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Through Feminist Eyes

Through Feminist Eyes, in collaboration with the Women's and Gender Studies Program in the Department of Sociology, is intended to provide additional opportunities for undergraduate WGS students to engage feminist scholarship, specifically the breadth of feminist scholarship taking place at Virginia Tech. This program is offered in the Fall of each year.  This year, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the admission of women as students at VT, we will spotlight the feminist scholarship of students!  Check out the exciting fall line-up below!

Through Feminist Eyes Fall 2021:

All session held in Fralin Auditorium from 7-8PM

SEPTEMBER 21, 2021

Dr. Sarah Ovink and Gerlyn Murrell
University Diversity Projects and the Inclusivity Challenge

The proportion of university degree seekers in the U.S. who identify as members of marginalized or historically underrepresented groups has been steadily increasing over the past several decades. Women; Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC); and students who are first in their families to attend college are reportedly sought after by universities eager to improve their diversity profile. Many of these students still face challenging campus climates. We sought to explore the campus experiences of students who embody one or more of these intersecting identities. Our goal is to map the equity challenges that remain for undergraduate students on campuses that are often committed to “achieving” diversity and inclusivity, yet still working to shed institutional barriers that remain in place. University goals for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are often found in sets of loosely-connected policies, practices and patterns of behavior we refer to as diversity projects. Diversity projects, in turn, are contested by a variety of actors—current students, staff, alumni, politicians—given the preference in the U.S. for “color-blind” policies, despite a social context that is not yet “post-racial.” To explore these equity challenges, we utilize a unique dataset, gathered over a 4-year period at Meadow State University (MSU),[1] a large, public comprehensive university that is a predominantly White institution (PWI). We ask, (1) What factors influence student belongingness on campus, and why? (2) How does belonging vary by race/ethnicity and gender? (3) How do university inclusion efforts affect belongingness, from undergraduates’ perspective?[SO1]  (4) How do students make sense of contested claims about belonging, its importance, and its remedies.

[1] All names are pseudonyms.

OCTOBER 13, 2021

Stephanie Ann Bontell (she/her/hers)
An ecology of ruins: non-presence, spatial trace, and belonging in gender-sensitive urban sustainable development

In her book On Lies, Secrets, and Silence, the poet Adrienne Rich defines “re-vision” as “the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes,”-a process synonymous with the very act of survival itself. This presentation will explore how gender-based dispossession and unbelonging in the built environment shapes how cities understand abandonment, trauma, “ghosts” of patriarchy, and urban trace in the context of ruin ecology. According to UNESCO, a ruin may be defined as "a construction which has lost so much of its original form and substance that its potential unity as a functional structure has also been lost.” As feminist squatters were often deprived of legal recognition and cultural visibility, the right to establish presence in the city contributed to abandoned properties being ignorantly deemed empty on the basis of identity-based “non-presence.” Similarly, ruins themselves have been strategically characterized by urban planners as “non-places” holding little value for sustainable development. However, these depictions fail to identify how squatting practices by feminists are often prompted by oppressive housing policies and patterns of gentrification. At other times, they may serve as responses to experiences of sexual violence, thereby making abandoned properties necessary ruins for political resistance and personal refuge. Instead of addressing this, cities have spent more time reacting to the phenomenon of urban sprawl with little consideration for the adaptive reuse of spaces typified as ruins. Instead, expansionist policies are the popular response, with devastating consequences for marginalized populations, biodiversity, and the fate of urban green space altogether.  In contrast to some ecofeminist commentaries that essentialize the connection of women to Earth on the basis of maternity, I will argue that it is instead the endurance of place-specific traumas which creates opportunities for connection, transformative empathy, and socio-ecological solidarity. In my proposal of alternative solutions, theoretical frameworks that engage with the “city as body/body as city” paradigm advanced by Elizabeth Grosz and Henri Lefebvre will be discussed in the greater attempt to investigate how a theory of feminist urbanism might play out in “re-visioning” possibilities for worldmaking. Moreover, concepts including precarity, disaster, resilience, and performativity in addition to Derrida’s notions of trace, hauntology, and archive will be engaged to highlight opportunities for reimagining spatial-temporal relationships as they relate to historic environmental memory. Thus, how cities remember—in other words, which lives take priority in urban sustainability initiatives and which ones get left behind, will be a major theme imperative to the larger goal of unsettling planning norms counterproductive to the achievement of gender-inclusive urban development and design altogether. 

Courtney Ross
Being Present with the Words: Contemplative Reading as a Framework for the Women’s and Gender Studies Classroom

Contemplative pedagogies have influenced faculty across academic fields and in recent years has witnessed growing institutional acceptance and support. Contemplative reading practice is a departure from an issue-based approach that proposes strategies for addressing injustices to an indirect and novel approach to deep learning. Through intentional concentration, students are invited to slow down, focus, and engage deeply with a given passage. The practice interrogates the classroom space to move beyond Eurocentric norms that colonize time in our classrooms and in our academic lives. Importantly, contemplative practices aid in the formation of a feminist lens with introspection that encourages empathy, compassion, and consciousness in all situations. Particularly useful for developing and refining reflexivity, students are challenged to explore their own emotional reactions and the influence of the emotional experience on shaping both the process and content of learning. Horizons of inquiry are expanded while also inspiring students to be the change they seek in the world. This engaging presentation offers the process of incorporating the practice, potential modifications, and strategies for addressing the challenges. Drawing on Feminist embodied pedagogy, discussion will be encouraged on how contemplative reading practice and similar strategies can integrate with social justice initiatives that are discussed in the Women’s and Gender Studies classroom. 

NOVEMBER 3, 2021

Anne Patrick
“Am I A Soy Boy?”: Examining the Gendered and Political Meaning of the Soy Boy Discourse

In 2016, a phrase began to make the rounds of “alt-right” online spaces. This includes right leaning subreddits and Twitter, as well as 4-chan. Falling in line with the insult “cuck,” “soy boy” was created. Cuck, originating from cuckold, refers to a man whose wife is cheating on him. Often partnered with racism, this word is used to refer to the fear of Black men sleeping with men’s wives (Sommer, 2017). Cuck has been a favorite of the alt-right for a while, but soy boy fills the space that specifically insults liberal or left leaning men. A 2006 study explored the phytoestrogens present in soy-based food products (Thompson et al., 2006); this study sparked the alt-right connection to the idea that soy feminizes men. The findings of Thompson’s 2006 study do not support these assumptions. Work examining the “soy boy” discourse is continued through this project. By exploring various online discussions about the term or using the term “soy boy”, this project seeks to understand how discourses surrounding consumption, political affiliation, and gender are shaped in online spaces and how they move to face-to-face interactions. By collecting content from and, the project begins by outlining what soy boy means in connection to social and political understandings of gender, then moves to understand how the discourse shapes online and face-to-face interactions through a survey of VT students and interviews with survey participants. 

Sara Wenger
“Synthetic Women: Reimagining Sex, Gender, and Consent through Humanoid Technologies”

What do “futuristic” sex and intimate technologies tell us about our present-day realities? Utilizing a feminist technoscience approach, this presentation examines how mainstream humanoid technologies imagine sex, gender, and consent. Specifically, it explores the sociotechnical imaginaries behind emerging humanoid technologies, such as artificial intelligence-based sex robots or “sexbots,” as well as companion robots and care robots. In this talk, I strive to reimagine human-nonhuman sexual and intimate futures, as well as contribute to ongoing feminist conversations around sex, gender, and consent via humanoid technologies.