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Northeastern reflects on sex, gender, and justice

Students, faculty, and staff convened on Tuesday evening to examine the growing need for gender justice.

The event marked the eighth installment of “Conflict. Civility. Respect. Peace. Northeastern Reflects,” the university’s educational series on civic sustainability, where an interdisciplinary panel of Northeastern professors explained how gender injustice has informed their research.

The panel comprised Libby Adler, a professor in the School of Law; Gabriel Arkles, an associate teaching professor in the School of Law; Moya Bailey, a dean’s postdoctoral fellow in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, and Benjamin Schmidt, an assistant professor in the Department of History.

“Recognition of diversity and plurality is essential to building a strong campus as well as a fully functioning society,” Uta Poiger, dean of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, said in her welcoming remarks.

Suzanna Walters, a professor of sociology and director of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program, moderated the event, which was held in the Raytheon Amphitheater. The College of Social Sciences and Humanities, the Office of Student Affairs, and the School of Law presented the event.

Here are some key takeaways from the event:

Recognition of diversity and plurality is essential to building a strong campus as well as a fully functioning society
—Uta Poiger, dean of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, said in her welcoming remarks.

Contradictions in today’s society

Walters kicked off the discussion by highlighting what she views as some of society’s most prominent contradictions in gender justice. She noted that gender violence worldwide has continued to persist despite evidence suggesting that gender fluidity and non-normativity is the way of the future. And while transgender celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox have received much praise, a majority of transgender people have continued to face violence and incarceration.

“It is not at all clear, at least to me, what the relationships are or can be between more open and expansive gender regimes and expressions of gender, and the challenges to structural discrimination,” Walters said.

‘Misogynoir’

Before she became a dean’s postdoctoral fellow, Bailey coined the word “misogynoir” as a way to address anti-black misogyny targeted against black women.

One recent case in which Bailey said “misogynoir” could apply is the story of a black high school student at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina who was violently arrested by a white school resource officer during one of the student’s classes. The officer has since been fired.

Bailey said this story illustrates how achieving gender justice requires taking an intersectional approach to address how black girls’ experiences are different from their white counterparts.

“For me, we have to think about how race, gender, age, and class all come together to inform the way we are going to approach the gender justice agenda,” Bailey said.

How can established institutions change?

During the Q&A, the panel was asked to explain the extent to which places and longstanding institutions that only deal in gender binary terms—the U.S. Census Bureau, prisons, and public bathrooms came up—need to change in order to help ensure greater gender justice.

Arkles, who has expertise in gender and the law, noted that gender injustice would be less of a problem if society took a holistic approach to solving social inequities.

“I want to get rid of the gender-segregated homeless shelter problem by creating affordable housing for everybody,” Arkles said. “Some of these systems aren’t built for women, transgender people, non-binary gender people, or gender non-conforming people, and we need to stop trying to force people to fit into them.”

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