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    PROF. CARRIE TIRADO BRAMEN: an Interview

    Bionote: Carrie Tirado Bramen is a Professor of English at the University of Buffalo and she just completed a six-year term as Director of the University’s Gender Institute. She is the author of two books, American Niceness: A Cultural History (Harvard 2017), and The Uses of Variety: Modern Americanism and the Quest for National Distinctiveness (Harvard 2000). The latter was co-winner of the Thomas J. Wilson prize for best first book published by Harvard University Press. She has written for the Washington Post,

    The Conversation, Black Agenda Report, Political Theology Network, and Times Higher Education. She is currently working on a book entitled, “The Journey-work of the Stars”: A Cultural History of Astrology in the American Nineteenth-Century.”

     

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    This interview by Sourabhi Dutta Roy is featured in the book,

    “ANONYMOUS WAS A WOMAN”:

    an anthology of poems, short stories and interviews available worldwide via Amazon. 

    Here is the India link.

    ***

     

    TMYS: Would you like to share with us some stories/experiences of the women from the ‘coloured communities’ whose identities are immensely marginalised, when compared to 'White Feminism'? The stories that have left a mark on you, and that made you want to conduct your research specifically on the people of colour. Tell Me Your Story!

    CTB:

    I came of age during the publication of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa. This book, combined with the Combahee River Collective Statement in 1977, articulated a powerful critique of second-wave white feminism and brought into being what we would later call intersectional feminism. I value the importance of that moment and it is still relevant for today, but since then I have come to see white feminism as less of a monolith and far more diverse. I live in a city—the third poorest in the US—that has a large white working-class and poor population. At the same time, we have black leadership, which is not concerned with poor people—white, black, or brown. We need a language to talk about the intersection of race, class, and gender that doesn’t assume a politics based on someone’s identity.

     

    TMYS: Every culture has its sets of myths, and each of these myths have Gods or powerful characters who were androgynous in some way or form. Instances of cross-dressing or sex-change is not uncommon in either history or mythology. Having done research on astrology, which has a fine line with mythology, how do you think this strong narrative of inclusivity and diversity in the past stopped inspiring the behaviour and practices of modern societies?

    CTB:

    I want to respond to your point about astrology and inclusivity. I attended my first astrology conference in 2019 and I was struck—and so were the baby boomer organisers—by the wave of young people who attended for the first time. The organisers were delighted to see a new generation of astrologers, engaged and involved, and many of the new members were queer-identified and nonbinary. For Millennials and GenZ, astrology provides a safe space, a subculture of inclusivity where they can explore who they are and who they want to become. I think Alice Sparkly Kat’s work epitomises this generational voice.

     

    TMYS: While talking about gender equality, we use so many terms, first ‘feminism’, then to counter it ‘pseudo-feminism’ and finally the dreaded ‘male-bashing’. Recently the summer Hollywood release 'Barbie' faced polarising opinions on either being a feminist film or driven by the basic agenda of 'male-bashing', and this perhaps somewhat dimmed the film from what it was supposed to be - Entertainment. Do you think this unnecessary labelling complicates and often defeats the passing down of one simple message of love and equality for all?

    CTB:

    The debate about “Barbie” was fantastic: the movie provided a way to discuss gender roles and expectations that combined seriousness with humour. I loved how the film poked fun at hetero-masculinity and the fact that it triggered some men, including right-wing idealogue, Ben Shapiro, made it even more worthwhile. This summer, there was a wave of Barbie breakups1, women who broke up with their boyfriends upon seeing another side to them after viewing the film. They reacted defensively to Ken’s portrayal, not having the self-deprecating humour that Ryan Gosling and the other actors had in portraying the character. Feminists have long been dismissed as being humourless, and what I appreciated about “Barbie” was how it turned that stereotype on its head by exposing the humourless straight boys in the audience. “Barbie” is entertainment, but it is also a reminder of how powerful popular culture can be in creating much needed discussions about gender roles and heterosexuality.

     

    TMYS: Motherhood is one of the prime identities that a woman 'must' embrace. Women are often called ‘selfish’ by their families and friends, for not wanting to have children. Even more so if it is a woman’s decision to further her career. Having done extensive research on maternity and birth rights, what is your take on motherhood and its impact on women's anonymity?

    CTB:

    I do think the widespread ban on abortion access is a way to force American women to become mothers: it is mandated motherhood. And it’s appalling that young women today have fewer rights in the U.S. than I had in the 1980s and 1990s. With that said, I don’t think we are living in a pro-feminist era. A Pew Study2 recently came out that noted that the vast majority of American women (4 out of 5) still take their husband’s last name. But they did note that there are differences based on their political views, age, and income. Latinas (30%) tend to keep their last names. So the tradition of renaming oneself through marriage still carries on.

    Recently, there have been a number of feminist books published in the UK and the US on abolishing the family, which develops the 1970s feminist family abolitionist movement. I’m thinking of Sophie Lewis’s Abolish the Family: A Manifesto for Care and Liberation (2022).

     

    TMYS: The USA was recently under a lot of heat and flak for the reversal of Roe V. Wade. Would you like to shed some light on the gender injustice that came along with abortion laws and the politics of the female body, throughout History?

    CTB:

    The Dobbs decision is a huge blow for reproductive rights in the U.S. It declared that a woman’s right to an abortion is not protected under the U.S. Constitution, thus overturning with a stroke of a pen fifty years of protection under Roe v Wade (1973). Now, it is up to the states to decide. As of now, 21 states have banned abortion or have severely restricted it. In many states, the battle is now being fought in courtrooms. On August 23, the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. The ban took effect immediately. On August 21st, a near total abortion ban took effect in Indiana. Women who have the financial means are forced to travel farther and farther distances to have a safe abortion.

    58% of American women between the ages of 13-44 live in a state hostile or extremely hostile to abortion rights. I encourage your readers to view the Guttmacher Institute’s website to stay up to date on the latest information on this issue.

    With that said, other states have made important changes to their state constitutions—as well as adding other legal shields-- to protect a woman’s right to an abortion, and to protect doctors from laws in other states. Voters in Kansas successfully prevented a ban to abortion in their state constitution.

    Republicans are finding that banning abortion is not that popular with voters, especially younger voters who support abortion access; and 70% of American women of reproductive age want birth control to be available over the counter.

    From a hemispheric perspective, it’s important to point out that while the right to abortion has been radically curtailed in the U.S., there is a “green wave” (“Marea Verde”) in Latin America that has liberalised abortion access in traditionally Catholic countries such as in Argentina, Uruguay, and most recently, in Mexico.

     

    TMYS: Anonymity and pseudonyms have been a historical question for women authors. From a historical standpoint, how do you think this culture of anonymity and pseudonyms have been institutionalised, not just for women authors, but women professionals in general and how can this be fought back?

    CTB:

    I’m currently writing a book about astrology in the nineteenth century and many of the male astrologers who were of the professional classes, practised and published astrology under a pseudonym. This has been one of the more fascinating aspects of the research to try to find out who these figures were, but it also points to the fact that pseudonyms were also liberating in that they provided a subcultural identity among those in the know, so to speak. They would sign letters to each other with their pseudonyms in quotes---as if the reader knew who they really were. It was the written equivalent of a knowing wink. Pseudonyms can be seen as a way of practising a forbidden pleasure.

     

    TMYS: Nationalism has been long understood as a deeply gendered phenomenon, where the roles and rights of the citizens are defined with a preference towards the males. How would you say the concept of nation connects with the intersection of sexuality, race and migration?

    CTB:

    Nationalism has certainly been engendered in male terms and we see that in the backlash towards women’s reproductive rights. This same backlash has been targeted towards the LGBTQ community as well. Patriarchy needs to police women’s bodies, as well as queer bodies, and the fact that trans women of colour are the primary victims of violence speaks to this perceived threat to male dominance.

    This same mindset that polices gender and sexuality can be extended to the policing of national borders. The fear of the nation being penetrated by ‘migrant hordes,’ as the Daily Mail and other right-wing outlets depict it, is certainly part of the same need to keep people in their place, and it’s not unique to the US. We are seeing it globally from South Africa and India to Mexico in their treatment of Central Americans.

     

    TMYS: The term 'hysteria' is almost always connected to women with a negative connotation- like the 'fangirl hysteria' where screaming at a concert is seen as juvenile and embarrassing. It is time and again that female voices and enthusiasm are suppressed. As a professor, inspiring many minds year after year, what kind of intervention do you offer or would like to offer to your students in order to see a more inclusive future?

    CTB:

    I actually have written on screaming fangirls at a Justin Bieber concert for the Syndicate. Although I don’t have to worry about ‘fangirl hysteria’ in my classroom, I try to teach my students the power and pleasure of reflection: to interrogate social roles in our society, cultivate a degree of media literacy, and to develop a moral compass so that they become the source of their own authority, without letting others define it for them. 

     

    ***

    This interview by Sourabhi Dutta Roy is featured in the book,

    “ANONYMOUS WAS A WOMAN”: an anthology of poems, short stories and interviews

    available worldwide via Amazon. 

    Here is the India link.

    ***

     

    1. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/barbie-movie-breakup_l_64c3052ce4b044bf98f44379

    2. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/12/upshot/maiden-names-change.html

    3. https://www.guttmacher.org/united-states/abortion

     

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