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Body Parts

 March 19, 2013 • 1 Comment (Edit)



Middlebury College

April 8-12, 2013

Why do we associate breasts with women and muscled forearms with men?  Why do we think six-pack abs are masculine and carefully manicured nails are feminine?  Are we the sum of our body parts?  Who decides what our body parts mean?  These and other questions about our bodies guide the 2013 Gensler Family Symposium on Feminism in a Global Context to be held at Middlebury College during the week of April 8-12.  Through an array of events — student panels, performances, film screening, formal presentations – this year’s symposium, entitled “Body Parts”, explores how some body parts come to stand in for our sexed and gendered identities.  We will be exploring these questions from a variety of disciplinary perspectives such as biology, literature, and theology.  The formal presentations include renowned scholars from the University of Michigan, Johns Hopkins University, University of Massachusetts-Amherst and other schools.  The events are spread out over the week of April 8-12 and include student perspectives.


Body Parts Abstracts

Peggy McCracken, “The Wild Man’s Penis: Gendered Anatomy and Becoming Human.”

This presentation focuses on a fourteenth-century literary text, Tristan de Nanteuil, that recounts the story of a child raised by animals in the forest (I’ll explain the story). The text includes unusually prominent and explicit references to gendered anatomy and it uses these references to mark animal/human difference. Yet gendered body parts are not unique to humans; moreover, this text also represents a number of successful gender performances by women who impersonate knights, suggesting that gender identity is not defined by anatomy. What is the role, then, of gendered anatomy in this text? I will explore the values that representations of the wild man’s penis ground and promote, and I will argue that the tensions represented in this medieval text may make visible tensions that subtend theoretical understandings of the relationship between gender, humanity, and animality.

Michelle Voss Roberts, “Body Parts: How Comparative Theology Assists a Feminist View of the Human Being.”

The modern West has long been constrained by series of hierarchical dualisms in which the human being is seen as spirit/flesh or mind/body. Intercultural and interreligious comparison can provide imaginative paradigms that break out of the anti-body and misogynistic implications of this system. In this talk, Lalleshwari of Kashmir and Mechthild of Magdeburg, two premodern women theologians, help us to dismantle dualisms and to talk meaningfully about the body in the plural: body parts. They invite us to a subtle and complex vision of the human being that is as close to each person as their own breath.

Banu Subramaniam, “Global Citizenship? Genomes, Nations, and the Politics of Belonging.”

Recent developments in genetics have opened up new epistemologies into human histories. In keeping with the theme of “Body Parts” of this symposium, “genes” have come to represent a “material” historical account of human ancestry. Genetic studies on human migrations and diversity suggest global genealogical relationships often unacknowledged within national histories. How should we understand these relationships within the confines of nation states? How do these new genealogical understandings support or disrupt national histories? This talk examines the case of genetic histories of the peoples of India. It will explore the contentious history of race, caste and science in India and how genetic studies complicate and obfuscate the relationships of our understandings of our “genetic” natures and cultures. How then should we view the liberal subject that transmutates through genetic and cultural migrations?

Darla Thompson, “Technologies of the Body: Iron Collars, Chain Gangs, and Enslaved Black Women in Antebellum Louisiana.”

Ranging in time and focus from the initiation of the New Orleans women’s chain gang in 1813 through the early 1860s, I discuss how the chain gang, jails, Louisiana penitentiary, and plantations operated as a broad assemblage of racialized and gendered spaces for the control and containment of enslaved women’s laboring bodies. Iron collars with projecting spikes or upward prongs with bells were prominently used to control slaves on plantations and in urban areas. Through their materiality, iron collars, used to visually mark women as runaways, convicts, or sexual transgressions, also shaped the movement of women’s bodies by becoming a punishing physical extension. Enslaved women and girls convicted of crimes under the Black Code could be sentenced to whipping and labor in an iron collar on a plantation with three branches for years. Enslaved women who were not convicted of crimes, but were captured runaways from throughout the South, were put on New Orleans chain gangs in order to ensure that they were not “idle,” and in order to subject them to a form of punishment considered more humiliating than imprisonment in jails or “the lash.” These “chain gang negresses” worked alongside enslaved men digging ditches, building and repairing levees, and cleaning markets. Enslaved women incarcerated in the state penitentiary (a rarity in the pre-Civil War South) were sent to build roads alongside incarcerated male (slaves and “free” men of color) convicts. Drawing on a diverse set of resources, I piece together the histories of women whose laboring bodies served a multiplicity of functions across these different spaces of confinement, in order to reproduce the infrastructure of slavery.

Bernadette Wegenstein, “The Cure: the History and Culture of Breast Cancer.”

From early diagnosis to the full treatment of breast cancer — The Cure, Bernadette Wegenstein’s current feature documentary about breast cancer, follows four patients and their medical staff at a top U.S. breast care clinic. Through these patient stories the film recounts the transformation of breast cancer from the first disfiguring radical mastectomy in the late 19th century to today’s patient-driven medicine, where cancer meets the beauty industry, and where the loss of the breast is celebrated as sacrifice and rebirth. The talk will include clips from the character-driven Cinéma Vérité documentary The Cure, currently in production, as well as theoretical remarks on the the breast as a symbol of femininity, ultimately a phallic symbol—that which decides hierarchy, power, life, and death. The talk explores how the breast defines female identity from Saint Agatha, whose breast sacrifice became a symbol of female power in Sicily to the modern woman who becomes involved in a variety of reconstructions and procedures after a mastectomy.

E. Frances White, “Something Out of Kilter: Black Women’s Breasts, the Missing Link and Black Feminist Resistance”

Pendulous, flaccid, distended—19th and early 20th century scientists and explorers consistently used such words to describe African women’s breasts as if something was somehow out of kilter.  This talk explores the anxiety projected onto Black women’s breasts as such men probed the similarities and differences between African and European women.  I pay particular attention to the development of a dominant discourse on South African women’s bodies, noting that southern Africa played a special role in westerners search for the “Missing Link” between man and ape.  The paper ends with the counter-discourse of feminists to dominant depictions by such 21st century South African feminists as Zanele Muholi, Pumla Gqola and Desiree Lewis.

Speaker Bios

Ofelia Barrios is the Senior Director of Community Health Initiatives at Iris House in New York City.  She has worked in the areas of HIV/AIDS for over sixteen years. Currently serves as the Senior Director of Community Health Initiatives at Iris House, Inc. in New York City.  Ms. Barrios has expertise in HIV program planning, prevention education, behavioral interventions, coalition building, evaluation, strategic planning, advocacy, policy, grant writing, capacity building and technical assistance, and request for proposal process. She holds a Masters Degree from the University of New Mexico, a Bachelors Degree from Middlebury College and is also a graduate of the CDC/ASPH Institute for HIV Prevention Leadership Institute.

Peggy McCracken is Professor of French and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan.  She also has an appointment in Comparative Literature.  Professor McCracken’s research focuses on the French Middle Ages with a focus on gender and sexuality in medieval romance. She is currently working on a book about embodiment and sovereignty called In the Skin.  She is the author of numerous books including Marie de France: A Critical Companion, co-authored with Sharon Kinoshita (2012).  Her other recent works include a translation of Gui de Cambrai’s twelfth-century Barlaam et Josaphatand a co-authored book, with Donald S. Lopez, Jr., called In Search of the Christian Buddha. I am currently working on a book about embodiment and sovereignty called In the Skin.

Morgane Veronique Richardson is a fourth wave antiracist feminist and social media strategist. In 2008, she founded Refuse The Silence: Women of Color in Academia Speak Out ( to reconcile the existing hegemony within elite academia with the desire for diverse campuses.  Subsequently, in 2009, she co-founded a social media firm, MixtapeMedia, which works on pro-social campaigns for clients such as the United Nations. Morgane’s reflections on women, race and education have been published in numerous blogs and magazines including, Bitch, Feministing, The Burlington Free Press, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. In 2010, she was featured as one of More Magazine’s “New Feminists You Need To Know.”  She is an adjunct professor at the City University of New York and social media event planner for JustPublics@365.  Morgane holds a B.A. in Sociology/Anthropology and The History of Art and Architecture from Middlebury College and an M.A. in Gender and Peace Building from the United Nations University For Peace.

Banu Subramaniam is associate professor of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is coeditor of Feminist Science Studies: A New Generation (Routledge, 2001) and Making Threats: Biofears and Environmental Anxieties (Rowman and Littlefield, 2005). Trained as a plant evolutionary biologist, she seeks to engage the social and cultural studies of science in the practice of science. Spanning the humanities, social sciences, and the biological sciences, her research is located at the intersections of biology, women’s studies, ethnic studies and postcolonial studies. Her current work focuses on the genealogies of variation in evolutionary biology, the xenophobia and nativism that accompany frameworks on invasive plant species, and the relationship of science and religious nationalism in India.

Darla Thompson is a dissertation scholar at Middlebury College and is affiliated with the Program in American Studies. She is completing her doctorate at Cornell University’s Science and Technology Studies.

Michelle Voss Roberts is Assistant Professor of Theology and Culture at Wake Forest University’s Divinity School.

Bernadette Wegenstein is an Austrian media & film theorist and documentary filmmaker. She is a  Research Professor at Johns Hopkins University. She writes and teaches about body theory, technology, feminist film theory, and documentary film. My first documentary Made Over in America is a filmic essay about the culture of makeover television. She recently completed the documentary See You Son Again, a contemporary exploration about Holocaust education. For more information, visit  Professor Wegenstein is the author of the monographs “Die Darstellung von AIDS in den Medien” (1998), “Getting Under the Skin” (2006), “Die Arbeit am eigenen Koerper” (2008), “The Cosmetic Gaze” (2011), among other publications on body criticism, feminist issues and film.



Fran White E. Frances White is Professor of History and Black Studies at Gallatin and the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis in the Faculty of Arts and Science. She has served as NYU’s Vice Provost for Faculty Development from 2005 to 2008 and Dean of the Gallatin School from 1998 to 2005. She has been awarded fellowships from the Danforth Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among others. She has also been a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar in Sierra Leone and the Gambia. Before coming to NYU, she taught at Fourah Bay College of the University of Sierra Leone and at Hampshire College. Her awards include the Catherine T. and John D. MacArthur Chair in History (1985-1988) and the Letitia Brown Memorial Publication Prize for the best book on black women (1987). Her teaching and research interests include the history of Africa and its diaspora, history of gender and sexuality, and critical race theory. Her books include Sierra Leone’s Settler Women Traders, Women in Sub-Saharan Africa, and Dark Continent of Our Bodies. She is at work on a book about Afro-British Cultural Studies.


Body Parts Schedule

April 8


Come and talk about Body Parts@Midd. Student-led conversation on our bodies, our selves.

Crossroads Cafe, 7-9 pm


We asked Middlebury: What is your favorite body part?

Click here for the responses!


April 9

The Fat Body (In)Visible

In this insightful short documentary, three fat activists speak candidly about growing up overweight, and the size discrimination they have faced. Their stories detail the intricacies of identity and the intersection of race and gender with fatness— and how social media has helped this community enact visibility on their own terms.

MBH 104, 7-9 pm

April 10

American Eunuchs

This documentary investigates the underworld of modern eunuchs in America. Each year in the United States hundreds of men voluntarily choose to be castrated and reinvent their sexual identity for reasons other than sex reassignment.

MBH 104, 7-9 pm

April 11

Michelle Voss Roberts, “Body Parts: How a Comparative Theology Assists a Feminist View of the Human Being.”  (Wake Forest Divinity School)

Robert A. Jones ’59 House, 2nd floor Conference Room, 4:30 pm


Race(d) Body Parts

Ofelia Barrios ’93 “Women, Gender and HIV Prevention”

Morgane Richardson ’08 “Women of Color: Taking Media Into Our Own Hands”

Midd Alums discuss how race, sexuality and gender intersect in our understanding of body parts.

The Orchard (Room 103), The Franklin Environmental Center at Hillcrest, 6–8 pm


April 12

Robert A. Jones ’59 House, 2nd floor Conference Room, 12:30- 2:00 pm

E. Frances White (New York University), “Something Out of Kilter: Black Women’s Breasts, the Missing Link, and Black Feminist Resistance.”

Bernadette Wegenstein (Johns Hopkins University), “The Cure: The Culture and History of Breast Cancer.”

Robert A. Jones ’59 House, 2nd floor Conference Room, 2:15-4:30 pm

Peggy McCracken (University of Michigan), “The Wild Man’s Penis: Gendered Anatomy and Becoming Human.”

Darla Thompson (Middlebury College), “Technologies of the Body: Iron Collars, Chain Gangs, and Enslaved Black Women in Antebellum Louisiana.”

Banu Subramaniam (University of Massachusetts-Amherst), “Global Citizenship?: Genomes, Nations, and the Politics of Belonging.”

Program in Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies

Chellis House Women's Resource Center
56 Hillcrest Road
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753