As an anthropology/sociology student at Middlebury College, I was taught to respect but also embrace culture. Professors preached about the importance of recognizing the horrors of essentialism and “Other-ing” and the problems that can stem from trying to bring about cultural change in societies that we lack knowledge of. I spent four years critiquing the “Western” gaze so as to remain aware of the impact my beliefs have on others. Edward Said was my “husband” (I was deeply enamored with him) and I condemned the notion of “helping” was condemned.
While many of those ideas still hold true, I am slowly recognizing the dangers of culture and how easily communities can use culture against women’s equality and freedom to life. Around the world, women are being killed (i.e. honor killings) and mutilated (i.e.Female Genital Mutilation - FGM) in the name of culture and tradition. And the reality is, women are often unknowingly forced to be the keepers of the “traditions” that lead to their demise. In various parts of Kenya, Sudan and Liberia, for example, mothers encourage their daughters to get married and go through the rituals of FGM in order to be prepared for marriage. The women who cut the clitorises, labia and sew women up are deemed (highly paid) “priestesses.”
But its not just Africa, the country that we to happily like to examine as “the other.” In the United States, Concerned Women for America are fighting to “protect” the rights of women by not ratifying CEDAW, The United Nations Convention to Eliminate All forms of Discrimination Against Women under the stance that it will negate family law and undermine family values (among other claims). Since when did domestic violence, torture, hate crimes and so forth become a part of culture that we must protect?
And so, I ask, do we honor the universal “culture” of women’s pain? Am I supposed to respect the ongoing torture of women around the world in the name of tradition? To ask women to honor culture is, often times, a violation of our human rights.
I will critically examine and make the effort to understand the beliefs of others but I will no longer tolerate culture until women’s bodies are not only viewed as human rights, but become them.
In Transitional Justice, Anderlini illustrates women’s contributions to transitional justice processes, focusing mainly on reconciliation commissions and tribunals. Through women’s experiences, knowledge and positions within societies around the world, women have been able to successfully transform the justice system so that those most affected by war are able to live a life free of discrimination. Anderlini focuses her attention on women’s presence and activism in the development of the mechanisms that seek justice, “promote national reconciliation and bring a feeling of closure in the aftermath of conflict.” She declares that in order for there to be true and complete justice for victims and survivors, there must an acceptance of social justice in the process. In this way, victims and survivors must be given the economic, political and social tools (education, psychological assistance, etc) in order to move forward and find peace.
Anderlini makes a strong case for the importance of obtaining social justices for women who have been victims of sexual violence and, I am now more convinced that criminal law is not enough to restore peace in war torn societies as well as amongst victims and survivors. Though it is necessary that perpetrators of violence understand and fear the repercussions of violence, the trying of war criminals does not address the immediate and long-term needs to the victims. Instead, we must look at social justice - humanity, provisions of support/case, access to health care and education, jobs, etc - and the future needs of women if we are to create a world were there is justice for all.
Further supporting my beliefs stated above, one of the most shocking realities presented by this article was the amount of spending tribunal courts have per year. Comparatively, truth and reconciliation programs and restorative justice courts that work to restore communities on the ground get nothing. As the author states, the total amount spent per year, over $20 million for most courts, could easily assist in the rebuilding of countries through providing basic social needs of communities (including access to healthcare, education, and so forth). A better option to tribunal courts may be to focus energies on nonviolent conflict resolution initiatives from the ground up… a better option is social justice.
If we are to create social justice, it is important that we give people, both victims and perpetrators, a space to speak about their experiences in war time… of traumas, lost childhood, future dreams and so forth. I am convinced that a courtroom is not the safest place for a victim or survivor of sexual violence - whether in war or outside of it. But what do we do? Is there a way to start from the beginning? To dismantle the systems of justice that have been created to build peace for women and children as well as (forced) perpetrators (who often also a victim of war)? Is there a way to ensure that victims are taken care of so that they may live beyond the labels of victim?
Reconciliation and peace does not happen in a courtroom. It happens through time in people’s heart and minds. In order to have reconciliation, there needs to be the idea of shared truths and acknowledgement of the other.
In The Surprised Feminist and The Gender World of Politics, both authors’ overarching belief is that one cannot assume anything is “natural” or “normal.” While social norms deem a surprised feminist “unprofessional” or “inexperienced,” this attitude limits the ability to understand global politics and see contextual factors (race, class, religion, ethnicity) that define societies’ power structures. In using categories like “normal” and “traditional,” we strip away the potential to understand the world and its politics clearly. Ultimately, one must remain forever curious and question everything that society puts forth in order to remain conscious of the gendered lenses we are using to see how constructions of masculinity rely on contrasting constructions of femininity.
Many of the central concepts presented by Peterson and Enloe are not new to me, although they are a reminder of the foundation for my feminist work. I dedicate my academic, political and social work to understanding the world through a gender and feminist lens.
As a College activist, I found that the academic institution focused on theory over personal insight. While I was grateful for a theory-based foundation, I also recognized that theories were yet another way to normalize and quantify Women’s space in society. Thus, my activism stems from the understanding that the personal is political. I emphasize the personal story as a path to understanding power structures. This is because I, like Peterson, believe that to understand a person’s political, social and economic position within a society we cannot create dichotomies.
What I appreciate from the reading is the reminder that the Feminist community must value basic curiosity. I am reminded of a recent incident were a well-known feminist admitted that her experience was limited and, as a consequence was ostracized. Feminists criticized her lack of familiarity with terminology, specifically for not knowing the meaning of “cisgender.” The community turned on her for doing what is essential to feminism: admitting surprise and asking the basic questions “Why?” How? Who? “When?”
After doing this reading, I realize that I too rarely ask myself “why” the personal is political and “how” it can change the way people think. I don’t often show the surprise I used to when I listen to the horrendous stories of the young Women I work with. Violence on the body and mind, as it relates to Women, is something I have come to expect in the 21st century.
I am most impacted and learn the most from the stories and experiences of others. It is when I hear women and men speaking from a personal perspective that I obtain a better grasp of the world we live in and start asking questions. These readings made me ask, “imagine if I did ask myself why these things were happening in the world to women?” Most likely I would end up with more questions than answers, but at least I would be continuing to analyze the world and the experiences of the Women around me to see how we might begin to change power structures and put an end to violence.
If you are interested in obtaining a copy of the readings discused, please contact me.
Despite our greatest efforts (and it’s been a long time) men continue to earn about 7.5% more than women do, with men being the group that negotiates the most before accepting a job offer. It is said that if women negotiated the same amount starting with their first jobs, they would earn one million more dollars by the time their retire.
As a woman and feminist activist, I always encourage others to ask for a better financial option before they accept a position, sign a lease, etc and yet I have found that I have rarely done so for myself. Looking back, I recognize that I began setting a low standard for my own life the moment I started my first job as an Administrative Assistant at a prominent arts council in New York.
Upon my graduation from undergrad, I was incredibly eager to get a paid job. I simply couldn’t afford to travel the world or take an internship, as some of my fellow Middlebury graduates, and friends, did. I was quickly running out of my savings and wanted desperately to be able to support myself and live outside of my mothers home.
I knew that I was highly qualified for a wide variety of jobs but the recession provided few opportunities for students with similar (high) skills. In fact, many of the callbacks I received said that I was “over qualified.”
Within two months, I was offered a job at an arts council in my area. It was certainly below my position level, but the job allowed me to combine my expertise in Art History and Anthropology and support my community (I happend to live just around the corner from the office).
In the interview, I exclaimed that I wouldn’t settle for less than $30,000 (or $28,000 if absolutely necessary). This was even less than I had wanted to request but I was terrified they would find someone else to hire for less (I now realize it would have been practically robbery if they hired someone full-time for any less than that).
A few hours later, I was given the job and eagerly accepted despite the fact that both my employer and I knew that I was overqualified.
The biggest mistake I made was not confirming my salary requirements right then. On my first day, I was told that I would be making $25,000 a year. That was certainly not enough to cover my expenses, let alone live on my own but I found myself too afraid to tell my boss that it wasn’t going to work out. I accepted and quickly became part of the 20 percent of women in the United States who choose not negotiate their job salary (that is over 20 million women).
Over the course of my (short) time there, I was given many more responsibilities and still remained afraid to negotiate a higher salary. I was largely dissuaded by my boss and fellow co-workers who kept mentioning in passing that “our little nonprofit didn’t have enough money to support all of its employees, let alone projects.” They were absolutely right, I have no idea how we were still functioning at the height of the recession. Nonetheless, I now wonder how I could have allowed myself to work for so little. I knew my worth, but couldn’t fight for it.
My partner eventually persuaded me to give my two weeks notice, recognizing how little I was accomplishing for myself and how many skills I had to offer to the world. It was a frightening decision, but certainly the smartest thing I could have done.
I certainly don’t mean to blame my former employer for my not asking for a higher salary while I was there. In truth, I am most disappointed that I allowed myself to perpetuate such a gender-based standard that required me refrain from promoting my own self interest.
The reality is, too many strong and intelligent women see the value in their work, but fear the repercussions of not asking for the most that they (we) deserve. Living in a recession certainly makes this more difficult, and yet I encourage women to “suffer” a little more until they find the position/company/situation that will allow them the life they are entitled to.
It was only today that I fought for my future and asked my (fabulous feminist) landlord to reduce my rent. I noticed that I was paying more than those around me and saw the benefits just an extra $50 would have on my future. That’s an extra $600 that I am saving in a year that can be applied to my savings (which as activists who will most likely have little social security, is something we all need to think about).
It’s amazing what the simple process of negotiating can do to change the status of women in our society.
Sources: Babcock, Linda and Sara Laschever. Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation - and Positive Strategies for Change. New York: Bantam Books: Introduction, Women Don’t Ask, pp. 1-18.
Source: Top 10 Costa Rica
Over 3000 men and women came out in San Jose, Costa Rica this past weekend for Marchas de Las Putas (Slutwalk).
Walking along side other courageous men and women around the world, Costa Ricans paraded down the streets reclaiming sexuality and sexual freedom… More specifically, they were resisting the comments of a local Bishop and Catholic Church.
Early this month Costa Rican Bishop, Jose Francisco Ulloa, asked women to “dress modestly to not objectify themselves.” He claimed the reason for his statement was that we needed to honor women as, “The sexual gift that God gave women… [was] fertilization.”
A Mexican Bishop responded to this comment by declaring that a woman’s mission does not consist of mimicking men. Instead, her goal should be to create a peaceful world by staying at home.
… There is a lot to do here in Costa Rica! Happy to be on board.
Photo Credit: Malibu Surfide News
I was recently featured in the Malibu Surfside News for the outstanding fundraiser Bibi Jordan put together for me to attend the University For Peace. In this article, I address my work as an antiracist activist and future educator.
If you would like to read the article, click here and scroll down to Page 7.
If you are interested in donating, visit Reward The Peace.
Image Source: www.smmirror.com
In June of this year, a student at Santa Monica High School (SAMOHI) was chained to his wrestling room locker while “slave for sale” was yelled aloud - This was preceded by him finding a noose hanging in the room just a few moments before.
[Santa Monica High School Student Claims He Was Bullied With A Noose, Chained To His Locker http://huff.to/nP3qOh]
The Los Angles community, myself included, was outraged and media outlets wrote about it for weeks, asking how something like this could happen.
The truth is the incident that occurred at SAMOHI is not uncommon. Everyday students of color face discrimination from their peers, teachers, and academic institutions on a whole.
We live in a society that is so ready to state that racism no longer exists thus only covering the many instances when it does happen.
It’s wonderful that action was immediately taken by the administration to not only punish those who committed the act, but to educate students of their inappropriate behavior and provide those affected with a space to speak out. Such simple actions tell students of color that they are supported and wanted. But it is certainly not enough…
Teachers and staff throughout the state and country should be forced to participate in yearly forums and workshops on how to deal with race issues, but also gender, sexuality and so on.
Discussions of race, sexuality, gender, nationality and so on must be fully integrated into conversations and the lessons that occur in the classroom so that we can move forward and prevent issues like this in the future.
If we acknowledge the racism in our culture, then and only then can we begin to create change and provide a space for students of color to flourish.
I would also encourage all students who experience discrimination to speak out and share their stories. Silence is the strongest form of apathy and will only lead to more hate crimes as the one at SAMOHI.
We live in a diverse society and we need to honor those who are within it.
The past few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster. For those of you who haven’t been bombarded by my insistent pleas for funding, here’s the (shortened) scoop:
I got accepted to the UN Mandated University For Peace in their Gender and Peace Building program this winter. Despite my extreme excitement, I quickly learned that the institution had little funding and I would have to come up with $25,000 to be paid up front… and no credit card, federal or private loan agency would be able to help as UPEACE is an international program.
So after a week of tears, I gave in realizing that it just wasn’t the right thing for me to do at the moment… Until I secured more funding from the school. That only left $8,000 left… which is where I am at now. $5,000 more to raise in 4 days in order to continue my education.
All that said, the most interesting part of this entire process is the realization that it has been my fellow feminists and community organizers who have really supported me (of course my partner and my mom need to get a lot of credit for supporting me financially and, most importantly, emotionally).
I always thought it would be those close friends or even distant relatives, but for whatever reason my fellow feminists (even those who have yet to meet me in person!) have come together to help me obtain my dream. I am not (completely) disappointed in those closest to me, instead I really am in awe at how many strong women and men are supporting my dream.
Somewhere down the line, that community has become my family, my support system, my reason to keep moving forward and changing the world. I wouldn’t be here, in this position, so close to obtaining Peace, without them.
Send Morgane to UPeace: http://bit.ly/iHX2pG
This is a great question!
The sexist and thus, patriarchy, came first forcing women to come together and push back against the structures that called us inferior. This led into what we now call Feminism, Womanism or the Women’s Movement.
Here’s more on that from my friend, Wikipedia.
I have been waiting to answer this question as it has been difficult for me to respond without just saying, “obviously I believe in interracial relationships and it’s ignorant to think otherwise.”
To get just a little more in depth, I whole heartedly understand the difficulties of dating people from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.
I think the toughest feat in any interracial relationship is fighting off our common understanding of power from a western standpoint.
The moment you stop viewing yourself as the “weak one” or the “privileged one,” you can create a strong bond within your relationship where race and class are acknowledged but aren’t the foundation.
I think my post from earlier this year explains this in depth: Political Bonding Between Black and White Women http://bit.ly/ezQWsK