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September 22, 2016

WGSS presents ‘What’s Love got to Do With It?’

What is love? What defines love? And who “gets” to love and be loved?          

On Wednesday, October 14 the Women Gender Sexuality Studies department (WGSS) presented “What’s Love Got to Do with It? Reflections on Feminism, Desire, and Sexuality.” The topics were vast, and the discourse was varied. But in the end it came down to a central theme of love, and the role that love plays in feminist academia, and within American society as a whole.

 “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” was the second in a series of monthly forums called “Feminist Foundations/Feminist Futures.” These forums are being presented to reflect on the 35 years of the Women’s Studies Program at the University of Massachusetts. UMass has one of the oldest Women’s Studies programs in the country.

The Women’s Studies Program was recently renamed the WGSS program to acknowledge that the program has shifted its focus. The WGSS website says “we and the field have moved from an exclusive focus on women to one that embeds gender within a complex web of interlocking social formations including gender, race/nationality/ethnicity, class and sexuality.”

Sociology professor Janice Irvine, Ph.D., said of the renaming of the program, “I think this change reflects the centrality of sexuality in the conceptions of our field today. But the field is also very broad with complementary and contradictory contours.”

Irvine was scheduled to moderate the presentation, but was unable to attend.

Women’s studies, sexuality studies and gender studies can be looked at from numerous other fields; they are their own fields of study, as well as aspects of others.

The turnout was between 20 and 30 people; a moderate group, but attentive. The speakers at the forum came from distinctly different backgrounds, providing an interdisciplinary look at the intersection of feminism, desire, and sexuality. Their fields of study range from political science to Afro-American studies, and from public health to sociology.

The speakers were Amy Schalet, Ph.D., Kym Morrison, Ph.D., Tameka Gillum, Ph.D., and Barbara Cruikshank, Ph.D., all of UMass, and Viera Lorncova, Ph.D., from Fitchburg State College. Banu Subramaniam, Ph.D, from the WGSS Department was the moderator.

Topics broached included the emergence of lesbians within feminist movements, and the transition from being invisible to being visible; the issue of adolescent heterosexuality especially in regard to females; the role or race, or perceived race, within gender studies, and the prevalence of dating violence among LGBTQ youth.

Despite the theme, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” it took until the end of the presentation, during the question and answer segment, for the issue to be addressed. Each of the speakers evaded the notion of love throughout their segments, although it was the connection between all of their topics.

Decidedly, love and intimacy are difficult to address. In fact, one person raised the idea that within American society, there is no context in which to discuss intimate relationships. The idea of love and of relationships is often talked around in American society.

We are comfortable pointing out the negative side, the problems with relationships. For example, Tameka Gillum mentioned that when dating violence occurs, the victim often views the abuse as a sign of their partner’s devotion. But we do not discuss what makes for a healthy relationship, especially intimate partner relationships. Barbara Cruikshank brought up that in her interviews with adolescents many mentioned that they would like to be taught what makes for a healthy relationship. It was also said that love is associated with unrealistic expectations and a belief that there needs to be a sacrificing of self in order to prove feelings of love and affection.

Elizabeth Murphy can be reached at emurphy@student.umass.edu.

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