Join us for our next Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies (GSWS) Graduate Student Colloquium on Monday, November 3rd, from 12:00 to 1:30 pm in Cohen Hall 436. The colloquium will feature presentations from Jennifer Wilson (Russian Literature, Princeton University) and Danielle Hanley (Political Science). Descriptions of the presentations are included below.
Jennifer Wilson (Russian Literature, Princeton)
“Tolstoy, Spinsters, and the Struggle for Women’s Rights in Post-Serfdom Russia”
The paper explores representations of spinsters in three of Lev Tolstoy’s major novels: the almost-spinster Princess Marya of War and Peace (1869), Varenka of Anna Karenina (1878), and Marya Pavlovna of Resurrection (1899). In this paper, I argue that over the course of his literary career, Tolstoy positively depicts spinsters as figures of social disruption who represent alternative life paths for women not determined by male sexual desire. Beginning with War and Peace and ending with his final novel, Resurrection, I trace the development of the “Tolstoyan Spinster” from its earliest iteration to its culmination in the figure of the female nihilist. This paper also situates Tolstoy’s treatment of the unmarried woman within the context of larger political debates in Russian and European society about the fate of so-called “surplus women.” Ultimately, I argue that what is commonly referred to in Russian history as “the Woman Question” (the debate about women’s rights in 19th century Russia) should in fact be known as “the Spinster Question” as many of the women who agitated for political reform were unmarried. Given the association between spinsters and political change in 19th century Russia, I argue that Tolstoy’s spinsters must be examined through the lens of radical politics.
Danielle Hanley (Political Science)
“Biological Drag: The Performative Potential of Tears”
Literature and history document the tears of numerous men and women alike, yet crying is often characterized as feminine, which can take on a variety of meanings. For example, for Adam Smith, femininity was associated with weakness. He expressed this opinion in Theory of Moral Sentiments: “If we shed any tears, we carefully conceal them, and are afraid, lest the spectators, not entering into this excessive tenderness, should regard it as effeminacy and weakness.” Women who cry in public are not immune to charges of femininity or weakness. Crying, though possible in all humans, is considered a gendered activity; it is assigned the female gender. In this paper, I advance the argument that crying is actually part of the performance of gender; it is a performative act that helps convey and constitute femininity. It is for this reason that men and women may be judged for their tears. This paper looks at J. L. Austin’s notion of performative utterances and explores Judith Butler’s expansion of this idea in gender studies, which I subsequently apply to the act of crying. I expand upon Butler’s notion of performativity by moving beyond drag to include natural phenomenon (here, tears). Ultimately, by moving from performative utterances, to the performativity of gender, to crying as a performative act, I wish to expose the ways in which gendered meaning has been read into the universal, biological phenomenon of crying itself.