Thursday, October 6, 2011

Wherein I Want to Kick Something and/or Write Poetry


What makes a subject maddening?

Since he was summoned, I’d like it known that I attempted to play the “Believing Game” with a couple of these readings, and still find myself irritated and wanting to kick something. On the other hand, one of the readings made me literally hop out of my chair and cheer a little, thus the subsequent desire to write poetry. Given our previous discussions on “felt sense,” I feel justified in reflecting in the way that I actually experience texts, i.e. by noting that I often respond in my body first, and then find a narrative/discursive medium through which to interpret and then express that. We respond chemically/emotionally (though the latter designator is, in my opinion, just another discursive, interpretive narrative) to that which pushes against our values, more complex versions of lizard-brain fight or flight responses, activating the sympathetic and/or parasympathetic nervous system, and etc. We usually “intellectualize” these responses away, covering them in academic, logical sounding words. I can do that, too, but feel more free to discuss the actual reactions that I have, given that Gendlin’s “felt sense” has been previously invoked.


Elizabeth Flynn’s “Composing as a Woman” drives me insane. I can’t stand that article, and I even tried really, really hard. I’ve read it before, and every time I read it I hate it a little more. (It’s my third time. Next time I’ll drink wine first.) I find myself feeling irritated, annoyed, alienated, angry – things that I don’t feel too often, but do experience regularly when I read some forms of essentializing “feminist” pedagogies or theories, typically those that are sometimes categorized as Anglo-American feminism. I find them simplistic, exclusionary, sexist, alienating….. It is why, to this day, I have a hard time self-identifying as “feminist,” even though technically I know that I probably am. I just can’t identify with something that I feel excludes me every time I read it; by theories such as these, I am not a woman, and many men I know are not men. The only other writing that leads to this type of angry reaction in me is that which is 1) written by men but is equally sexist and 2) texts that advocate violence to children. They give me the “I want to kick something” feeling. They do not represent me.

Flynn claims that “composition specialists replace the figure of the authoritative father with an image of a nurturing mother” (423). What about the nurturing fathers? What about the authoritative mothers? Why are all the women compositionists listed (thirteen of them) associated with their reproductive capacities (foremothers)? And only one man (Britton) has contributed to this “feminization” of composition. Why is that “feminized?” Why not “humanized?” Both males and females lose out on that which is marginalized – on the care, nurturance, safety, etc., that is associated here with one sex. Similarly, not all women hold these values or character traits. What about the men who love and support, and the women who are not made that way? Are those men feminine? Those women masculine? Why are universal human needs, actions, and ethics gendered? Is it a “good idea” that they have ever been? Is it a “good idea” to continue to perpetuate this?

It was 1988. I get that. But I still can’t excuse it. I was alive in 1988 and only eighteen years old and already knew better. I was aware of what the cultural storyline told me to believe, and still managed to reject it, in myself and in others.


Once upon a time, I was called upon to give a presentation about feminist pedagogies. I did not sign up for this task; rather, I was ill the day that topics were chosen, and this one fell to me by default. I enjoyed extremely the other two theorists I covered (Jarratt and Rhodes) but had a hard time “swallowing” this one. For demonstration purposes, I tested Flynn’s hypothesis that “if women and men differ in their relational capacities and in their moral and intellectual development, we would expect to find manifestations of these differences in the student papers we encounter in our first-year composition courses” (427). Of course, looking for them, they were surely found, especially in the sample size of FOUR papers that were analyzed for this essay.

It was 1988. I remember the bar scene from those days, and IMO men really were more sexist then, really were more apt to be in the “typical male” mindset. I get that. I still balk against the generalization and all of the differently gendered voices it excludes, including my own.


Flynn asserts: "If women and men differ in their relational capacities and in their moral and intellectual development, we would expect to find manifestations of these differences in the student papers we encounter in the first-year composition course" (428).

To test this hypothesis in nearly as rigorous a manner as she herself did for the article, I handed out two student essays from a first-year composition course with all gender pronouns removed. The assignment was a personal narrative and a pre-cursor to learning to “do” empathy as a discursive action, thus it asked students to identify the needs (ala Maslow but more granular ala Rogers, Rosenberg, etc.) they were trying to meet by attending college. In learning to identify common, universal needs within themselves, they would later be able to look for the attempts to meet these or other needs in the actions, choices, and words of others as a way of understanding and empathizing, even in the absence of “agreement” with those choices.

Which paper was which? If Flynn was correct, the female writer should have written “of interaction, of connection, or of frustrated connection” and the male writer “of achievement, of separation, or of frustrated achievement ” (428). Was this the case?

Not even remotely. About half the class guessed with the gendered expectations and were incorrect; the other half knew me better and figured I would throw a curve ball with the exercise. The female student wrote about meeting needs for intellectual challenge, achievement, exploration, independence, whereas the male student wrote about the social and connection needs he hoped to meet by coming to college. What would Flynn have done with these papers? (Other than not include them in the research for this essay.) Would they have been overlooked? Or somehow interpreted differently in order to fit into the gendered model?

It was 1988. I get that. But it still pisses me off to be confronted with it. Why can’t we care about connection and achievement? Why can’t we want to interact and be separate at times? To me, these (and other) gendered desires and behaviors fall on a spectrum that is independent of sex (which is not binary anyway). There are plenty of men who are nurturing; there are plenty of women who are competitive. There is also the reverse and everything in between.

I can’t stand binaries. They do not represent me.


I will not long dwell on Schell (or continue to rhyme) but the same dynamic irritates me in this essay as well. Why are “caring” and “equity” placed in opposition? I love my students and I love to teach, therefore I do not care about my own well-being? Why are these things automatically paired together? And what of the men who care about their students? The tenured faculty who have “an ethic of care?” Why is care a gendered liability?

And worse: Why is an ethic of care defined as “a process of ethical decision making based on interrelationships and connectedness rather on universalized and individualized rules and rights?” (75). This goes back to Kohlberg’s (sexist) morality scale mentioned by Flynn, as these are the two criteria that supposedly separate men and women, with the male ethic (human rights) coming out on top in his (sexist) model. This model is no different and no less sexist – it just switches the binary while leaving it intact and unquestioned.

Why are these in opposition to one another? Are not universal human rights but further and further generalizations and inclusions of interrelationships and connectedness? Cannot an ethic of care be extended indefinitely? Infinitely? To have one without the other is to miss the picture of “care” or compassion in the first place, to parse it out and apply it selectively. That is not an “ethic” of “care,” but yet another example of exclusivity and exclusion.

I find this disheartening.


Schell asserts: “My research reveals that a pedagogy based on an ethic of care is simultaneously empowering and disempowering; it offers psychic reward whiles exacting a distinct emotional and material prices from women workers” (83).

Why does it offer “psychic rewards?” Because caring for people feels good. Oppositional relationships – regardless of gender – do not “feel good” to people. They are stressful, annoying, fraught with insecurity. Human beings are social animals. We produce awesome chemical combinations when we are nice to each other, and really crappy ones when we are mean. We cannot, chemically speaking, produce them both at the same time – the same receptor sites are used for both oxytocin (blissful, connection chemical) and cortisol (stress chemical), thus if we are all stressed out and angry, we are not also feeling love and connection – we are not chemically able to.

But why would this keep me, or anyone, from insisting upon fair working conditions? For one, if I feel “an ethic of care,” and if I believe that this care can extend indefinitely, than am I not included in that care? Might not my “maternal” (ack – that hurt me to say, even in quotes) concern be likewise directed at myself so that injustice to me was just as intolerable as injustice to anyone? Why is an ethic of care put in opposition to standing up for one’s rights? With “just saying no?” Is it really such a stretch to see these dynamics as being included within an ethic of care rather than opposed to it? Is that binary between self and other so ingrained in this culture that people – even really, really smart ones – can’t see past it?

I find this disheartening. I can’t stand binaries; they do not represent me.


If queerness is an impossible subject for composition, then whatever I am is not even a subject to be rejected by composition. I don’t even have a word. No one throws rocks at me because I don’t exist. I see the world through two eyes always – one in the individuated subject-position, the other from a position of hybrid subjectivity where “identity” is fluid and combines with other subjects in contingent spaces to form larger identities where these oppositions of “self” and “other” merge into meaninglessness convention. Both eyes see all the time, and only one of them can speak. The other has no words, no discursive field from which to borrow meaning in this culture. None.

I can’t stand binaries. They do not represent me, but they do constrain my language.

I write sometimes as my other me’s, bending and expanding language in ways that my mother wouldn’t recognize, that my gradeschool English teachers would find disorienting and discomfiting. How do I/we speak from margins beyond words? Occasionally, someone understands my dance, but only when I wear a costume.


Alexander/Rhodes asserts: “Sex, especially non-normative sexual relations, is never ‘appropriate’ in the classroom. It disturbs our composure. The parallel tongues of school and sex can only exist if they promise not to touch” (179).

I have a sexual identity, one that is likely as central to my existence as to anyone, but it remains always unexpressed. I can’t even say, “Oh, I’m a ……” There is no name for what is in my closet, there are no words for my identity.

What do you do? they say. I write. I dance. I dance about writing about fucking about dancing. Sometimes I get paid. Most of the time I don’t. Occasionally, someone recognizes me from a different context – Didn’t you hit me once? In public? Very, very hard? Why yes, that was probably me. I only hit people for charity, though – all proceeds went to AVOC for AIDS research. I did it as a service to the community.

Tell that to my maternal instincts, my “feminine essentialist nature.” It makes me want to bust out my stompyboots, the ones with the roofing nails sticking out the sides, and stomp around in my bigdiscursiveboots.

But I won’t. Instead, I’ll learn their language, I’ll drink their koolaid, I’ll go to their cocktail parties, and sip their wine. I’ll dismantle their binaries one. assumption. at. a. time. until these paradigms lie in dust, made out of the words that fell apart.


Hybrid Subjectivity exceeds the composed self, exceeds the idea of “self,” and at the same time makes it allinclusive. These are not margins; this writing space is allpervasive – they just can’t see the marks on the page yet.



I will explode your world from the inside. Because I’m you. Because we are simultaneously all the same and completely, uniquely different. Both eyes see at once. In stereo. In hyperstereo. Your individuation, my individuation – what’s a few electrons between friends? We’re exchanging matter all the time. Were do your neurons begin and mine end? Ah, well, now that is the question….

Dark matter: the neuroglia of the cosmos. We are apparently soaking in it, all the time. What do they do, those supporting cells and atoms of the universe? Are they just holding it all together? Are they the “parlor maids” as scientists used to believe? Or are they the vessels in which consciousness occurs? Are they thinking the thoughts that think they are thinking? Are they thinking me? And who/what is that, exactly? We’re exchanging matter all the time…

I can’t stand binaries. They do not represent me – they are not even shaped the right way, like shoes constructed for somebody else’s feet. These gloves are not made for human hands and yet we shove our hands into them everyday. I write with mine, forcing my thoughts into words, dissecting my body into gloves, leaving prosthetic fingerprints. I am darkmatter and I fill the margins, spilling over onto the paper, standing on both sides of all boundaries. Tell me that is me. Tell me that is not me. Tell me that is not not me. Tell me….

Works Cited:

Alexander, Jonathan and Jacqueline Rhodes. "Queer: An Impossible Subject for Composition." JAC 31:1-2 2011.177-206

Flynn, Elizabeth. "Composing as a Woman." CCC 39.4 (Dec 1988): 423-435.

Schell, Eileen E. "The Cost of Caring: 'Femininism' and Contingent Women Workers in Composition Studies." Feminism and Composition Studies: In Other Words. Ed. Susan Jarratt and Lynn Worsham. New York: MLA, 1998. 74-93.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Who Speaks?

Perhaps since I’ll be starting my next program of study tomorrow, or perhaps because identity has been on my mind as of late, I’ve reexamined a list of all of my old blogs/identities and decided to resurrect a few of them. This is one.

In recent weeks, Google+ has been a topic of discussion amongst those for whom “social networking” has become a regular part of life. Many have been dissatisfied with FB’s information sharing policies and its obvious ad-driven business model, thus G+ was touted as the next great thing, an “enlightened” version of FB, the party where all the cool kids have gone, etc.

I admit – I am resistant to new technology. I don’t enjoy learning new things that have to do with interfacing with a machine, but I will if I absolutely have to, if the payoff is worth the effort. So, after my third official invitation (this one from my friend Hacksaw), I crossed over. There were already several people there with whom I regularly interact – generally, the closest friends with whom I keep contact online, so what the heck? I’d give it a try.

Immediately, before I was even properly set up, I received a note from Hacksaw, one of my closest friends, that his G+ account had been suspended for not adhering to their proper name policy. He is Hacksaw – he has always been Hacksaw – this is not some randomly generated nomenclature to assure his anonymity – it is his name. But not for G+. Oh no. Not for them.

To me, any party that kicks out Hacksaw is a sucky party that already has a strike against it even before they turn on the music and I start dancing. Suspicious, I was. And surly. Though I understand the desire for accountability on the net – I totally agree with that – I also value freedom of expression, and especially the right to autonomy within one’s identity.

This idea of identity and the questions these practices raise has been a really fruitful topic of discussion and debate, and if G+ really embodies the ethos it espouses, it will take these issues into consideration as it alters and edits the features for this service. However, at the moment, it is also bringing up other questions as well, specifically 1) What is the nature of identity and who defines it? and 2) Who is allowed to speak? What public discourse is allowed to flow, and what is regulated? Why? And by whom?

Question 1: Identity

Who am I? What criteria defines me? Who decides upon what is and is not legitimate information for me to include within what I conceive of as “identity.”

G+, albeit inadvertently, brings up a lot of questions around this issue of identity, since on G+, if you don’t present your identity in a way that conforms to their rules of use, you are not allowed to speak in that forum – they decide what aspects of your identity are acceptable and legitimate, not you.

These questions came up almost immediately in discussions on G+. On one side of the arena, I read opinions from those who thought Google’s policy is great (or at least good enough for now) and/or that those who use names that are not their legal, given ones maybe should be allowed to do that, but only if they are willing to put the disclaimer “Anonymous Coward” next to it. On the other side, I found myself – still, repeatedly, upholding the idea of accountability on the net, but with different ideas about identity and nomenclature. These were questions I raised in a comment thread about this issue:

"I have known people for whom their name was an integral part of their identity - why does someone have the right to take that away from them? I've also known people who had changed their names after a particular point in their life had past, identifying as a "new person" and wanting to be called by that new name -- I honor and respect that. I understand the complications that people who believe they are "anonymous" can raise, how hate-filled rhetoric is more likely, etc. What I have a problem with are people who are not anonymous -- they ARE the person they call themselves -- but that name hasn't been legally legitimized by larger cultural institutions. It is that lack of choice about one's identity that bothers me -- I don't like to see people's identity's regulated like that, and I understand that for some, their name is part of that identity. (Race, sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, etc, would likewise fall into those categories of identity markers that no one else gets to decide for others.) I am not sure why an arbitrary marker that someone else decided upon for a person without their consent before they were born is something that they MUST continue to drag around with them, even if it is antithetical or outside of their currently held identity -- dictating that as a hard and fast "rule" seems.... well, rather fascist to me. I understand the issues around anonymity, but am not sure why the privileging of "legal name" is the only answer to that" (excerpted 7-27-11).

As pointed out in Hacksaw’s letter, their policy does not adequately resolve any issues of accountability – a plausible SOUNDING name is not likely to be flagged, thus “John Smith,” all 25,000 of him, can say whatever they damn well please. Hacksaw, however, can’t; that is where my problem lies.

Question 2: Whose discourse is suppressed?

I know that the aim is to suppress the discourse of spammers and haters, to use vernacular terms, but in this case (and the one following) that is not how the dynamic plays out “IRL.” Hacksaw is a large part of the reason that I am on FB, and one of the major factors in my switch over to G+. Talking to him is part of the reason that I’m interested in being “social” on this “network” to begin with. He is a highly intelligent, respectful, open-minded, (dare I say) enlightened being who has never, to my knowledge, engaged in any social interactions online for which he would be reticent to be held accountable – this is a man with genuine ethos. But then – suddenly – he’s not there.

Curious how this dynamic worked, I wanted to see what G+ would and would not tolerate, while staying completely within their stated bounds and guidelines for usage. I did use my legal name, per requested, but could not “enjoy” my conformity so much that I was able to pass up the opportunity to point out the identity cage that they had built for me and my resistance to it. Under my name, my tag-line read “Not my ‘real’ name.... just my legal one. Earthlings.” To me, this says that G+ is not, actually, allowed nor able to define “real” when it comes to names, though they can define legal – which is what they really want. (If “real” names counted, then Hacksaw would still be on there.) And why do they want my LEGAL name? In what ways I am expected to be “accountable” for expressing my ideas?

What is one actually allowed to say and do on G+ and still be tolerated and allowed to speak? If I give my legal (“real”) name, is that enough? If I agree to “be accountable” for what I say as me, or rather, as the me that is institutionally endorsed and legitimized, do I then have free speech, given that I avoid (as I would anyway) hate-filled or threatening rhetoric?

How to Have One’s G+ Account Suspended in Three Days or Less

I’ll admit – I was rather astonished at the speed at which my account was (temporarily) suspended; it did not take long. Because I didn’t have a “control account” to compare my results with, I can’t claim that any one of these factors caused my account to raise whatever flag it raised, but in some combination (in case you’d like to replicate these findings at home), here are the various strategies I enacted to test what constituted “free speech” in the public space of G+:

* Made fun of their identity policy as part of my identity: I am She Who Mocks Your Policy, Even While Following It.

* Threatening, in a comment, “to go Fyshmom on their asses.”

* Posted this link about creepy Google+ activity .

* Made a post celebrating the inclusion of semen in my new calorie counter so that I didn’t have to develop an app called iSwallow.

* When told that was “TMI,” made comments about the suppression of sexuality in our culture so that its taboo nature could be exploited for commercial purposes, stating my refusal to “delete” that part of my identity from my public discourse.

* Generally questioning the identity politics/suppression that I was seeing as a possible outcome for Google’s policies.

I would like to note that despite the commercial, information-selling aspect of FB, it has never suppressed my ability to speak. Never. I have said the above and much, much more on there and never had a thing happen to my account because of it. (Note: I realize that this is not the case for others – I know people who have had art work deleted, for instance, because the figure was nude, or mothers who have had their pictures deleted because it displayed breastfeeding. I disagree with these practices as well and would be happy to address them elsewhere. For now, however, I’m sticking to a personal examination of text-based expression of ideas.) But not on G+. Nope. Not there.

The Virtual Panopticon: “I Can See Your House From Here”

When I realized that my account was unusable, that I couldn’t change, edit, or post anything, that the information in my Profile was suddenly blank, I realized I’d been “caught,” or whatever one is when they are being reviewed for…. Whatever we are being reviewed for. Just as the author of the article I’d linked to described, I just suddenly had no access to any of my account and could take no actions, even though I was signed in.

That’s when something occurred to me: I was being surveilled. Though of course we all potentially are at any time when we are online, I really was being watched. It was an odd, odd sensation….

And then I thought – hey – it’s Google – they can watch anybody. Heck, they’ve even shown me a picture of my own house with my van parked in front of it, Tibetan prayer flags fluttering on the porch. I had watched them watching me, and they were the ones to make sure that I could do that.

I was struck, then, by the utterly metaposttransmodern manifestation of Foucault’s panopticon, where we are the ones watching ourselves watching ourselves watching. With Google, we don’t exactly “pay” for this service, but in a sense we do – we get what we get but we also lose what we lose. We have made an apparatus by which we can surveil ourselves from within our own homes as though we are outside of them. It was twisty and astonishing – I laughed as I controlled the urge to lock the doors and close the windows because hey – I’m already inside the guard shack.

And I wondered… Where is this ride going? I know the stated ethos of the company, and neither believe nor disbelieve it – for me, that ethos is in a constant state of construction, always being legitimized or rejected by its audience (us) and being upheld (or not) by its members. This is the internet. It is really, really big. It “connects” a good deal of the world. And this is Google. (He who controls the spice…..)

The Narrow End of Liberalism

One boundary across which Liberals™ and Conservatives™ differ is in the strategies they see as most efficacious to guaranteeing freedom and safety. (Bear with me – this is not an irrelevant tangent.) What Liberals ™ often fail to understand about Conservatives™ is that, at least at an academic/philosophical/foundational level, they believe that Liberalism™ leads to (or can lead to) fascism. Leo Strauss, often associated with the neo-con movement, is one such proponent of this idea – having survived Nazi Germany, it was, to him, an outcome he had witnessed first hand. Just as Aristotle saw Democracy as just one small step above Tyranny, so too did Strauss view Liberalism as the precursor to Fascism – he and Aristotle were not at odds in this regard.

What is happening with G+ is a miniaturized, microcosmic iteration of the narrow end of liberalism, taken to a particular place and implemented in a particular way, moving toward a possible state of fascism, or at least having the potential to do so. I am not paranoid about Google’s motives, and don’t even pretend to know them. What I am noting, however, is the potential for exploitation, suppression, and regulation in what is gearing itself up to be a powerful site within this current iteration of the public sphere. What discourse is allowed or not allowed within that is, I think, worth discussing.

Who Am I?

This discussion of identity is, perhaps, particularly cogent and applicable to my own personal stake in “identity” and my expression thereof. I am me, and I am multiple-me’s. “Fyshmom” is not my legal name (I know – you’re shocked) but it’s not not me either. My legal name is me likewise, but it is not MORE me than this me. I have other me’s too – they are as legitimately “me” as this or any me. I define this. It is my identity. The rest of you – all 7ish billion of you – can keep your hands off of it; I do not need your legitimization or permission to be myself.

But can I speak? And as whom?

My legal name can speak, in most forums (unless I make fun of the distinction between “real” and “legal,” then all bets are off) as me with all of my experience, my resume, my CV, my education, etc., but my other me’s can only speak as themselves – solely alone without the particular cultural markers used to generate ethos in some rhetorical situations, despite their share in the creation of those authorities. (I won’t even go into my discussion of hybrid subjectivity here – that would make me more than me rather than just iterations of a singularly-embodied me. I will save that for another post, but suffice to say that I offered to create this type of identity as well – if G+ got wind of that, they wouldn’t like it either, I’m sure.) I’ve always wanted/planned/partially/half-assedly enacted these experiments with identity, legitimacy, and access to the creation of discourse, but now I think it is time to do so more actively and formally. I am, after all, beginning a new program of study tomorrow, which means…

It’s time to go Fyshmom on their asses.