Skip to content

Labelling the Stuff of Cake Batter


Gender and Technology

Anne Dalke and Laura Blankenship

May 9, 2009

Labelling the Stuff of Cake Batter

The Interrelationship of Gender and Technology and the Technology of Labelling Communities

~ A Series of Vignettes ~

Part I: We are Transborgs

Now, I see [the relationship between gender and technology] as more of a reciprocal relationship, and I would ask “What is the relationship between technological changes and societal changes?” However, I’m not even sure how I feel about this question, because it’s difficult to draw a division between technology and society.” — Ruth (


The television is big, gray, and obnoxious. Mostly it is loud.  On it there are men whose bodies look large and puffy.  They wear green and blue suits with white helmets, so they won’t die if there’s a collision, Dad says.  They are running around like crazy.  They are running and colliding and pig-piling behind the screen and inside the television, or outside of it, or in my mind.  I am lying on the couch trying to sleep and Dad has his hands outstretched, as if to catch the football that is flying towards the camera, flying towards the screen, flying towards us? Uncle Jimmy has his legs laid out, taking up about three times as much space as they would if they were as small and scrunched up as they could be. Like inside that Magician’s box that you get put into and they cut you up and then they open the box and there you are, uncut, you don’t even need a bandaid. Beside Dad, Uncle Jimmy shifts his legs to another position, with his belly button sloppily bursting up from a round tummy.  Dad and Uncle Jimmy’s mouths, slightly open, wait in anticipation, their eyes fixed on the TV. They are waiting for the football to be thrown or the players to jump on top of each other.  They are holding beer and holding their breaths in hope and fear.  They are not looking at me, and I wish they would.  They are looking at that big, obnoxious screen and not hearing my exaggerated snores.  They are caught in between something, but I don’t know what.  Whatever it is, it exists somewhere in the air between the Heineken in their reaching arms and the little men playing, running towards them on the big screen.


More people took to the streets, sitting in at lunch counters, marching, singing and chanting.” (Spring 1963: The battle for civil rights in Birmingham.)

Cake batter (

Churning, churning.  Clock ticking, ticking: ticking, tocking, pinging, ponging.  Dinner party soon.  Got to get this cake to bake.  Sweet frosty taste of making sticky cake, caking sticky bake — the sticky cake making, cake baking smells waft from the oven, heating.  Another cake on its way, churning in the Mixmaster.  Cake batter is slopping up the sides of the peach colored mixing bowl.  I am listening to James Taylor through the radio.  Sound waves waft through the air translate into me and into my rhythms: a swaying rhythmic dance.  Cake battered spoon is dripping.  My hand is grasping the spoon, and I am flinging, swinging; Carolina’s in My Mind and soul.

Left: Birmingham, AL. Under Eugene Conor’s command, policemen set dogs on peacefully protesting African Americans (

Right: Birmingham, AL. Under Eugene Conor’s command, policemen spray high-speed water from firehoses at peacefully protesting African Americans (

Inside I am dancing but outside it is stormy, metaphorically speaking.  In “Reality” (whatever that means), or rather physically, it is sunny outside.  Yet metaphorically speaking, there is loads of rain and thunder.  In this sense, it is raining: John and I watched the television this May morning.  Colored folks, most of them young and many of them children, were walking along the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, signs in their hands, triumphant, beautiful smiles on their sparkle-eyed faces of defiance, freedom.  I saw a bunch of women singing together, arms locked, and a group of teens sitting in the restaurants where they’re not allowed to eat.  Then suddenly arrived the police, those keepers of Peace.  They brought dogs with them, placed them and then unleashed them right by the singing people.  The animals growled and scratched and pounced at the singers.

There was another video clip.  The same police, dressed in dusty uniforms with “B.F.D.” printed on the back, opened firehose valves and let the water fly out, pounding into three teens leaning by a wall.  There was the water, still for a moment, then spurting, spraying, pinning the teens down.  Down the teens fell, with a twist of the body and a yell.

We watched those colored folks on the t.v., them not having done anything but smiled and sung and marched in lively procession.  We watched them being beaten with sticks, watched the big-teethed dogs tear at their clothing, watched the water from the water-hoses hurtle towards them with tremendous force whistling angrily through the air.

Seeing them drenched and dripping, some standing resolute, others crumpling under the onslaught of water, unsettled me.  Because I could see their chocolate cake faces, dusty water-spilled faces, and they were grinning.  I could hear them, their songs of freedom.  And for a second I saw they were just like me.  Past all the names and the colors and the segregations, they were just like me.  And yet here I am, redrawing the boundaries, re-emphasizing the differences, calling them “colored folk”.

It is just like the jars in my sunshine mustard yellow kitchen. I have these jars, to make meals and cakes from. They are big, round, cream-colored affairs, solid like concrete and cold when you wrap your fingers round them. One says “FLOUR” in large letters, another “SUGAR”. There are more jars labelled “LENTILS”, “CHINESE RICE”, “INDIAN RICE”. We gender even rice. We like to think about where it comes from, which makes good enough sense. A man with a disk-shaped thatched hat bends over the rice paddy. A caramel skinned woman in a sari, not the bright colored ones of the richer classes, but a brown-maroon tinted one with dirt, sorts, filters the long, bent kernels through her fingertips. We sort the rice. We gender the rice. We discriminate between these multi-colored variations.

I had a dream the other night. I was walking down a long hall, crowded with people. There were people of all kinds, mothers, daughters, dark women in bright-patterned squash dresses, little girls running around and playing tag, little boys sitting in corners absorbed, reading. There were tall bespectacled men in white robes, people kneeling for prayer, teenagers chewing bubblegum chatting bubbly about their clothes and their teachers and other teenagers of the opposite sex. I proceeded, step by step, past each person in turn, and saw colors and a reflection of sunlight from the hall’s high windows. I saw blurs of people, staring eyes, red lips, upturned noses. My legs continued, big strides, making a swish sound as they past each other. More people, in headphones running on treadmills, hair in a ponytail; people sleeping, people dreaming, people chasing after butterflies, people sitting with the hand below the jaw staring out at the world around them, this disastrous, crazy, and at times unnervingly tranquil place. My feet stepped on. The further I walked along the hall, the more crowded it got, until you could only see little dots of floor space here and there, and mostly the floor was covered from view by hands and legs and noses and hair. I had to insert my hands between people and pull my hands in opposite directions to separate the people so that I could move onward, down the hall to the never-ending end.

As I was walking in this crowded space, among this multitude of multi-colored people glittering as they moved like water trading places with itself inside a glass, I forgot myself completely. I did not forget that I existed; I knew that. I just forgot who I was, how I defined myself. And for this moment, in this dream, I was a 5’8” thirty-year old male with a green cotton shirt and blue pants. That was just who I was, for thirty seconds. Then I woke up.

Trans: Nothing more, nothing less

Ryan… said that he is trans, but not in transition” — Melanie (

A Fishbowl. (

We are trans.  But not in transition.  We are in transitions too, many kinds and sorts of transitions, but not because we are trans.  We are mixtures, like cake batter mixing in the mixmaster.  We are multi-colored, all of us.  We are humans and yet we are so much more.  We are on the web and we are connected in our networks to people we don’t yet know.  We are a system: interrelated parts, making a bigger whole — we are emerging!

We are subverting the sytem, and partaking in it.  We are handmaids whispering under the sheets, repeating our names.  We are branded with our hand-made handmaid numbers, we are credit card integers and social security IDs.  We are numbers slipping through machines, like money getting flattened, turning over and under in the press.

We are part male part female, part neither, part both.  We are water rising and sinking in a jar, in a glass, in a fishbowl.  We are looking out of the fishbowl to a distorted larger world, a more complex structure we do not yet comprehend.  We are those highways of leaf-cutter ants marching in procession, each a node, a facet of the larger network and yet hardly aware of it.  And yet we are looking in on the fishbowl, seeing ourselves, reflected in the glass, blown large by the walls of our existence.  We are examining ourselves, identifying our personalities and our projected selves mapped onto our situations: our daughter self, our singing self, our studious self.

Metroplis clock. (

Ford assembly lines. (

We are Donna Haraway’s cyborgs: part human, part machine.  We are nature born, we are Joni Mitchell star-dust.  But we are working within The Machine, whatever it is — the government, the patriarchy, the society.  We are Metropolis, with its human-made machine parts, ticking, tocking.  We are people of the conveyor: people standing by the conveyor belt of Ford’s assembly lines.  We are on our phones, our iPods, our bicycles.  We are in our high heels, our collared shirts, our society.  We are technologizing and constructing our society (and being constructed by it, and totally reworking it).

We are Ryan.  We may not even realize it; we may just “play the game” (  But deep down where no-one sees, we wear a “man’s” t-shirt, and we don’t wear jewelry.

We don’t bind our breasts with taut cloth, we don’t have doctors in white coats (or are they blue coats?) operate to insert things, like knives and utensils, and extract things, like sex organs and the surrounding flesh and the interior cells and blood and tissues, from our body.  Those things we keep, as they are.  But ourself?  Ourself we define, we redefine.  We are a man.  We refer to ourselves as a man.  We call ourself Ryan.

We are trans, but not in transition.  We are a tight-rope walker, treading a fine line.  A fine line which is getting broader and broader “until it is as thick as reality” (Rosenscrantz and Guildenstern are Dead).  We would be penciling in a map and we would be drawing the borders, but instead we are erasing them: destroying them, deconstructing them, uncrafting them, de-technologizing them?

We are human, nature, cyborg, technology, man, woman, dark, light, black, white.  We are trans cyborgs, crossing the technology-nature border and the man-woman border and crossing as many bridges as we can.  Thus, we call ourselves transborg.

Part II: Working Transborgs into Reality

Well.  So we are transborgs, we are cyborgs, we are mixtures, we are trans, we are cake batter being stirred.  Yet how can we refer to ourselves?  We constantly use our kitchen jar labels, we segregate boundaries, draw maps and say “this is your country”, “this is my country”.  We must make these labellings, if for nothing else than simply to refer to things.  Mustn’t we?

Let us now look at the “technology”, the craft, and the construction of these labels that separate non-existent boundaries.  Let us look at their function in the creation of label-based communities: for instance, the “Women’s” institution of Bryn Mawr College.

July 8, 2009

Office of the President

Bryn Mawr College

101 N. Merion Ave.

Bryn Mawr, PA 19010

Dear Incoming Student:

Greetings and a most cordial welcome to Bryn Mawr College.  We are looking forward to having you join our institution and our community next fall.  We believe you have made an excellent choice in coming to Bryn Mawr, and we hope that you will learn a great amount in your next four years here.  Please be sure to read the enclosed letters, the first regarding payment to the college and financial options, and the second informing you of your housing and mailbox information.  We wish now to take the opportunity to inform you of a significant decision made in the last few weeks regarding the application and acceptance process of our insititution.

We have made this decision after much time and consideration, both through administrative board meetings as well as community discussions involving students, faculty, and the administration.  We believe that this decision continues in the vein of the founding principles of this institution.  We are confident that you will both appreciate the decision and observe that it is in keeping with the long-standing ideology of Bryn Mawr College.  The changes associated with this decision, which are described below, will come into affect in the fall of next year, 2010, which will be the start of your sophomore year.

Bryn Mawr College was established in 1885 with the intention of providing a place of learning for young women.  At a time when such institutions were rare, the founders hoped to build a center nearby the large Philadelphian metropolis where women could come to study the liberal arts and in this way obtain a higher level of education than was common at the time.  They indeed erected such a site, and named it Bryn Mawr College.  As this college has historically been an all women’s institution, the people here identify with the struggles women have faced in the past and contintue to face in the present day.  We at the college do not doubt the great need for the empowerment and education of women within today’s society.

However, we have perceived a new site of struggle in the current socio-political environment, one that is inextricably connected to the college’s concern for under-represented groups and to the college’s principles of promoting gender rights and studying gender issues.  Further, we have noticed a gradual shift over time, whereby women have gained considerable power in comparison to where they once stood.  In contrast to the first women students at the college, the women now attending are guaranteed by law the right to vote and have equal-paying jobs, in theory at the very least.

Hence we believe that now is the time to grow and expand, to learn from another group of people and to include them amongst our ranks.  Thus, henceforth we render the college of Bryn Mawr to be an institution not just for women, but also for those persons calling themselves to be transgendered.  They share our gender-based struggle, and they are equally if not more affected by the inequalities and inconsistencies currently playing in our society.

We believe that Bryn Mawr is a place where learning should be fostered in everyone, regardless of race, age, religion, sexual orientation, ideology, and gender.  We feel certain that you, as a respectful and uprighteous incoming student, will welcome all students into our institution, just as we will.

Thank you for your time and attention.


Jane D. McAuliffe

Dr. Jane D. McAuliffe,


Martha M. Dean

Martha M. Dean,
Director of Development

Sally Hoover Zeckhauser

Sally Hoover Zeckhauser,

Chairman of the Board of Trustees

Diary entry of Josh Katz (formerly known as Jenna Katz)

Sept. 17, 2011

alone.  that’s how it feels.  there are only five of us, despite the grand Transgendered Inauguration ceremony and the hype — the Philadelphia Inquirer article and all the photographs and lights and “click-click” and all the newsreporter people, too many people.  I guess I don’t feel more alone than I used to, at home.  but I feel out of place here.  today the “gals”, as they call themselves, in my frosh customs group all died their hair together.  I guess I could’ve done it too but I didn’t want to.  didn’t want to be part of their silly bonding rituals.  yet at the same time I did.  I like their handbook here though at least.  was reading through it and there are no gender pronouns whatsoever!  someone told me it was because of some person Alex who graduated a while ago, it used to be all “she” and “her”.  thought that was pretty cool.  felt a little bit like someone wanted me here, wanted me to have a place and a home.

four years later…

Excerpt from “A Change, a Place for Us” by Josh Katz (’14), The College News Opinion article, Spring 2014

“…Really, though, it makes us stronger as an institution.  As now retired Mathematics Professor Rhonda Hughes has said, “A less diverse pool of talent means a less robust pool of talent.”  That means that in the world at large, we need women, trans people, people with different learning styles, people of all races and religions if we really want to improve ourselves the most we can as a species.  One might be tempted to bring men into the institution as well, in the name of diversity.  Now ultimately, ultimately that may be the goal.  However, for the time being, to the end of global and nation-wide diversity, we need institutions like Bryn Mawr college which will encourage under-represented persons, including women, including trans people, to flourish, grow, learn, and then re-enter the world afresh to provide back for it.

Now, you might say that including trans people on the campus would radically change the way Bryn Mawr operates.  Yet we have seen over the last four years that it does not.  The balance that is in issue here is between some sort of exclusion and an opposing issue of contamination.    On the one hand, people here are concerned about the issue of exclusion, whereby the institution leave out certain peoples from our group.  On the other hand, students and faculty in this community which formerly consisted entirely of women do not want to see “contanimation” of the Bryn Mawr ideology by a groupother than women.  In other words they do not want the original institution’s goals to be lost and motives to be forgotten.

For instance, some people have worries that if too many trans people become part of the community of Bryn Mawr, that this will somehow weaken the community and its goals.  Indeed, in the beginning of any group, concentrating the group, making it intimate, and forming the circle close makes protects the group and makes it strong.  It seems to me, however, that the people of this institution, who have long known under-representation and lack of opportunities, should best of all should understand discrimination, and learn to expand this circle.

Which brings us to the idea of an affinity group.  While we once were a community based on a single identity, that of womanhood, it appears that we can make the transition to a successful yet inclusive affinity group.  When we worry about “contamination” or “weakening” of our group, for instance by having, sometime in the future, more trans people in our community than women — who originally founded our community — the issue is one of affinity.  What people are really worried about, however, is not the mere presence of trans people; it is the loss of the original Bryn Mawr ideology — the core around which our affinity group (once an identity group) was founded.  If we were to have a majority of trans people at Bryn Mawr, yet they all vehemently promoted women’s rights, trans rights, and, more generally, gender equality, would Bryn Mawr college not have the same heart as it does today, and perhaps even more so?  Perhaps in going beyond a technology of labelling communities, we can travel to a place where identity is less important than affinity, where trans people can represent the aspirations of an originally all women’s institution, and where labels themselves begin to merge.

I ask you then, what are the goals of this institution?  As part of my sociology senior thesis, I conducted a survey on the Bryn Mawr campus, asking people what they saw as the goals of this institution.  I qualitatively analyzed these and found that the major concerns and goals of our students are to empower women, and at a more general level, to have equal rights among people.  In going from the former to the latter perhpas calls for a new label for ourselves within this institution. From the original title “Bryn Mawr Women”, we have expanded, grown more inclusive, to become “Bryn Mawr Women and Trans People”.  In so doing, we have made ourselves more powerful.”

What’s this shit?

By Toni Landon (Bryn Mawr ’14)

They said it was a really cool jazzin’ place

jivin’ full of rock-hard lesbo guitar-thumping

an’ athena-prayin’ crazers.

They said there was people

makin’ a difference,

marchin’ the streets

tappin’ to their own beats.

They said we were women,

we were women,

we were gettin’ down on the patriarchy

They sang with Dar on May Day:

not gonna be afraid of women.

It’s not I mind the trans kids

I always thought I was a radical

Maybe that just slipped away

when I saw harder times comin’

This is what I don’t want:

don’t want no stereotype frat guy

at my college


what’s the difference between a frat guy and a trans guy and a woman and a trans woman?

i don’t know but i know

the line has to be drawn



Maybe I should join Dar and my trans friend Josh,

“go outside and join the others”


“I am the others” too?


1. “Spring 1963: The battle for civil rights in Birmingham.”  Freedom now! 16 May 2003.  p. 8. <>. 8 May 2009.

2. “Project ‘C’ in Birmingham.” PBS Online and WGBH. 2006. Eyes on the Prize (Blackside and American Experience). <>. 8 May 2009.

3. “Bryn Mawr College.” Wikipedia. 1 May 2009. <> 8 May 2009.

4. “Administration.” Bryn Mawr College. <>. 8 May 2009.

5. “Dar Williams: As Cool As I Am.”  LyricsFreak. <>. 8 May 2009.

6. “A Less Diverse…” Bryn Mawr College. 2009. <>. 9 May 2009.

Other references.

[Image.] Bryn Mawr College Seal: