Sunday, May 16, 2010

Supremely Girly Girl

I literally wanted to cry throughout Maureen Dowd’s latest nytimes editorial. Entitled “Supremely Girly Girl,” Dowd satirizes the growing problematic discourse (1/2 anti-women, 1/2 homophobia) surrounding Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. Apparently, 375 readers equally agreed with my feelings over the editorial.

I left the article thinking what counts as a person? What disciplinary frameworks are needed to render certain ways of knowing to be read as normative and normalizing? What limits do we impose when conceptualizing the “human?” What does it mean to be gendered? How is femininity embodied and what measurements are in place as evidence? What makes Kagan’s life, success, and passions exceed the “norm” (especially for women)? And by exceeding the norm, what relations of power supports the belief in the incommensurability between who she is and who we are? Who is the “we” in this equation? What makes us read her body in distinguishable ways that she may or may nor self-identify with? What body codes, behaviour, or academic degrees, justifies the temerity of the media’s probing, ridicule, and questioning? What renders an unwed and childless woman to be read as a quizzical and problematic being in our cultural psyche? Why do we invest in this type of discourse? What might it mean to be just and ethical to someone under these circumstances?

When encountering articles or editorials, I always reflect on the knowledge systems that are in place that make certain ideas not only thinkable, but sayable. By mid-June, I will have completed my first year of courses towards a doctorate degree in education. I believe that teaching is both a meritorious profession and an embodiment of daily acts of hope. Hope that a student will recognize his or her latent capacities. Hope that by substituting rote learning for problem-posing, students (and teachers alike) will come to see their own agency and subjectivity in the making. Hope that learning will be recognized as a life-long process. Hope that we may move beyond a self that is limited by discourse (or perhaps extended to include a language of the soul). I’ve encountered countless colleagues and professors who believe in the transformative nature of education, especially towards the development of a critical social consciousness (or what Freire terms “conscientizacao”.)

I also acknowledge that schools and educators collide and collude with a system that problematizes children from their inception. Formal education remains the great gatekeeper when it comes to constructing gendered, racialized, and class-based individuals. Yet, the potential for schooling remains enormous. One of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking articles I’ve ever read is by McDermott, Goldman and Varenne entitled “The cultural work of learning disabilities.” (published in 2006 by the Educational Researcher, 35(6): 12-17) While the article focuses on the discourse of learning disabilities, one shouldn’t overlook how interchangeable these terms are with one and another (namely gender, race, and class).

Here’s hoping that future Elena Kagan’s will be discussed and embraced in much more healthy ways. In the meantime, let's spend a few minutes with baby elephants! (I often believe that God gave the gospel to the wrong species. Elephants would have been a better choice.)

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