insider
  • Transgressing boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable topics of polite conversation
    • politics (Yes, I think it is important to discuss politics.... respectfully, of course.)
    • religion (I have studied religion my whole life; it would be difficult not to discuss it at some points.)
    • feminism, racism, heterosexism, etc.
  • Transgressing boundaries between mundane daily choices and intellectual reflection
    • analyzing certain social practices
    • analyzing elements of popular culture
  • Transgressing personal boundaries
    • turning 30
    • considering having children after 30
    • being vegetarian but considering being vegan
    • considering doing triathlons (or perhaps even an IronMan)


So, hopefully these topics will be interesting. My plan is to post every Thursday. It is in my calendar. This is happening.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions for topics. And thanks for reading!