Things I learned from giving a college lecture on race and girlhood with Kristen at Act Your Age

White girls Ellen Page and Zooey Deschanel; image courtesy of blogs.citypages.com

 

Yesterday, I gave a lecture with Kristen at Act Your Age, a friend and colleague since we got to know one another as masters students in the media studies program at UT. We actually didn’t become friends until our second semester with the program, as I was pretty shy during the first semester and was working full-time. But I knew I liked her from the moment we met at a department mixer when she said that she hoped grad school wouldn’t be like that scene in Ghost World where one of protagonist Enid’s classmates shows off her “found object” tampon in the teacup art piece. I’d estimate that our friendship really developed during the thesis process, as we shared an adviser and second reader. Of course, working at the same 9-to-5 keeps us close, as does working with Girls Rock Camp Austin

I may never have admitted this to her before, but I heavily relied on her as motivation when we started collaborating. The first time we worked together on a project was for a Flow column we wrote about 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon and her negotiations with power. Earlier that summer, I was asked by a friend who worked at Latinitas to give a talk about how girl pop stars are represented in music videos. I accepted the offer, which I later bailed on when I had a bout of depression and felt like I couldn’t possibly put together a valuable educational resource. I’ve always been ashamed that I let my friend down and had such little faith in my abilities at the time. So I figured if I worked with Kristen, maybe we could maximize each other’s potential. I’d like to think we have. 

I should note that we also work well separately, though I ask for her feedback on my projects and am  available as a springboard for her. That said, I really like to work with her, less so now because I feel like I need her as motivation, but because 1) we like to model that women can successfully come together and share responsibilities on projects and 2) we like proving that “important” work doesn’t have to be done in isolation. Also, I just like her. 

So we’ve worked together for a while, both on GRCA stuff and on other academic pursuits. We wrote a column together, moderated a roundtable discussion for the 2008 Flow conference, and put together a panel for SUNY Cortland’s Reimagining Girlhood conference this fall. Thus, when our friend Curran invited us to give a guest lecture for his race and media course at UT (a class that transformed me when I took it as an undergrad), we of course accepted. 

This was a bit out of both of our comfort zones. Kristen never gave a college lecture before. I delivered one for my thesis adviser’s undergrad class on gender and rock culture when she was presenting at SCMS. But that was a very different set of circumstances, for even though I organized the screening materials, I lectured on a reading she assigned. Kristen and I created this lecture entirely on our own, picking the topic, readings, and presentation materials.  

We selected the intersection of race and girlhood as our topic, paying particular attention to the exnomination of whiteness and the cultural construction of hipster girls and appropriations of girlhood in contemporary American film. Our case studies were Juno and (500) Days of Summer

Curran (wearing a Shonen Knife shirt because he’s awesome) generously introduced us to his class, plugging our blogs and referring to us as experts. As humbling as it is to be called an expert by a friend whose academic work you admire tremendously, I recognized that we do know a lot about our topic. Kristen wrote about two of the films we discussed in the last chapter of her thesis. I wrote about a few of the films for conference papers. We’ve talked about many of these texts on our blogs and have seen most of them. 

The lecture represented both of us well. Kristen studies mediated representations and sociological surveys of girlhood. I look at convergent music culture from a feminist perspective. Add to the fact that we’re both white women who were both white girls and heavily problematize white privilege and class in our work, and this lecture was basically as close to a scholastic mash-up as you can get. Add our PowerPoint to the mix and you can even listen to it like Girl Talk or The Hood Internet or play it like X-Men Vs. Street Fighter. Plus we call shit on patriarchy and white privilege. Here’s what I learned. 

1. I like building PowerPoint presentations. As Kristen created the one we use for GRC, I wanted to give it a shot and it’s a really effective tool when used properly. 

1A. Of course, it was not news to me that I would stay up until 2 a.m. futzing with layout design. I know myself. 

2. It’s exciting and weird when people write down what you have to say. 

2A. As a result, I’m always going to have to remember to slow down when I talk. 

3. It’s great to watch a colleague be in total control of herself when presenting information. Kristen’s a clear, succinct conveyor of ideas. She’s also patient and calm and clearly has a lot of personal investment in the process, which will make her a great professor.  

4. No bullshit, but I’m great at it too. It feels natural to me. I have much to learn, but I’ll be a great professor. 

5. It’s fun to volley. I kinda knew this from GRC workshops, but sometimes I worry that she carries my weight when I blank or get flustered. This time, I feel like the back-and-forth was breezy and perfect. 

5A. I need to be kinder to myself and recognize that we both share the work and bring out the best in each other. I definitely did that yesterday. 

6. It’s delightful to apply complicated theories from the readings to the lecture topic, especially when the students nod along and seem to get it. It lets you know that you picked the right material and make sense explaining it. 

7. Revisiting essays when selecting readings is fun, as well as a good yardstick for what you’ve learned during the interval between now and the last time you read the piece. 

8. Clips and images really help illustrate points and trigger related ideas. 

9. We forgot to talk about Ghost World! Oh well. Next time. We didn’t talk about TV at all, but have so many texts to discuss. 

10. This was a quiet group, but I think a lot of the students were into the topic and got something out of the lecture. They may have, in fact, actually learned something. To be witness and have a part in that process is the best part of all.

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