Posts Tagged With: Transnational Feminisms

Speaking For Other People’s Vaginas

Yeah, I said it: VAGINAS!  I like to think it’s not a dirty word and yet the word itself evokes oh so many emotions for us all.  Please let me begin this post by acknowledging several of its inspirations (among many): Sigmund Freud and his theories on the female orgasm, Anne Koedt and her 1970 piece on, “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm,” Eve Ensler and her famous play The Vagina Monologues, Dina Siddiqi [of Hunter College] and her course in Transnational Feminisms as well as Jaclyn Friedman and her lecture on how feminist digital activism is like the clitoris (e.g. “it’s misunderstood, not a button, more complex than it looks – the tip of the iceberg – part of a larger system,” etc.).

Even in 2012, vaginas are a touchy subject.  There are a lot of people who have tackled this issue, who have written about vaginas and filmed documentary films about vaginas and given lectures about vaginas.  But, having read and watched and listened to many of these compelling stories, arguments and theses, my question remains the same: Who has the authority to homogenize vaginas?  And the answer, I say with absolute certainty, is NO ONE.

Don’t get me wrong, Eve Ensler did incredible things with her ground breaking play, The Vagina Monologues, and with her V-Day [anti-violence] campaign.  But if you watch a production of the show, you can’t help but notice a somewhat racist, albeit unintentional, trend of white vaginas being liberated and non-white vaginas being tortured by various manifestations of gender violence.  If you watch her documentary on V-Day, you will also see her organization donating funds to stop the practicing of female genital modifications (labeling it “mutilation”) in parts of Africa by providing means of transportation to educate the youth on gender violence; young African girls learn the difference between what a healthy and what an unhealthy vagina look like.  Ensler’s work mobilizes corporeal ideals of the global north, silencing many voices that are otherwise eclipsed.

Take a course in Transnational Feminisms and you will come across some not-so-widely-well-known literature about female genital modification.  As a student of the global north, I myself was taken aback by the ideas surrounding ‘pro-choice,’ when it came to genital modifications (FGM).  But how can that be considered choice?  What [self identified] woman would choose to mutilate her body?  It must be that she has internalized her cultural norms so much so that she is blind to her own oppression.  Thoughts like these are typical of a so-called-Western mind, shaped heavily by Euro-American discourses of universal human rights, etc.

Adopting a transnational perspective might resolve some of these dividing tensions by its strong resistance to homogenizing narratives.  Indeed, some cases of FGM are absolute incidences of physical abuse.  However, other cases are quite different.  There are [self identified] women whom identify as post-colonial feminists and who advocate for feminisms (i.e. plural) so as to accommodate for the voices that aren’t heard on the international scale.  In many cases, these women are fighting for the local rights of girls and self identified women, and ask that global north feminists not intervene so as to reify First World-Third World dichotomies that are rather neo-colonial in nature.  In some other cases, global south feminists are advocating for ‘pro-choice’ policies, as some women construct their senses of beauty and sexuality around the symbolism of FGM.

Pro-choice seems like a relatively fair way to go, especially considering all the voices that are silenced in the global debates as well as all the factors that are otherwise occluded in the politics of saving in the global north; Why are we so focused on vaginas and so inconsiderate of malnutrition?  Those like concerns of malnutrition, starvation and poor drinking water impact the very same objects of scrutiny surrounding FGM.  But there’s plenty room for discussion about these charged debates in the Comments section as well as on Twitter!

I want to shift this topic of vaginas over to the O word, and what some so-called-experts on the matter have to say about it.  After all, science is a loaded term that has been deployed by authoritative voices like Sigmund Freud and, you guessed it, Naomi Wolf.  In fact, their theories aren’t quite different.  Wolf recently wrote a book titled, Vagina – A New Biography, which I have not yet read (so please excuse the prematurity of my critique but I cannot help myself).  Most of what I know about this book derives from The New York Times review as well as from Friedman’s lecture on feminist digital activism.  Wolf attempts to homogenize all [heterosexual] vaginas into flowery goddesses who must ascend up the latter of orgasmic maturity: from clitoral, that is adolescent, to vaginal, that is superior.  Please allow me to invoke Friedman when I assert that the G-spot, to which Wolf is referring, is actually an extension of the clitoris and need not be isolated as its own royal entity; that “it is part of a larger system.”

Wolf’s book should be titled, Vagina – A Dated, Neo-Freudian, Auto-Biography, and recognized for its prescriptive To-Do-ness, which reminds me more of Cosmopolitan Magazine than anything resembling feminism.  Here is a message to Naomi Wolf and any ‘expert’ who claims to have cured women of their so-called-frigidity: Stop assuming that your vagina is just like everybody else’s vagina and that you have the inherent right to speak for other vaginas just because you yourself have a vagina.  It doesn’t work like that, or rather, it shouldn’t…anymore.

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Masculinities and Deconstructing the Masculine Mystique

Who is this guy?, April 2012

You know him.  I know him.  He is the every man, or rather what Euro-American mass media will have you believe every man aught to emulate.  But if you take a Masculinity Studies course at Hunter College, then you will learn that the proper terminology for one such image is that of hegemonic masculinity.

Hegemonic masculinity reins supreme in our sociopolitical context.  He is born biologically male, his gender is then culturally assigned to him as boy – he grows up to be a man; moreover he is white, middle to upper-middle class, heterosexual, able bodied and more than likely identifies as Christian.  Normative masculinity such as this has been constructed and reconstructed over time and throughout national spaces, namely in the United States.  There is a shameful history of gendering races in America, that is to say that non-white masculinity has almost always been depicted as problematic.  The myth of the hyper-masculine African American was used as justification for nineteenth and twentieth century lynchings here in the United States.  Asian American men are often depicted in movies and television as asexual or uniformly effeminate.  Latino, Chicano and Hispanic men have also historically been constructed as inferior.  Take for example the writings of T.J. Farnham, an American patriot of the Mexican-American War.

“They Wait For Us.”

THE Spanish maid, with eye of fire, At balmy evening turns her lyre And, looking to the Eastern sky, Awaits our Yankee chivalry Whose purer blood and valiant arms, Are fit to clasp her budding charms. The man, her mate, is sunk in sloth— To love, his senseless heart is loth: The pipe and glass and tinkling lute; A sofa, and a dish of fruit; A nap, some dozen times by day; Sombre and sad, and never gay, He seems accursed for deeds of yore, When Mexico once smoked with gore: The blood of many a patriot band, Shed by invaders of their land, Who now, by quick avenging time, Are vanquished by the subtile clime, Which steals upon the manly mind As comes “miasma” on the wind. An army of reformers, we— March on to glorious victory; And on the highest peak of Ande, Unfurl our banners to the wind, Whose stars shall light the land anew, And shed rich blessings like the dew (

Racism is American as Apple Pie, from Google Images


But we aren’t simply talking about historical examples here. Many contemporary deployments of raced hegemony are made popular under the guise of… patriotism and [hegemonic] masculinity. An example of this might be that of burqa burning, which is not even spelled correctly in the link provided. One Women’s and Gender Studies Professor at Hunter described the idea behind both examples as white men saving brown women from brown men. Once it was articulated to me in this way, I began to see the American military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan a bit differently back in 2010 (i.e. bringing democracy and so-called-universal standards of human and women’s rights; as if the two are somehow different).

However, this gender axis by which men are typically blames is a false [or faulty] analysis for critique and discussion. It is necessary that we incorporate a theoretical framework that is simultaneously critical of racial constructions so that we may gauge a more accurate understanding. Because many Euro-American feminists aim to likewise ‘burn’ or eradicate the burqa, with limited understanding of its plural transnational contexts. Therefore, a Transnational Feminisms course at Hunter might further teach that white women aim to save brown women from brown men under that same guise of so-called-universal human rights [that are outlined by Euro-American voices within the international debates surrounding rights]. Before I get too off topic, let me suggest that the politics of saving women of the global south, or women of non-white racial ethnic groups is all around problematic to say the least. A saving complex reifies culturally constructed social hierarchies that are racially based as well as gendered.

We learn in Hons 201 that men suffer from patriarchal violence just as women do, only in different ways. Lived experiences vary according to complex intersections of social identity markers. Very few individuals fit that hegemonic mold of masculinity. Therefore a relatively young new branch of feminism (i.e. Masculinity Studies) is taking it’s rightful root in academia now, challenging previous conceptions of gender faced by self-identified men.

from Google Images

A great book to read [more on this topic] is titled, Men Speak Out, by Shira Tarrant: a collection of essays by self-identified men challenging and resisting social norms placed upon them as well as contemplating new meanings and [re]constructions of a pro-feminist masculinity.

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The Business of [Westernized] Healing

Me (center) with my two older sisters, Angela (right) and G (left) Galotti

I am the proud little sister of two brilliant future doctors: Angela and G. Galotti, my sisters and closest friends.  Angela is a third year medical student here in New York City at NYU and G. is a second year medical student at Stony Brook, on Long Island – where we three grew up.  Their experiences of working at two different teaching hospitals has educated me on the various cultures of medical schools and of hospitals.  Last week’s class discussion about health care in America and women’s relationships to the health care system prompted me to write this blog post, as I felt that certain important points of discussion were otherwise occluded.

Some of the students in class on Thursday expressed a sentiment of grief with doctors, or rather doctors’ tendencies to pathologize what could potentially be viewed as natural.  It would be unfair of me to assume what other people meant by their reinstating frustrations with doctors, but – from what I gathered – there was a particular sense of resentment towards the medicalization of bodies in the diagnostic/treatment process.  This speaks to the precious relationship of doctor-patient that is all about healing.  I agree with most of those who feel that there is, more often than not, a disconnect between the healer (i.e. physician) and the healing (i.e. patient).

from Google Images

But where might that disconnect stem from?  And is it fair to place sole blame and responsibility on the part of the physician, or rather can we locate the source of such frustrations in the overlapping system of health care in America itself?  Okay, so these questions are obviously leading, to say the least.  But I want to make clear that we cannot discuss physicians as a monolithic group – just as we cannot discuss women as a monolith, sharing in like experiences, when we know that simply is not true.  Analyses, or rather respectable ones, always include context; it is imperative to understand an individual’s physical, social and historical location.  Just ask any Transnational Feminist.

Those physicians who decide to go into primary care (i.e. the doctor you visit annually for a check-up, or your ‘family doctor’) most likely value that doctor-patient relationship.  How is this a safe assumption?  1.)  Primary care physicians adopt further responsibilities/burdens of owning and running their own business as opposed to working for a hospital & 2.) Primary care physicians, on the whole, earn considerably less than those who choose to go into surgery or other specialized fields.  This is why so many mid-level practitioner positions are becoming more and more popular (i.e. nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants (PA’s).

I have been told by my sisters and by other medical students alike that it is less and less enticing for a medical student to pursue primary care, as the overwhelming costs reap underwhelming benefits.  If time is equal to money and patients are a source of money, then more money is obtained by and through seeing more patients in one working day as opposed to seeing less patients per day with whom more time and attention was spent.  So one’s ideals of nurturing that precious doctor-patient-healing-relation tend to diminish by virtue of the cold hard facts that running a [health service] business will inevitably yield.

The problem with the health care industry in America is just that: it is an industry by which to obtain profit.  Health care is viewed as a responsibility of the welfaristic State in many communistic or socialized national states, and not as a business – as it is often viewed here in this country by insurance companies and citizens alike.  This is not to reify yet another false dichotomy of the capitalistic United States versus the socialist Europe and elsewhere, but rather it is to draw attention to this money making business we call healing.  And frankly, many people have [more than] the right to be fed up.  But in crafting one’s argument around the issue of doctors, it is necessary to understand the various factors which contribute to the lack of resources faced by both patients and, believe it or not, primary care physicians on the whole as well.

Me (center) again with my sisters, Angela (right) and G (left) Galotti with our beautiful, late dog, Sandy (yellow dog with the cute face).

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