The best way to describe my experience taking Women’s Studies 488A is by comparing it to a roller coaster ride. I started this course with a lot of anticipation, excitement, and fear, much like a person who gets on a roller coaster for the first time. I was nervous and curious about the different highs and lows and twists and turns I would encounter in this class. I knew just like a roller coaster ride that I would enjoy some parts more than others. I also knew that I would appreciate the not so fun parts as well, because they’re a part of the entire experience. As with any new experience I attached fear to the exploration of the unknown that I knew I would be forced to encounter. I would have to defy the laws of gravity by challenging how I have been conditioned to think. I would be questioning everything I believed to be true and wondering why I believed the things I believed and why I gave authority to those who passed on this knowledge.
Knowing I had to face these uncomfortable challenges I felt an incredible sense of panic, because this process would take me out of my comfort zone. I was so used to believing in the stories crafted by those in “authority” that I forgot to be analytical along the way. This course would force me to question words, meanings, understandings, and supposed truths, which is where my nervousness was stemming from.
How could I, a person who always thought within parameters and believed in boundaries, think beyond those lines? Then I became worried that in an effort to think outside the box, I would be more focused on alternative knowledge just because, without really understanding what I claimed to understand. I was afraid I would have a superficial understanding of the different concepts introduced in class in an attempt to keep up, instead of falling behind.
Despite my concerns and fears about the different ups and downs, twists and turns, and the unknown, I knew I would love the experience and feel a sense of accomplishment for having taken the ride. I knew there was a great possibility that I would feel a sense of failure, but I wanted to take this course instead of the senior seminar on immigrant women, a subject I am very familiar with, because the concept of examining reenactments appealed to my sense of curiosity. So I took this course for the same reason a person gets on that roller coaster for the first time, for the shear experience of it.
Women’s Studies 488A has been the most challenging course I have ever taken in my entire academic career. In fact this course has challenged my entire academic career and my entire knowledge base. Instead of completing assignment after assignment, like a trained robot, we were asked to challenge ourselves. We were told to ask questions and to think beyond conventions. The title of this course “Feminism and New Knowledge Environments: Examining Reenactments” speaks volumes about the content of the course. Initially, I focused only on the word reenactments and thought of historical reenactments like the ones in “The New History in an Old Museum” by Handler and Gable. I thought reenactments were only historical recreations used to educate and entertain.
After taking this course I now understand the enormity of reenactments. Reenactments can be applied very broadly to include how the video games and virtual computer worlds that Steven Johnson talks about in “Everything Bad is Good For You” are also reenactments and more contemporary ways knowledge is passed on. More importantly after weeks and weeks of agonizing over the word “reenactments” I finally understand that this course is not about dissecting what the word “reenactments” means, but rather dissecting and explaining what it represents. I was so obsessed with understanding the literal meaning of the word I forgot to focus on what the point was in using the term reenactments so liberally.
I have now learned that reenactments are a medium through which knowledge is both passed on and learned through a wide range of avenues. This course is about recognizing the different types of reenactments that occur in life and how knowledge is created, passed on, and learned through these actions. This course is about questioning our intensive values and the extensive values of others and how they interact.
During the first couple of weeks of class we were asked to visit the “Hall of Mammals” display at the Smithsonian. I had no idea how this could possibly be linked to reenactments, because I was still in the beginning stages of conceptualizing reenactments. At the “Hall of Mammals” I became very aware of how the displays played on people’s senses. Everything in the museum was visually appealing and presented in ways that created a sense of familiarity with the animals. There were sample sound stations that played on my sense of hearing and some displays were available for touching.
I revisited the museum after completing Steven Johnson’s book, because I was beginning to understand the connection between the “Hall of Mammals” and reenactments. The point of the trip wasn’t about learning about the different mammals and their environment. The trip to the “Hall of Mammals” was about observing the various methods employed by the museum to make me believe what they said was fact. In “Past into Present” Stacy Roth says, “Museums communicate with visitors in many ways; through exhibits, multi-media programs, special events, brochures and hooks, labels, guided tours, and more recently-especially over the last thirty years-living history interpretation” (9). The “Hall of Mammals” created an environment that provoked an individual’s many senses to cause a synesthetic experience. So the trip to the museum was about recognizing how the museum’s affects on our sensorium alter our knowledge.
The museum appealed to my senses because they knew that my readiness to believe in certain “truths” was connected to my senses. I finally understood that I have an important relationship with my senses. They weren’t just things or functions. My senses helped me to reject or accept “truths.” If I could touch, hear, see, or smell something I knew it to be real, but this course taught me to look beyond what my senses told me. This course taught me to question the things my senses could and could not identify, because things exist in altering conditions, not a vacuum. This understanding helped me to recognize how my life and the knowledge I had acquired up until this point were a result of how I had been socialized and trained to think. So the next step was to question how I had been socialized and who and what agents affected me and why I let them.
Addressing these questions was difficult, but reading “Remediation: Understanding New Media” by Bolter and Grusin helped. They said, “No medium, it seems, can now function independently and establish its own separate and purified space of cultural meaning” (55). This reaffirmed the notion that nothing was independent, but rather everything was connected. All the “knowledge” I had acquired were extractions and combinations of processes that related to each other, not independent thoughts. My thoughts, no matter how original I think they are, were created as a result of all the experiences I had and the information I had acquired over time, which have all been influenced by numerous elements. These prior influences have shaped the way I think and feel and how I create knowledge as well.
My acquisition of knowledge and behaviorism both conscious and unconscious all exist within a system of cultural, social, and economic exchange that are constantly being affected and altered through remediation. Remediation reforms by improving upon the mediations it is mediating. In Steven Johnson’s “Everything Bad Is Good For You” he says many people “discuss the social value of media, when they address the question of whether today’s media is or isn’t good for us, the underlying assumption is that entertainment improves us when it carries a healthy message” (13). The video games and virtual realities that are gaining popularity have many positive outcomes. They teach individuals how to become more efficient decision makers and provide alternate realities that sometimes reflect the realities we desire.
In “Past Into Present” Roth says, “What medium can completely portray the past? None. Not books, not film, not guided tours, not even multi-media exhibits can produce an unbiased, true-to-life compelling product that will appeal universally to all learning styles or leisure proclivities” (26), yet “people of differing backgrounds continuously and routinely interact to produce exchange, and consume messages” (Handler, 9).
In “The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness” Donna Haraway says, “we are training each other in acts of communication we barely understand. We are constitutively, companion species” (2).
All of these texts helped me to understand my relationship with the world and how my actions both purposeful and accidental are a part of cycle that continuously creates knowledge. My actions affect others, while their actions affect me. Nothing in life happens within a vacuum, so everything I say and do have been infiltrated by elements that I may not even be aware of. Things that I perceived to be a part of nature might in actuality be a part of culture.
Prior to this course I had separated nature and culture into opposite categories. In my previous world things were the way they were as a result of either nature or culture, but never both. I now understand the significance of naturecultures. This course has taught me to recognize the futility of separating nature from culture, because there is a constant interaction between life’s many elements. There are symbiogenetic changes that occur in response to new emerging environments. If these mutations occur to increase survivability within a new space then how can we separate nature from culture?
In the “Companion Species Manifesto” Haraway says dogs are considered the first domestic animals. Some believe this domestication is a result of the relationship between humans and dogs. Different types of dogs exist in response to how humans have trained them. By assigning specific dogs to specific tasks, such as hunting, fishing, farming, breeding, etc…these dogs could have over the years undergone a symbiogenetic change that helped them adapt to their newly created environments. Understanding the concept of significant otherness helps to define humans and dogs in this instance. The relationship between dogs and humans signifies roles of power and purpose.
Understanding the concept of significant otherness is important to feminist studies, because both ask questions about power, how things work, and why things are the way they are. They relate to emerging naturecultures and what role social environments play in development. Significant otherness helps to explain the location of different social markers. Judith Butler said heterosexuality depends on homosexuality for its cultural meaning. Without homosexuality, would heterosexuality matter? The existence of both is necessary to create meaning for one in relation to the other. What would it mean to be a woman without a man? Would other comparisons surface? In “Remediation” Bolter and Grusin said it was necessary to include all aspects of a medium when focusing on one aspect to understand the medium in its entirety, because the individual aspects gained meaning through interactions with all of the other aspects.
Remediation has helped feminist in their work to examine the inequalities that exist in society. Film is one medium that has been used by feminists to critique the male gaze. The portrayals of women in film by men are a reflection of the conditions women have and are facing. The reenactments in this case are the theatrical actions of the people within the films. Considering the theatrics involved in film made me reevaluate Colonial Williamsburg, because I wanted to know why I was more readily accepting of the theatrics involved in the reenactments of Colonial Williamsburg, while more hesitant to believe the theatrics of films. What was it about Colonial Williamsburg and other historical reenactments that disarmed my skepticism? Then I started to examine the words associated with Colonial Williamsburg. I began to understand how important words are in creating knowledge. Etymology is a critical part of how we form knowledge. By labeling Colonial Williamsburg as “historical” reenactments I automatically associated it with truth, while the words movie and film were automatically associated with fiction, unless the words “based on a true story” were provided.
These realizations forced me to explore the meanings behind words and how they assist the various reenactments that occur all around us. Studying the etymology of various words lead to my exploration of past events, because having a social consciousness that explores the past is important to a search for the “truth.”
In “Why Marriage? The History Shaping Today’s Debate Over Gay Equality” Chauncey says many people have forgotten about the past struggles the gay community has faced. Recognizing these past occurrences are necessary to understanding the present struggles and discrimination the gay community is forced to grapple with. The importance of the past to the present is evident in Laurie King’s “The Art of Detection” and Gates’ African American Lives.”
In Laurie King’s novel the past is the key to the present. Having an understanding of Sherlock Holmes’ life makes the story of the novel more satisfying. King’s use of real locations and events within the novel are significant because they tell the story of the forgotten past Chauncey talks about in his “Why Marriage? The History Shaping Today’s Debate Over Gay Equality.” The use of a homosexual female cop as the main character without focusing the main plot on her sexuality is significant because it shows the humanity of women. Yet, the reader can learn about the history of San Francisco’s gay life through Kate Martinelli and Billy Birdsong, while also learning about transpeople in the 30s and 40s in San Francisco.
The documentary film “African American Lives” also brings significance to past presents. The individuals in this documentary are searching for answers to their ancestral pasts. In their quest, their genealogical pasts and DNA composition are revealed to show what is really truth and what is fiction. Much like the participants who are shocked to learn their pasts are not what they had thought, this course has shocked my understanding of knowledge and truth.
I am still trying to process all of the concepts presented in class, but at least I no longer have the initial fear that prompted my panicked state. I understand the role I play in the world and how my very existence is a part of a cycle that continuously creates and absorbs information and knowledge. I also understand the relationship between nature and culture in a more sophisticated way that guides my understanding of how all things are related. I realize that my previous coursework in other Women’s Studies courses affect how I approach other Women’s Studies courses and my understandings of sex, gender, religion, race, and other constructed social markers.
More importantly Women’s Studies 488A has taught me to be more inquisitive. In “Everything Bad Is Good For You” Johnson says, “Probing and telescoping represent another—equally important—tendency in the culture: the emergence of forms that encourage participatory thinking and analysis, forms that challenge the mind to make sense of an environment, not just play catch-up with the acceleration curve” (61). Studying reenactments forced me to question the validity of what was being carried out. It also forced to me to ask questions about why specific actions were taking place and who decided to include those actions. It also made me question my own biases and why I was more open to some ideas, but closed off to others. I also became aware of how much power individuals have and how careful I have to be when processing information and events, because my thoughts and actions would ultimately become a part of the cycle that continuously creates and absorbs knowledge.
This course and the classroom has been my community of practice. The conversations between classmates and the different perspectives and approaches to various concepts and ideas have helped me to conceptualize the purpose of this course. I now realize the importance of Johnson’s words in “Everything Bad Is Good For You” that “It’s not what the player is thinking about, but the way she’s thinking” (60) that’s important. The mediations, remediations, and various reenactments are important because they elicit a level and form of thinking that is participatory and inquisitive. Prior to understanding these concepts I had a very superficial understanding of various subjects, because I believed everything I was told. This course forced me to think outside the box for the first time. Although, the box has not been completely removed, I am a lot more open to alternative knowledge, because I now question why some things are considered truths, while others are considered alternative knowledge.
Bolter, J.D., & Grusin, R. (1999). Remediation: Understanding New Media. MIT
Chauncey, G. (2004). Why Marriage? The History Shaping Today’s Debate Over Gay Equality. Basic
Gates, H. L., Judd, G., & Farrell, L.D. (2006). African American Lives [DVD]. PBS Paramount
Handler, R. & Gable, E. (1997). The New History In An Old Museum: Creating The Past At Colonial Williamsburg. Duke
Haraway, D. (2003). The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness. Prickly Paradigm
Johnson, S. (2005). Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter. Riverhead
King, L.R. (2006). The Art of Detection. Bantam Dell
Roth, S. F (1998). Past Into Present: Effective Techniques For First-Person Historical Interpretation. North Carolina