It is commonly believed that congressional leaders will always obey the “first commandment” of party leadership: Thou shalt not aid bills that will split thy party. Nevertheless, in 2017 House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allowed voting on a bid to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), putting on display their party’s ideological divisions. In this Democracy Papers essay, Ruth Bloch Rubin draws on the personal papers of midcentury House Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-TX) to understand when and why congressional leaders choose to act as agents of discord. She investigates how Rayburn used intraparty tensions to push for his agenda. Bloch Rubin argues that Rayburn’s tactics provide a new angle for understanding contemporary congressional action like the ACA bill.
From Our Fellows
The SSRC has been providing funding to researchers at all stages of their academic and professional careers for more than 90 years. Through a highly competitive and rigorous peer-review process, the SSRC has awarded over 15,000 fellowships and grants to support research around the globe. From Our Fellows focuses on emerging research in the social sciences, including intersections with the humanities and natural sciences, by recipients of SSRC funding. The SSRC’s fellowships, grants, and prizes improve conditions for social science knowledge production worldwide.
In her contribution to the “Sexuality & Gender Studies Now” series, Anne Esacove highlights the Trans Literacy Project (TLP) and its work at the University of Pennsylvania. Created by a group of students, activists, and scholars to cultivate and expand conversations on trans and gender inclusivity, the TLP hosted a series of events and workshops to bring to the forefront concerns and issues facing the trans community in academia. Esacove uses this opportunity to bolster the voices of the project’s participants. Six of the TLP conveners, Ava L.J. Kim, Davy Knittle, Kel Kroehle, Aylin Malcolm, Monique Perry, and Brooke Jamieson Stanley, summarize key points learned from the TLP experience, which can be used to enrich academic learning and provide a more inclusive experience for trans students and scholars.
Danielle Thomsen, a Negotiating Agreement in Congress grantee of the SSRC’s Anxieties of Democracy program, examines the electoral preferences of primary voters. Her project investigates whether primary voters can be persuaded to support politically centrist candidates. Using a survey-based experiment, Thomsen finds: (i) primary voters tend to prefer politically extreme over centrist candidates; (ii) despite Americans' frustration with gridlock and hyperpartisanship in Washington, primary voters are unlikely to vote for candidates who champion bipartisanship. Her findings shed light on the continued polarization in US politics.
Narratives of abuse and violence that women experience play a crucial role in prosecuting perpetrators. However, as Shonna Trinch explains in her contribution to the “Sexuality & Gender Studies Now” series, the representations of these narratives are susceptible to distortion by legal actors recording stories of said encounters or detail discrepancies on the part of victims. Building from her research on Latinas’ retellings of their abuse, Trinch argues these omissions create stereotypical and androcentric narratives that hurt women’s chances at justice and remove their agency. She concludes by highlighting the Seeing Rape project and class, programs she started alongside playwright Barbara Cassidy, to perform and problematize representations of gendered violence.
Reflecting on her Sexuality Research Fellowship Program experience and how it shaped her career, Lynn Comella explores the evolution of and growth in the feminist sex-toy retail industry since the 1970s. Through ethnographic research across different field sites around the United States, she interrogates how these women-friendly shops and the larger industry around them went from a peripheral phenomenon to mainstream in the span of a few decades, normalizing women’s sex lives and their sexual desires. In her research, she argues that by co-opting consumer culture, sex-positive feminists were able to spread their message of sexual empowerment; however, Comella also highlights potential challenges of “practicing sexual politics through the marketplace.”
Writing for our “Sexuality & Gender Studies Now” series, Dawne Moon analyzes the evolution of views of the LGBTQ+ community among Protestant evangelicals and how LGBTQ+ Christians have started creating a space for themselves within the church. Through her Sexuality Research Fellowship Program (SRFP) funding, she first started researching evangelicals’ views on the LGBTQ+ community in the late 1990s, leading to her current work on understanding “sacramental shame” among LGBTQ+ Christians. She concludes with a reflection on how the SRFP impacted her own career.
Writing for the “Sexuality & Gender Studies Now” series, Catherine Fosl reflects on her current work on the queer public history of Kentucky. She traces how she uncovered the state’s LGBTQ history, in particular that of Louisville, and how the Sexuality Research Fellowship Program (SRFP), which sponsored research on the oral history of a local LGBTQ organization, led her down this path. Through her work as a public historian, Fosl has shined light on an aspect of this community’s history, culminating in the state’s first LGBTQ historic context statement, coauthored with the Fairness Campaign.
Combating Sexual Dysfunction through an Intervention Designed to Strengthen Brain-Body Communicationby Lori Brotto
In her contribution to our “Sexuality & Gender Studies Now” series, Lori Brotto examines how a person’s psychological-physical connection influences their sexual desire. She explains how, through her research on cervical cancer survivors, mindfulness meditation—a practice that helps the brain focus on the present moment—can help reconnect the body and brain to stimulate sexual desire. Through this approach, Brotto argues, many other people, from cancer survivors to sexual assault victims, can reconnect with their sexual desires.
Sexual Consent Research and Affirmative Consent Policies: From Saturday Night Live to State Legislaturesby Zoë D. Peterson
In her contribution to our “Sexuality & Gender Studies Now” series, Zoe D. Peterson recounts how affirmative consent policies in college campuses went from being ridiculed as excessive in the early 1990s to a common college policy. Drawing on recent research on these policies, she presents the benefits and shortcomings of affirmative consent—promoting direct and active communication as well as overlooking coerced and uninformed consent, respectively. Peterson concludes with a call for more research on the effects of affirmative consent policies and on ways to address those who ignore the policies.