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Monthly Archives: March 2015

When women prisoners – together with a scholar committed to educational initiatives for the incarcerated – research the history of their own maximum security prison, amazing things can happen.

Recently, a group of women currently incarcerated at the 142-year-old institution (now called the Indiana Women’s Prison) began to pore over documents from the prison’s first 10 years. They had set out on an ambitious project: to write a history of the institution’s founding decade, one that tells quite a different story from the official narrative. What happens when inmates write a history of their own prison? In this case, the perspective that the group brought to the project took what inmate Michelle Jones, writing in the American Historical Association’s magazine Perspectives on History, calls “a feel-good story” about Quaker reformers rescuing women from abuse in men’s prisons and turned it into a darker, more complicated tale.

Without access to the tools available to conventional students – internet and good libraries – these women painstakingly pieced together a complicated history, presenting findings at conferences via video conferencing technology and publishing papers. Now they’re working towards publishing a book. I’m thinking I might share this with my undergrad students in research methods this coming winter…
Want to read more? You can get the whole story here.

Today’s guest blogger, Gabriela Sánchez Díaz, is currently a Master of Gender Studies student at Memorial University. A professional percussionist and a Body Mapping instructor, she came to MUN’s Department of Gender Studies interested in the intersections between femininity, bodies, embodiment, movement, and classical music performance.

Research in Movement
by Gabriela Sánchez Díaz

Besides pursuing a Master of Gender Studies, I am also a musician. In my research I am interested in examining the relationships between feminism, classical music performance, and Body Mapping – a method that helps musicians to reduce pain and avoid injuries. I am investigating how the social construction of femininity affects the body and its movement in women who perform classical music.

Weeks ago, I found a video of Barbara Hannigan with the London Symphony Orchestra, an amazing performance of Ligeti’s “Mysteries of the Macabre.”

While watching this video, I was completely absorbed by the music — it has all the sounds that this percussionist likes — but I was also intrigued by that woman singing with such presence on stage.

Hannigan’s movements are electrifying. They display an energetic and confident character. Usually when I am analysing the movements of musicians I completely turn down the volume, so I do not get distracted by the sounds and can focus only on the body. I try to identify how much they include their bodies while performing and distinguish if there are places where the connection between the different body parts breaks, which normally produces muscular tension.

Hannigan includes all of her body in this performance: her feet, pelvis, wrists, indeed every part has an incredible connection to each other. High heels do not limit her; on the contrary, they are used to give character. There is nothing static in her body and there are no constricted movements.

The ways that a singer performs are different from how an instrumentalist performs. For example, singers do not have their hands on an instrument, so they can wave their arms and make hand gestures. They do not need to stay in one single place; they can explore the stage and some of their movements can be more extreme, like kneeling or turning around. Although this can be done also by some instrumentalists, for example the work by the University of Maryland Orchestra, I don’t think that it is frequently taught. Singers have advantages because they can express themselves more easily with their bodies, but instrumentalists too can develop a broader repertoire of body movements and benefit from this in their performances.

How is all this related with a graduate degree in gender studies?

I have been exploring if the construction of femininity affects the way that women move when they perform. Scholars such as Iris Marion Young, Elizabeth Grosz, and Simone de Beauvoir explore femininity when they talk about how women are educated differently, at a bodily level, than men. According to Young, the differences are not so much in muscular strength but in the way women use their bodies. She observes that women approach physical activities with timidity, uncertainty, and hesitancy; they lack confidence in their bodies (34). Therefore, they do not engage their whole bodies in physical tasks. In my research I have been trying to identify the relationship that my participants, women who perform classical music, have with their bodies and how their bodily movements have changed through the development of body awareness.

Hannigan’s performance of “Mysteries of the Macabre” brought light into my research because it is an antithesis of Young’s observations. While my participants and myself are on the path to developing confidence in our bodies and movements on stage, there is no hesitancy in Hannigan’s presentation; she engages her whole body in it. It is also an example of how the body can be the vehicle for creating a piece of art and not something blocking the paths of musicality with concepts of gender. She uses her body and its movements to support her interpretation and even with a short skirt and high heels, trespasses conventional ideas of feminine movements.

I understood Hannigan’s astonishing performance after reading her article “Barbara Hannigan: no jacket required…” What I watched in her interpretation of Ligeti’s “Mysteries of the Macabre” was also years of effort, challenges, and transformation. She comments about the impact that performing Alban Berg’s “Lulu” brought to her life. Her description of Lulu resonates with my perception of Hannigan’s performance of Ligeti’s piece: “Whether she wears high heels and a sexy red dress or gym clothes, she is comfortable in her own skin . . . She’s an enormously powerful woman” (Hannigan para. 2).

References:

Beauvoir, Simon de. The Second Sex. London: Jonathan Cape, 2009. Print.

Grosz, Elizabeth. Volatile Bodies. Toward a Corporeal Feminism. USA: Indiana University Press, 1994. Print.

Hannigan, Barbara. “Barbara Hannigan: no jacket required…”. The Guardian. 12 Mar. 2015. Web. 19 Mar. 2015.

Young, Iris Marion. On Female Body Experience : “Throwing Like a Girl” and Other Essays. N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print

…otherwise known as the only way that a person who doesn’t own a cell phone and runs away from cameras will ever take and publish a selfie.

The sun was bright. The snow was crunchy. The shadows were long. And my camera couldn’t resist. That’s my story, anyway.

What did I learn? Shadows are an awful lot of fun! You can play hide and seek. You can photograph “through” them. You can hide in them. You can transform yourself into the michelin man, into an inukshuk, into the tallest person on the planet. And you can point the camera in any direction and get a completely different vision of yourself. Take a look –

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I might hate taking selfies, but I can see their appeal. I’m also absolutely and utterly fascinated by the whole phenomenon of the selfie. There’s a special section on selfies coming soon in the International Journal of Communication, and in it, an essay by Beth Pentney and yours truly on breastfeeding selfies, self branding, and virtual lactivism.

The story of a friendship, profoundly shaped by and through bodies and embodied experience. Meet Dan Harvey and Drew Nelles, friends through awkward childhoods, into teenage resentments, and then, through the accident that crushed one of Harvey’s vertebrae, and beyond.

I HAVE LEARNED things from Dan: how to sit quietly beside a person who needs my presence, how to operate a lift and strap a wheelchair into a van. But I am resistant to the idea, occasionally suggested, that disabled people are here to teach us something about the value of human existence, that the rest of us should treasure what we have, for it might be taken from us tomorrow. The lives of disabled people have intrinsic importance, independent of whatever they might offer the able bodied. When accidents like Dan’s occur, our first instinct is to scour them for meaning, but there is no cosmic truth here. There is only the random lightning strike, the explosion of a dying planet—only suffering and our capacity to overcome it.

You can read the rest of this article, in The Walrus, here.

Wandering through a creative photography blog about the Japanese art of wabi sabi and came across this interesting premise for photography…. and for memorialization, as imagined by Nagano Toyokazu (scroll down the webpage to get to this):

When I started, I was taking photos with a camera in order to keep family memories, but I now take photos to create family memories. Therefore, I do not take photos of my family’s facial expressions during everyday moments, or of their natural movements. I take photos by creating fictional scenes after setting up a certain theme in advance and then thinking about what kind of pose would be interesting.“

Wow. This takes the whole notion of the crafted life in a whole new direction. When we tell our stories, are we recording memories to keep them, or are we creating new stories, inventing new selves?

Guest blogger, Gina Snooks, is a Master of Gender Studies student at Memorial University. She’s currently writing her thesis on women’s tattooing practices and spirituality. In September 2015, she’ll begin doctoral work in the Department of Women’s Studies and Feminist Research at the University of Western Ontario. Here, she examines the invisibility of incarcerated bodies, and the implications of such invisibility.

Silent Bodies Speaking From Behind Bars
By Gina Snooks
(also published on Gina’s blog: http://nothingtocrowabout.com/2015/03/23/silent-bodies-speaking-from-behind-bars/)

Tough guys don’t cry. Well, tough guys in prison don’t cry. Well, tough guys in prison don’t cry except when Theo Fleury opens up about his life story, as an inmate named Charles commented in a sound bite that was played during an interview with Fleury and Charles Alder on 680 CJOB, a radio station in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Theo Fleury, ex-NHL star, ex-drug addict, survivor of childhood sexual abuse and now motivational speaker went to Stony Mountain Penitentiary recently to speak to about 100 men who are incarcerated in the federal correctional institution commonly known simply as Stony, located in Winnipeg. Fleury’s message was of hope and healing. He spoke, also, about finding his way back to himself. And, apparently he had men in tears. Tough men.

Word on the street is that Stony’s a tough place. So, it’s not surprising that guys there are not accustomed to bearing witness to each other’s tears, particularly tears that are invoked by a man who reminds them that “we’re all on a healing journey.”

Fleury’s appearance at Stony is not unlike the work being done through the Prison Music Project, led by activist Zoe Boekbinder, who has teamed up with inmates and formerly incarcerated men along with producer Ani DiFranco to make an album of songs written by men who have served time in California prisons. I imagine Fluery and Boekbinder have similar intentions as Johnny Cash did when he wrote the song “Folsom Prison Blues,” which he performed inside the walls of that prison to an audience of inmates in 1968; the point is, bodies behind bars matter.

With that in mind, I am left wondering: how can we talk about embodied life experiences in the absence of bodies?

Maybe it’s more accurate to ask: how do we talk about bodies that are concealed, confined, hidden. Bodies that are silenced, as my colleague Amy Sheppard reminded the audience during her recent presentation in which she spoke of dance as methodology for incarcerated women to explore body image. How is it that some bodies are silenced and hidden from view, some might argue forgotten; yet, these same bodies are under permanent surveillance and on constant display — both inside institutions and also upon release.

Once a body has been marked with a prison number can it ever be unmarked?

Obviously, for those serving a life sentence their bodies will remain marked, given that even if released on parole they will be monitored by the correctional system for life. I’m not really questioning technicalities, though. Rather, I am wondering about the ways in which silenced bodies tell their own stories.

In the process of grappling with these questions I came across a quote that struck me as a particularly powerful statement:

“Shamed people feel the eyes of others on them, even when experiencing the emotion in solitude” (Tangney et al., qtd. in Mobley).

I typed this remark, this narrative, and then I sat staring at the screen as though I had nothing else to say. It seemed that whatever I attempted to express was inadequate; simply put, it wasn’t enough. Then I heard a faint voice coming from inside me say “big girls don’t cry.”

“F#@K YOU!” I shouted back. Whose voice was that anyway? I’ll cry if I want to, I’m just not sure why I would want to.

And, you know what, tough guys can cry too if they want to. Who says they can’t?

I want to be clear, when I say incarcerated men (and women) are tough I’m not talking about a physical hardness, though I imagine some are. Instead, I am referring to the kind of strength it takes to break one’s soul wide open, the kind of strength it takes to speak though the silences, the kind of toughness that comes from looking deep inside and sometimes facing the voices that haunt bodies. I’m talking about the kind of inner strength it takes for a person to acknowledge the marks they’ve placed upon their bodies and the kind of strength it takes to tell those stories though silenced bodies.

Some bodies telling stories through bars, because as the folk singer/songwriter Passenger says, we all have holes but we carry on

Work Cited

Mobley, Alan. “Seeing Shame: Legal Storytelling and Prisoner Rehabilitation.” Journal of Prisoners on Prisons (2014): 23.1. Print.

A fascinating article on the social science of genetics –

Your DNA is not a blueprint. Day by day, week by week, your genes are in a conversation with your surroundings. Your neighbors, your family, your feelings of loneliness: They don’t just get under your skin, they get into the control rooms of your cells. Inside the new social science of genetics.

That’s how it begins.

And it continues by describing an experiment involving baby European honeybees, baby African killer bees, and genetics.

Here’s the basic recipe: take 250 baby bees of one kind and foster them out to a new family…. and then watch what happens. The results were dramatic:

When he got the cards, says Robinson, “the results were stunning.” For the bees that had been kidnapped, life in a new home had indeed altered the activity of “whole sectors” of genes. When their gene expression data was viewed on the cards alongside the data for groups of bees raised among their own kin, a mere glance showed the dramatic change. Hundreds of genes had flipped colors. The move between hives didn’t just make the bees act differently. It made their genes work differently, and on a broad scale.

What’s more, the cards for the adopted bees of both species came to ever more resemble, as they moved through life, the cards of the bees they moved in with. With every passing day their genes acted more like those of their new hive mates (and less like those of their genetic siblings back home). Many of the genes that switched on or off are known to affect behavior; several are associated with aggression. The bees also acted differently. Their dispositions changed to match that of their hive mates. It seemed the genome, without changing its code, could transform an animal into something very like a different subspecies.

These bees didn’t just act like different bees. They’d pretty much become different bees. To Robinson, this spoke of a genome far more fluid—far more socially fluid—than previously conceived.

Want to read the rest of the article? You can find it here.