Archive: Feb 2015

FR Huddle: Amy, Gayle, Trina, Tristan, & Mindy

Most of us here at Feminist Reflections (FR) just got back from attending the 2015 Winter Meetings for Sociologists for Women in Society in blustery Washington, D.C. Trina Smith organized a panel presentation on the founding of Feminist Reflections as “a space for feminist public sociology.”

We ended up with a time slot during the 3:30 – 4:30pm coffee break instead of our planned 2pm slot and, also without our knowledge, our panel was shortened from 90 to 60 minutes. Luckily, our small conference room was packed. We sped up our presentations to leave time for what was really an invigorating conversation. Thanks to all of you who gave up your coffee break to join us and participated in the Q&A.

We wanted to take this chance to reproduce some of our SWS panel for you here on FR. We started with some history and then moved on to why we blog, and why specifically we blog here.

Feminist Reflections was borne out of a discussion at the 2014 SWS Winter Meeting one year ago in Nashville. Gayle Sulik and Meika Loe invited Tristan Bridges to participate in a roundtable discussion on blogging and the lack of a digital feminist platform for public sociology. Amy Blackstone and Trina Smith were two of the attendees to this small group discussion, and over the hour that our conversation took shape, we came up with the idea of collaborating and potentially working with The Society Pages (TSP).

Slide02 Pre-FRIt took 5 months to get our ideas together, set up a plan, come up with a blog name that reflected our mission, and work with the incredible team at TSP to transform our idea into a reality. All of a sudden Feminist Reflections was real.

FR has been live for just over 6 months. We’ve had more than 75 posts, 5 amazing guest contributors, and we’re thrilled that one of our guest contributors, Mindy Fried, will be the newest member of our editorial board!

After this brief history, we [Gayle, Amy, Trina, Tristan, and Mindy] each presented on various reasons for blogging.

Gayle talked about blogging as a labor of love (emphasis on both the love and labor). But through blogging, Gayle has found extraordinary opportunities for collaboration, a professional platform, and access to audiences who, though they may benefit from feminist sociology, are not inclined to read the articles or books we most often use to share our insights and findings.

Public AmyAmy shared how blogging led to greater public visibility, allowing her to help shape a national conversation about making the choice to be childfree. She also discussed the support, community, and fun that comes from joining a collaborative feminist sociological blog.

Trina shared her experience of moving to the rural South and thinking about sociology as a coping mechanism to help process some of the struggles associated with that. She also asked us to consider important questions about power and knowledge—“Who can speak about sociology?” and “What can they speak about?” Amy Stone summed up Trina’s important answer:Trina QuoteTristan talked about using blogging as a way of injecting more nuance into conversations going on in the media related to his research. He also discussed the importance of blogging as establishing a new feminist network of support and engagement after leaving graduate school.

Mindy concluded our panel with an important discussion of the blurred lines between personal and professional that blogging sometimes allows. Like Gayle, she also addressed the power of collaboration through blogging in addition to some of the ways she uses blogging in teaching, applied work, and to make sense of feminist sociological triumphs and struggles.

Some of our engaged listeners.

After our panel, we had a chance to meet up the next day in person again to talk about future directions for the blog. As Gayle put it in her opening presentation at the panel,

“Feminist Reflections is a room of our own. Even better, there’s room in this room.”

We are committed to sharing this space with others interested in using feminist sociological lenses to reflect on issues important to them. And we’re open to these taking on a variety of forms: discussions of teaching practices, personal experiences, emerging research problems and findings, and more. We are excited to share the feminist reflections of others and are in the process of developing formal guidelines for guest contributors. Please consider Feminist Reflections as a potential outlet and platform for sharing your voice.

Amy Blackstone & Mindy Fried
Amy Blackstone & Mindy Fried
Trina Smith, Tristan Bridges, & Gayle Sulik


FR LogoContributing editors and guest contributors of Feminist Reflections will be attending the 2015 Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS) Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C. (Feb. 19-22) to discuss our work.

Our Panel: “Feminist Reflections: A Space for Feminist Public Sociology”


How do we carve a space for feminist public sociology? Can feminist public sociology include not only highlights of important research in the media, but an understanding of the feminist sociological perspective, particularly applied to everyday life? How did a diverse group of gender scholars with varying research interests, places and positions within sociology, collaborate to create such a space? Feminist Reflections (FR) hosted by The Society Pages, is an example of this niche in feminist public sociology. The founders and contributing editors of FR include SWS members: Gayle Sulik, Tristan Bridges, Amy Blackstone, Meika Loe, and Trina Smith.

The panel will focus on the collective process of creating FR, the impact of this work, and our reflections on the first year. Panelists will address how FR is a form of feminist public sociology, the impact of this feminist space, and how blogging for FR has not only affects our research and teaching, but us personally. Panelists include the contributing editors and two feminist bloggers, Mindy Fried and C.J. Pascoe, who have contributed guest posts to FR and/or collaborated with the contributing editors. In addition, the panel serves as a way to build enthusiasm and support for this form of feminist public sociology by building a network of guest bloggers for FR.


old crazy

Why are mental health and disabilities fields that sociologists seem to neglect?

Historically, medical sociologists studied mental health and institutions. But there are few sources in the recent sociological literature on women and mental health. Feminist psychologists have done most of the research on these topics. With our intersectional frameworks, concern for social justice, and examination of structural oppression and intertwined institutions and identities, it is crucial for feminist sociologists to study gender and mental health (and disabilities).

We need to examine how women living with mental illness, and those with mental illness or disabilities in general, are labeled, viewed, and reacted to in a society that devalues emotions, lacks equity in access to quality mental health care, and criminalizes those with mental illness instead of supporting them. Even more necessary is perspective and insight on mothers who are living with mental illness, especially to give voice to women who may be afraid to speak about their experiences because of stigma.

David Karp is one of the few sociologists who has published on the experience of mental illness. In his book, Speaking of Sadness: Depression, Disconnection, and the Meanings of Illness, he states:

“Given the pervasiveness of depression, it is not surprising that both medical and social scientists have tried to understand its causes and suggest ways of dealing with…… As valuable as these studies might be, something crucial is missing. My view is that to really understand a human experience, it must be appreciated from the subjective view of the person undergoing it. …Underneath the rates, correlations, and presumed causes of behavior are real human beings who are trying to make sense of their lives” (p.11).

As sociologists we need to move away from the debate on ‘what causes mental illness’ and make room for understanding the experience of those living with it, especially for women and mothers. As David Karp notes in his work, the etiology of mental illness is complex. Sociologists can add to this research on causes, but we cannot pretend we have the grand answer. Our focus seems to be on critiques of the pharmaceutical industry and how diagnosis can be a form of social control. These are important issues, but by focusing on critiques, we neglect the stories of those who experience mental illness.

Does this mean that we are saying mental illness is not real? From the stories of women living with mental illness, we can still understand the structural forces that shape the experience, without denying that experience, and hopefully decreasing the stigma surrounding it.

To support this idea, and as an introduction to my new research on maternal mental health, I share stories, in this post, and the work of those who are using stories to dismantle the stigma that women and mothers living with mental illness experience. mom pic art

Motherhood and Mental Illness-Master Status

The blog post “Mothers and Mental Illness” written by Karen Spears Zucharias, author of Mother of Rain, tells the story of her friend who suffered from postpartum psychosis. (While this is something that can happen, it is rare. However, we may hear more about it because of the tragic events associated with it such as the death of a child.) Karen speaks volumes about mental health in this country including how we treat people with mental illness and how they may feel. These relate to sociological concepts of statuses, identity, labeling, and stigma. Karen states:

“People look at you differently when you’ve suffered from mental illness. Even when you’ve healed, there remains the nagging “what ifs” in the minds of others.”

Mental illness becomes your “master status.” With this being the case, do you ever get to have an emotion or make a mistake without your actions labeled as part of the mental illness, without the stigma? And more so, what are the consequences of this stigma, those negative sanctions that might include ending up handcuffed because of your mental illness?

A Mother in Handcuffs handcuffs

Dyane Harwood, a mother of two who lives with the mental illness bi-polar, writes about a horrendous experience in her blog post “Handcuffed and Lactating.” When her husband called 911 when she was in a manic-episode, symptomatic of her bi-polar disorder, four police offers showed up at her house to transport her to the Behavioral Health Unit. Although she was being compliant, they handcuffed her.

In her words, from the poem that begins her post:

“To this day, I can’t believe it

Why a lactating mother of two would be such a threat

I needed treatment, but I complied; I was willing to leave

My children for the hospital, near the street where I conceived

I didn’t need handcuffs – I had to laugh a bit

I wasn’t armed with a gun…what a bunch of bullshit!

I hope no other mother who’s manic and admits it

Doesn’t go through the humiliation of being treated like a convict.”

Is it any wonder why mothers, especially those living with mental illness, are afraid to ask for help? Mental illness is not a crime, nor is being a mother with a mental illness. And handcuffs do not heal. These stories are real, but we do not hear them. We do not have a space for women and mothers to share them, save for a few blogs and websites.

Stories To Tell voice

The website Stigmama, founded by Walker Karraa, PhD, focuses on the perspectives of mothers and women living with mental illness, along with those who live with them. She argues that these personal perspectives make a difference and advocates that we use the term mental ‘difference’ instead of mental ‘illness.’ Dr. Karraa express this in a powerful way in the introduction to the website:

“I have always believed in the power of women, especially those who have been touched by mental illness or mental difference, to create change. We are different. We see what others don’t, write what others won’t, and give beauty to the deepest experiences of motherhood and the human soul. I created Stigmama for mothers of all ages to do just that. To speak their truths in a non-judgmental, supportive, creative community. We need the wisdom and support of others to unpack stigma of mental difference in motherhood.”

This relates to another quote from Karp, speaking to the importance of giving voice to those who rarely get to have a voice.

“The essential problem with nearly all studies of depression is that we hear the voices of a battalion of mental health experts (doctors, nurses, social works, sociologists, psychologists, therapists) and never the voices of depressed people themselves. We do not hear what depression feels like, what it means to receive an “official” diagnosis, or what depressed individuals think of therapeutic experiences. Nor do we learn the meanings that patients attach to taking psychotropic medications, whether they accept illness metaphors assessing their condition, how they establish coping mechanisms, how they understand depression to affect their intimate relationships, or how depression influences their occupational strategies and career aspirations” (pp. 11-12).

We need safe spaces for women living with mental illness to tell their stories and safe spaces, such as Feminist Reflections, to discuss the need for this research.

Moving Forward: A Call For Feminist Sociologists To Examine Mental Health

Like our fore-mothers in sociology, many of us as contributors and readers of Feminist Reflections want to make positive social change and give voice to those who are oppressed. While there is fabulous work done by sociologists on issues of race, gender, poverty, LGBTQ issues, and related identities and inequalities, we seem to forget about the hidden stigma and oppression of mental illness. Maybe we see it is as the psychologists’ domain as it deals with the mind. Or, we quickly turn to our critiques of medication and the pharmaceutical industry or diagnosis as a tool of social control. Maybe it is just too personal for some to study.

Whatever the reasons, I am pushing for feminist sociologists to study mental illness, especially women and mothers who suffer from mental illness. It is real for those who experience it— what we call the social construction of reality. Through women’s stories, we can deepen our understandings about the relationships among gender, motherhood, and mental health. And hopefully, we can help to decrease the stigma.

Read More:



I spent a good portion of the ‘70’s curled up around my parents’ record player, listening to Jim Croce croon about the Roller Derby Queen he’d fallen in love with – a woman whose fans called her Tuffy and friends called her Spike. Tuffy/Spike raised eyebrows, she was a woman loved for her strength, one “built like a ‘fridgerator” who “knew how to scuffle and fight.” As a girl I never wanted to be a princess. But this roller derby queen thing? This was the sort of royalty I wanted to become one day.

Figure skating - another of my failed attempts at finding my passion.
Figure skating – another of my failed attempts at finding my passion.

Because roller derby was an option only in my dreams, I tried other outlets that might fulfill my penchant for pushing myself, for raising eyebrows, and for playing to a crowd. My career as a ballerina was cut short after my mother heard one too many complaints about my itchy tutu. My dreams of becoming the next Ian Anderson were dashed when my flute teacher told me I’d have to give up having friends or a life if I really wanted to be a professional musician. In college I tried my hand at broomball and rugby but I hadn’t yet developed the courage needed to leave it all on the rink or field. And though I ran a few marathons in my 30s, I’m skeptical of anyone who claims to really enjoy distance running. I mean, come on. Runner’s trots and bloody nipples? How are these things fun?

Roller derby re-entered my life just as I was wrapping up my 39th year and staring down the barrel of the big 4-0. As much as it pains me to fess up to something so trite, I suppose I was facing the proverbial midlife crisis. I’d gained weight. New gray hairs had sprouted. I worried that I’d given too much to my job and not enough to the people I loved or to myself.

I’d received tenure a few years before and was feeling restless, not sure what to do now that the chase of the thing I’d been chasing since what felt like forever had come to an end. Sure, there was the next promotion but I longed for something other than work to fill my time and to occupy my mind.

Yet I had no real passions. No hobbies. Other people I knew loved reading voraciously, building furniture, knitting sweaters, climbing rock walls, running marathons (or so they said). I wanted to have something I loved, something that was mine but that wasn’t the next paper or presentation or promotion. Something that harkened back to my life-long desire to raise eyebrows and to try scary, challenging things.

An invitation from a former student who had become part of a growing movement of women looking to bring flat track roller derby to my area led me to find myself covered in protective gear and hugging the wall at my local roller rink. I had laced up a pair of skates and was going to give it my best shot. As luck would have it, I fell. Hard. I got back up. I fell. Again.

Skating as Wined Up, #13abv
Skating as Wined Up, #13abv

For the next few years, I continued to fall and continued to get back up. More than 30 years since Jim Croce first sang to me about the adventures of his Roller Derby Queen in my parents’ basement, I’ve taken a great many spins round and around the track myself. I became my own version of Croce’s “meanest hunk of woman” I’d ever seen. And, just as Croce described, I learned how to scuffle. I reveled in the realization that being “built like a ‘fridgerator” was a good thing, a royal thing even.

To become this sort of royalty requires determination, a willingness to scuffle, and grander-than-princess aspirations. It requires an interest in what, in my humble opinion, is one of the coolest darn things some of the coolest darn women in the world give their heart and their soul to in order to be a part of something bigger than themselves, something that challenges them to be their best selves.

Popularized in the 1960’s, the derby of 50 years ago was typically run by male business owners for a largely male spectator audience. Today, roller derby is run by and for women. As a feminist sociologist of gender, I love the diversity of gender expressions that are allowed and encouraged in derby. I love how derby simultaneously embraces and challenges normative expressions of gender. I love the contrariness of it all, the eyebrow raising-ness of it all.

Most of the sociological research on roller derby comes from fellow gender scholars who are interested in how roller derby challenges what we think about gender, how we think about gender, and how we “do” gender. As sociologist Jennifer Carlson put it in her 2010 article in the Sociology of Sport Journal, “Roller derby provides an aggressive, high-contact environment in which to interrogate femininity.”

Carlson, like other sociologists who study derby, is especially interested in the balance that derby members strike between their athleticism and the sport’s theatrical edge. It is perhaps because of the theatrical liberties allowed by the sport that derby players are so successful at both calling our attention to our cultural biases when it comes to representations of gender and forcing us to question those biases.

Travis Beaver, who wrote about derby in the Journal of Sport & Social Issues, argues that the “do-it-yourself” philosophy of today’s roller derby is a crucial value of derby’s revival. Doing it themselves ensures that the skaters – the women athletes – retain control over their training, their organizations, and the future of the sport.

While derby players may have grander-than-princess aspirations in common, one clear finding to emerge from the sociological research on derby is that players are by no means a homogenous group. Kylie Parrotta, a sociologist at Delaware State University, wrote her dissertation on tensions between sub-groups of derby participants based on differential investments in the identities “rollergirl” versus “athlete.” She also explores how skaters balance work and family obligations with their commitments to the sport – not an easy task! Parrotta says that skaters’ athletic careers may be shaped by other aspects of their identities that are linked to gender, such as motherhood.

While the sociological research raises questions about the extent to which roller derby is or can be transformative in terms of gender, I think sociologist Adele Pavlidis put it best when she wrote, “Roller derby smashes through dichotomous thinking that ranks and privileges men over women, but only if we let it. Right now there is an opportunity not to be missed, an opportunity for women to be watched and admired … on their own terms and with their own rules.”

On an individual level, roller derby has without a doubt been transformative for me. It has challenged my own too-often dichotomous thinking. It has pushed me to figure out my own terms and my own rules – and to live by them. It was my passion at a time when I very much needed one and it is an experience for which I will be eternally grateful.