In 2010, did a “quick poll” to ask “whether commercialization of the pink ribbon adds to the cause.” They reported that 71 percent of respondents said “YES” – pink ribbon commercialization adds value. Well, there we have it! But is it true? As I wrote in the new introduction to Pink Ribbon Blues,

Breast cancer is indeed one of the most popular and profitable social causes of our time. The pink ribbon not only signifies a good and moral cause but also functions as a proxy for awareness and support. Countless promotions and publicity materials are carefully crafted to capture the hearts, minds, and wallets of eager, well-meaning consumers as imperative language echoes across the pink cultural landscape: hope, fight, win, celebrate, give – now, today, forever. The formula morphs into any number of fun-filled activities from pub crawls and fashion shows to the now commonplace runs and walks “for the cure.” While these actions offer symbolic support and raise money, they sometimes do little to help the diagnosed, promote real awareness, or impact the epidemic at large.

Public attention to breast cancer and the pink ribbon have grown over the past thirty years entwined with a medical system at once the hope and bane of the disease, situated within communities of advocacy and support that help as much as hinder, and popularized to the degree that pink consumption has become more of a trendy lifestyle choice than a rallying call for social change.

Hidden beneath the highly publicized pink ribbon celebration, the push-pull of breast cancer advocacy gave way to those with the largest megaphones, political influence, and marketing potential. As pink ribbon promotions increasingly exploited the cause for public relations purposes and to keep revenues and profit streams flowing, tenacious groups continued to work on the margins to affect the epidemic and support the diagnosed in meaningful and healthful ways.

A persistent reticence persists amid the halo of sound bites, survivorship mantras, product placements, and inattention to strategies and actions that may be more useful. These individuals and organizations go beyond fundraising and self-promotion to consider issues of bioethics, evidence-based medicine, health communication, social justice, conflicts of interest, neglected areas of research, and the limits of consumption-based advocacy. Though they diverge in the problems they tackle and the methods they use, these groups share a critical stance that fosters new thinking about breast cancer and how to address it.

In recent years members of the public have joined their voices to a chorus of serious and uncomfortable questions about breast cancer:

• Are we any closer to knowing what causes breast cancer, how to prevent it, how to keep it from coming back, and how to keep people from dying from it?

• Why are the“slash, burn, and poison” approaches to treatment still the norm?

• Are pink ribbon products outpacing efforts to provide meaningful support to the diagnosed and to influence the epidemic?

• Where does the money go, and who/what does it help?

Not long ago, outside of trusted circles, such questions would have been uttered in hushed tones. Many, including those treated for breast cancer, felt guilty for doubting a cause that was commonly accepted as overwhelmingly good. As the inner workings of pink culture and industry become more visible, largely through the misconduct of breast cancer charities and profit-driven industries, growing numbers are calling for transparency, accountability, and alternatives.

This year for breast cancer awareness month, let’s get behind those calling for change. Let’s move beyond the pink pendulum of fear mongering and feel-good, consumption.

Let’s look at the messaging for what it is.

Simple. Emotional. Symbolic. Advertising.

Breast cancer exists.

Ch4 SunSoy Image 164

Be afraid.

CheckYourself Before Its Too Late

All women are at risk.

Daughter-Sister-Mother-Friend IMG120

Have hope.


Show courage.

024 CourageNightImage 20.1

Cop a feel.


Get a mammogram.

Mammogram Billboard

Have a biopsy.

BandaidImage 283

Think Pink.


Shoot Pink.


Cheer Pink.

Atlanta Falcons cheerleaders

Jeer Pink.

Go Pink or Go HOme

Fight Pink.


Win Pink.


Walk Pink.


Drive Pink.


Eat Pink.

mmsForTheCure EgglandsBestPinkRibbonEggs

Drink Pink.

0197 Sip, Swirl, Support Wine

Porn Pink.

Porn Hub

Pee Pink.

0159 Pink Potty

Shop Pink.


Spritz Pink.

Promise Me Perfume

Debit Pink.

Drill Pink.


Live Pink.

Live-Laugh-Love Pink

Die Pink.

Die Pink

Women and men with, and at risk for, breast cancer deserve better. #rethinkpink

It’s different for women to collect tattoos than men. Back in the 1970s when tattooing was just starting to become an interesting, edgy way for people to express themselves, tattoo shops even had a special section of art dubbed, “for the ladies.” Little hearts and cute animals were something for women to hide away on a breast, hip, or shoulder.

Image Source:
Image Source: PCS Blog,

Janis Joplin popularized the small tattoo style for women after she got a  delicate Florentine bracelet tattoo on her wrist from famed tattoo artist, Lyle Tuttle at his shop in San Francisco. He went on to put the Joplin bracelet on hundreds of women. After awhile, having one or two “small, cute and hidden” tattoos became “gender appropriate,” and if the tattoos were visible, like the Joplin bracelet, small and mild was still the norm for years.

Over the last few decades, women’s ink started to creep out from under their shirts to cover their bodies in earnest, with images that are not so meek or mild. In fact, for the first time in recent U.S. history, women are beginning to outnumber men as tattoo collectors, and they are also becoming “heavily tattooed.” But if women are supposed to strive for beauty, then collecting large, visible, and not-so-cute imagery such as snakes or skulls crosses a socially appropriate gender line. It is not uncommon for heavily tattooed women to be sexually harassed with public comments, like: “You’re such a pretty girl, why would you do something like that to yourself?” In other words, why would you “make yourself ugly?” Women should be objects of beauty.

Kristen Wall
Kristen Wall, a student in Texas.

Embodied gender transgression is the topic of my recently published book, Covered in Ink: Tattoos, Women, and the Politics of the Body (NYU Press, 2015). While other tattoo ethnographies study people with one or more tattoos, Covered in Ink exclusively focuses on “heavily tattooed” women or those who violated that traditional mandate to keep their ink small, cute, and hidden.

I started this research as a heavily tattooed woman who herself wondered if her experience was representative of other women who chose to cover their bodies in ink. Did other women hide their tattoos from their fathers, or carry around a sweater in their car for last minute tattoo hiding, as they went about their day? Did strangers approach them and to touch their skin without permission? Was it common for them to worry about losing their jobs, in the chance that a tattoo might pop out from under their sleeve?

Tampa Tattoo Fest 2007 hosted a tattooed women beauty contest.

From 2007 when I attended my first Marked for Life all-female tattoo convention held annually in Orlando in January until 2010, I traveled to tattoo studios, conventions, and the homes of seventy women tattoo artists and collectors.

Shorty and Kody Kushman are tattoo artists at Outer Limits Tattoo in California
Shorty and Kody Kushman are tattoo artists at Outer Limits Tattoo in California. They are sitting in font of a picture of Lyle Tuttle and Burt Grimm, famous tattoo artists who spoke out against women working in the profession in the early days. The women are giving the middle finger to these old timers views on women.

These beautifully tattooed women were an inspiration to me, and their stories did overlap with my own in many ways. I share their experiences in this book and also a documentary film, Covered. []

Each chapter of the book opens with a personal story of my own before sharing the similarities and differences across women’s experiences in the varied contexts of their lives — the family, the workplace, and the larger societal beauty culture within which women define themselves. It wasn’t surprising for me to learn for example that for other women, too, there is a world of difference between having a small, safe tattoo and sporting something like a large skull on your forearm, especially in terms of the negative social sanctions we receive.

“What does that say on your arm?” A man asked me as I sat in a coffee shop, deeply immersed in a textbook, studying for an exam, when I was eighteen years old.

“Feminist.” I replied, looking up at him, cringing as I awaited his response.

“Oh? Does that mean you hate men?” He asked with a frown, shaking his head.

“Something like that,” I replied.

The lettering this man was so interested in evaluating was my second tattoo, a stylistic, cursive script that stood alone on my arm until I collected more tattoos around it, making it harder to discern. It always leads to questions. And whenever I clarify that it says “feminist,” well, you might imagine the interactions that follow, with men attempting to define the word and me offering up sassy answers, growing more insolent depending on how bold I feel at the moment. The chapter “Tattoos Are Not for Touching” shares this story and the voices of other women who have been reprimanded for their tattoo collection, including the stares, comments, and touches that sociologist Erving Goffman demonstrated in his research on public self presentation.

Beverly Back ArtDuring my fieldwork I found an amazing artist who spent five years giving me a back piece tattoo, in her own beautiful style, that represented my academic journey.

Since Covered in Ink has been published I’ve been hearing more women’s stories of their artwork and the social struggles, both positive and negative, that accompany them.

What’s yours?

Listen to Beverly Yuen Thompson’s interview on KERA’s Think with host Krys Boyd.

Beverly with her book Covered in Ink

Beverly Yuen Thompson is an Associate Professor and Chair of Sociology at Siena College, Loudonville, New York. She earned a PhD and MA in Sociology from the New School for Social Research in New York, a Master’s Degree in Women’s Studies from San Diego State University, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Eastern Washington University. Her first book, Covered in Ink: Women, Tattoos, and the Politics of the Body, was published by NYU Press in 2015. Her research interests include subcultures, visual culture, and gender.

Here are the slides and handouts.

On August 22, I’ll be facilitating a workshop at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting in Chicago on a topic close to my heart: turning your dissertation research into a book. If only I’d had such information 15 years ago! At that point I was wading through my dissertation on breast cancer and wondering how I would ever get my research to those who could use it most.

Nonetheless I completed my dissertation, wrote several scholarly articles, and eventually learned enough about my topic to transform it into a cross-over book (Pink Ribbon Blues) that did make its way to people who could use it — researchers, graduate and undergraduate students, health practitioners, science writers, breast cancer survivors and advocates, and educated public audiences interested in the social and cultural forces affecting illness, or the war on cancer in general. It was a long road. I learned a lot in the process.

In this year’s professional development workshop, I share some of the lessons I learned along with information and resources to help others who are considering the dissertation-to-book path. Having presented this material in workshop and webinar form multiple times with different colleagues, it now reflects the insights of seven of us who wrote a dissertation-based book: Astrid Eich-Krohm (German Professionals in the United States), Meika Loe (The Rise of Viagra), Adina Nack (Damaged Goods), Wendy Cadge (Heartwood), and this year’s presenters Dawn Norris (Job Loss, Identity, and Mental Health) and Tristan Bridges (manuscript in progress on ‘contemporary transformations in masculinities’).

Slide01The From Dissertation to Book Workshop outlines: (1) the differences between the dissertation and the book manuscript; (2) the intermediate stages in transforming dissertation research into a full-length manuscript; (3) common barriers and strategies to overcome them; (4) elements of a book prospectus; (5) audience Q&A and breakout discussion with hands-on work. Dawn participated in the workshop in 2012 and has since developed her book manuscript and secured a contract. Tristan is in the early stages of book development. My book has been on the market a few years. Together, we present varied stages of the book process and tips from past presenters, too.

Gayle Sulik
Gayle Sulik
Dawn Norris
Dawn Norris
Tristan Bridges
Tristan Bridges

If you’re in Chicago for ASA this summer, come by on Saturday, August 22 from 4:30 to 6:10 pm. The location will be announced in the program.

If you’re a graduate student, the ASA Student Forum is pleased to offer a Professional Development Certificate (PDC) for its members who attend six approved sessions, meetings, or workshops. Click here for more information about the certificate program, the signature forms, and the list of recommended sessions (which includes ours)!

Graphic arts engage readers in a way text cannot. Told with sequences of pictures, along with narration and dialogue (often in the form of speech bubbles), graphic arts have become increasingly popular media for education and communication as well as social commentary. From disaster preparedness to questioning high-tech medical advancements, comics and other forms of graphic art are effective in sharing information and insight. For some, they are a more accessible format as they encourage readers to develop critical thinking, cultural literacy, and a motivation to engage in individual and social change.

Communication and Education

In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed a free downloadable comic book, Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic, as a way to help prepare the public for general emergencies.

zombie SlideThe 40-page graphic novella tells the story of a young couple and their dog during an escalating zombie apocalypse who manage to stay safe with the help of the CDC’s disaster preparedness instructions. The vivid images focus the reader’s attention, and the story line is clear and compelling.

As the impending disaster approaches the characters receive frightening information from official channels. Julie hears a voice on the radio:

“Stay in your homes. Do not go outside. If you or your family begin showing symptoms such as slowed movement, slurred speech, or violent behaviors, quarantine them to a secure area of the house. Stay tuned for more information on where to go…Stay in your…”

The images and text are geared toward a range of literacy levels and cognitive abilities and together promote recognition and recall. Yes, we’ll stay right here and wait for instructions! The graphic tale conveys this specific information as it creates an emotional connection with readers to motivate behavior.

The CDC’s story is likely to be nonthreatening to most people (unless they believe in zombies), thereby encouraging open-mindedness toward the message. Man scratches chin and says:

“I’ve been thinking…we should really make an emergency kit in case something happened. What if we were stuck in the house or had to evacuate? We need to have a plan!”… “Ok, but I’m serious…I think we need to make an emergency kit.”

“I hear ya!”
Message sent, and received. People learn in different ways and for some, visualizing a message is more compelling than seeing words on a page.

Comics for Social Commentary

In a culture bombarded by images, we are increasingly conditioned to learn through visual entertainment. Graphic arts take the form of this “entertainment” to inform and engage, and to incite action. “Notification! You’ve Got Cancer” is a comic strip by Adam Bessie and Josh Neufeld that provokes critical inquiry into an important social issue, the rise in medical technology and biomedical surveillance.

The short comic strip suggests that advances in high-tech cancer detection might get so invasive that someone could potentially receive a text message about some new diagnosis via smart device. The narrative does not go into detail about the practical or emotional implications of such advancements. It merely suggests that biomedical surveillance has become so increasingly routine, with patents on new technologies emerging at record speed, that the technology of cancer detection is likely here to stay whether we’re prepared for it or not.

Bessie-You've Got cancer

Adam received his brain cancer diagnosis from a doctor. Imagine getting news of your cancer diagnosis on your watch while shopping for fruit! This take on technology’s reach is not far fetched. The comic strip makes mention of recent developments such as GOOGLE’s newly patented cancer detecting pill and the iT bra that supposedly detects breast cancer using a smart phone and cloud-based analysis.

A flippant sequence featuring the author moves the reader’s attention beyond the shock of impersonal, inopportune diagnosis toward another serious flaw: personalized detection technology outpaces successful treatment.

Bessie2-You've Got cancer

In pointing out this problem, Notification! raises a crucial question about the technological imperative, or the inevitability and necessity of new technologies. Namely, is it necessarily for the greater good?

The authors suggest that there may be little to gain in live-streaming one’s tumor and waiting to be saved. What’s more, the matter illuminates the uncertainty that inherently exists in technology and biomedicine.

Biomedical uncertainty refers to the ways in which knowledge is limited about how to prevent, diagnose, and treat a varied range of diseases and conditions. This shouldn’t be news. Talcott Parsons argued in 1951 in The Social System that the incessant advancement of science and medicine increases biomedical uncertainty as doctors rely more fully on scientific advancements and specialized technology to consult with patients and construct diagnostic and treatment protocols. Yet technological advancements march along while indeterminate diagnostics, controversial medical evidence, and ambiguous treatment outcomes are often a stark and surprising reality for the diagnosed.

As the biomedical enterprise colonizes greater expanses of health and illness domains, it must move ethical and practical considerations such as those discussed in this comic strip to the heart of its research and development. Otherwise Adam’s future stressed out descendants might find themselves live-streaming their tumors on their fit bits while recording their gradual demise on their Snapchat Spectacles.

Vanity Fair
Vanity Fair

In April 2015, Olympic athlete and reality television star Bruce Jenner sat down with ABC’s Diane Sawyer to reveal his gender identity. Born male, Bruce declared that he always felt female and was going through the process of becoming a woman. In June, an image of Jenner dressed in a cream-colored bustier was the cover of Vanity Fair magazine, captioned by the pronouncement, “Call me Caitlyn.”

Those of us born in the last forty years have had little choice but to be affected by waves of cultural change. Every generation has this, of course, but generations who have been branded like cattle with the letters “x” and “y” have been placed in the unique position of both benefiting from the feminist and queer activism of those who came before us while also participating in a massive technological, Internet-based, and over-exposed celebrity culture which saturates our socialization. For feminist pop culture scholars like myself this is thrilling, especially considering the impact pop culture can have on society.

My generation was pushed into the “We are the World” phenomenon, the 1985 song whose proceeds benefited USA for Africa. We saw Magic Johnson announce his HIV status, forever cementing a childhood hero’s vulnerability and shattering ideas about ‘who gets AIDS.’ We were young and impressionable when Madonna came on the scene, her music and images pushing against gender roles.

In the decades that followed, we have witnessed our country’s shift in gay and lesbian rights, through comediennes like Ellen DeGeneres, pop stars and actors such as Lance Bass and Neil Patrick Harris as well as countless others who came out and then continued to have thriving careers.

My generation has watched as pop culture shined a light on issues such as violence against women, in part, because of the work of people like musician Tori Amos who co-founded RAINN, Angelina Jolie’s status as a U.N. goodwill ambassador and even men like WWE legend Mick Foley who regularly raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the work of RAINN and volunteer for the hotline.

Yet, these examples are of people acting intentionally and using their time and talent to better the world. Which is why it is surprising that a reality show, whose premise is to follow a wealthy family’s quest for stardom, is becoming part of social change.

Like most people, I know that beings called Kardashians and Jenners exist. The reality television show Keeping Up with the Kardashian’s has run regularly since 2008, featuring the blended family of Kris Kardashian and Bruce Jenner. The family’s popularity has had huge monetary gains and spurred a list of products too long to mention (here is a link to most of them), while simultaneously being critiqued for the “reality” created by the show’s producers.

It is because of the widespread impact of the show that leads me to think that the transition of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner may be one of the single most important moments in pop culture for multiple generations. Whether we think of Caitlyn as an Olympic athlete, father or reality TV star, her transition from man to woman in such a public and well-orchestrated way is inescapable. Very few Americans can now say they do not know of someone who is transgender.

Caitlyn’s public revelation will undoubtedly help people who are struggling with transgender issues, being able to see ourselves and identify with another person is part of social development. It will also feed the masses of skeptical or cynical people who reject the power of celebrity. This is the beauty and brutality of popular culture.

Incredibly, watching the way Jenner has chronicled her life-long struggle with gender has placed terms like “gender identity” and “sex vs. gender” into media culture. The social construction of gender is becoming part of a national conversation, and gender studies scholarship is leaping into daily coverage of Jenner’s transition. Terms like ‘intersectionality’ are entering discussions about age (Jenner is 65), social class (she can afford the best surgical procedures) and privilege (unlimited resources aid her ability to transition and pass as a woman). Currently, gender studies is a focus of national media, something that was evident in the Keeping Up with the Kardashian’s special, “About Bruce” when Kim bluntly asked her step-father, “So if you’re a ‘woman’ and you used to have sex with my mom, does that mean you’re a lesbian?” In that moment, queer theory entered the Kardashian household. Millions of people were challenged to think about the spectrum of sexuality. Now, frank conversations about gender roles are popping up at dinner tables and coffee shops around the country.

Of course, Jenner’s experience does not speak for all transgender people. (How could it?)

As coverage of the Vanity Fair cover unfolded, comments about Caitlyn’s appearance were abundant. Being able to “pass” as male/female allows a certain amount of privilege for transgender people, their image conforms to set gender norms. There is comfort in men and women resembling our socially constructed ideas of male/female. Additionally, transitioning the way Caitlyn did was costly, the multiple surgeries and cosmetic procedures are not available for all. Further, as Jon Stewart noted, the media’s appetite for breaking down women’s looks is insatiable, as they did when the Vanity Fair image was released.

Vanity Fair Interview

For transgender people there is already a high level of scrutiny about their bodies and, for transgender women, her cultural capital is based on her beauty. Jenner is lucky, she met these social expectations, CNN even declared her to be “stunning.” Passing is not as easy for many transgender people. There are limited resources for most to have a perfect coming out.

Regardless, the spotlight Caitlyn has elected to shine on herself is going to change lives. Gender, in all its inceptions, needs to be a part of the national conversation and Caitlyn Jenner is doing just that. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Adrienne PicAdrienne Trier-Bieniek PhD is a gender and pop culture sociologist. She is the author of Sing Us a Song, Piano Woman: Female Fans and the Music of Tori Amos (Scarecrow Press, 2013) and co-editor of Gender and Pop Culture: A Text-Reader (Sense, 2014). Her writing has appeared in various academic journals as well as xoJane, The Mary Sue, Gender & Society Blog, Feministing, and Girl w/Pen, and she runs the Facebook page Pop Culture Feminism. Adrienne Trier-Bieniek is a professor of sociology at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida.

I’ve been researching and writing about breast cancer for so many years that I’ve accumulated a plethora of pink-ribbon-themed items. I’m finished with the baggage. Taking control of my surroundings has been very freeing!

–Gayle Sulik, on Psychology Today

I’m not a hoarder. But I’ve been known, on occasion, to keep things long after they outlived their usefulness or meaning. Like that colorful, Italian bowl with the chipped edge that would be perfect for a huge pasta salad but never sees the light of day. At least I don’t hate it.

Other keepsakes, I despise. Those finely carved mahogany sculptures I bought 20 years ago are still scattered around my house or in the back of a closet. I have nothing against them really, but tastes change. Those books from graduate school, taking up prime real estate on my shelf, are out of date. Unlike my old, yellowed copy of Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, ever reminding me that I am a writer, these objects no longer contribute to my well-being.

I usually realize when I’ve been surreptitiously loathing my stuff. I come to my senses and the purging begins, sometimes immediately. It wasn’t so easy to come to grips with all of the pink ribbon paraphernalia I’ve collected over the years.

I’ve been researching and writing about breast cancer for so long that I’ve accumulated a plethora of pink-ribbon-themed items: awareness magazines, newspapers, advertisements, jewelry, cleaning supplies, teddy bears, M&M bags (contents consumed), and more. Some of these items were gifts to inspire me to keep going with my research. Many of them were gifted to others then bequeathed to me because they didn’t want reminders of their cancer around, or because they too hated the idea of pink ribbon commercialization.

Part of the Pink Ribbon Collection. Photo by Gayle Sulik.

My collection grew large enough that I considered creating an exhibit on the pink ribbon industry. In addition to my own items and others that would be donated, I imagined a 10-foot in diameter gumball machine filled with pink “I heart boobies” bracelets and a life size replica of “Miss Pink Elegance” from the Thomas Kinkade collection.Pink Lady We’d have posters calculating the profit margins of fundraising campaigns juxtaposed against pie charts of budget allocations from charities, themes in awareness campaigns, and the state of misinformation surrounding the disease. It was a good idea.

But since then, bloggers have taken it upon themselves to reveal, quickly and skillfully, the hypocrisy of the pink ribbon marketplace. Journalists have sunk their teeth into investigative reports about fundraising and other controversies. The Canadian documentary Pink Ribbons Inc. gave audiences the visual and narrative content to illustrate key themes within pink ribbon culture and the industry that surrounds it. Breast cancer organizations that have been resisting the status quo for years gained new traction. Even some of the most contentious scientific controversies entered public discussion with renewed vigor and solid evidence. Pink Ribbon Blues served its purpose.

There remains much to be done with the topic of breast cancer, and I’m glad to do it. But I’m finished with the pink ribbon baggage. It will no longer take up valuable space in my closets, on my shelves, or in my life. I feel lighter already. Taking control of your surroundings can be very freeing!

Pink Elegance - Tennis Ball
What’s left of the Pink Ribbon Collection. Photo by Gayle Sulik.

There are two pinked items I’m keeping though. My very own Miss Pink Elegance, given to me by my dear friend Rachel Cheetham Moro, stands proudly above a pink tennis ball signed by sociologists Phil Brown, Kathy Charmaz, Barbara Katz Rothman, and Heather Laube to honor my book’s “Author Meets Critics” session at the American Sociological Association in 2012. These items represent a different kind of breast cancer awareness to me, along with a sense of connection to those who have supported me in this research all along. That’s enough.

Originally published on Psychology Today »

This article was republished on Wonder Anew, an ongoing project born from an idea that personal positive change (finding the best in ourselves) is a way to gain insight and wisdom to live a better life, that sharing our personal changes lifts others’ spirits, and that listening to others’ changes can inspire us to be contributors to the world.

Professionals wear many hats. I’m a scholar, author, researcher, editor, educator, analyst, speaker, evaluator, advisor, collaborator, investigator, advocate, and consultant. I’m also a yoga instructor. In addition to my advanced degree in social science, I’ve logged more than 300 hours of formal yoga training and taught more than 400 hours of public classes.

Parivrtta Hasta Padangusthasana - Big Bend National Park
Parivrtta Hasta Padangusthasana – Big Bend National Park

Yoga, derived from the Sanskrit root “yuj” means “yoke” or “union.” The practice uses a variety of movements, breathing exercises, meditation, and relaxation techniques to help the practitioner achieve union (balance) between the mind, body, and spirit. Although yoga can be traced back thousands of years, modern yoga has morphed into a variety of new styles that incorporate classical and contemporary philosophies and methods. It may be practiced as a form of religion, lifestyle, leisure, or fitness. Americans spend $6 billion a year on yoga classes, equipment, clothing, workshops, videos, books, and more. Yoga has become so popular as a health modality, with about 17 million practitioners in the United States alone, that doctors are starting to recommend yoga to their patients to improve health and enhance allopathic medicine.

Many modern practitioners (70 percent of whom are women) do yoga specifically to improve their health. I started practicing more than 15 years ago for that same reason. Since then, yoga has become more than a pastime for me. It is the singular item I resist from crossing off my ever-expanding “to-do” list. It is the activity I seek out within the nooks and crannies of passing time. Yoga gives me a chance to breathe, to balance in perilous positions, to stand on my head and quite literally experience the world from a different perspective. Yoga calms me down; it helps keep me sane. Yoga informs my being, my living, and my work.

I’ve practiced yoga for thousands of hours. I’ve taught outdoors in parks and on rooftops, and indoors in living rooms, lounges, classrooms, dance halls, yoga studios, and occasionally in the session rooms at academic conferences. Yoga has been this thing in the periphery of my professional life. But every time I teach a class I witness a palpable shift in the room, a sense of calm that sweeps in and through, from beginning to end.

I used to think my yoga practice was more tangential to my work, but upon reflection I realize that is not the case. I now see that yoga is also a body project that has the potential to engage feminism and inspire feminist consciousness. It is neither a necessary condition nor a guaranteed outcome. But the body has long been the beating heart of copious feminist work.

Feminist Theory and the Body

Early western feminists didn’t always consider the body to be central to women’s empowerment. Women have been equated with the body (not the mind) throughout history, and this helped to justify the treatment of women as property, objects, and commodities. Some feminists therefore believed that equality between men and women rested upon the notion that rationality (reasoning) was the universal human capacity that could render neutral the seemingly fundamental biological differences that promoted gender inequality. Simone De Beauvoir’ radical exploration of such inequality in The Second Sex brought the relation between the body and the self to the center of feminist theorizing. Unlike the history of (dualist) western intellectual tradition in which the body was absent or dismissed as irrelevant, feminism’s second wave argued that the body matters; materially, discursively, performatively, and phenomenologically.

Corporeality is entangled in culture and biology, meaning and substance, identity and lived experience, mind and matter. Yoga can be a window into these varied dimensions of feminist conceptualization.

Culture and Biology: Yoga provides an opportunity to participate in an ancient, though modified, cultural tradition while experiencing the rhythm of life through the synchronization of breath and movement.

Meaning and Substance: As the body breathes and energy flows, mindful attention to the positioning of the body in physical space (in the shape of a cobra, an eagle, a triangle, a wheel, a warrior, a mountain, a corpse) allows awareness of oneself, as corporeal and beyond the body, to surface.

An actor and an observer at the same time, a yoga practitioner may become aware that sensory activities give rise to perceptions and judgments that may be based in reason (e.g., pulling weeds all weekend contracted my shoulders, limiting my range of motion) or may transcend both reason and experience (e.g., I’m not strong). Through the practice, we can learn that perception is not purely sensation; nor is it purely interpretation. Consciousness is a process that includes sensing as well as reasoning.

Identity and Lived Experience: Practicing yoga with others perhaps inches away and planted, firmly or precariously, on their own plot of imagined earth (often delineated by a 2’ x 6’ sticky mat) places the individual in relation, in an orchestrated flow of energy and motion. Unlike many social interactions we simultaneously experience ourselves with, and apart from, others. On a level we know, too, that we are an element of their perceptions just as they are a component of ours.

Mind and Matter: With regular practice, yogis may experience equanimity: a perfect, unshakable balance of mind. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston define it as “an even-minded mental state or dispositional tendency toward all experiences or objects, regardless of their origin or their affective valence (pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral).” It is the essence of well-being, the foundation for clarity, neutrality, and insight.

Why does the mind-body-spirit of yoga matter for feminism?

Much of feminist organizing focuses on informational empowerment and structural change to improve human conditions. This is vital. Yet the body still matters. It is a source of meaning, identity, empowerment, and connection. It is part of life. It is life. Yet, the body is judged, controlled, politicized, medicalized, contaminated, and abused. The body is objectified, commodified, marked in accord with perceived social value, and exploited for its labor. The body remains a site of inequality and therefore must remain a feminist project.

For me, yoga is a way to remember that I am not a brain on a stick. Being in my body, and connected through yoga and meditation reveals an inner potency and respect of self. I am strong yet vulnerable. I am in my body, of my body, and beyond my body. And when I find equanimity in my yoga practice, the unity of mind-body-spirit provides healthy fodder for my feminist work and the life I want to live.

Additional Resources:

Book CoverKris De Welde and Andi Stepnick’s new co-edited book, Disrupting the Culture of Silence: Confronting Gender Inequality and Making Change in Higher Education, is an engaging, evidence-based toolkit for building gender equity in higher education. I just got my copy of the book two weeks ago, and I haven’t been able to put it down.

The first four parts of the book emphasize challenges facing U.S. women faculty (structural, cultural, interpersonal). Each part opens with an introduction that intersperses narratives from the data the editors collected for the book, and ends with a case study to give readers a sense of the difficulties and costs women academics face as a result of inequitable workplaces. It then offers action steps as starting points for other academics in similar situations (and those who support them) to use.

The chapters in Part 5, “Tools for Changing the Academy,” illustrate how broad, complementary approaches must work with smaller, progressive steps that both evaluate and correct equity issues on campus. This part concludes with real examples of recent, successful change initiatives from universities across the U.S.

With its “tool-kit” approach, Disrupting the Culture of Silence has a comprehensive list of resources compiled for faculty, administrators, and practitioner-researchers seeking to create a more inclusive academy. These resources are not only meant for women. De Welde and Stepnick write:

Though we focus on women faculty, these issues are not “women’s issues”; they are relevant to the academy, its members and constituents, and beyond. West and Curtis (2006) argue:

“The barriers for women in higher education not only raise questions of basic fairness, but place serious limitations on the success of educational institutions themselves.”

The academy reflects societal biases and hostilities. Yet, it could direct social change too. Our biographies, experiences, and training in feminist scholarship compel us to disrupt complacency among those who might claim that things are “better” or “good enough.”

The Back Story

What I also love about this book is the story behind it. Seven years in the making, Disrupting the Culture of Silence was borne from Kris De Welde and Andi Stepnick’s earlier work and a series of thematic workshops and sessions held at national conferences. After hearing about so many instances of hostile, vindictive, intimidating, and demoralizing situations among women faculty, these women decided to commit their scholarship and activism to working out concrete and meaningful strategies for helping them/us to persist, thrive, leave, or transform the very institutional environments that give rise to injustice. It makes me shudder.

The first step was a fact finding mission. They created Disrupting the Silence sessions to be held at key academic conferences that focused on the experiences and challenges of faculty women. Prior to each meeting, they issued a “call for experiences” that exemplified ‘difficult’ workplaces. They removed identifying information and  edited several of narratives into digestible stories to share at the sessions. After participants read them, they gathered into small groups to brainstorm about how to manage the situations and/or take actions that would have impact at multiple levels — individual, interpersonal, institutional, and even beyond the institution.

Faculty members who served as panelists and facilitators invited the participants to share their own experiences and the strategies they used to overcome challenges. From unequal policies, to coping with a hostile department or problematic pathways to tenure, to many other topics, those in attendance discovered that many of their challenges were common across campuses. They were not alone. After the groups reported back, their responses were documented. De Welde and Stepnick wrote up the results and shared them in other outlets read by women faculty.

The idea caught on, and women faculty flocked to these sessions every time they were held.

Next, the “Disrupting the Silence” sessions morphed into other workshops focused not only on coping with effects of gender inequality (crucial in its own right) but on Building Gender Progressive and Multicultural Departments. What could gender progressive, multicultural workplaces, departments, organizations, and institutions look like? What would be involved in creating them? What kinds of strategies are people already using to make progress?

Since all of these sessions were held over the years at multiple conferences, starting with Sociologists for Women in Society and then branching out to the American Sociological Association and the National Women’s Studies Association, there was a broad cross section of women faculty across the country who shared their stories and provided input. The book that grew out of these informative, supportive, and constructive sessions and workshops necessarily combines these real-life experiences and case studies with contemporary research, concrete strategies, resources, and tools.

Disrupting the Culture of Silence is an essential read. More than that, it is a resource that faculty members and administrators will want to re-read, and reference, and use “to make change on their own campuses and in their professional and personal lives.” Be sure to get a copy or two for your libraries and teaching centers.


Disrupting the Culture of Silence: Confronting Gender Inequality and Making Change in Higher Education is available from Stylus Publishing. Discount Code: DTCS15 saves you 20 percent.

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.