Bodies Without Humanity: Remembering Trayvon Martin

I first heard of Trayvon Martin’s murder in a tweeted video clip. I followed the story, admittedly neglecting a few of my classes to pursue my interests in the case, through news articles, discussion panels, and more online video clips.

I remember thinking as I made my way through the news coverage, why aren’t we unified as a country on this issue? As this video clip from The Daily Beast discusses, “where’s the outrage?” I would revise this statement to: “where’s the unified outrage?” Because there was a public outcry, and from every direction. There were protests, one in particular was dubbed the ” million hoodie march” as participants assembled in NYC’s Union Square on March 22 to show their solidarity with Trayvon Martin. But there was also a response from another direction, that this public reaction was an overreaction, that George Zimmerman wasn’t a racist, couldn’t be a racist because he is a Hispanic American, or that Americans were simply being sensitive.

Scholars discuss Trayvon Martin’s murder in their response to Karla FC Holloway’s new book, Private Bodies, Public Texts: Race, Gender, and a Cultural Bioethics

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Paradise on Earth: Shulamith Firestone and the Legacy of Reproductive Technologies

Last week, feminist visionary Shulamith Firestone, author of The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, died at the age of 67. As Sarah Franklin discussed in her essay “Transbiology: A Feminist Cultural Account of Being After IVF”:

Firestone is of course famous, or infamous, for her advocacy of new reproductive technologies as a means of freeing women from the tyranny of biology by liberating them from pregnancy. For this prediction, her 1970 publication The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution has long drawn regret and vitriol from critics accusing its author of all manner of folly—from technological determinism and biological essentialism to sheer naïveté.

Shulamith Firestone
Franklin’s article, arising out of the 2009 Scholar & Feminist Conference The Politics of Reproduction: New Technologies of Life, explores Firestone’s “utopian faith in technological progress” and reviews the swirling controversies within feminism around the appropriate role of technology in reproduction. These concerns remain very much present in contemporary discourse—The Scholar & Feminist Online issue “Critical Conceptions,” in which Franklin’s essay appears, further explores the complicated landscape of reproductive technology, and legal scholar Dorothy Roberts’ 2012 Helen Pond McIntyre lecture on “Race, Gender, and the New Biocitizen,” will also take up the ways in which technological advances in reproductive medicine can further inequality.
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What We’re Reading: Biased Science, Foster Families, and Paul Ryan Gosling

A quick look at what caught the attention of BCRW Staff this week…

Picture of Todd Akins with text: "Women who are victims of legitimate rape don't often become pregnant because the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down - Senate Candidate Todd Akins"

The Medieval Roots of Todd Akin’s Theories, Jennifer Tucker

Wesleyan University Professor of History and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Jennifer Tucker provides a historical overview of theories which promoted the idea that pregnancy “could stand for a woman’s consent to an alleged rape.” And while Akin’s science may be decidedly behind the times, his claims and their historical predecessors reveal how deeply held social beliefs can interfere with factual understandings of biology. This fall at BCRW, legal scholar Dorothy Roberts will speak on further examples of the link between social bias, science, and inequality in her Helen Pond McIntyre ’48 Lecture “Race, Gender, and the New Biocitizen.”

This article was picked out by Janet, our Director.

picture of stuffed bear

Jennifer Lopez to Produce Show on Non-Traditional Families, Jorge Rivas

TV has seen some increase in the diversity of family formats presented in the past few years, and now there may be another show to add to the trend. From

ABC Family said Thursday they’ve ordered a comedy-drama pilot, titled “The Fosters,” about two women raising a “21st century,” multi-ethnic mix of foster and biological kids. Jennifer Lopez has been named as the executive producer.

Of course, every family comes with its own story, and increased representation isn’t always a good thing when there’s the potential to amplify hurtful stereotypes – we’ll have to learn more before we know what “The Fosters” will have to say about the complex issues surrounding foster care. In the meantime, the producers of “The Fosters” may want to check out real life foster parents sharing some of their stories online – Fosterhood in NYC, Dinner Party for 5, FosterWee, and Mother Issues are just a few – and Issue 8.2 of The Scholar & Feminist Online, which deals with children of incarcerated parents, who often end up in the foster care system.

This article was picked out by Anne, our Program Manager.

Picture of Paul Ryan with text "Hey Girl, Look into my puppy dog eyes and trust me to know what's best for you and your body. xoxo Paul Ryan #ChooseRyanLoseChoice"

Paul Ryan Gosling Twitter Feed

Building on the Feminist Ryan Gosling meme, this snarky Twitter feed highlights the contrast between cute and cuddly sentiments and chilling disregard for bodily autonomy. Activist responses to Ryan’s social policies are part of a long history of women’s health activism, detailed in part at “Voices of a Women’s Health Movement,” a panel in February of 2012 celebrating the anthology of the same name.

This article was picked out by Hope, our New Media Manager.


Environmental Justice for the Bronx

This post is part of a series of reflections on the 37th annual Scholar & Feminist conference, held March 3rd, 2012 at Barnard College. The above video shows the Environmental Justice workshop Pam is responding to, featuring Elizabeth Yeampierre, Tanya Fields and Rachel Sapery James discussing their work in the EJ movement. As a staff member working at the Barnard Center for Research on Women, I have the opportunity to attend programming events on a wide range of topics including reproductive justice, domestic workers' rights, and a range of other social justice issues. Every once in a while, the topic is one that is close to my heart, and the workshop on Environmental Justice at the Scholar & Feminist Conference on Vulnerability was one of those topics. Listening to the panelists articulate my thoughts about the injustices facing communities of color was refreshing. What I most loved about this workshop was its emphasis on solutions rather than problems. The panelists talked about empowerment, collaboration, coalitions and making sure people in their communities are “at the forefront of the decision-making process,” in the words of Elizabeth Yeampierre of Uprose, a community-based organization. The panelists spoke about issues including, but not limited to, lack of access, limited resources, air quality, prison and housing.  Skillfully, they informed participants that environmental justice is not just about air quality and health hazards, but is a conglomerate of injustices that are inter-related across several socio-economic injustices. Tanya Fields, Executive Director of the BLK Projek, noted,
Equality is only going to come if you are willing to say that my privilege cannot be had on the back of someone else’s disparity.

Policing Femininity: Olympic Regulations & Expectations

In terms of the numbers, the 2012 Olympic is a hallmark year for female athleticism, with women consituting over 40% of the approximately 10,500 athletes set to compete at the London Games. The USA has sent more women than men to compete, a testament to the impact of the 40th anniversary of Title IX. And for a first in Olympic history, every participating country is sending female athletes – over 200 countries, including Qatar, Brunei, and Saudi Arabia. Less than 20 years ago at the 1996 Atlanta games, 26 countries did not send women.

While the Olympic Games will arguably give women more equal attention and front-cover exposure in the athletic arena, the games still struggle to reconcile expectations of femininity in the context of athletic prowess.

New York Times Op-Ed Art by Christopher Brand

A recent post by Amanda Marcotte for catalogues the abuse and neglect endured by female athletes who don’t fit the ideals of feminine physique or appeal commercially as sex symbols. The double-standards for these women manifest in the form of active ridicule, like the Twitter abuse experienced by young British female Olympic weightlifter Zoe Smith, or the nasty commentary questioning the fitness of four-time Australian Olympic participant and swimming gold-medalist Leisel Jones. It also occurs in the discouragement and sexism overcome by 17-year-old American boxer Claressa Shields or the lack of sponsorship for 275 lb American Olympic weightlifter Sarah Robles, the strongest American competing – female or male.

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New Sex Testing Policies Significantly Flawed

BCRW Advisory Board member Rebecca Jordan-Young has co-authored a new report on sex testing policies of the International Olympic Committee, “Out of Bounds? A Critique of the New Policies on Hyperandrogenism in Elite Female Athletes.”

Legs running with green shoes on pavement

From the abstract:

In May 2011, more than a decade after the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) abandoned sex testing, they devised new policies in response to the IAAF’s treatment of Caster Semenya, the South African runner whose sex was challenged because of her spectacular win and powerful physique that fueled an international frenzy questioning her sex and legitimacy to compete as female. […] We find the policies in each of these domains significantly flawed and therefore argue they should be withdrawn.

Jordan-Young and Stanford bioethicist Katrina Karkazis have an article in this week’s New York Times discussing the International Olympic Committee’s problematic new approach – “You Say You’re a Woman? That Should Be Enough.” Read more at

Do you think sports should continue to be segregated by gender or sex? If so, what do you think the criteria should be for determining who qualifies?


Before I was a Patient, I was a Person: On Navigating the Health Care System as a Singleton

This post by Rachel A. R. Bundang, PhD, is part of a series of reflections on the 37th annual Scholar & Feminist conference, held March 3rd, 2012 at Barnard College. This year’s theme was “Vulnerability: the Human and the Humanities.”

Doctor and patient in City Hospital Tuberculosis Division, 1927

Struggling with life-threatening illness and undergoing treatment for it is, undoubtedly, a prime situation of precarity: insecurity as a structural condition of vulnerability. Even under the best circumstances, not only is it necessary to face one’s contingency squarely; there is also the emotional toll that illness takes on relationships, plus the unceasing negotiation that economic entities such as insurers, employers, and landlords demand. After all, life marches on relentlessly, and there are always bills to pay.

The patient’s power is compromised by the illness, then further circumscribed by the other claims being made on her time, attention, and energy. For “singleton” (in the Bridget Jones sense of the word) patients especially, marked by the absence of a typical familial or affective relationship as sociocultural anchor — no significant other, no children, too old for parents to deem dependent — this erosion of autonomy is disempowering. They fall through the cracks of the health care system in its present form, and they are compelled to draw upon informal, ultimately voluntary networks for support. Their sociopolitical vulnerability and economic/existential precarity expose what Martha Fineman calls “the shortcomings of the contract as the standard model for relationship.”

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“Predictable Failures” in the Trayvon Martin Story

Several of the panelists at Private Bodies, Public Texts: A Salon in Honor of Karla FC Holloway, which took place on March 21, 2012, the same night as the million hoodie march, spoke poignantly about the ways in which the themes of Holloway's book apply in the case of Trayvon Martin's death. In particular, they address the painful consequences of substituting identities for bodies (or persons) and the concept of "predictable ethical failures" that arise when privacy is not seen as applicable to certain bodies.