Yale Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Volume 4, Issue 2
spring 2014
Editor, Geetanjali Singh Chanda
Managing Editors, Linda Hase & Craig Canfield
Layout Design, Nick Appleby

power/sex: consent, constraint, context

by David Minto, HIST ‘14


The three ‘B’s’ - Biopower, BDSM, and Beyoncé were recurring themes during a two-day symposium at Yale this February on ‘power/sex: consent, constraint, context’. The fourth “B,” of course, was the Broken Leg sported by the event’s organizer, WGSS Professor Joe Fischel–reportedly sustained during the practice of extreme yoga… Thank you, Joe, for nevertheless continuing to compere this stimulating event that brought together a stellar line-up of thinkers on the topic of where power and sex intersect.     

The two public panels on the first day offered an eclectic range of topics spanning from the resistance of Southern black women to rape around the time of the Civil War to political activism today that positions the occupation of Palestine as a queer issue. If repression is the idiom of the “Other Victorians,” Joe Fischel asked the 100 or so audience members in his introductory remarks, should we consider consent to be the idiom of the “Other Neoliberals”? The two papers on the first panel engaged that thesis as University of Washington sociologist Chandan Reddy provided an analysis of the cultural power-play surrounding the persistence of gay marriage as a political issue in the United States, while Columbia Law School Professor Katherine Franke asked what the new phenomenon of gay divorces revealed about sexual politics and the state. A second panel saw Yale’s Crystal Feimster provide a historian’s perspective on “sexual sovereignty” in her reading of Southern black women’s campaigns to make rape visible in the C19th at a time when white supremacy construed them as always consenting. She was joined by Wesleyan sociologist Margot Weiss, who spoke on the counter-intuitive consumerist conformity of San Francisco’s BDSM scene, and University of Buffalo English Professor Tim Dean, who offered a meditative paper on the reproductive stakes of Henrietta Lacks—the African-American woman who unwittingly provided the cell line used today in much medical research.

Discussion over dinner and at a brunch for participants the next day lighted upon many unexpected connections between the paper topics before it—more predictably—returned to Beyoncé. Thanks again to Joe and all those who worked to make the power/sex symposium happen.
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