If anyone can be a woman, then why women’s studies? Inside Higher Ed explores:
WMST-L is like many online discussion groups for scholars. It features many posts in which scholars try to help one another. What would be a good book to add to a syllabus on a given course? What do people know about the content of a forthcoming conference? Who might be interested in joining a panel at a scholarly meeting?
And it was the response to a seemingly innocuous call for panelists and papers that has prompted scholars to quit the Listserv and call for a boycott. Those calling for the boycott say the list, a major forum for communication in women’s studies, gives voice to anti-transgender bigotry.
The call for panelists was for a session for this year’s conference of the National Women’s Studies Association. The session is to be called “Pregnancy Without Women: Representations of Reproduction in Art, Literature, Film and Culture.”
Organizers explained: “Almost 20 years ago, Jack Halberstam challenged scholars to consider ‘masculinity without men.’ At the time, this endeavor might have seemed perverse, but it ultimately challenged feminists to rethink the discourses they relied on to frame sexuality and sexual identities. In similarly counterintuitive fashion, this panel seeks papers that theorize pregnancy without women from feminist and/or queer perspectives …. We’re interested in how economics, race and ability complicate both ‘pro-choice’ rhetoric that relies on fairly narrow constructions of a self-reliant woman and also conceives of pregnancy (and abortion) as an issue that impacts more than just women. To paraphrase Halberstam, considering pregnancy without women ‘affords us a glimpse of how [pregnancy] is constructed as [pregnancy].’ Since pregnancy without women is not yet a biological possibility, we are particularly interested in papers that consider imaginative constructions of pregnancy through art, literature, film and so forth.”
Suggested topics included artificial reproductive technologies, pregnancy “as/not disability,” pregnancy in science “and speculative fiction,” the economics of pregnancy and abortion.
Some of those who responded on WMST-L then objected to the idea of discussing pregnancy without women, and some of those arguments suggested that being a woman should reflect biology alone. Transgender people and those who study them have a wide range of views on gender identity but generally reject the idea of a biologically driven gender binary. And they view those scholars who state such a binary as the only way to look at gender as hostile to the rights of transgender people.
One comment in particular angered trans scholars.
“We don’t need supposedly progressive folks downplaying the importance of women’s reproductive functions at this time. Let us stop this game now. Only women get pregnant and it serves women not at all to pretend this is not true!”