The Bullet Points
- PhD candidate in American Studies at Purdue University graduating in May of 2017.
- MA in Communication with an emphasis in rhetoric from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
- Research foci include virginity, heteropatriarchy, sexual citizenship, gender, sexuality, rhetoric, and visual rhetoric.
- Teaching foci include Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans Studies; Feminist Theory; Feminist Media Criticism; and History of Sexuality.
The Short Version
My dissertation, “Virgin Land: Young Women and Sexual Citizenship in the Contemporary United States,” is about virginity as a form of Gramscian “common sense” upholding the hegemony of the heteropatriarchy in U.S. medical, legal, and popular culture in World War II and the War on Terror.
My next project, “The Virgin’s Phallus,” builds on my previous research to demonstrate the ways in which the ambiguity of virginity renders it a disruptive force to the heteropatriachal power systems it is intended to support. This project uses the writings of church fathers on sexuality, particularly virginity, along with historical accounts of female saints to demonstrate the ways in which virginity allowed women to appropriate power in both church and state.
The Long Version
I graduated from a very small, non-denominational Christian school. My graduating class was 12 people and we were the largest graduating class in the past three years. Some of the people I graduated with had gone to that same school since 1st grade. I had gone there since 3rd grade. When I was 14 a friend of mine got pregnant. She was then expelled.
When the decision became public, because even if the administration tried keeping things secret in a school that small was nearly impossible, I remember having an argument with the school principal. After all, if a young woman is about to bring a life into this world isn’t that most when she needs a Christian community? I mean, if you’re into that sort of thing.
I will never forget the principal’s answer, “Yes, but not here.”
When I think of where my interest in virginity came from I think of that moment. It crystallized a host of questions for me such as what was the difference in boys and girls having sex? I certainly knew young men, the same age as my friend, that were having sex so why weren’t the expelled? As far as I could tell it was because it was easier for them to hide it from the administration since they couldn’t get pregnant.
On a related note, why couldn’t a pregnant young woman be involved in the community of a Christian K-12 school? Did they think that something about her was contagious or was it the fact that the school was small and always seeking contributions from conservative donors?
Why was virginity so important and pre-marital sex so bad and why was it disproportionately bad for girls?
My work has helped me answer some of these questions while raising a host of others. At Eastern Washington University I had some amazing professors who expanded my conception of gender and sexuality. They also showed me the important role that communication, from interpersonal to mass media and everything in between, plays in creating and maintaining cultural norms surrounding gender and sexuality. As I prepared to apply for graduate school they also helped me put my thesis into words other than, “YOU GUYS, VIRGINITY IS REALLY WEIRD AND WE ALL NEED TO TALK ABOUT IT!”
At the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, I fell in love with, and received excellent training in, rhetoric. My interest in virginity became an interest in the rhetoric of virginity and how this rhetoric changed and, more interestingly, didn’t change.
In my first semester at Purdue I happened to pick-up a colleague’s printing from the shared printer and it was an excerpt from Caroyln Herbst-Lewis’ Prescription for Heterosexuality. That serendipitous moment sparked my interest in the rhetoric of virginity during Word War II. Through much discussion with colleagues, professors, and friends I eventually settled on my dissertation project described above.