Saturday, June 19, 2010

FGM in the USA...

I know this isn't necessarily a new phenomenon, considering the history of surgeries performed on people that are intersex or that have ambiguous genitalia or genitalia that isn't deemed as "normal" but seriously, WTF? This is current "research." Stay classy Cornell.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Banning the Veil is Not Liberation

This is an essay I wrote after reading Joan Wallach Scott's Politics of the Veil. Considering the recent ban of the veil (i.e. hijab, veil, head scarf) in France, Bill 94 in Quebec, etc... I think this has been and continues to be relevant.

The political discourse of the veil has attributed various meanings to it and to the women and girls who wear them. The veil was and is seen as a symbol of the return to “traditional” Islamic values, the subordination and oppression of women, a threat to secular democracy, a threat to national security, and ultimately the assembling of all Muslims into one monolithic and seemingly dangerous group. Thus ignoring the distinctive, cultures and nationalities within disparate Muslim communities. Within France's framework of equality, a coexistence of different groups was not taken into consideration, instead assimilationist practices were preferred to supposedly create one French identity with “a shared language, history, and political ideology (12).” Therefore ignoring histories and experiences that seek to recognize and respect differences. I will focus on Joan Scott's critique of individualism within the French republic, how sameness is a substitution for equality and the identity of the “individual” is only accepted if one assimilates into the “norms” of French culture.

Laϊcité, the French version of secularism, is defined by protecting individuals from religion, in contrast to the American view of secularism which protects religions from the state. The veil is seen as an attack on French secularism because the individual is supposedly unencumbered, one who is able to separate themselves from their religious beliefs in public. This does not take into account that for some, religion is not always a private matter, one's religious life and public life can be one and the same. Many supporters of the ban of the veil could not see it as conscious choice, instead wearers of the veil were portrayed as victims of an oppressive state denied any right of choice. However, for many girls who wear the veil, it is a personal choice, a choice that often meets opposition from family and friends. In this respect, Scott argues via Olivier Roy's view, that this decision to wear the veil does not represent a return to “traditional Islam” but instead is “a sign of their modernity and of their adoption of the values of Western individualism (126).”

Essentialist notions of individuality and identity supported the belief that a free individual would never see wearing the veil as an acceptable choice and therefore without coercion an individual would never willingly choose to wear one. Only one meaning was attributed to the veil, Juliette Minces explained, “it stood for Islam's belief that women were inferior, sexually dangerous and in need of protection (130).” If a woman or girl decided to wear the scarf, it was for the wrong reasons, supporters of the ban thought her “choice” would be to not wear one. The veil is not only a religious symbol but a political one as well, one that sparks fear of a link between French Muslims and terrorist organizations “back home.” Prohibiting the veil would therefore create an autonomous individual, an individual separate from religious restrictions. Assimilation was the key, “one could not be French and Muslim (135.)” Even some opponents of the ban still couldn't part themselves from the French notion of individuality. They sought for girls who wore the veil to stay in school in order for them to gain autonomy through an education. As if an education would help these girls make the “right” decision to not wear the veil. This was justified by the idea that “sending them away, [would] condemn them to oppression (140).” As if these girls didn't already have the autonomous agency to make the decision to wear the veil in the first place.

The French conception of equality doesn't acknowledge diversity, it wants everyone to be the same. Through this perspective, assimilation, achieving “sameness” is equality. It doesn't recognize the different reasons that women and girls have in deciding to wear the veil as well as the various meanings that the women and girls themselves associate with it. For some women and girls, wearing the veil can be an act of defiance against discrimination and a way to gain “respect for difference [and therefore] a call for integration without assimilation (138).” Wearing the veil was also a way of dedicating themselves to their religious beliefs but much too often it was seen by supporters of the ban as an “abandonment of individuality (148),” instead of an assertion of autonomy. Through a French framework, to be an individual one must be French first and foremost and a Muslim in private. The two can never merge in public space. Despite the fact that wearing the veil could be an expression of oneself as an individual and an expression that is protected by the French constitution was never accepted (148.) In order to be a French citizen, one must abstract oneself from one's “social, religious, ethnic, and other origins irrelevant in the public sphere (11).”

The political discourse about the veil has imposed strict dichotomies of “modern/traditional, secular/religious, West/East, French/Muslim, native/foreigner (146),” that ignore the intersectionality of certain people. Instead of recognizing communities that can coexist together, a French framework seeks to strip away such identities that would put one into a specific community. Coexistence is supposedly not needed because the conception of the individual is one that is the same as everyone else, thus everyone is equal because everyone is the same. This conception is absurd, it frankly blew my mind that the individual could be thought of in this way. It goes against everything I have come to learn as important to building an inclusive culture. Ignoring intersectional identities, labeling everyone as French, assumes that being French is a monolithic experience. It systematically denies experiences and histories that make people who they are while inadvertently turning a blind eye to the racism, xenophobia and colonialism that is involved in creating so called “equality.” It is important to see this debate through a French perspective in order to shed light on the construction of identity and the individual.

Even more interesting was the steadfast support of some feminists for banning the veil. Upon first glance I can understand their intentions. The women wearing the veil are largely absent. Feminists supporting the veil are hoping to “emancipate” their shrouded (read: oppressed) sisters. Any type of covering is seen as enforced and a sign of subordination. A disproportionate focus has been placed upon a minute group of women, most of which have willingly chosen to wear the veil. Within a historical context, there have been many impositions upon women's dress, the discourse on the veil seems to be yet another regulation of the female body from both sides of the debate. Can these women and girls not decide for themselves? Why must “liberation” be imposed upon them? As if they didn't know any better. It is eerily similar to the beginnings of feminism that is steeped in assimilation practices towards people who were seen as inferior and in need of salvation (for example, black and native peoples within the United States). We must understand that views outside of Muslim culture about what is “best” for women and girls that do wear the veil is unnecessary and unwarranted.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Save the Ta Tas [From Objectification]

Wow, I haven't written in a while. All of my other posts were related to a class I was taking but now I'm just writing for the heck of it. Going along with my previous post from all the way back in December, I'm posting an essay I wrote about the "save the ta tas" campaign relating to Kim Q. Hall's critique of The Vagina Monologues. So yeah, here it is:

Focusing on recent breast cancer awareness campaigns, I wanted to look into the ways in which projects aimed at doing positive work for women are still reinforcing regulative practices in the guise of female empowerment. Looking at the piece I recently read by Kim Q. Hall entitled “Queerness, Disability, and The Vagina Monologues,” Hall discussed The Vagina Monologues and how, yes, on the one hand it did and continues to do plenty of positive work for women by raising money and awareness for anti-violence organizations much like "save the ta tas" campaign does for raising money and awareness for breast cancer. However, on the other hand these projects still reinforce regulations on the female body, which ultimately reduce the woman to a specific body part.

The Vagina Monologues, Hall explains, marginalizes bodies that do no conform to the “normal” definitions of what a female body “should” be. The Vagina Monologues further produces such normalizations of the female body by equating being female with simply having a vagina. Going along with this, I believe similar regulations of the female body are occurring in many breast cancer awareness campaigns that equate being a female with simply having breasts. More attention has been disproportionately placed on the awareness of breast cancer and became the forefront of women's health, obscuring heart disease (the leading cause of death among women), intimate partner violence, sexual violence, legal access to abortions and birth control and other important issues effecting the health and safety of women.

There are many breast cancer awareness campaigns but two specifically that I will focus on, including wearing or displaying pink ribbons and “save the ta tas” t-shirts and accessories. Many companies have incorporated the pink ribbon or simply the color pink into their products in order to display their support for breast cancer awareness. For example Swiffer sweepers, Yoplait yogurt, Campbell's soup, Lean Cuisine frozen dinners along with pink Croc brand shoes, pink kitchen utensils, pink gardening tools, pink power tools and pink make up accessories among many other products that are flooding stores in the name of breast cancer awareness. It makes me wonder, are these companies altruistically concerned for the lives of women at risk of or touched by breast cancer or are they exploiting a disease and the people it effects for profit? It is easy for a company to attach a pink ribbon to their products and claim they are in support of breast cancer awareness and research. The line between what is actually being donated and what goes into the corporate pocket is blurred when companies seek to gain new customers more than contributing their profits to breast cancer foundations.

Barbara Ehrenreich calls this pink ribbon culture and argues that such a culture “has replaced feminism as a focus of female identity and solidarity.” I agree, the pink ribbon is a way for us to “express” ourselves as supporters of women without the need to actually do anything. Ehrenreich continues by stating that “while we used to march in protest against sexist laws and practices, now we race or walk 'for the cure.' And while we once sought full “consciousness” of all that oppresses us, now we’re content to achieve 'awareness'...” Breast cancer awareness has come to the forefront because breasts are “safe” to talk about, they are not as harrowing to discuss like such women's health issues as rape or abortion would be because through campaigns like “save the ta tas,” breasts are separate from the women that actually own them. Breasts become objects of desire, breasts must be maintained for the enjoyment of others, namely the breast cancer victims' husband, boyfriend or anyone who wishes to gaze upon them. This campaign boasts t-shirt slogans such as “I heart my little ta tas,” “I heart my big ta tas,” “caught you lookin' at my ta tas,” as well as t-shirts for men including “save a life, grope your wife,” “my girl has great ta tas,” and “if loving ta tas is wrong, I don't wanna be right.” I understand that this campaign is working towards awareness and research but my question is when did breast cancer awareness become more about the objectification of women's bodies than an actual cure? What about the "ta tas" that can't be saved? Many women must have them removed in order to survive. Why is it all about the “ta tas” and not about the woman herself? She is a human being not just a pair of boobs in need of saving.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Breast Cancer Awareness: Women's Rights or Objectification?

I know we have all seen the "Save the TaTas" bumper stickers. Well now there is a new commercial by Men For Women Now.

Instead of, you know, saving the lives of countless women, men are just in it for the boobs...amirite fellas?!? ... This is insulting to both men and women. I know all men aren't just in it for the boobs. I know their hearts are in the right place but when did breast cancer awareness become more about the objectification of women's bodies than an actual cure? Also, what about when the boobies or "tatas" can't be saved? Many women must have them removed in order to survive. Why is it all about the boobs and not about the woman herself? She is a human being not just a pair of boobs.

Researchers Studied Facial Expressions. Angry=Male. Happy=Female.

Canadian, Austrian and U.S. researchers found that facial expressions play an important role in gender identification. The research showed that angry expressions were mostly identified as being male. While expressions of happiness or fear were more likely to be identified as female. Associations are strongly linked between anger and masculinity and happiness and femininity. When angry or more neutral facial expressions were worn by females it took longer to identify gender.

As a female, I feel that we are made to feel like we are supposed to be happy or at least pretend that we are happy by smiling. This makes me think of several times when I've been told to smile by a passerby just trying to make conversation. I don't remember being upset but I guess it was because I was scowling while I was thinking about something. Even if I'm happy or content it doesn't mean that I always smile. I guess this just plays along with the notion that females are more docile and males are more aggressive.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Dichotomy of Gender

Gender is so well ingrained into our culture. It is a process of creating separate social statuses that assign certain rights and responsibilities to it's respective members. Gender is not stagnant it is constantly changing as a result of human interaction. As a process, gender creates the social differences that define "male" and "female." Through social interaction our entire lives, we begin to learn what is to be expected, to see what is expected, and to act and react in expected ways. By doing this we are constructing and maintaining the "gender order." In our culture there is a dichotomy of gender, meaning that there are two and only two socially and legally recognized gender roles, "man" and "woman." You are either male or female, anything in between does not fit into these roles. Rigid roles that define masculinity and femininity. With this picture project I sought to explore this gender divide through a simple shopping trip.

Starting out with the front of the store, the restrooms. Men's and Women's. Here is a clear example of two socially accepted gender roles. Unfortunately, for a lot of transgender people, whose appearance or body doesn’t conform to what people think of as male or female, using a public restroom isn't a simple choice.

A magazine rack. Men's magazines are darker in color as opposed to the bright colors of women's magazines.

Girl's Halloween costumes as opposed to the boys costumes are obvioulsy composed of less material. The boy's seem to be completely covered by their costumes while the girls are not. The boys can be such things as a "Werewolf," "Swamp Monster," or "Knight". While the girls can be an "Adorable Witch," "Princess Vampire," or "U.S. Diva."

A girl's aisle and a boy's aisle of room decor. Notice the bright pink and bright blue colors used to differentiate the boy's and girl's aisles.

I came across this endcap and thought to myself, "wow, this shows a clear divide." The girl is pushing a "Little Helper's Grocery Cart," while the box next to it pictures boys playing with a motorcycle.

Much like the decor aisles, the rows are differentiated by color. Girls are designated a bright pink while the boys have dark blues and grays.

Even as babies we are associated with certian colors to show that we are either a boy or a girl.

Smells are gendered. The clear divide between the lightly colored containers with fresh feminine scents compared to the darker colored containers of "extreme" scents.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Teams of female U.S. Marines are trying to make contact with Afghan women.

[picture above]Shloss, of Hammond, Ind., ties on her headscarf with the help of Sgt. Monica Perez of San Diego. The headscarf, while not a regular part of the Marine uniform, is being worn to show the Afghans that Marines respect their Islamic belief.

It's a daunting goal. The sexes are strictly segregated across much of the country, with female residents kept indoors. Tradition forbids any man who isn't related to a woman to see her, let alone talk to her.

That goes doubly for Western men. But the U.S. Marines are hoping the villagers might make an exception for the female teams.

Click here for the rest of the story