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.
I am lucky, (if you can call it that, as I am fairly sure I can claim some credit for its creation) to spend much of my life surrounded by feminist men. I was raised by one, and have friends and colleagues who are very happy identifying as a (male) feminist. They can deconstruct the patriarchy, discuss oppression and understand intersectionality. They constantly and consistently ‘check their privilege’. And maybe this is why a recent article; ‘20 tools for men to further feminist revolution’ struck such a chord with me. It is written from one male feminist to the rest, pointing out that it is not enough simply just to identify as being feminist. Fighting patriarchy, (whatever your sex or gender) cannot be done apathetically or without actually doing anything.
By Iconshock [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Over the past few months, numerous publications have
discussed – and mostly: dismissed – the trend to incorporate so-called trigger warnings into the college classroom and syllabus. Trigger warnings have become a standard practice for articles in feminist blogs and other online media that discuss incidences of violence, sexual assault and that may contain other potentially ‘triggering’ material, with the purpose of giving readers a way to opt-out of exposing themselves to said material. As some college professors have started to incorporate this practice into their classrooms in order to warn students of potentially ‘triggering’ material – and some colleges
have even discussed adopting trigger warning policies – the public reaction has been mostly negative. However, it is my position that most of these commentators have it backward and misunderstand what trigger warnings are about and can do – granted, there are examples of very poorly-done trigger warnings out there that can easily be taken as evidence for some of the critics’ fears – and I believe they can and should have a place in the sociology classroom and that they can actually play a positive and productive pedagogical role.
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…)
["White Ribbon". Source: MesserWoland [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]
In response to the horrific murders at UC Santa Barbara two weeks ago, many commentators have pointed out the perpetrator’s connection to so-called Anti-Pickup Artist
online communities and to the misogynist
motivations of the shooting. Whereas the Pick-Up Artist fad has received some media attention and academic study
in the past, the so-called Anti-Pick-Up artist scene has received much less attention – with notable exceptions well worth reading
– and has probably been completely off the radar even for those of us studying gender. Even though the name suggests an oppositional stance on the idea of PickUp artistry, in reality, these Anti-Pick-Up Artists share in the very same gender ideology as those being drawn to Pick-Up Artist message boards and websites. Add in the frustration with the ineffectiveness of the Pick-Up Artists’ tips and strategies, and the Anti-Pick-Up Artist scene reveals itself as promoting an equally – if note more – toxic gender ideology.
Nina Conti (www.youtube.com)
Last week I went with a friend of mine to see a performance by comedian and ventriloquist Nina Conti. I really cannot recommend her enough, and as with all her performances I was in stitches. Whilst I could easily fill this post waxing lyrical at her talents, there is (as always) as sociological element to her work. Firstly, elements of her performance demonstrate how displays of emotion have become cultural currency, particularly for women. Secondly, it engenders interesting questions regarding power dynamics in interaction; there is a contradiction between her ‘powerful’ role as leader of the interaction, and the power-less position of being female.
In ten days I’ll get on a plane from New York and travel for 15 and a half hours to Kathmandu, Nepal. I’ll stay in Nepal for four weeks, living in a volunteer house with 13 foreigners, all volunteering at various organizations and institutions in and around Kathmandu. Some volunteers will work in hospitals or medical clinics, while others will teach English in local schools, community centers, and orphanages. There is even a program through the Ministry of Agriculture Development Department of Livestock Services to work on livestock breeding projects, disease prevention, and animal health policy. I’ll be working at Samrakshak Samuha Nepal, SASANE, an anti-trafficking NGO established in 2008 by a group of former Nepalese victims of human trafficking.
The sexual exploitation of women and girls in the developing world has once again become a global campaign since the abduction and rumored mass marriages of over 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in mid April. A-listers from Michele Obama to Ellen DeGeneres have been photographed holding the “Bring Back Our Girls” hashtag. And a recent report from Amnesty International suggested that authorities in Qatar have failed to protect female migrant workers from abuse, including forced labor and human trafficking.
Source: Nathan Rupert (SD) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Finally, it’s almost summer. And as the weather gets better, more and more social life in my neighborhood shifts outside to the street. As I was sitting at my desk the other day, I noticed two kids playing in the street, a boy of maybe 10 years and a girl, maybe 8. The boy was practicing his basketball skills, dribbling the ball between his legs, moving backwards, sidewards, spinning around, all while keeping perfect control over the ball. The girl on the other hand was listening to music and practicing dance moves from the latest music video (needles to say, both kids were far more skillful in their respective activity than I ever will be). Then something interesting happened: The kids started teaching each other their respective activities. And while the boy did quite a good job of learning the girl’s dance moves, the girl struggled when it came to dribbling the basketball: Whereas before as she was dancing, she was able to move extremely smoothly and elegantly, now her body became stiff. Her eyes fixated on the ball so as not to lose control, her upper body moved up and down parallel to her hand awkwardly and in a very choppy way; and she kept losing the ball repeatedly after every dozen or so dribbles. Is this little anecdote proof then that girls are just naturally less adept at ball games than boys [spoiler alert: it's not]?
Source: Heidi Rademacher, 2014
Several years ago, I worked on a project designed to examine how menstruation is socially constructed and how this construction has created social taboos that have impacted American women’s attitudes towards their bodies before, during, and after menstruation. After speaking with women between the ages of eighteen and sixty, I found women today often feel “dirty,” “gross,” or “unclean” while menstruating. Although some women also associated menstruation positively with childbirth and motherhood, the majority of women I spoke to felt it was a private, if not shameful, topic.
As my research interests grew and changed I put this project in the back of my mind. Then last week while working at my neighborhood coffee super-chain, I noticed a smaller wastebasket next to the toilet. Someone had made a label on the wastebasket that said, “For girl things.” I was instantly irritated by the label but I was not sure why. I recognized the label was attempting to be cute or funny. The problem was the euphemism did not read as cute or funny. In fact, it was the opposite. The words could not even be said: Menstrual Products.
The White House. Source: Wikimedia Commons
On Tuesday the White House launched its new campaign to address and prevent the epidemic of sexual violence against women on college campuses in the US. The campaign, 1 is 2 Many, includes a blog, an informational website with a major report, Not Alone, and a PSA aimed at men and boys. The launch of the campaign has been largely celebrated among the numerous sexual and domestic violence agencies across the country as a much needed step toward creating real change on college campuses. For those of us in the social sciences, the campaign, and the report in particular, reveals just how much we don’t yet know about sexual violence on college campuses. (more…)