Assigned Blog Posts

These blog posts have been inspired by the Thomas Hunter Honors College course, Hons 201: Feminism, Health and New Media. Professors Daniels and Richardson provide prompts to which we are assigned to respond, having read, watched and interacted with class materials.

UN Humanitarian Aid to Liberia

The United Nations (UN) has recently sent me to Liberia to provide aid to women, men and children in surrounding internally displaced person (IDP) camps. Some critical questions to be asked include: What steps are to be taken by the UN so as to ensure safety, health and well being in the surrounding IDP camps? What information must be recorded and why? What services must be delivered, and how?

The first step in any kind of outreach is to acknowledge that I am an outsider coming into a conflict zone which I know very little to nothing about in comparison to those who have experienced life in the Republic of Liberia. All too often, well meaning aid efforts from the global north have historically misinterpreted and imposed ethnocentricites onto communities of the global south. Hence my first course of action would be transnational in nature, to listen to what women, men and children had to say about their living conditions since the 2003 resignation of Charles McArthur Ghankay Taylor and the 2005 democratic election of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

President Sirleaf has been dealt a complex history of Liberian Civil Wars: the first from 1989 to 1996 and the more recent having lasted from 1999 to 2003. These conflicts pose serious challenges to the current reconstruction and rebuilding of Liberian politics, economy and social landscape – namely the severely sensative reintroduction of former combatants into society.

“For post-conflict societies, the challenges of reintegrating…war-affected youth are likely to far outlast and outsize the formal demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) of ex-combatants… In Liberia, where the bulk of the population is young, poor, and underemployed, many rural youth continue to make their living through unlawful activities, including unlicensed mining, rubber tapping, or logging…ex-combatants, and some remain in loose armed group structures, doing the bidding of their wartime commanders..” -ipa (innovations for poverty action)

After I attempt to initiate an open dialogue with internally displaced persons living in conflict zone camps, it is necessary to examine those social relations, which are particular to Liberian culture, through a gender lens, as Professors Daniels and Richardson often say. This might mean respecting certain restrictions pertaining to space and gender when constructing UN IDP camps; can men and women occupy the same space at the same time? This deeply impacts the lived experiences of girls and self-identified women, in terms of proximity to safe or potentially unsafe toilet facilities, coming out from under IDP camp tents for fresh air, etc.

These considerations are vital to the physical construction of safety and security among those who are most vulnerable to sexual violence. Women and girls disproportionately face the atrocities of rape as a weapon of war in conflict zones such as Liberia. Hence access to medical facilities and free-of-charge mental health care are imperative to addressing the physical and psychological consequences of war on women, among which include but are not limited to:

  • unwanted pregnancies
  • unwanted abortions
  • genital trauma
  • post traumatic stress disorder:

“an anxiety disorder that develops after exposure to a traumatic event characterized by ‘actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others.” -Evan D. Kanter, The Impact Of War On Mental Health

  • spread of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV/AIDS
  • incontinence
ICRC Resource Centre: ICRC / N. Kero

ICRC Resource Centre: ICRC / N. Kero

Humanitarian aid workers ought to be well versed in these kind of ramifications of war as well as in the languages spoken in Liberia, so as to most effectively assist IDP communities in both physical and psychological healing. Another step in the reconstruction of Liberian conflict zones will be to provide gender-specific aid to girls and women as well as to boys and men, respecting those societal gender-based divisions which may or may not allow women to interact with men who are not their husbands, even if those men are UN humanitarian aid workers, doctors, psychologists or medical assistants.

“Gender training is necessary for peacekeeping troops and humanitarian aid workers to prevent reoccurence of rape and exploitation of women and girls by men who have power and money. Greater efforts must be made to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches women and is not first derived to men.” -Mary-Wynne Ashford, The Impact Of War On Women

Ashford urges UN aid workers, ‘like myself,’ to ensure the safety of women and children in refugee camps by providing, “adequate cooking fuel,” so as to avoid the, “necessity for women,” to unsafely leave IDP camps, “in search of firewood,” and by providing, “efficient cooking stoves to conserve fuel” (6). Particular considerations such as these are to be integrated into UN relief efforts, so that actual relief might take root in conflict zones such as Liberia.

My main goal, as a UN humanitarian aid worker, is to help local communities negotiate reconstruction on their own, peace-keeping terms. By listening to women, men and children’s needs, more direct solutions can be of service.

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Vlog Assignment #4: A Transnational Approach to US Feminism

What a pleasure it has been to work with the wonderful Kerishma Panigrahi, on our final Vlog assignment!  This video is meant to depict our own interpretation of what a US feminist approach to assisting women living in conflict zones should represent, keeping in mind the questionable politics of saving so as not to invoke neocolonial ‘white savior’ tropes.

Short Video Assignment #4: Working in a small group, produce a short 1 – 3 min campaign video directed to United States feminist communities explaining at least two (2) effects of war/violent conflict on women, why these issues need our attention and what resources might be used in order to address these effects and create a more stable life for women living through conflict.

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Vlog #3: Racialized “Beauty” in India

Special thanks to my Hons 201 partner in crime, Kerishma Panigrahi, for another awesome experience in both filming and editing!

Short Video Assignment #3: In groups of two or three, produce a creative 1- 3min web video that challenges and/or demonstrates resistance towards some of the negative representations of women of color’s bodies online.

The above video assignment was partially inspired by such advertisements as the following, which dangerously conflate whiteness for beauty and femininity:

What are the consequences of standardizing beauty according to white supremacist ideologies?

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Queer and Trans-Blogging: Mapping New Social Landscapes

In recent years, the presence of queer and trans-blogging has grown in frequency as well as spatial range, directly impacting LGBTQI communities on a global scale. In her piece on, “The Reality of Virtual Reality: The Internet and Gender Equality Advocacy in Latin America,” Elisabeth Jay Friedman examines the democratizing potentialities of the internet in such spaces as Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. Her ethnography implores us to think critically about the internet’s so-called-“horizontal organization;” do digital spaces inherently mark democratic cyber-social relations by nature of the internet’s presumed wide spread dissemination? It is necessary to critique such contemporary assumptions about the internet as that which is somehow different from the hierarchical structures that are erected in our material social relations. Friedman’s work on gender-based justice and equal rights advocacy in Latin American civil societies is rather telling of these dialectical tensions between the internet’s dual roles as, “a powerful new tool for non-governmental activism,” and simultaneously the creator of “digital divides” (2).

Similarly, Rahul Mitra and Radhika Gajjala tackle these same issues surrounding the politics of voice among LGBTQI communities in their relative spheres of political identity and influence (both on and offline). Their work more specifically historicizes the Indian digital diaspora. How are these digital spaces utilized by queer, lesbian, gay and transgender communities? How is knowledge produced in contrast to the dominant ideologies of heteropatriarchy? In what ways do these local productions of knowledge disrupt the meta-narratives inscribed within legal doctrine and health care policies? In their work on, “Queer Blogging in Indian Digital Diasporas: A Dialogic Encounter,” Mitra and Gajjala narrowed the scope of their research down to eleven specific blogs, in which they examined the interactions between bloggers such as Closetalk, Kris, DeviantChick, Mike-higher, JerryMumbai, Men I LikeLivingsmile, Hanuman, VenialSin, Uberhomme, and DeviantCore. What the authors found in these digital interactions were, “unequal power relations online as well as offline,” being negotiated among queer bloggers.

Visual representation of hierachical articulations of power among queer bloggers, from Google Images

Perhaps more resonant than those hierarchical articulations of digital power relations were each authors’ discovery of the online arena as a space that which, “allow[s] for certain kinds of self-expression while also shaping their performance of sexuality in these [political] spaces” (403). Much like Virginia Woolf‘s feminist concept for “A Room of One’s Own,” the blogosphere provides the unique opportunity to simultaneously reveal and conceal meaning(s) through anonymity in a particularly oppressive political climate for gays, lesbians, queer, transgender and intersex people. The blogger gets to govern, “how much of the ‘self’ comes through” (418). This proves highly significant in the process of shaping identities within national-State contexts; the effects of which are transformative for the lived realities of those identifying as sexual or gender minoritiesIf individual and collective efforts are aimed at the reconfiguration of sexual diversity as legitimate manifestations of humanity, then existing legal documentation and health policy surrounding such stigmatized identities are thereby interrogated from the bottom up;change is an eventual marker for progress among sexual minority groups throughout geopolitical spheres.

Take for one such notable example: the newly supported patient-centered approach for “treating” those born with an intersex “condition,” as opposed to its pathologizing predecessor(s). How did the medicalizing discourse around intersexuality shift from that which needed immediate surgical and hormonal intervention to that which took into consideration the actual person? How did humanity enter the picture here? I believe the temporal moment of twenty-first century critical sex-gender-and-sexuality theory has much to do with the slow, yet evident, progress which social justice advocacy has made. I believe new media is arguably, in part, to thank for the [re]production of such necessary social reform.

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Transgressive Bodies and the Capitalization of Obesity

In 1978, psychotherapist Susie Orbach published a book about binge eating disorders titled, Fat Is A Feminist Issue.  Orbach gained her then-revolutionary status and popular credibility by and through working with stars like Princess Diana, but her book spoke directly to women as something of a prescriptive teaching tool: how NOT to fear being thin…how food is not “the enemy…”  This title no doubt homogenized all “fat” experiences to fit that particular mold of binge eating disorders; we know this to be untrue for a multitude of lived realities.  One book review understands the textual mission as that which is both healing to the corporeal form as it is to the psyche:

“By uncovering deeply held fears and beliefs, women can understand how they use food to fill emotional and psychological needs” (goodreads).

But could corporeal experiences really be that simple? That individual cognitive-behavioral/self-help therapy could fix, person by person, body by body? That women eat to feed their psychological hunger, and that psychological hunger is inwardly driven and self-derived? As an undergraduate being trained in the Sociological tradition, I tend to think that nothing is ever really that simple. Guest lecturer Melissa Campbell would agree with that sentiment, having made mention of those larger, structural forces at work in the complex social landscape that we call the good old USA. She brought up Orbach’s book last Thursday as a means by which to introduce certain theories surrounding the construction of self within and against differing notions of fat: fat is unrestrained consumption taking over the organismfat is an alien life form wrapped around the true self. And it’s THIS very concept that Orbach reproduces in her book, Fat Is A Feminist Issue.

Guest lecturer Melissa Campbell (@pluralisms) drew something like this on the board last Thursday, October 25, to represent the conflicting message of body/self derived from Susie Orbach’s book, FAT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

Campbell spoke to, “fat as a manifestation of societal pressures on women’s bodies and emotions,” as well as to the consequential visibility and invisibility of fat bodies: “not fat people, fat bodies.” In other words, we dehumanize people when we reduce them to their adipose tissue. Just google the hot button word, “obese,” and you’ll find countless headless bodies! Without faces, without identities: their humanity denied to them by the eye of we who gaze.

Indeed it is a very mechanical process: we numerize the calories in versus calories expended, we quantify pounds gained versus pounds lost. We measure behavioral successes and failures, which are morally-based, according to such empirical measures of body mass. This is, yet again, biopower hard at work, as discussed by Zoë C. Meleo-Erwin in her work on, “‘A beautiful show of strength’: Weight loss and the fat activist self.” Meleo-Erwin discusses obesity in those terms defined by our social culture: as risk as well as epidemic. Public health responses, generally signaled by the hyper-visibility of ‘excess’ adipose tissue, require certain “containment” like an ‘out of control disease’ (Meleo-Erwin). In her work on weight loss surgeries, Karen Throsby talks about the war on fat – which in turn can be interpreted as biopower’s war on deviant bodies.

But wait, why all this “waging war” on obesity? Where do these discursive powers stem from?

Underscoring biopower is an undeniable capitalist intent by hegemonic powers all throughout the State-financial nexus we call America. Over the past ten to fifteen years or so, media representations of fat bodies as bad & fat bodies as simultaneously sick or unhealthy have dominated the billboards, magazines and television screens – not as desirable images of fashion – but rather as forewarning images of transgression, deviance and monstrosity.

These messages are read to us LOUD and clear: obesity is badness, obesity is disease, stop the spread of obesity for the sake of public health. This analysis of fat bodies gets complicated by social class, race and gender, as women are often condemned as bad mothers if they are fat mothers; the implications of such being an unhealthy role model causing her children bodily harm via fatty foods and an unfit lifestyle. No one really ever seems to ask about fat father’s and their role in potentially ‘poisoning the seed(s).’ Historically, women have always come under harsh attack when children do not produce as good, capitalist citizens  no matter the context – it was her fault.

Public service announcements, reality television series, morning talk shows and news network coverage all capitalize on obesity as epidemic so as construct images of health as images of beauty. But at the very same time, we are saturated with media telling us to CONSUME, CONSUME, CONSUME! Beautiful people on television commercial advertisements bite into big, juicy, McDonald’s hamburgers but then TLC tells us, “Honey, We’re Killing The Kids.”

(I used to watch this show in Health class, both in Middle School as well as in High School); obesity rhetoric is also deployed as educational, as it simultaneously propels multimillion dollar industries, such as mass media as well as pharmaceuticals. Check out this interesting article, posted by Professor Daniels via Twitter, on “Why the ‘war on fat’ is a scam to peddle drugs.” But no matter the context, obesity rhetoric and representations of bodies in peril instruct the viewer how to read these discourses: fat bodies are the physical, material embodiment of hyper-consumption, which we are taught as good, passing citizens, to not only practice but to simultaneously hate as well.

But therein lies a contradiction of neoliberal proportions – fore we cannot trace a linear path from hard, ethical [body] work (i.e. diet and exercise) to weight loss, and furthermore to societal conceptions of beauty, just as we cannot trace a direct line from hard work to socioeconomic success, especially in the United States where freedom of opportunity does not translate into freedom of equality. How, then, are we to think freely residing under such conflicting discursive powers of governmentality?

It is imperative that we remain critical of biopower hard at work in its deployments of bodily regulation via media representations and public health rhetoric. Tracing the effects such discourses have on women’s bodies is key to contemporary feminist theory; those intersections of capital, class, race and gender are crucial to our understanding of how biopower operates and how it mobilizes itself so efficiently – as we are the mechanism by which bodies are policed.

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LiLo the Monster: Biopower Hard At Work

French social theorist Michel Foucault first coined the term “biopower” in his 1978 three-volume study of sexuality titled, The History of Sexuality.  Foucault was referring to the national-State practices of policing, regulating and moralizing bodies according to constructed ideals of so-called-good health and the ideal bodily form, that is no doubt racialized as it was gendered.  Furthermore, Foucault attributed such deployments of hegemonic discourse to the national-State desire for control over populations: “an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies.”  Today when we talk about biopower, it is often not in reference to the governmentality of national States, but rather to the societal policing of one another and of selves.  Indeed, we are the mechanism by which hegemony gets produced and reproduced.  Need some evidence?  No problem!  Look no further than celebrity gossip blogs, magazine articles and news coverage of Lindsay Lohan (LiLo) and her infamous struggles with addiction.

Editor Jeffrey Jerome Cohen would have us believe that the public rise and fall of LiLo is nothing new.  His Monster Theory details numerous case and points in which cultural perceptions and expectations of transgression are imprinted onto the body of the monster.  In his article, he attempts to read cultures by and through the “monsters they engender” – meaning we designate the boundaries of what passes as acceptable and what gets demonized as monstrous.  Monstrosity has taken many forms throughout histories and throughout cultural contexts but one truth remains the same, Cohen warns us, that: “Monsters are our children,” in that they are our creations produced through our imaginations; “They ask us to reevaluate our cultural assumptions about race, gender, sexuality, our perception of difference, our tolerance toward its expression.”  Monsters are telling in this way.

I have no doubt that we, as a society, have transformed celebrity identities into dialectical Others: embodying a larger than life quality and simultaneous monstrosity all at once.  It is against these constructions of monstrosity that we regulate ourselves.  We punish transgression in the form of public, online condemnation.  Celebrity online blogger, Perez Hilton, details [his take on] the chronology of LiLo’s various court dates, familial interactions and Tweets to fans – facilitating a forum through which his followers can then partake in comment wars, in which they contribute their own opinions and advice surrounding LiLo’s ‘addictions’ to “partying,” “drugs,” and “drinking [alcohol].”

from PEREZHILTON.COM

Guest lecturer and Sociologist, Rebecca Tiger, traces public insistence upon two dueling conceptions of addition: 1.) “that addiction is a disease that should…be fixed” by punitive measures (i.e. incarceration and/or institutionalized rehabilitation), and 2.) “that addiction is a disease that…can’t…be fixed.”  So therein lies a paradox for those transgressive (i.e. addicted) bodies.  There is a simultaneous construction of addiction that embodies both badness as well as sickness.  These two manifestations of deviance work together in order to strengthen the call to biopower; the desire of knowledge and to control deviant bodies is what drives our online obsessions to ridicule the monster and to ultimately justify her imprisonment, as consequence of her wasted self.  Juxtaposed to these images of deviance are certain fetishized images of ‘good health’ as both a physical and moral state of superiority.  Indeed, we fetishize the so-called-natural body and, ironically, strive for it.  If something is natural, then why is it so darn difficult to obtain? Hmm…

These reproductions of biopower feed into the system that which exercises its surveillance power over populations.  This is the very same [American] system which has successfully incarcerated more people than any other industrialized national-State in the world, but has rather unsuccessfully done much of anything to STOP drug use.  Perhaps by punishing individuals, it has lost sight of those much larger, structural factors of society that are more truly to blame.  And of course when I say “it,” I mean that mechanism which we occupy – by which we govern.

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HOLLABACK Pre-Rally Interviews: Interactions With Public Spaces

Feminists Using New Media To Fight Back

I presented this video-audio presentation at a NYC Hollaback Rally to raise awareness of street harassment, which is a form of violence.  Thank you to all my peers who allowed me to interview them for this Vlog!

Short Video Assignment #2: Produce a 1-3 minute rally speech as though you are attending a Slutwalk or Hollaback rally in the city that you live in, or country where you/your family are from. Make sure to address the issues facing harassment and/or pornography and violence of that specific location, city, country. (Due Monday 10/8 by midnight.)

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“Democratization of the Gaze”

“Internet pushing more girls towards cyber bullying”; Submitted by Sahil Nagpal to TopNews.in on Mon, 05/11/2009

In the Surveillance & Society Film Review of Ondi Timoner’s 2009 documentary film titled, We Live in Public, Nathan Jurgenson upholds those beliefs proposed by Kahn & Kellner and so many other [cyber] social theorists that social media has inherently democratizing potential in it (hons201.pbworks).  Jurgenson details the various shifts taking place in the cybersocial world of social networking sites like Facebook: from panoptic surveillance of the many by the few, to the “omniopticon” in which, “individuals are not just passive consumers, but also producers of both content and the gaze” (Jurgenson, 377), which differs from the synoptic consumer experience in which the many watch the few (i.e. “people blankly starring at and consuming television images”) (377).  Social networking sites allow for one such omniopticon to manifest due to their interactive nature: users simultaneously consume and [re]produce images and ideas online via cyberspaces like twitter, MySpace, and WordPress.  This indeed has democratizing potentials as a grounds upon which grassroots activism can take root and grow through imbricated solidarity, that is the digital-material overlap of an online-era.

Interactive Social Media Users are Prosumers! From Google Images.

What is feminist about this?  Well, as we have learned about through course readings, cyberfeminism is a widely contested term for discussion, debate and dialogue.  It can be reduced down to a simple web definition of: “Cyberfeminism is a feminist community, philosophy and set of practices concerned with feminist interactions with and acts in cyberspace” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyberfeminism).  Faith Wilding has defined this discourse in terms of an ongoing and expanding practice of feminist theory that recognizes how, “the digital environment has opened the territory of the Internet as a strategic field of artistic production and political intervention,” (feministwebproject.org/).  Cyberspace provides a digital space that can and has operated as a room of one’s own, to steal from Professor Daniels’ referencing Virginia Woolf’s extended essay on women’s access to education; that opportunity being granted by ‘money and a room of her own.’  This speaks to that complicated relationship to embodiment (i.e. are girls and self-identified women utilizing the internet as a means by which to escape or engage the body?)  That answer, we have discovered, is deeply nuanced.

In order to theorize the importance of embodiment online, it is first necessary to gauge an individual’s physical, social and historical location.  That is to say that earlier suggestions that the Internet might serve as an “escape” or a refuge from (female) embodiment implies a physical location, a social condition and a political context which may differ from, say, the white, heterosexual, gender-conforming or cisgender experience (hons201.pbworks).  In other words, the quest to formulate universal answers to transnational questions of difference defeat the purpose of constructive feminist theory.  Turning our focus to the affluent, white, heterosexual, gender-conforming experience reveals a number of contradictions to that democratizing ideology that professed the internet as liberating disembodiment.  In fact, many feminists argue that the social media’s particular reliance on the visual aspects of digital culture tends to reify surveillance culture and reproduces representations of gender that are hegemonic and therefore dangerous for those who transgress the codes of sex, gender and sexuality so deeply embedded in our society.

Jurgenson wrote about the refinement of representing one’s self on the internet.  He contested Josh Harris’ (of Timoner’s documentary, We Live in Public) claim that people will surrender their individual rights to privacy in pursuit of “15 minutes of fame everyday” (WeLiveInPublic).  But Jurgenson sees a world in which those who use the internet most utilize the most privacy settings on their social networking homepages.  And there are indeed statistics that will back up his claim.  Harris saw a changing world in which the so-called-rats in his social experiments paid the [ultimate] price of privacy in order to see and be seen (i.e. the omniopticon).  Embodiment continues to be an issue with which feminists grapple in the online world of advertisements, youtube videos, etc.  To occupy space, a presence, an identity on the web is to be recognized and thereby policed by the public.  Foucault would say something like we are the mechanism by which hegemony operates; in addition to and perhaps more prevalent than some top-down strategy of control, we whom interact with one another influence each others’ [re]presentation to the world.

Images of idealized perfection are represented & reproduced via interactive social media, thereby regulating bodies/policing embodiment. From Google Images.

This, we can see simply by signing onto Facebook or MySpace.  This is something to remain critical about when engaging online with interactive social media.  There are entire sites dedicated to showcasing Hot Facebook Girls whose photos have been extracted from Facebook and re-uploaded onto alternative websites.  Is this legal?  Probably not, since Facebook owns the web content of Facebook.  But these photos represent images of girls and self-identified women, bodies represented by the camera for the viewer, for the gaze.  Similar to ‘sexting,’ in which an intended audience might not be the only recipient of such explicit content, these photographs are not intended for the viewing eyes of ‘Hot Facebook Girls’ viewers, but they are anyway.  And so, here, privacy is of concern to say the least.

Facebook also offers a forum in which to interactively police bodies on pages such as: I Hate How Ugly Girls Don’t Think They Ugly, i love LOLING at ugly girls pictures, i hate it when ugly girls act like they so hot, and the hegemonic policing goes on…

**My posting links to these websites is simply to expose the examples of policing embodiment online and not to reinforce their problematic intent to hurt.

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Understanding “Compulsory Heterosexuality”

In her famous piece titled, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” Adrienne Rich argues, “A feminist critique of compulsory heterosexual orientation for women is long overdue.”  Rich wrote and published these words in the summer of 1980; that was more than thirty years ago.  I think it’s important to understand “compulsory heterosexuality,” as defined by Rich so as to trace its implications in the past and present discourses surrounding violence against women.

Our course on Feminism, Health and New Media teaches that Rich argues, “violence against women is one of the primary mechanisms men use to control women and ‘enforce’ heterosexuality.”  How might deploying violence be used as an effective tool by which to enforce one such hetero-normative social order?  I think Rich’s argument details the social construction of heterosexuality as a sexuality not based in biological origins but rather along the lines of cultural acceptability (i.e. hegemonic norms and the like).

Rich’s scholarly journal article was significant then as it is reflective now of a time and place in which lesbian discourse was not granted its fair share of authentic representation in the feminist movement and larger social arenas.  On the contrary, lesbian existence was viewed as deviant or alternative to a so-called-normal or normative feminist lifestyle.  Rich presents lesbian existence as one that is not only legitimate, but also one which can provide women with a, “source of knowledge and power.”  It is the heterosexual relationship that Rich views as problematic or, “disabling,” for women.

Rich aims to place [compulsory] heterosexuality under the microscope for critique and analysis as an institution by which women’s drive toward heterosexual relationships is rather externally influenced than internally desired by some fixed nature of sorts.  This theory of sexuality rings quite different to contemporary Lady Gaga standards of biological predispositions (i.e. born this way).  How are we to resolve this theoretical duality surrounding sexual orientation as predetermined by nature or post-determined by culture?

Nature Versus Nurture, from Google Images

At initial glance, it might appear that one theory is dated while the other is current – based in cold, hard, scientific facts (i.e. the gay gene) and so one.  Theories of sexuality range from the very narrow to the very broad.  I tend to air on the side of Freud, actually, whom Sociology has reclaimed after [American] Psychology spit him out like an old piece of chewing gum with no more minty flavor, and in many ways was the original queer theorist.  That is, Freud referred to what Donna Haraway has coined as natureculture, all one word, meaning that reality of no clear division between the two.  Babies don’t sexualize other beings in an adult context so much as they follow drives that are influenced by external environments while simultaneously developing according to one’s own personal nature.  This is not to say that I believe sexuality is a choice so much as I am not entirely sure that it is a rigid, biological construct (rooted in our DNA, so to say).  I tend to believe that it is a much more fluid concept which we as humans experience and desire indiscriminately – UNLESS there are such things at hegemony.  Oh yeah, then the idea of choice becomes complicated.

Rich was referring to that heterosexual matrix – which is a term coined by Queer theorist, Judith Butler, meaning the socially acceptable order of: biological sex, socially constructed gender and sexuality all in so-called-harmony with one another – in her work on, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.”  So if one is born male, it is expected that this individual will perform the gender role of boy, then man later on in life, and desire women, and only women, sexually.  Rich found this matrix to be disabling for women because it granted more autonomy and agency to the male gender role and took away or subtracted from female empowerment via Heterosexual integration and Homosexual segregation.

Can we observe contemporary examples of this unequal gender axis in media images?  Yes, oh yes we most certainly can.  Where does one begin?  Just pick up ANY magazine and observe the purposeful postures of men (as dignified) and women (as subordinate and/or silly, childlike).  Below is a link to an amazing docu lecture given by Jean Kilbourne on advertising’s images of women and the trivialization of violence against women.

Our Hons 201 class states that in our readings, “Caputi argues that the U.S. is a society and culture obsessed with sexualized images of the murder of women.”  I would have to agree with that statement – cultural images of partner and domestic violence normalize and eroticize such abuses – and I believe one of the reasons for our culture’s trivialization of violence against women stems from comupulsory heterosexuality and the gender roles imposed unto us.  One of my WGS Professors put it plainly when she said that gender is not only a source of pain, but it is also a source of simultaneous and conflicting pleasure.  Why else would the following song be so popular to young people?

And the Internet’s role?  It provides a means by which to popularize such media, as well as a space in which such overt and covert messages can be discussed, critiqued, analyzed and supported.  I don’t believe the Internet is to blame so much as it enhances communication.  Whether that communication takes the form of support or resistance is subjective.

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The Lorde-Rivera Clinic

Please watch our group vlog project for Hons 201!  We detail the particularities of a feminist health clinic which would ideally follow in the traditions of feminist leaders and activists, Audre Lorde and Sylvia Rivera.  I had a great time collaborating with my group members, Kerishma and Ethan!

This vlog assignment fulfills the following requirements:

1. Target Community Members (Low-income, families, etc)

2. Clinic Goals/Mission Statement

3. Services Provided

4. How you will handle payments for patients, (is it a sliding scale, set free, etc)

5. Staff/Volunteer Organizational Structure (is there a board? Do you have a licensed physician? Who has a say in the decisions? Are the decisions made by board members or consensus based?, etc).

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Cyberfeminism: Engaging or Escaping the Body?

So this thing we call the internet

from Google Images

amazing, no?

It connects us in ways people never dreamed possible.  Some of us (80s and 90s and millennium babies) have grown up alongside internet development like it was a natural tool to gain and obtain in elementary school, like reading and writing and memorizing our times tables.

from TradeTang.com

Many other babies of decades’ past, like my dad who once typed up his college term papers on a type writer, have experienced these advancements in the world wide web like spectacles in the sky, igniting change and wonder and awe….

from Google Images

Wowzahs!  That’s cool.

Only it’s more than cool: it’s revolutionary, it’s transformative.  The internet bridges those large, spacial gaps imposed by earth, wind and fire – well, you know, geography, national-state politics and all that jazz.  Furthermore, limitations of time have become less and less problematic as technology improves its speed.  I remember having to limit myself to only 20 minutes on the family computer back in 2000, because otherwise the phone line was being occupied and no one could get through if they needed to call our land line.  The dial-up bar would…take…for…ever…to…finally…load…only…to…spazz…out….AND THEN IT’S LIKE, FORGET IT!

But now many (if not most) of us engage with the internet in order to engage with each other (i.e. facebook, twitter, wordpress (hey!)), or sources of knowledge (i.e. academic journals, magazine articles, the score of the Yankee game, the possibilities to know who was that actor in that movie with the giant octopus?)  Well now, thanks to Brother Google, you can know exactly who your friend meant when he was referring to Lorenzo Lamas in Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, which just happens to be one of the greatest B-movies of all time.  But that’s besides the point.

There’s also this widely known thing we call feminism.  And it’s interesting to trace feminist’s engagement with and/or against the internet as a tool for spreading ideas about gender equity, as well as where that gender axis intersects such social identity markers as race, ethnicity, disability, religion, education, sexuality, sex, income, and so on…and also as a [safe] space in which authentic voices can speak and be heard digitally.

We occupy different social locations, which are heavily influenced by both our historical and physical locations, meaning where we live and what historical factors influence our lived socioeconomic and political conditions.  Many scholars refer to such spaces as the global north and the global south, which have previously fallen under the false dichotomies of the First and Third Worlds or also as the West and the rest, or East, or non-West.  These terms tend to denote certain ethnocentricities that aught to be avoided by feminist sociologists, anthropologists, and the like.  So feminist blogs and feminist forums derive from both these spheres which academia has divided according to social, political and economic factors.  And the result?  Girls and self identified women engaging with and/or escaping from the body – which was eloquently articulated by Professor Daniels in her article on, “Rethinking Cyberfeminism(s): Race, Gender and Embodiment,” as well as in class last Thursday.

Some examples of engagement with the body include those who aim to somehow control or transform the body, like the public forum on [so-called-western] genital modification, discussing the options of self-chosen labiaplasty, and/or the highly controversial pro-ana (i.e. pro-anorexic) blogs.  These websites function as ‘safe space‘ in which ideas could be exchanged anonymously without the social condemnation of physical stares and/or restraint [in the material world].  Contrarily, websites functioning as tools by which girls and self identified women (and feminists of all genders) effectively escape their bodies – which might otherwise serve as traps [in some areas of the global south] – include such internet publications as those written by Fereshteh Nouraie-Simone; the internet is conceived of as a revolutionary space for transhumanism (i.e. using technology to surpass human limitations), granting the opportunity to congregate freely from embodiment.

My goal is not to postulate yet another [false] dichotomy of those occupying the global north aim to engage the body – that body being one which they can autonomously [re]configure to so-called-Western expectations of the ideal form – whereas those occupying the global south aim to escape the body – that body acting as a trap in which women lack political freedom to engage in [physical] public debate [of the material world].  But, without conveying contradictory notions of the politically incorrect, could those cyborg dis/engagements really be that consistent with social, physical and historical location?

I suspect the answer to such complicated questions lie somewhere in that imbricated reality of 2012, which Prof. Daniels defined last week as that digital-material overlap of the internet age.  Let us also never forget the producing end of internet parts, in which many wo/men do not share in the consumption of internet technology so much as they occupy an assembly line – further complicating that picture with which we theorize the costs and gains of the internet.

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Bordering Bodies

War on Women March & Rally in New York City, April 2012

Towards the end of April 2012, I attended a New York City march and rally aiming to Unite Against the War on Women! At this protest, I saw mothers and daughters, grandmothers and old friends, fathers and husbands and sisters and brothers coming together for a common cause, or rather a common concern for the reproductive rights of women in the United States.  Around that very same time, The Washington Post published an article titled, “The Real War on Women,” which was to say that our focus should not be concentrated here (within our national borders of the United States) but in fact, ‘out there,’ where women are facing so-called-real oppression.

The [so-called] ‘Real War on Women,’ according to The Washington Post

This is not to say that citizens and non-citizens of national states all around the world do not suffer from racial, ethnic, gendered, sexual or religious oppression, nor is it to claim that there is absolutely nothing we (as American citizens) can do about it in order to assist local organizations in their mobilization of efforts.  My tying The Washington Post article into this blog post is simply to highlight the national mentality one such title reflects, as well as the kinds of problems it produces for women residing within the national borders of the United States, governed by such conservative laws and policies which aim to limit reproductive rights and liberties.

War on Women March & Rally, New York

“I’m Marching For My Daughter” – advocating for reproductive rights for all women

In short, diverting one’s attention from ‘the here’ to ‘the there’ becomes problematic for obvious reasons in that it distracts a national consciousness from the policies being implemented, state by state, the so-called-good old fashioned way: legally.  But on April 28, 2012, a lot of people began to stand up and refuse to passively allow the State to control women’s bodies, as it intended on doing via laws such as those in Texas, Virginia and Pennsylvania, insisting that women undergo ‘mandatory vaginal ultrasounds’ if they so choose to have an abortion.  For more facts on the ‘republican war on women,’ you can check our this policymic article, titled, “A Republican War on Women?“…

Me and Prof. Cartei

Hunter’s very own Professor Carmelina Cartei and me marching for reproductive and worker’s rights on April 28, 2012

Now, as many Sex/Gender Studies classes will teach, the body has served as an arch-typical locus of social, economic and political control throughout histories.  In other words, certain authorities (such as the State, Western science and medicine, the family and law) have actively policed bodies so that hegemonic discourses can (and have been able to) maintain their dominance.  Examples of such hegemonies can be identified in this week’s readings: “Exorcising the Midwives,” by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deidre English as well as Sandra Morgen’s, Into Our Own Hands: The Women’s Health Movement in the United States, 1969-1990.

Ehrenreich and English detail the development of, “the most ‘advanced'” medical schools in the United States as having, for lack of a better word, experimented on the “raw material” that were human beings.  But it is significant to note the particular groups of people whose bodies were used as a means of learning – without much or any regard for the person’s dignity – and those groups of people tended to be poor, non-white and (in the case of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive medicine,) women.  They were seen as having rendered the greatest, “service to humanity,” by one such doctor on the staff of Cornell Medical College at the beginning of the turn of the twentieth century.  One might ask, what kind of humanity are these “medical heroes) servicing?  It appears that those who benefit, in particular, occupy a certain social location that is white, middle to upper-middle class, and heterosexual.  The practice totally lent its hand to the elimination of midwifery in the United States, with a growing field of Western science and medicine.  Experienced and skilled midwives were being replaced by inexperienced doctors.  White, male doctors and medical students benefited from their ‘hands on’ learning, while white, middle-to-upper-middle class women benefited from the medical experience gained by their new doctors…or did they?

Sandra Morgen’s chapters one and two of Part I: In the Beginning, trace a history of women’s struggles and triumphs under and over the patriarchal oppression of hegemonic authorities (i.e. laws prohibiting the legalization of abortion, the limited concentration of medical knowledge over women’s anatomy).  The medicalization of birth, over the course of the twentieth century and in the context of the United States, privatized women’s knowledge of their bodies, which was once a more fluid network of sharing knowledge and experiences of birth as something that was natural rather than pathological.  In many ways, the women’s health movement served as a reclamation of said knowledge and experience, particularly within the context of self-cervical check up’s and safe abortions performed at women’s clinics.  Women felt empowered by the practicing notion of bodily autonomy.  These progressive shifts in power relations did not extend, however, to all women of all social locations during this time.

But that was the 60’s, the 70’s…was it not?  I’m sure many people, like me, wondered where decisions like Roe V. Wade (1973) had lead this nation, and more morbidly how far we had strayed from that course of action on the day of New York’s War on Women March & Rally.  All social struggles occupy their own space and time that need be specified when theorizing resistance.  A common thread that lingers, between the stories we read about and the ones we watch on TV today, is that hegemonic policing of bodies – operating top down as well as from the bottom up, through social forces of influence as we regulate one another in this hetero-patriarchal [social] system.

I saw resistance on that day, April 28, 2012 from hundreds of advocates for reproductive rights, similar to the kinds of resistance mobilized during the women’s health movement of 1969-90.  Therefore, I am cautiously optimistic about the future meaning of personhood – as we strip away power inequalities according to race, gender, sex(uality) – as people refuse to accept those inequalities and continue to fight the good fight.

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