Wednesday, January 20, 2010
a recently discovered blog i love:
These pictures make me yearn, from the bottom of my aching heart, for the days of biking to start for me again. Manila is hardly bike friendly, and even if it was, it's far too sweaty to wear such cute tights and jackets. I would also like to live in a place where heels seem like a rational choice while biking. Not that I wear heels, because I don't, but because it means there aren't too many hills around. Or else these Norwegian ladies know something I don't about biking without working up a sweat.
|Can we scrap the word "feminism?" In a word, no.|
|By Guest Blogger|
Nona Willis Aronowitz is a 25-year-old writer and author living in Chicago whose first book, Girldrive: Criss-Crossing America, Redefining Feminism, was released November 1. She blogs at www.girl-drive.com.
In 2007, my friend Emma and I drove across the country asking young women what they think about feminism, and whether it relates to their lives. We were self-proclaimed feminists—having a gender consciousness was essential to us—but we wanted to know what our peers thought about the history and concept of feminism.
We got this question over and over again—since the word “feminism” is too exclusive, too loaded, can’t we just think of another word? Something that means the same thing, but one that doesn’t drag around this exclusive history and these disparaging stereotypes? Emma’s and my gut response to these questions was always, “Hell no.” It was partly because, as Andi Zeisler, founder of Bitch Magazine and one of our Portland interviewees, said to us, a word that means “women’s rights” is always going to garner a negative connotation, so we might as well save our energy and stick with what we've got.
But it was also something else—something I couldn’t quite articulate until today.
This morning, Oprah.com’s Karen Salmansohn echoed some of the women we talked to, saying that “feminism” conjures up images of “controlling, bitchy women” and women who are “basically unattractive both in looks and spirit.” Feminism doesn’t make women’s lives better; according to Karen, it apparently “den[ies] the existence and the benefits of either our male or female sides.”
So instead of attempting to rail against these sexist, harmful stereotypes, she has invented a new word—“feminine-ism.” This new word brings back the old phrase “getting in touch with your feminine side.”
Wow. I’m sorry, but that’s just a cop-out. Not only is this new word and its accompanying explanation letting the backlash against feminism win and reinforcing infuriating and false assumptions about feminism, it’s also implying that being feminine is some sort of “answer” to feminism, as if the two are always mutually exclusive. Since when can you not be feminine and a feminist? If you think of “feminism” as believing in the equality and freedom of women, whether someone wears lipstick or pink tights wouldn’t even appear to matter.
Granted, I don’t hold up Oprah.com as a beacon of feminist analysis, but it pisses me off that the only way mainstream sites like these give feminism air time is when they’re trying to refute its importance. I agree that the meaning of feminism needs to be shaped to fit the cultural consciousness of each generation and the issues they grapple with--Emma and I went on our road trip to discover just that. Modern feminism is intersectional and inclusive, more a feeling than a movement. But when I see the word “feminism” cast to the wind in favor of a word that means—well, not much—I start to feel indignant. Feminism is a powerful, amorphous word that means different things to different people. No matter whether you agree with or identify with it, it sparks conversations, acts as a code word to bring to light gender issues, and keeps us on a continuum of history. If a word can do all that, then it’s sure as hell worth fighting for.
Monday, January 18, 2010
Seyran Ates, thank you for critiquing multiculturalism. Next time, can you please critique it with specific references to the Canadian context? We are badly in need of your scathing social commentary.
Feminist, lawyer and women’s rights campaigner Seyran Ateş, author of The Multicultural Fallacy (Der Multikulti-Irrtum, Berlin, Ullstein Verlag, 2007) and the autobiography Große Reise ins Feuer (Berlin, Rowohlt Verlag, 2006, henceforth Ateş) has written fearlessly and eloquently about the problems of radicalisation of young Muslims, integration, the desperate isolation in which many Muslim women live, their oppression and social separatism (on both sides of the ethnic divide) in her home country, Germany, all of which are only too familiar in France and Britain as well.
From an early age, her language skills meant that she was expected to accompany adults on administrative business: "At offices and in doctors’ surgeries I noticed how awful it was if you couldn’t communicate properly. The staff were unfriendly as a general rule and completely devoid of any willingness to help. They sneered at the people for whom I was acting as interpreter and adopted a very curt tone. To start off with they frightened me with their loud and overbearing voices and their self confident manner, but as time went by I grew accustomed to it. As long as you stuck to their rules they left you more or less in peace or behaved as if you weren’t even there. Which at any rate was more pleasant than being bellowed at" (Ateş, p57).Before addressing the issues at stake, she first defines the terms in which her argument will be presented: “By feminism, I mean the belief that women should not be disadvantaged by their sex, that they should be recognised as having human dignity equal to that of men, and that they should have the opportunity to live as fulfilling and as freely chosen lives as men can. Multiculturalism is harder to pin down, but the particular aspect that concerns me here is the claim, made in the context of basically liberal democracies, that minority cultures or ways of life are not sufficiently protected by the practice of ensuring the individual rights of their members, and as a consequence these should be protected through special group rights or privileges (…) In other cases, groups have claimed rights to govern themselves, to have guaranteed political representation, or to be exempt from certain generally applicable laws” (pp10-11, emphasis in original).
Individual and group rights may be discordant: “Suppose, the, that a culture endorses and facilitates the control of men over women in various ways (even if informally, in the private sphere of domestic life). Suppose, too, that there are fairly clear disparities in power between the sexes, such that the more powerful, male members are those who are generally in a position to determine and articulate the group’s beliefs, practices, and interests. Under such conditions, group rights are potentially, and in many cases actually, antifeminist. They substantially limit the capacities of women and girls of that culture to live with human dignity equal to that of men and boys, and to live as freely chosen lives as they can.
Advocates of group rights for minorities within liberal states have not adequately addressed this simple critique of group rights, for at least two reasons. First, they tend to treat cultural groups as monoliths – to pay more attention to differences between and among groups than to differences within them. Specifically, they accord little or no recognition to the fact that minority cultural groups, like the societies in which they exist (though to a greater or lesser extent), are themselves gendered, with substantial differences in power and advantage between men and women. Second, advocates of group rights pay little or no attention to the private sphere. Some of the most persuasive liberal defences of group rights urge that individuals need ‘a culture of their own’ and that only within such a culture can people develop a sense of self-esteem or self-respect, as well as the capacity to decide what kind of life is good for them. But such arguments typically neglect both the different roles that cultural groups impose on their members and the context in which persons’ sense of themselves and their capacities are first formed and in which culture is first transmitted – the realm of domestic or family life” (p12, emphasis in original).
The potentially adverse impact of setting aside a space within which group rights take precedence will be disproportionately greater for women: “First, the sphere of personal, sexual, and reproductive life functions as a central focus of most cultures, a dominant theme in cultural practices and rules. Religious or cultural groups often are particularly concerned with ‘personal law’ – the laws of marriage, divorce, child custody, division and control of family property, and inheritance. As a rule, then, the defence of ‘cultural practices’ is likely to have a much greater impact on the lives of women and girls than on those of men and boys, since far more of women’s time and energy goes into preserving and maintaining the personal, familial, and reproductive side of life. Obviously, culture is not only about domestic arrangements, but they do provide a major focus of most contemporary cultures. Home is, after all, where much of culture is practices, preserved, and transmitted to the young. On the other hand, the distribution of responsibilities and power at home has a major impact on who can participate in and influence the more public parts of the cultural life, where rules and regulations about both public and private life are made. The more a culture requires or expects of women in the domestic sphere, the less opportunity they have of achieving equality with men in either sphere” (pp12-13).
Feminist blogs are booming. But are they globalising emancipation - or just playthings for the rich and well educated? By Kira Cochrane
Nina Wakeford, a sociologist at the University of Surrey, is cautious about blogging's influence. "I think the way blogs can provoke debate is useful," she concedes, "but it isn't clear how much they feed into activism. In the past, there was a clear role for women's organisations as regards representations to government, but I'm not sure whether women can affect public policy through blogging. Just who are they representing?"
This last question is interesting. As with second-wave feminism, this online movement is open to the accusation that it simply represents privileged white women. "Blogging is still somewhat limited, of course," says Georgia Gaden, a postgraduate researcher who has studied feminist blogs, "because although we take our access for granted, many women, globally, don't have that luxury."
That said, these blogs do redress the balance by highlighting global stories. And the Carnival of Feminists is trying to reach as many women as possible, with the most recent carnival held on the Indian blog, Indianwriting. "That was our fourth continent," says Bennett, "and I'm looking for an African blogger, so that we can reach our fifth."
The links between feminist blogs and activism are nascent - in January there was a "blog for choice" on abortion, and earlier this month saw mass blogs on street harassment and sexism - but they look set to grow. And for now, the sites provide both an insight into the strength of feeling among young feminists, and a much-needed alternative to mainstream women's magazines. If a young woman asked her about feminism, says Gaden, a blogosphere is the first place she'd direct her to. Traister agrees. "There are so many authentic voices out there that it's really invigorating. It just goes to prove that the internet isn't just for accessing porn!"
We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us. Too long has the public been deceived by misrepresentation of things which concern us dearly. It shall ever be our daily duty to vindicate our brethren, when oppressed, and to lay the cause before the public... From the press and the pulpit we have suffered much by being incorrectly represented. Men... have not hesitated to represent us disadvantageously, without becoming personally acquainted with the true state of things.
- Freedom's Journal, 1827
In a broad sense, the history of the dissident press is often also the history of the social ideas that changed America. Many of the proposals it broached eventually became acceptable mainstream positions, even if. others remained on the fringes. The fundamental changes in the nation's economic system advocated by the socialist press have never been accepted, but abolition, women's suffrage, child labor laws and the success of some of this century's antiwar movements are only a few examples of ideas that worked their way from dissident pages to the courts and the statute books.
Although often harassed for their advocacy in spite of the First Amendment, these David-like papers accepted the challenge of disseminating opinions, beliefs and information against the Goliath of the established power structure. The minority press, in addition, presented radical ideas on behalf of its group and helped to persuade readers that they were worth working toward. Abolition, civil rights, reparations for World War II internment, reimbursement for appropriation of Native American lands — all became believable, and thus possible, when they were printed in the black-and-white of their representative newspapers.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Rubess observes that two realizations are important for a collective to function effectively; first, it must be acknowledged that not everyone can do everything, so people should be encouraged to do what they are best at and also to discover other things they can do along the way. Second, each collective member must be committed to and understand why they are working as a collective. The first point explains why, even with the collective creations, the programs from Nightwood productions generally list certain people as being responsible for particular functions, while the show itself is credited to the group as a whole. The second point signals the greatest potential danger of working collectively, which is the question of "ownership." Part of the problem may be inherent in the process of collective creation itself, in that "job descriptions" may be largely self-defined and therefore easily subject to dispute. Individuals who put a lot of time and effort into a project are not always able to give up a sense of personal "ownership" of that work for the greater good of the company, and there are many who argue that they should not have to. But the issues can be further complicated when the collective members are assumed to share the same feminist principles; unspoken assumptions can be made that everyone is more in agreement than they really are, and individuals can be afraid of voicing dissenting views for fear of looking "not feminist enough." Apparently, collective creation may involve a discrepancy between process and product; in some cases a beneficial feminist workshopping process (as in the annual Groundswell festival, for example) may not necessarily result in a written script, while in the case of an example like Smoke Damage, an extremely troubled collective process still resulted in a valuable feminist play.(8) It is the combined efforts and enthusiasms (or lack thereof) which spark the creative process in a collective; individual moments of genius may not add up to an overall production, but the multifaceted result of collective effort may convey something about the process and the feminism of its participants which is valuable on its own terms.