Over the last two weeks two videos have repeated shown up on my social media pages: “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” and “3 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Homosexual.” Both videos aim to illuminate the often unnoticed topic of street harassment. And both videos clearly illustrate what day to day life is like for some women and gay men. However, it is important to frame both videos within the context of location, race, class, and presentation.
“10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” was created as a collaboration between Hollaback and Rob Bliss Creative, a video marketing company. In the video, actress Shoshana B. Roberts dressed in jeans, black t-shirt, and tennis shoes walked through various Manhattan neighborhoods recording the actions and comments of men she encountered with a hidden camera and microphone.
Google images screen grab
Pop Quiz! What do Brandeis, UCLA, and Fayetteville Universities have in common? Answer: They all have The Color of Welfare: How Racism Undermined the War on Poverty by Jill Quadagno on their 2014 syllabi. This book is taught in departments of history, public affairs, social work, sociology, and political science. Professors use it to examine sociological methods, poverty, race, politics, and welfare state. For many students this was a life changing book. This book ignited our interests in studies of inequality and even though it is already 20 years old the issues Quadagno raises are still fresh and relevant today.
Image credit: PhD Comics www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1723
In a previous post (which can be found here), I mentioned the ‘impostor phenomenon’ and how I and many people I know who work in academia have experienced it in some form or another during their career. The ‘imposter syndrome’ (identified by Clance & Imes, 1978, pp. 1-2), the feeling that leads the self-declared impostors to believe that they are not intelligent and that anyone who thinks otherwise has simply been fooled, is usually accompanied by a fear that one day some significant person (a colleague, boss, parent, or partner) will catch them out and realize that they are a fraud. It is incredibly common among academics and is even more common among those who are not in the ‘elite’ category normally associated with academia, i.e. white, wealthy men. Thus, impostor phenomenon is particularly prevalent among women, ethnic minorities and/or any under represented populations (see e.g. Peteet, Brown, Lige & Lanaway, 2014).
As impostor phenomenon has entered mainstream discourses surrounding academic success (and failure), numerous books and articles (such as Clance, 1985, this Forbes article, or this advice for new students at MIT) attempt to offer ways to understand and deal with this newly acquired insecurity; the fear of failing because you feel like an impostor. Oftentimes, it is said that feeling like an impostor is something that we need to overcome, and that ‘faking it’ is an important part of doing so (for example, Amy Cuddy’s TED talk, 2012). This is almost certainly the case for people in academia who are undermining themselves unjustly, particularly women and first generation graduate students who tend to face significant internal barriers to success (see e.g. Gardner, 2013). I would argue, though, that in some instances (particularly in my own experience) feeling like an impostor can be a legitimate emotion, because that is exactly what we are.
Under what conditions might it be ethical to refuse to meet or return someone’s gaze? Is it ever acceptable for a social scientist or journalist to write ‘with their eyes shut’? The notion that visual receptiveness can be a spur to urgent ethical response is captured in that familiar category of humanitarian action, ‘bearing witness’ (so much so, in fact, that we often forget about the work that must be done in order for witnesses to be created). At the same time, it is almost a sociological commonplace that to look is to do violence. From Michel Foucault’s ‘medical gaze’ – implying a mute body patiently set before the sovereign eye of a physician – we derive John Urry’s ‘tourist gaze’, and Raewyn Connell’s ‘imperial gaze’. The last is found wherever classical sociologists sought to generate what Connell calls a ‘synoptic view of human affairs from a great height,’ inserting vulgar classifications of social types into a hierarchy of peoples and nations that had an undeniable elective affinity with colonial projects.
Recently, Netflix added the widely acclaimed documentary Half the Sky to its online streaming library. The film, inspired by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn book of the same name, follows six American celebrities as they travel throughout Asia and Africa addressing some of the health care, educational, and economic issues that oppress women and girls across the globe. Throughout the film, the viewer clearly sees the impact women and girls of the developing world have on both Kristof and the celebrity activists who join him in Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Vietnam, Somaliland, India, and Kenya.
What is even more striking is the difference between the lives of the women featured in film and the actresses visiting from the West. At one point Kristof and actress Olivia Wilde are interviewing a former sex worker living in Kenya who is struggling to come up with the money needed to pay for her son’s tuition. When Kristof asks her what she will do if she cannot raise the money needed the woman simply relies that she will not eat. The conversation moves forward to other issues in the woman’s life and the viewer never finds out if the woman was able to pay her son’s tuition.
This is a photo I took in July, 2014, during my fieldwork in Jandiayacu. Jandiayacu is a Sapara community in the Amazonian region of Ecuador. It is accessible only by plane or a difficult journey on foot and by canoe, which takes several days. (click for full size image)
So often we talk about being rational, making decisions based on established facts and existing knowledge, as if it is, and should be, the aim of all people at all times. Ways of being or knowing that sit outside of accepted knowledge can open a person up to being dismissed, discredited or ridiculed, particularly in the academic world. Anybody who knows me knows that I am a somewhat methodical and ‘rational’ person (most of the time). I love questions and puzzles and finding answers, and I struggle with things being disorganised, chaotic or inefficient. This is probably why I have found beginning my research with the Sapara nation, an Indigenous people here in Ecuador, so difficult. (more…)
In working with survivors of human trafficking over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to have a number of very personal conversations with women who are in the process of becoming empowered and rebuilding their self-esteem. One topic that continues to emerge in almost every discussion is being respectable. As I have been reflecting on what it means to be respectable in the context of surviving gender violence, I recalled a remarkable text I read a number of years ago and the similarities in understanding respectability among people of different races, ethnicities, classes, and histories. (more…)
In my last post I discussed the role the school-to-prison pipeline plays in increasing the gap in minority education. The consequences of zero tolerance school policies are many including stigmatization, dropping out of school, and/or getting a juvenile record. Some schools have begun to change their responses to deviance in schools by going away from zero tolerance policies and towards restorative justice models. Restorative justice is a proactive approach requiring wholesale cultural change in the punishment orientation of the school system based on improved responsibility and communication. The restorative justice program provides long-term change that emphasizes building relationships, improve behavior, reduce violence, and build community (Zehr, 2002). (more…)
Source: Ghostly Matters by Avery F. Gordon
I recently stumbled upon a unique analysis of the construction of social reality. In Avery Gordon’s Ghostly Matters, haunting is a method of sociological research. She argues, “To study social life one must confront the ghostly aspects of it” (7). Ghostly Matters is her attempt to understand the complexities of social life through an analysis of the hauntings surrounding Sabina Spielrein, the desaparecido of Argentina and the lingering impact of racial slavery during the Reconstruction period in the United States. Her book might be a conceptual call within the field of sociology to understand that which it represses, but her approach is truly interdisciplinary, in that she seeks to create a something “that belongs to no one” (ibid).
[By Pete Souza (White House Flickr Account) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]
A few weeks ago, President Obama announced a new initiative
designed to increase opportunities for young Black and Latino men. Acknowledging that Black and Latino men lag behind other groups in educational achievement and employment, while outnumbering white men in jails and prisons, at first glance, the President’s “My Brother’s Keeper
” campaign seems like a much needed and timely project. However, when examining Obama’s rhetoric more closely, the initiative falls short of addressing the root causes and structural reasons for racial disparities in the US and instead perpetuates a neoliberal language of individual responsibility.