Widening the Embrace of Gender Politics
The rising tempo of debates about same-sex marriage, sex changes, as well as other modifications to one's body - such as dieting, body piercing, and even the "Extreme Makeover" variety of Reality TV shows - reinforces the misunderstanding and confusion that underlie popular and academic assumptions about a person's gender, sexuality, body, and identity. Who out there can inform public-policy makers on these complex issues?
Experts in feminist theory, law, medicine, philosophy, political science, and sociology try of course, generally treating these issues according to his or her own discipline. But what is really needed, according to Canada Research Chair Dr. Cressida Heyes, is some interdisciplinary expertise and leadership that can coordinate and publicize these efforts, and thus paint a bigger picture of the emergent field of gender politics.
Heyes studies the conceptual bases of popular and academic understandings of sexual difference, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Her work dovetails perfectly with the University of Alberta's pioneering role in interdisciplinary studies as she continues to develop the themes already alluded to in her SSHRC grant projects and her latest book. Her research interests include studying the difference between changing sex and changing race ("Why are there transsexuals but no transracials?") as well as the feminist debates about freedom of choice regarding body modification, and an historical analysis and political critique of the psychiatric diagnosis of gender identity disorder.
As part of her research, Hayes is developing an expertise in scholarship on social theorist, Michel Foucault (1926-1984; his later lectures on normalcy and mental illness are just being published). She plans to hold an international conference at the university, as well as edit or co-edit volumes of interdisciplinary essays on transsexuality, weight loss, and cosmetic surgery, inviting contributions from experts in Canada and abroad. In the course of her work, she is forging collaborative alliances within the health sciences - a perspective often lacking in feminist treatments of the above issues. This, in addition to her leadership in gender politics and feminist philosophy, is encouraging interdisciplinary research at the University of Alberta, while at the same time attracting and mentoring graduate and postdoctoral students and other scholars.