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The Concept of Invisibility

This discussion of invisibility took place on WMST-L in October 2006.  Though
it was begun by someone who was about to teach Ralph Ellison's _Invisible
Man_, it considers how the notion of invisibility applies more broadly.  For
additional WMST-L files now available on the Web, see the WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Mon, 2 Oct 2006 10:59:15 -0500
From: Shaunanne Tangney <shaunanne.tangney AT MINOTSTATEU.EDU>
Subject: invisibility
Hello, Everyone--
I am preparing for an opening discussion of Ralph Ellison's _Invisible 
Man_, and as I am re-reading the novel the whole idea of invisibility 
is so striking to me.  It seems to me that invisibility can be an issue 
in all kinds of discussions--concerning racism as the novel does, but 
also concerning feminism, sexual preference, ageism, regionalism 
(living in North Dakota, I'm particularly sensitive to this!), any 
number of topics and concerns--and so I was wondering if any of you out 
there discuss invisibility with your students, and if so, have any 
thoughts as to how I might do so as well.
Thanks As Always--
ShaunAnne Tangney
Associate Professor of English
Minot State University
Date: Mon, 2 Oct 2006 12:18:03 -0400
From: Deborah Louis <dlouis44 AT SBCGLOBAL.NET>
Subject: Re: invisibility
>  I was wondering if any of you out there discuss invisibility with 
> your students, and if so, have any thoughts as to how I might do so as 
> well.

Yes, especially in respect to workplace and "glass ceiling" issues, but 
also in community venues dominated by men/whites--for instance, the too 
common experience of saying something, being looked through, then a guy 
or white person says the same thing and omygosh they're the brilliant 
leader, gold stars, give that guy a raise!  Male supervisors or 
coworkers gossiping about their dates or wives or secretaries while 
you're sitting right there, a piece of furniture.  The car salesman or 
doctor or store clerk OR FAMILY MEMBER who looks right through you to 
your husband or boyfriend or father or brother who's with you to answer 
the question or make the decision or express a preference or negotiate 
the deal.  It doesn't take much to get the conversation going--the 
experience is so common (and frequently suppressed until brought up in 
class) that if you do a round-robin asking each student to describe an 
instance of "being invisible" in their lives just about everyone will 
have a story...

Deb Louis
dlouis44  AT  sbcglobal.net
Date: Tue, 3 Oct 2006 00:35:44 GMT
From: Elizabeth Currans <myrtyl AT JUNO.COM>
Subject: Re: invisibility as everyday experience
The way I read invisibility in Ralph Ellison is along the lines of 
what Patricia Pedroza wrote about: people may see black people and 
they may even stand out in certain situations (an all white 
classroom, for example) but people don't see the person, the 
particularity of who someone is because all they see is skin color. 
So, in a sense, this kind of visibility creates invisibility.

Aninteresting comparison would be with Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch 
Blues in which zie speaks about the main character's invisibility 
while passing as a man.  As a man, Jess' female past had to remain 
hidden and thus Jess was invisible.

Best, Beth

Elizabeth Currans, Ph.D. Candidate
Dept. of Religious Studies and Women's Studies Program
University of California, Santa Barbara
myrtyl  AT  juno.com
Date: Tue, 3 Oct 2006 03:02:25 -0700
From: Michael Kimmel <michael_kimmel AT YAHOO.COM>
Subject: invisibility
The question of invisibility is the organizing theme of an anthology
co-edited by Abby Ferber and myself called PRIVILEGE (Westview, 2003).
Using Peggy McIntosh's work, as well as my own, we gather essays on
masculinity, heterosexuality, middle-classness, and whiteness, that
make the "unmarked" visible.  If privilege is invisible to those who
have it, then perhaps it is a moment of "superordinate studies."
  Michael Kimmel

Michael Kimmel
Department of Sociology
SUNY at Stony Brook
Stony Brook, NY 11794
michael_kimmel  AT  yahoo.com

Date: Tue, 3 Oct 2006 06:14:38 -0400
From: Ellen Moody <ellen2 AT JIMANDELLEN.ORG>
Subject: invisibility as everyday experience
I'm not sure that "invisibility" is sheerly a women's studies issue, 
rather it impinges.

I live with invisibility every day I go to work and when I go to 
conferences because I am an adjunct.  Sometimes people openly snub me 
too.  It's very painful.

My sense is this is a brutal response to power.  If you don't 
"count," then you are ignored or snubbed.

Ellen Moody
Ellen2  AT  JimandEllen.org
Date: Mon, 2 Oct 2006 11:34:08 -0500
From: Michael Murphy <mjmurphy AT WUSTL.EDU>
Subject: Re: invisibility
Hi ShaunAnne,

You might be interested in the introduction to Sally Robinson's book  
Marked Men: White Masculinity in Crisis (Columbia University Press,  
2000) which offers an interesting complication to the use of tropes  
of in/visibility by post-war men. Some of the works she discusses are  
contemporaneous with Ellison's Invisible Man.


Mike Murphy
Michael J. Murphy, M.A.
Doctoral Candidate, Art History and Archaeology
Instructor, Women and Gender Studies
mjmurphy  AT  wustl.edu

"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need."-- 
Date: Mon, 2 Oct 2006 12:59:35 -0400
From: Katha Pollitt <katha.pollitt AT GMAIL.COM>
Subject: Re: invisibility
I'm interested that you see 'regionalism" as comparable to racism. Do
Dakotans have trouble getting served in restaurants? Do cabs not stop
for  them? Do they get longer sentences than other Americans for the
same crimes? As a New Yorker, and thus hopelessly prejudiced, I really
have trouble seeing the upper Middle West as invisible -- I feel I am
constantly getting the message that that's the heartland, where the
real Americans live, and that my NYCculture and values are alien and
immoral.   What strikes me as especially unfair is that  because  of
the electoral college and the fact that every state has two
senators,regardless of size,  citizens of small rural states like ND
have fantastically greater political clout than big states like NY. A
voter in Wyoming has 71 times the weight of one in California. Who's
invisible there?

   Taken together, small rural states control 44 senate seats, while
having 11 percent of the population. Black people have about the same
percentage of the population -- there is currently one black senator.
Women, of course, are more than half the population, and are grossly
underrepresented too.

   If we're going to talk about regionalism and invisibility these are
facts that belong in the mix.

Katha Pollitt
katha.pollitt  AT  gmail.com
Date: Mon, 2 Oct 2006 13:12:27 -0400
From: Daphne Patai <daphne.patai AT SPANPORT.UMASS.EDU>
Subject: Re: invisibility
I'm not sure the concept of invisibility is a helpful way to view problems. 
At least as prominent is what I labeled "surplus visibility" in an article 
about fifteen years ago -- i.e., the way in which minority groups tend to 
stand out and to embody stereotypes while the "norm" is comfily invisible. 
E.g., who's ever heard anyone say "there go those cheating Protestant Wall 
Street guys again!" ?

Date: Mon, 2 Oct 2006 13:34:08 -0400
From: "Pedroza, Patricia" <ppedroza AT KEENE.EDU>
Subject: Re: invisibility as everyday experience
Hello everyone: 
"I'm not sure the concept of invisibility is a helpful way to view

I am not sure what to think about this. I teach "invisibility" as
concept used from humans over/and about humans in my WS classes.
I follow the concept of conocimiento by Gloria Anzaldua as Chicana,
because it is what I learned as Mexican. We have the option to see or
not see, to know or don't. We have the option to practice our ability to
see...and of course we have the option to practice politics.

I love invisibility as concept, because it is my life.

I am Mexican, brown face.
Do people see me in Keene NH, where I live?, yes they see me. 
But they see whatever they want. After 9/11 my face is from Pakistan,
India, Turkey, or Palestine. I am invisible as Mexican. Even when
migration is reading my passport in the airports or with the police
officers...they don't see my Mexican face.
Even when I speak Spanish.... they do not recognize my accent/language.

I love the culture in U.S. about "dating"... the most ambiguous
experience I have had in my life!- I never know if I am in a date or
just a cup of coffe... I was "dating" some one for 7 months... in 7
months, I guess one can see the other person.. I am Mexican, I repeat.
In a social gathering this person said: I am not interested in Hispanic
issues- it is a culture that does not matter to me.. I felt invisible!

In my meetings, sometimes I propose ideas... they never pass. But all of
a sudden a white teacher says the same idea, that I just said... and the
comments are: that is a wonderful idea!- I am invisible.

Three years ago, I proposed to use the novel of Persepolis as cultural
reading in WS classes. No one listened to me. Today the whole English
department of my college is using this book as reading book with first
years students.. I am invisible

I am fascinated with "invisibility" as concept and practice. Every time
I listen "America" I am fascinated with the colonizing words..., again
and again- America is a continent; how easy way to erase 23/22

You know as Mexican, I can be Chicana, Latina or Hispanic...but
visible..who knows!

I am teaching and living about and with invisibility.

I don't want to be invisible in this collective list.

Patricia Pedroza
Keene State College
Spanish and Women's Studies
ppedroza  AT  keene.edu
Date: Mon, 2 Oct 2006 14:00:08 -0400
From: Liat Ben Moshe <lbenmosh AT MAXWELL.SYR.EDU>
Subject: Re: invisibility
I teach a Disability Studies course that engages with conversations
and readings about 'invisible' disabilities, and I find these to be
some of the most transformative conversations. The whole notion that
we can 'know' someone from their appearance is nullified by these
accounts, and of course we also debate the sightedness of this
practice (how do people who do not use sight engage with identity
politics). Even within disability studies and the movement there is a
great emphasis on visibility of identity. People will often say - "I
went to this event and I was the only disabled person there", as if
you can tell that by looking at the audience. Invisible disability
might include any physical or sensory disability that can't be seen
(like chemical sensitivity, deafness, AIDS, asthma, heart conditions)
or any psychiatric and developmental disability (of course all these
examples can e translated into visible disabilities in particular
contexts).  ADAPT, one of the most vocal and 'visible' activist groups
that fights against nursing homes, even uses visibility as a
strategy. They use civil disobedience by wheelchair users in their
actions and put them on the front lines, so that they will be the most
visible to passer by. It also a wise tactic because most jails and
police cars are not accessible so the cops can't really arrest the
people on the front lines (of course that sometimes they do, or they
quarantine people in a particular area or a building to create a
pseudo-jail).  In regards to invisible disabilities there is also a
discussion of passing, and the consequences of being able to pass as
non-disabled (may reduce stigma and might alienate you from the
disability community). Of course this notion is also complicated by
the fact that most people do not live their lives trying to 'pass as'
anything, they just go the store, go to class etc. The rest is out own
We also discuss the politics of in/visibility within queer or LGBT
communities. For a good article that discusses both I recommend
Samuels, Ellen (2003). "My Body, My Closet: Invisible Disability and
the Limits of Coming-Out Discourse."  GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and
Gay Studies 9.1. 233-55, which also discusses the problematics of
analogies in this regard.
Hope this is helpful
Liat Ben-Moshe
Sociology & Disability Studies
302 Maxwell Hall
Syracuse University
Syracuse, NY 13244
lbenmosh  AT  maxwell.syr.edu
Beyond Compliance (BCCC) 
http://bccc.syr.edu/ <http://bccc.syr.edu/> 

Date: Mon, 2 Oct 2006 13:03:55 -0500
From: Shaunanne Tangney <shaunanne.tangney AT MINOTSTATEU.EDU>
Subject: Re: invisibility
First of all, thanks for everyone who has picked up this thread--you 
have all given me great stuff to think about, and to ask my students to 
think about!  Keep the good ideas coming.

Second, I feel compelled to answer Katha's questions, and I hope it's 
OK to do so publicly.  I don't feel attacked; I believe that Katha is 
curious.  I've tried not to be defensive in my reply, only to give 
examples of how we who live here feel invisible.  I think that our 
invisibility is real, and I think it matters.  And for what it's worth, 
I am not a native North Dakotan.  I came here ten years ago to take a 
job in a small university in rural northwestern ND.  I did not intend 
to stay, but have decided to because I believe that the young people of 
this state deserve a quality education as much as the young people of 
any other state.  It's bloody-damn difficult to get anyone in any 
profession to come here and it seems just as worthy to make this stand 
in this place as any other stand in any other place.

On Monday, October 2, 2006, at 11:59 AM, Katha Pollitt wrote:

> I'm interested that you see 'regionalism" as comparable to racism.

I'm not sure it's an exactly even comparison, but there are real 
problems for those of us who live in the Northern Plains--and I'd 
assume there are similar problems for people in other vastly rural 
areas with low population--New Mexico, e.g.

> Do
> Dakotans have trouble getting served in restaurants? Do cabs not stop
> for  them? Do they get longer sentences than other Americans for the
> same crimes?

We receive second-class health care where I live.  Our children receive 
second-class education.  My students pointed out in a class the other 
day that we are just like the second world in that the only economic 
development that exists here are "call centers"--apparently if you need 
customer service, you talk to someone in India...or North Dakota...  
Kathleen Norris writes eloquently (in _Dakota_) of the second-world 
status of many who live in in the Northern Plains--and that book is 
about 15 years old.  It's gotten worse.

> As a New Yorker, and thus hopelessly prejudiced, I really
> have trouble seeing the upper Middle West as invisible -- I feel I am
> constantly getting the message that that's the heartland, where the
> real Americans live, and that my NYCculture and values are alien and
> immoral.

This seems just the opposite to a North Dakotan.  We see--in media, in 
politics, etc--that only those who live on the coasts "matter."  We 
grow more wheat in ND than almost anywhere else in the world, and our 
farmers are paid less per bushel for it that they were in 1920.  No one 
cares about things like that as long as their cereal keeps appearing on 
the store shelves.  The "heartland" is an expression that really stings 
out here.  General Mills gets rich.  Futures traders in NYC get rich.  
Farmers starve.  ND is the 9th poorest state in the US and it is one of 
the few states where child poverty is on the rise.

There is no cultural literacy or even acknowledgement of rural America. 
  No tv shows about farmers, no popular music about the wide open spaces 
of the Great Plains, etc (Farm Aid and Sturgis are two notable 
exceptions--although those certainly continue the image of us as 
outsiders and in need of help).  The most famous sociological study 
about the Great Plains is the Poppers' "buffalo commons" theory--which 
argued that human habitation of the Northern Plains has proven futile 
and so we should just turn it all back over to the buffalo.  As far as 
we can tell, we just aren't visible in America, to Americans.

> What strikes me as especially unfair is that  because  of
> the electoral college and the fact that every state has two
> senators,regardless of size,  citizens of small rural states like ND
> have fantastically greater political clout than big states like NY. A
> voter in Wyoming has 71 times the weight of one in California. Who's
> invisible there?

In the Senate, every state has two senators--but in the House, 
representation is based upon population.  In North Dakota, we have 
three people representing us.  Total.  Not only does that lack of 
representation make it hard for any issues that affect people who live 
here to gain national recognition, it really hurts us in terms of the 
electoral vote.  No presidential contender has come to ND to campaign 
since JFK--because it isn't politically necessary to.  Our three 
electoral votes don't matter.

People can get away with stuff here, too, because ND does not have a 
national profile.  At the height of the cold war, thousands of nuclear 
missiles were buried under the farmland of ND: the tiny population here 
couldn't make enough noise to stop it.  Of course, thousands of people, 
military personnel, came here along with the missiles...and now that we 
don't need missiles to shoot at Russia, the federal government pulls 
military personnel out of ND and towns that depend upon that military 
personnel simply die.

>   Taken together, small rural states control 44 senate seats, while
> having 11 percent of the population.

But only in the senate.  The numbers in the house are far different.

> Black people have about the same
> percentage of the population -- there is currently one black senator.
> Women, of course, are more than half the population, and are grossly
> underrepresented too.

So we are as grossly under represented as women and black people, I 
guess...that's a kind of invisibility, isn't it?

>   If we're going to talk about regionalism and invisibility these are
> facts that belong in the mix.

Try a simple test: ask people what they know about North Dakota.  See 
if anyone even knows where the state is w/o looking at a map.  I sure 
couldn't have listed "10 things I know about North Dakota" before I 
moved here--and I could/can do that with lots of other states!

Gotta run--ShaunAnne
Date: Mon, 2 Oct 2006 12:12:33 -0700
From: Kami <kami AT ALTCINEMA.COM>
Subject: Re: invisibility
Liat Ben Moshe offered much of what I was going to post. I just 
taught Ellen Samuel's article on my class on "Queer Visual Cultures" 
the other day, and the students really responded to it.

I have been using the topic of invisibility to discuss the ways in 
which some queers, especially effeminate men and masculine women, 
have historically been constructed as visibly deviant/different and 
thus immediately recognizable, while all others become invisible. 
Sexologists in the late 1800s labeled these figures "inverts" and 
true, born homosexuals, categories that were by definition closed to 
the womanly woman.

I tie this history, as Samuels addresses in her article by linking 
"invisible" disabilities to femme dyke/lesbian identities, to 
contemporary politics of the visual in queer communities and popular 
culture, which continue to mark butch and trans figures as visibly 
recognizable and transgressive over and against the figure of the 
femme, who becomes normatively female.

For those of you who are interested in this topic, I have made a 
documentary precisely about this issue called FtF: FEMALE TO FEMME 
(http://www.altcinema.com/ftf.html). In addition, under the resources 
tab (http://www.altcinema.com/ftfresources.html), I have compiled a 
bibliography of books/articles that addresses issues of visibility 
and invisibility of femme dykes in queer cultures and communities.

Kami Chisholm
Lecturer, Gender and Women's Studies
3416 Dwinelle
University of California, Berkeley
kchisholm  AT  berkeley.edu
Date: Mon, 2 Oct 2006 21:37:30 -0400
From: Chithra KarunaKaran <ckarunakaran03 AT AIM.COM>
Subject: Re: invisibility as everyday experience
 Patricia, you wrote with the spirit and soul of Ellison himself. 
 To make The Invisible Man really resonate with students (and faculty
 who may be in dire need of resonance), we might use Patricia's
 narrative, this very script, as eloquent lived reality of
 invisibility and invisibilizing. The WMST-L files are replete with
 instances of invisibility and invisibilizing.
 And we might encourage students to reach deep inside themselves to
see if they can locate and express the receptivity and empathy that
is essential for feminist antiracist, humanist discourse.
 Thank you Patricia.
 Chithra KarunaKaran
 CKarunaKaran03  AT  netscape.net
Date: Tue, 3 Oct 2006 08:19:04 -0400
From: Janell Hobson <jhobson AT ALBANY.EDU>
Subject: invisibility and Invisible Man
I must say that I'm not at all sure that different analogies need to be
made about "invisibility" (with regards to invisibility along gender
lines, national lines, etc.) when teaching Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man,
as was the original poster's concern.

Why do we need to force "comparative oppressions" by creating analogies
between the protagonist's experience of invisibility as a black man living
in post-WWII USA and our own experiences of invisibility (be it due to
gender, sexuality, class, etc.)?

Why, as educators, could we not teach Ellison's novel as is?  Why must we
presume that our students would simply not *get it* when all one has to do
is read the Prologue ALONE to understand implications of invisibility?  Do
we honestly think our students are so alienated by a black man's
experience (I won't get into black women here since black men are the
subject of Ellison's novel) that they need a separate frame of reference
to understand the point?

Rather than set up some kind of analogy of invisibility experiences, I
suggest that educators simply deal with the TEXT and the CONTEXT in which
that work was written.

The prologue has a brilliant critique of Louis Armstrong's "What Did I Do
to Be so Black and Blue?"  Why not begin discussion of the novel by
playing Armstrong's song, have students reflect on how it presents issues
of invisibility, and connect it to the theme in Ellison's novel?  In other
words, why not just let your course be content-driven?

Students on their own will make their own connections and create analogies
with their own experiences (or the experiences of others that they know). 
We certainly don't need to encourage them to move away from the text
anymore than they already do (especially if it allows them to avoid
reading, which such discussions encourage them to cover up the fact they
they didn't do the reading assignment).

Ellison's novel on *invisibility* speaks for itself; I encourage all of
you to immerse your students in it.  Do not encourage them to treat the
novel as an *Other* (which is ironic, considering that this novel is
already apart of the American literary canon) that needs a so-called
universal frame of reference (read: White, whether that whiteness is
embedded in white femaleness, white queerness, white poverty, etc.) to
better understand it.

To me, such pedagogical strategies only seem to reinforce the same
*invisibility* that Invisible Man's protagonist is protesting in the first

Janell Hobson
jhobson  AT  albany.edu
Date: Tue, 3 Oct 2006 08:47:11 -0600
From: Francie Berg <fmberg AT HEALTHYWEIGHT.NET>
Subject: Re: invisibility as everyday experience
W. Charisse Goodman , PhD, has written a fascinating book "The Invisible
Woman: Confronting Weight Prejudice in America" about  how invisibility is
experienced by the large-size woman. Goodman contends that large women in
America are invisible in today's thinness-obsessed culture: A large woman is
often not seen as an individual, no matter her unique personal qualities,
but as a stereotype, as having physical and emotional problems, as being
unattractive, compulsive, self-indulgent, even anti-social. She may be
passed over for promotions, paid less for equal work, excluded from office
and extracurricular social interaction.

On the other hand she "becomes all too visible when someone is looking for a
scapegoat." Then she (and every large child) is an easy target for the
bully, the insecure person in need of a cheap ego boost, and the
manipulative and profit-hungry weight loss industry.

Some college students probably can generalize the invisibility experience to
their own popular causes, but I don't think this will extend to large
people, without it being discussed with them. Respect for large children and
adults and regard for their civil rights is not a popular cause in America

It seems that the reasonable and compassionate response to invisibility of
all kinds is not the attack of who is "more invisible" (where'd that come
from anyway?), but appreciation and respect for each individual. If we can
encourage the celebration of each person's uniqueness and beauty, and
promote kindness, respect, acceptance, and self-respect and self-acceptance,
life will be better for everyone. 

Best wishes. Francie

PS. Note to ShaunAnne and others with a soft heart for the "heartland."
Thanks ShaunAnne for your impassioned defense of rural America and the
farming and ranching life. Something you could have added includes our high
quality of life (albeit invisible to others): the friendliness, caring and
kindness of people, providing a good place to raise kids (North Dakota is
always at or near the US top of Kids Count for well-being of children),
educational values (ND consistently leads nation in 8th grade math scores,
high school graduates, and college attendance and completion), having a
strong work ethic, being among the healthiest people in the US, and of
course, hands down, living in the safest state and safest cities. 

I too would like to see the results of your "test"! Bet most could only say
ND is "coldest," even tho New York, Montana, and Minnesota all have recorded
colder temperatures. Yes, as everywhere, we have plenty of issues that need
work, but I like doing it in the wide open spaces, among these nice friendly
people. Glad you've decided to stay ShaunAnne and work on the issues that
challenge you.

Francie M. Berg, MS, Editor
Healthy Weight Network
402 South 14th Street
Hettinger, ND 58639

email fmberg  AT  healthyweight.net
website www.healthyweight.net
Date: Tue, 3 Oct 2006 10:26:53 -0700
From: Suzanne Franks <bobtownsuz AT yahoo.com>
Subject: invisibility and surplus visibility
I'm not sure why Daphne Patai's concept of "surplus visibility" was
dismissed so readily, or at least not at all addressed in the
discussion on invisibility.  Underrepresented groups in science and
engineering face the problem of invisibility - but it's one side of a
coin, and the other side is something very much like what Patai
describes as "surplus visibility" if I understand correctly what she
is describing (I have not read the article she refers to).  That is,
for example, a white woman in a junior year mechanical engineering
class is invisible to her classmates when they are working on a group
project - they may "forget" to notify her of times when the group gets
together to work on the project, they may ignore her input on how to
proceed, they may assign her to the passive role of note-taker and not
allow her to participate in the hands-on work of the project.  But she
is also hyper-visible to them - they may make suggestive remarks to
her during group work time, they may tell sexist jokes, they may
comment on her appearance; if she is married they may refer in
obnoxious ways to the frequency of intercourse she does or does not
have with her husband (this is quite common).  If a topic relating to
women in engineering comes up in the classroom or out, they will
expect her to be knowledgeable about it and to be able to articulate
"the" women's position on the topic.  That is, she is at the same time
a Nobody, not really an engineer, and a Somebody, a female engineer.
She is an invisible engineer, and she is an adjectivized engineer.
You could relate a similar scenario for a woman of any color, for a
man of any color in engineering, in science, at the undergraduate,
graduate , postdoctoral, or faculty level, or in industry.
Someone wrote about being invisible as a Mexican.  I agree that
individual Mexicans, and/or Mexican-Americans, as real human beings
with particular lives and interests and personalities, are invisible
to most U.S. Americans.  But where I live, they are highly visible
under the code name of "illegal immigrants" in two communities nearby
that have recently passed laws seeking to keep them out of their towns
by punishing businesses that employ them or rent housing to them.
Everyone who is in anyway vaguely Hispanic is understood to be an
illegal immigrant - probably from Mexico - stealing U.S. jobs and
possibly breeding terrorism at the same time.  That's a pretty serious
form of visibility.  But at the same time, the real people who
actually live in the communities with the nutjobs that pass these laws
are essentially invisible to the xenophobes.
I don't think you can have invisibility without also having some form
of hyper-visibility, or vice-versa.  Can you?  Think of the hype about
the "war on marriage" and the violence against gays and lesbians, the
ways in which gays and lesbians are forced to be invisible in our
society and yet are hyper-visible ("manly men" see gayness as a danger
lurking in every corner that must be constantly defended against).  If
a gay couple so much as holds hands in public, straight people have a
conniption fit and accuse them of "flaunting" their sexuality.
Invisible - hypervisible.  I suspect gays and lesbians are also
familiar with being expected to represent all gays, or all lesbians.
I could go on in this vein about disability...but maybe you get my
picture...I'd be interested to hear what others think.
Suzanne E. Franks
bobtownsuz  AT  yahoo.com
"Thus Spake Zuska" at http://www.scienceblogs.com/thusspakezuska 
Date: Tue, 3 Oct 2006 13:44:09 -0400
From: Karen Bojar <kbojar AT CCP.EDU>
Subject: Re: invisibility and surplus visibility
Has anyone mentioned the invisibility of older women?  (My apologies
if this aspect has already been discussed.)

My guess is that everyone on this list over 50 has had some experience with this.

Karen Bojar
Professor of English
Coordinator of Women's Studies Program 
Community College of Philadelphia
1700 Spring Garden Street       
Philadelphia, PA 19130
kbojar  AT  ccp.edu
Date: Tue, 3 Oct 2006 15:35:26 -0400
From: Judith Lorber <jlorber AT RCN.COM>
Subject: Re: invisibility
Try this one on your students --

James Tiptree, Jr. "The Women Men Don't See" orig. published in 1973,
reprinted in Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, Tachyon 2004. 

Ask them if it's dated. 


Judith Lorber, Ph.D.
Professor Emerita
Graduate School and Brooklyn College, CUNY
jlorber  AT  rcn.com
Imagine ... the world without gender
Date: Tue, 3 Oct 2006 17:00:56 -0400
From: "Pedroza, Patricia" <ppedroza AT KEENE.EDU>
Subject: Re: invisibility and older women: an activity
Hello Karen:
In my class sexuality/spirituality, (WS 290) I ask each semester a
simple question?
I ask the student to describe how many and what kind of "sexual scenes"
they have seen lately.
I do, I intentionally ask ..how many scenes where "old" people have
sex.. have you seen lately?

The first reaction is: That's disgusting!
                         There is a lot of laughing.

With these reactions, we start our discussions about "old women", and I
don't want to bother you with the wonderful teachable moments that I got
after that.
I had the privilege to do many workshops with older women in Mexico,
they called themselves "Las reinas" - The queens--- the principal focus
on these workshops was to prepare ourselves for the moment of our death
( In Mexico death is huge celebration), also we did  many creative
activities to connect with the process to get old as the many of the
ways to be free as woman in  society..(you don't have to be on diet and
you are not pregnant if you have sex...!!!!)

I do this, as a second part in my class, the students need to do a list
of all benefits they will have getting old.
I need confess that the cross-cultural aspect is so obvious. I have
discovered at least in my experience in the context of U. S. , where I
live, that this is huge taboo topic. I consider it is different in
Mexico, but I cannot generalize about my culture.

I will say that in many situations of course... old women are

Patricia Pedroza
ppedroza  AT  keene.edu
Date: Wed, 4 Oct 2006 08:55:36 -0700
From: Betty J Glass <glass AT UNR.EDU>
Subject: new biography of Alice Sheldon/ aka James Tiptree, Jr.
James Tiptree, Jr. "The Women Men Don't See" orig. published in 1973,
 reprinted in Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, Tachyon 2004.

By the way, a biography of Alice Sheldon just came out this year:

Author: Phillips, Julie  
Title: James Tiptree, Jr. : the double life of Alice B. Sheldon.
New York: St. Martin's Press, 2006

Here's the publicity blurb from its book jacket:

"James Tiptree, Jr., burst onto the science fiction scene in the late
1960s with a string of hard-edged, provocative stories. He redefined the
genre with such classics as "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" and "The
Women Men Don't See." He was hailed as a brilliant writer with a deep
sympathy for his female characters." "For nearly ten years he carried on
intimate correspondences with other writers - Philip K. Dick, Harlan
Ellison, and Ursula K. Le Guin, to name a few. None of them knew his
true identity. He was so reclusive that he was widely believed to be a
top-secret government agent. Then the cover was blown on his alter ego:
a mysterious sixty-one-year-old woman named Alice Bradley Sheldon." "A
native of Chicago, Alice traveled the globe with her mother, the writer
and hunter Mary Hastings Bradley. At nineteen, she eloped with the poet
who had been seated on her left at her debut. She became an artist, a
critic for the Chicago Sun, an army officer, a CIA analyst, and an
expert on the psychology of perception. Beautiful, theatrical, and
sophisticated, she developed close friendships with people she never
met. Devoted to her second husband, she struggled with her feelings for
women. An outspoken feminist, she took a male name as a joke - and found
the voice to write her stories." "With ten years of work, Julie Phillips
has written a biography of Alice Sheldon. Based on extensive research,
exclusive interviews, and full access to Alice Sheldon's papers, this is
the definitive biography of a profoundly original writer and a woman far
ahead of her time."

Betty J. Glass
Getchell Library/322
University of Nevada, Reno
Reno, NV 89557-0044
glass  AT  unr.edu
Date: Wed, 4 Oct 2006 14:01:40 -0500
From: Shaunanne Tangney <shaunanne.tangney AT MINOTSTATEU.EDU>
Subject: report on invisibility
Hello, Everyone--I just want to quickly report on how all your good and 
challenging ideas on invisibility we're received in class today!

Discussion was wide-ranging, honest, provocative, and productive.  I 
carried into class many of the things people said on the list, shared 
many of the examples given, and they proved to be very helpful--and to 
promote student observations, too, most interestingly:
one student brought up the military's policy of "don't ask-don't tell" 
as a kind of invisibility--one which at once imposes invisibility from 
without and requires invisibility taken on from within, or by the 
individual--which led to a discussion of passing and it's 
and another student recalled a discussion we'd had earlier in the 
semester about Foucault--"visibility is a trap"--and that led to great 
discussions of conformity and power.
(Plus I love it when they remember something from earlier 
discussion/other novels and make it travel!)

Anyway--class went great, and I know we've set the stage to be able to 
talk about race and otherness and America in a much more fruitful way 
than if we hadn't discussed invisibility.
Thanks for all your help and ideas everyone--
Date: Wed, 4 Oct 2006 19:06:01 -0400
From: Janell Hobson <jhobson AT albany.edu>
Subject: Re: report on invisibility
ShaunAnne wrote
> Anyway--class went great, and I know we've set the stage to be able to
talk about race and otherness and America in a much more fruitful way
than if we hadn't discussed invisibility.
> Thanks for all your help and ideas everyone--

Thank you, ShaunAnne, for sharing your experiences in the classroom and
letting us know that our suggestons and feedback were helpful in the
teaching process.

I am curious to know how the different examples that students raised about
"invisibiity" were tied back to Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.  If you
remember, my concerns were about moving away from the text and, in
particular, the concerns of the novel pertaining to antiblack racism.  I'd
like to know how your students connected the different scenarios of
invisibility (like the "don't ask, don't tell" military example) back to
the novel.  Or was this lesson only a prelude before teaching the novel?

Glad that your class went well.

Janell Hobson
jhobson  AT  albany.edu

"For it is not the anger of Black women which is dripping down over this
globe like a diseased liquid.  It is not my anger that launches rockets
... slaughters children in cities, stockpiles nerve gas and chemical
bombs, sodomizes our daughters and our earth."  - Audre Lorde
Date: Wed, 4 Oct 2006 23:06:33 +0000
From: Riley Oroarke <riley.o.roarke AT HOTMAIL.COM>
Subject: Re: report on invisibility
forgive my cynicism here.  But in your great class discussion did you 
discuss the invisibility of black men?  I noted that was missing from the 
list of things you mentioned.

-a riley
riley  AT  nospam.com
Date: Wed, 4 Oct 2006 19:28:27 -0700
From: Kiesa Kay <oleander_cottage AT YAHOO.COM>
Subject: Re: new biography of Alice Sheldon/ aka James Tiptree, Jr.
I just finished reading this book, and I thought it was
illuminating. It would be a good book to use in discussion of gender
and language, particularly in conjunction with some of the stories by
James Tiptree Jr. and the other alter ego, Raccoona Sheldon. I
personally loved the writing about Alice/James's mother, and so much
could be done with this. (For example, some cannibals they met were
APPALLED at their savagery, because they killed people they didn't eat
and just wasted all that.)

One scary bit is that Alice Sheldon DID murder aging her husband, and
it appears that he wasn't consensual despite their earlier
agreement. I have a little trouble with that aspect when considering
this person as a role model.

Kiesa Kay
Kiesa  AT  oleandercottage.com
Date: Thu, 5 Oct 2006 09:21:02 -0700
From: Betty J Glass <glass AT UNR.EDU>
Subject: another slant on invisibility in USA culture
In 2004, David Shipler's "The Working Poor: Invisible in America" was
published by Knopf.

Here's a segment from page xi of his preface, "The people here are white
and black, Asian and Hispanic. Poverty in America knows no ethnic or
racial boundaries. ... having written about black-white divides in my
last book, _A Country of Strangers_, I now shift perspectives to the
dynamics of poverty that are broadly shared across racial lines."

It might provide useful readings for classes looking at education,
health, and socioeconomic issues.


Betty J. Glass
Resource Analysis & Support Librarian
Getchell Library/322
University of Nevada, Reno
Reno, NV 89557-0044

glass  AT  unr.edu

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