The art of gender in everyday life…

Posted by: Paula Cameron

The art of gender in everyday life: Pocatello, Idaho

February 26, 2010. The Anderson Gender Resource Center of Idaho State University staged its seventh annual conference, The Art of Gender in Everyday Life. A group of us—mostly women, a handful of men—have gathered to share our diverse perspectives on where art and gender meet in the fabric of day to day life. As the day progressed, it was clear that the conference itself was not immune to the sway of power and politics. A conference on gender within a small predominantly Mormon town, mostly white faces turned toward each speaker, a scaled back conference following cutbacks from university administration. Speakers drew from diverse sources such as poetry, statistics, literary theory, personal experience, radio, and film to weave their takes on sexuality, parenting, literature, health, education, religion, and popular culture.

My day began with a Gender and History panel: Morgan Gwenwald explored “Women watching women being men,” transgendered performances within early nineteenth century burlesque. James Newman followed this photographic tour with “Women in State Legislatures: Explaining Differences among States,” his take on gender divides in state legislatures– contrasting Gwenwald’s previous context-rich talk with a numbers based discussion of women’s political participation in the United States. Deeper questions of everyday barriers to political participation would have been welcome, as would have discussion of popular ideas of authority and leadership as embodied by white, upper class men.

The Gendered Media panel swiftly proceeded these contrasting talks, with Lindsay Burton sharing her take on the Twilight book and film series in the paper “Battle for Bella: The interplay of race, gender, and class in the Twilight series.” Lindsay carefully teased apart the film’s creation of gendered and raced hierarchies as two male characters, Edward and Jacob, struggle for her attentions and two opposing cultures (vampire and aboriginal/wolf cultures respectively). Sandi Billings then moved in with her introduction to “Yin on the Radio,” an introduction to her grassroots, woman focused radio show. With several sample stories, Sandi illustrated the scope and depth of her program, syndicated in nine states—and growing. Ian Stephens then took over, exploring the queered spaces in Harmony Korine’s film Gummo with “Marvelous Personas and Raving Beauties: Investigating the Queered Spaces of Harmony Korine’s Gummo.”

After lunch, conference attendees proceeded to the Learning Gender session, with Gili Hammer from Jerusalem University engaging with the “making do” that congenitally blind women perform in a society based on visually based clues and gender norms. Gili’s rich talk spurred much discussion of social privileging of visual cues and possible strategies for moving beyond them. To begin the “Body Image in Gender” panel, I followed Gili’s presentation with “Larger than Life: The Gendered Art of Disruptive Bodies.” (You can read my paper here.)  Sarah Lawrance then captured the audience’s attention with her talk, “Ask Me about My Tubal Ligation.” Sarah focused on her experience, in 2008 at age twenty-five, of undergoing the process where the fallopian tubes are severed and sealed to prevent fertilization. Sitting on the edge of the auditorium stage, Sarah spoke about how she came to this choice and the storm surrounding her decision. She closed with the perspective of her partner on this process, distributing zines with the same title that she uses to share her story with a wider public.

Our research team closed the conference with a panel presentation, “Witnessing the Gender of Art in Everyday Life: A Trans-Canada Whistlestop Journey,” which represented themes from our project’s cross-Canada tour of women educators and artists. We shared our insights through film, poetry, film, and storytelling, closing the delegate papers with images of the art of Canadian women (and men) working toward gender and sexual equity. Lisa Diamond gave the final word with her keynote, “Sexual Fluidity: New Perspectives on Female Sexuality,” where she challenged the idea of one solid sexual identification throughout a woman’s life. Tracking the lives of women over two decades, Lisa provided powerful evidence that many of us have long suspected or known: words cannot pin down the rich complexity of who we are—that we need new ways of thinking and talking about the artful embodiment of gender in everyday life.

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~ by artpoped on June 28, 2010.

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