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Scholar & Feminist IX: Towards a Politics of Sexuality, Barnard College Women's Center

Research Guide


Diary of a Conference on Sexuality

Welcome! This guide supports research on the Scholar & Feminist Conference IX: Towards a Politics of Sexuality, held at Barnard College in April, 1982. Barnard Archives finding aid.

This guide is created as a final project for Archival Encounters class at the CUNY Graduate Center, Spring 2019. Professors: Duncan Faherty and Lisa Rhody.

The creator of the guide: Jenna Freedman is a student in the M.A. in Digital Humanities program at the CUNY GC. She is the Associate Director of Communications, Zine Librarian, and librarian for Women's Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the Barnard College library. Comments and questions welcome:

Photograph: Cover of the conference diary prepared by the conference organizers. 

Statement of Care

The Scholar and Feminist Conference on the Politics of Sexuality, also referred to as the Barnard Sex Conference and the Barnard Sex Scandal, was held at Barnard College in April 1982. Despite the 37 years that have passed at the time that I am creating this research guide, the emotional violence of the conference is still raw to many of its participants. Academic careers were ruined, and apologies are yet unmade. One may think that scholarly, activist, and feminist and other disagreements on a large scale are humorous--and maybe they are, but researchers need to remember that memories of the conference are anything but funny to some of the participants still suffering from being vilified in the Feminist Sex Wars.

I hope users of this guide will be sensitive in their research and scholarship to the conference presenters, attendees, and protesters, who were invested in their points of view about sexuality. I ask you to remember the last family dinner, faculty meeting, or coffee with a friend conversation that got hot and how it made you feel. Then think of how you would like to see it portrayed on the internet, with you cast as a subject, a player in someone else's story. In other words, please make your feminist scholarship a feminism that centers equity, justice, and care.

Conference Background

The Scholar and Feminist Conference on the Politics of Sexuality was the ninth conference in a series that, as of this writing in 2019, had its 44th iteration this year. The conference was coordinated by then-Columbia anthropology Ph.D. student Carole Vance and volunteers who responded to her invitation to serve on the planning committee. Vance and the other organizers detailed their process in a conference diary, an artifact that was confiscated by the Barnard administration before the conference and eventually reprinted with the Barnard College and Women's Center and Helena Rubinstein Foundation affiliations removed.

The diary confiscation was the result of pressure from anti-pornography protesters who felt that conference organizers and presenters were anti-feminist, woman-hating, and sexually deviant. Barnard President Ellen Futter deemed the diary pornographic, and that it must be destroyed, shredded (p.26). The conference sexuality theme, per Vance's invitation to participate, focused on sexual pleasure under the patriarchy, sexual pleasure and danger for people holding marginalized identities, feminist vs. right wing analyses of women's sexuality, when is a "good" time to discuss sexuality in the current political climate, sexual nonconformity vis a vis Betty Friedan-influenced feminism, and conflicts between "social purity" and "libertarian" feminist factions.

The conference program reports plenary, workshop, art, and poetry presentations led by scholars, activists, artists, and poets including (but not limited to):

Vance published conference proceedings in a book called Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality from Routledge in 1984. To discover more about the conference, and to develop your own thoughts on what was said and done, I encourage you to examine the primary sources I describe in this guide and explore the other resources I share and annotate. I also invite your collaboration and contributions, via print scholarship, activist projects, and digital humanities work, including improving Wikipedia's representation of the conference and its personnel and themes.

Archival Encounters Class

I  created this research guide as the culminating project for a CUNY Graduate Center class called Archival Encounters, DHUM 72700, of the CUNY GC's M.A. in Digital Humanities program. The professors, both English scholars, are Duncan Faherty of Queens College and Lisa Rhody, who is the Deputy Director of Digital Initiatives, Director of Digital Fellowship Programs at the Graduate Center.

Per the course description, "The end goal of the course is for each student (or possibly several small groups of collaborating students) to produce an “edition” of a currently neglected archival artifact (which might be anything from an eighteenth century serialized short story, to a transcription of a Medieval fragment, to an unpublished letter by an early twentieth century poet to her editor)." This research guide serves as my edition. I think that my artifact, the Scholar and Feminist Conference on Sexuality, is not so much neglected as underserved. The resources I reference in the guide exist, are described, are digital to the extent that a feminist ethics of care, not to mention intellectual property rights, allow. What I hope to do with this project is to provide a platform to facilitate others' discovery of and interaction with the resources I have collected, organized, listed, and annotated.