I’ve Moved!

Transgressing Boundaries has moved to tracylhawkins.com so please check there for new posts. Thanks for reading!!!

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Capitalism, Women, & Exploitation

I’ve been re-reading Gayle Rubin’s 1975 article “The Traffic in Women” today. I’m planning to use a bit of her work for an article on Social Media that I’m writing, but I thought I’d use today’s post to explore Rubin’s take on Marxism, capitalism, and women in a more general way than I will in my article. I hope you’ll be interested.

First, let me give two particularly interesting quotes.

“The worker gets a wage; the capitalist gets the things the worker has made during his or her time of employment. If the total value of the things the worker has made exceeds the value of his or her wage, the aim of capitalism has been achieved. The capitalist gets back the cost of the wage, plus an increment—surplus value. This can occur because the wage is determined not by the value of what the laborer makes, but by the value of what it takes to keep him or her going—to reproduce him or her from day to day, and to reproduce the entire work force from one generation to the next. Thus, surplus value is the difference between what the laboring class produces as a whole, and the amount of that total which is recycled into maintaining the laboring class.”[1] (emphasis mine)

“The amount of the difference between the reproduction of the labor power and its products depends, therefore, on the determination of what it takes to reproduce that labor power. Marx tends to make that determination on the basis of the quantity of commodities—food, clothing, housing, fuel—which would be necessary to maintain the health, life, and strength of a worker. But these commodities must be consumed before they can be sustenance, and they are not immediately in consumable form when they are purchases by the wage. Additional labor must be performed upon these things before they can be turned into people. Food must be cooked, clothes cleaned, beds made, wood chopped, etc. Housework is therefore a key element in the process of the reproduction of the laborer from whom surplus value is taken. Since it is usually women who do housework, it has been observed that it is through the reproduction of labor power that women are articulated into the surplus value nexus which is the sine qua non of capitalism. In can be further argued that since no wage is paid for housework, the labor of women in the home contributes to the ultimate quantity of surplus value realized.”[2] (emphasis mine)

I find Rubin’s points quite poignant. Although, she doesn’t lay out the entire argument in those two quotes, I think they highlight some of the most important points. However, for clarification, please let me restate these points,

  • The goal of capitalism is the production of surplus profit.
  • Surplus profits requires that:
    • Workers must continue to work.
      • In order to continue working, workers must have sustenance. This includes clothes, food, drink, an adequately comfortable place to sleep, social outlets, mental well-being, etc.
      • More workers must be available when the current set of workers dies off.
    • Production of surplus profits is most successful when there is the greatest possible difference between the amount paid to workers and the value of the products of their work.
      • To ensure the greatest difference, workers must be paid as little as possible, while still ensuring that they continue to work.
        • In order to pay workers as little as possible, much of the “background work” required to make their food, drink, etc. into sustenance must be unpaid and made invisible.
        • In order to pay workers as little as possible, the labor required to reproduce the work force (re: having and raising children) must be unpaid and made invisible.

This explanation of capitalism leads us to conclude that the very idea of capitalism rests on (even requires) under-paying workers and not paying and undervaluing housework…. which may, I think, be viewed as exploitation and oppression.

Your thoughts?

What would you say are the goals of capitalism?

How do you understand capitalism to achieve those goals?

Do you think that capitalism rests on (or requires) exploitation?

[1] Gayle Rubin, “The Traffic of Women,” Literary Theory: An Anthology, 2nd edition, (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), p772.

[2] Gayle Rubin, “The Traffic of Women,” Literary Theory: An Anthology, 2nd edition, (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), p772-3.

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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!

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Coming Out on Glee

This week I’m going to the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association annual conference in DC. After the conference, I’ll post a recap of the sessions that I attend (including some on HBO’s Girls and BBC’s Doctor Who). But for this post, I’d like to tell you about what I’ll be presenting.

On Thursday morning, I will be presenting a paper about the ways that coming out story lines have been portrayed on Fox’s TV show Glee.

In my paper, I point out that coming out narratives on television have followed a few really narrow patterns and that those patterns have been harmful because 1) the plot often rests on the assumption that LGBT people are the minority (in both numbers and power), 2) the plot encourages viewers to make assumptions about a person’s sexuality based on their behavior, dress, speech patterns, etc, and 3) the plot suggests that in order for an LGBT person to be authentic, their sexuality must be made public.

I then go on to suggest that while Glee began from those tropes, it has moved passed them in some helpful ways. I claim that because of the number of people who come out on Glee and the way that Glee demonstrates that straight people must also negotiate their sexualities, Glee challenges the idea that LGBT sexualities or sexualities that come out are the minority. Secondly, because Glee demonstrates that everyone is constantly negotiating their behaviors and their sexualities, I assert that Glee challenges the idea that people can make assumptions about sexuality based only on appearance or behavior. Additionally, I suggest that Glee challenges the idea that LGBT sexualities must enter public space in a way that is different from the ways that heterosexual sexualities must enter public space.

In the end, I conclude that Glee offers a new message to audiences. Though it remains problematic in certain ways, I think Glee helpfully shows people that they do not have to conform to the sexual labels that others might assign to them. For everyone on Glee–not just LGBT individuals, and not even just teenagers–sexual labels (as well as a variety of other social labels) are constantly being challenged, accepted, rejected, and re-articulated. I find that a helpful and empowering message.

What do you think? Does Glee offer anything different than past depictions of coming out? Do you think Glee offers a helpful and/or empowering message?

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key concepts of GWS and why they might make the academy angry

Earlier this week the National Women’s Studies Association published a document addressing some problems and new guidelines for evaluating tenure and scholarship in the field of Gender and Women’s Studies (for simplicity, we’ll just go with that name, even though I understand that it is contested). This document contains lots of interesting and important information about how faculty in GWS can contribute to the profession and to academia in general and about how traditional tools of evaluation in other disciplines are sometimes not fitting or appropriate within the context of GWS departments and career tracks.

In the section entitled, “What is Women’s and Gender Studies: An Overview of the Field?,” on page 6, the document states:

“Approaches to knowledge production and transformation in women’s and gender studies are highly divergent. Thus in providing an overview of the field, our aim is to offer context and background for assessment, rather than a directive or mandate for the field. We outline below four key concepts central to women’s and gender studies scholarship, teaching, and service.”

In naming these 4 key concepts it seems that the document (and the working group who authored it) is doing two things. First, they are identifying/explaining elements that are important throughout and common within the diversity that is GWS. Second, they are attempting to show that because GWS contains these key concepts, the academy misunderstands, is perhaps threatened by, and does not fairly and adequately evaluate the importance of GWS scholarship and teaching.

So, pages 7 & 8 describe the four key concepts and how they are misunderstood by the academy are:

1) The Politics of Knowledge Production– Since GWS is concerned with the examination/interrogation of the production of knowledge, GWS can be seen as “disloyal or transgressive to institutional norms.”

2) Social Justice– Since GWS values participation in collaborative activist projects, GWS may be seen as less academically rigorous than other types of scholarship that are traditionally valued by the academy.

3) Intersectionality– GWS encourages scholars to deal with multiple and interacting systems of inequality (racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, etc.) and that maybe hasn’t been valued in other fields. (I was a bit unclear on why the academy might have a problem with this aspect of GWS.)

4) Transnational Analysis– Since GWS works to de-center western thought and to understand the way that “the center is always multiply constituted in and through it’s relationship to ‘the periphery,'” GWS may be seen as a threat to the primacy/power/centeredness of the academy. (This wasn’t explicitly stated, but that is my read of this section of the document.)

I find these key concepts and the ways that they might be misunderstood by traditional tools of academic evaluation to be really helpful in two ways: first, because it helps me feel that the diversity of GWS is at least provisionally unified about the value of these four key concepts and second, because it helps me more clearly see the ways in which I want to resist and interrupt the pressures of the academy.

I’m not sure if this document will really change the ways that institutions evaluate the work of GWS scholars, but I think it does change (or at least start to change) the way that I envision myself as part of the academy. Perhaps more importantly, this document helps me understand (and be able to more helpfully address) why the academy might be nervous or angry at me….and it helps me not take that anger so personally.

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Racism & Reverse Racism

A friend posted this on Facebook today, and it intrigued me. I’m not sure who the original author is, but I appreciate the attempt to address a complex topic in a concise way.


Do you agree that this is the trajectory of racism? Do you think that this adequately demonstrates the problems with cries of “Reverse Racism”?

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Happy International Women’s Day… or not


The feminist in me is conflicted as I wish people a “Happy International Women’s Day” today. On the one hand, of course, I think that women–their lives, bodies, and experiences– need attention, appreciation, and empowerment.

But I also wonder if having a day to celebrate “women” doesn’t also do two pretty harmful things:

1) Having a day to honor “women” continues to convince us that the category “women” is real/objective/fixed– we are told again that some people are women and some people aren’t and that is negotiable. Problematic. I think that if we are ever going to have radical equality, we need to complicate/interrogate the terms “men” and “women” and highlight their arbitrariness and their culturally contextual construction.

2) Having a day to honor “women” forces people to identify themselves as “women” or “men.” For a variety of reasons, people may not be able to or may not want to fit nicely into those two categories, and it is cruel to continue to force them to do so.

I hear the accusations of post-feminist heresy in the offing.

Your thoughts?

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