Thursday, January 19, 2012
At Occupy Providence, I spoke to a twenty-six year old named Charles, who is a self-proclaimed anarchist and has been at Occupy Providence for ninety-three days. Charles spoke about his first encounter with government policies that infringed on his rights as a citizen of the United States: at age sixteen, he wrote a political poem, which he posted on the website deviantART, an "online art community for artists and art lovers to interact in a variety of ways, ranging from the submission of art to conversations on a number of topics. In its purest form, deviantART is a means for expressing yourself in a variety of ways" ("deviantART"). Charles received a government email soon after posting his poem that told him he had to take the poem down from the website or else the government would press charges against him. He simply wrote back that he would not take the poem down and that if someone wanted to press charges, he would happily go to the Supreme Court and defend his First Amendment freedom of speech.
Charles's three main reasons for being at Occupy Providence are:
1. To fight for the civil rights and freedom of the people
2. To help end international slavery
3. To work towards a stabilized economy
He stresses the fact that he does believe in having a government to maintain order within the country. However, he is fighting for a government that cares about the people it governs and not just about its own wealth and power. He insists that as more people continue to join the Occupy movements, we will come closer and closer to reaching this goal.
Seeing the occupiers out in the cold, fervently relaying their message to young people reminded me of the last two articles that we read for class. Both the Ayvazian article and the Love and Helmbrecht article talked about what real activism means. Ayvazian emphasizes the fact that an ally (someone who fights for a cause that has an effect on people other than oneself) is "highly motivated," "extremely clear and consistent on an issue," and takes risks. This encompasses everything that I saw in the occupiers who I spoke to today. An ally also takes action by talking to others just like him/her about the issues at hand, which is something that the occupiers were all too eager to do.
Love and Helmbrecht describe the difference between consumerism and activism, arguing that activism is about going out and actually fighting and talking to people and putting in work in order to make a change. People often think that just buying a product (maybe a t-shirt that says "We are the 99%") is the same as fighting for the cause, but according to Love and Helmbrecht, the people standing outside in the cold and rallying at the Occupy movements are the ones taking real action.
While talking to the activists at Occupy Providence, I was also reminded very much of the two websites we looked at: "People Like Us" and "The Center for Working Class Studies." Charles spoke vehemently about the way our own banks rob us by taking out unnecessary fees from the money that we worked hard to make. He also talked about the Bilderbergs, which he defined as a group of multibillionaires who have absolute power in this country. It made me think about the economic inequity in this country and its effects on the social and political power of different groups of people.
Although I could not stay outside for very long due to the cold, I got to hear a lot of new information that I knew nothing about before and that I plan on researching much more on my own.
For some more concrete information on what the Occupy movement is fighting for, watch this video:
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
"Teaching The Conflicts: (Re)Engaging Students With Feminism In A Postfeminist World"
By Meredith A. Love and Brenda M. Helmbrecht
For this post, I chose to examine Ariel's blog and the points he makes about this article and its connections to Allan Johnson's article. First and foremost, I have to say that Ariel's post was at times harsh and at times hilarious, but all in all, it was just very honest.
Ariel talks a lot about money and how this has a huge effect on the way women (and really, all people) behave in our culture. He argues that we need to push aside our greed before we can make any real progress towards equality and the empowerment of women:
"We need to change our greedy, self absorbed, perception and start caring about morals, values, equality, and acceptance in order to embrace feminism" ("Food for Thought").
I think this is a great point and one that Love and Helmbrecht would definitely agree with. They discuss in their article the way that activism and consumerism seem to come together and sometimes become so intertwined that it is unclear which is which. For instance, the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty uses images of normal, everyday women to entice other normal, everyday women to buy their products. Thus, women come to believe that by purchasing a product from Dove, they are taking action against the notion that women must be thin and wrinkle-less to be beautiful. However, Love and Helmbrecht argue that there is a very important distinction between buying something that supports a cause and actually going out and fighting for that cause.
"In creating these spaces where consumerism and activism mingle awkwardly, Pink and Dove implicitly argue that women's empowerment and advancement lie within an individual's buying power, not within a larger cultural cause or movement" (Love and Helmbrecht 52).
In his blog post, Ariel also talks a lot about how sex and sexuality sell in this culture. He especially focuses on women showing off their bodies and acting sexual, claiming that they do this because they know that sex sells. He says that if women were as interested in sex as men are, men would be showing off their naked bodies just as much as women do. This is where I have to disagree with Ariel because I do not believe that it is the levels of interest in sex that causes women to do these things far more often than men. I think that women often are just as interested in sex as men are, if not more in some cases. However, because we live in a patriarchal society, women are expected to be the givers of sexual pleasure while men are the takers. If a woman wants to be a taker instead, she is considered abnormal, or slutty, or too domineering. She is stepping out of her role, which is something that usually causes one to be ostracized. It works the same way for men. A man who wants to dance around half naked will likely be called gay or feminine. He is stepping out of the man's role as the voyeur, the one who sits back and receives the sexual pleasure.
This is not to say that women don't enjoy getting to show off their bodies and their sexuality. I'm just saying that I don't think it is their lack of interest in sex that makes them do the showing off while the men keep their clothes on. I also do agree with Ariel that sex sells, and this is a lot of the reason why women in the media tend to use their sexuality to a great extent. Nicki Minaj is a great example of a woman who markets herself as powerful and empowered by her sexuality, but in most of her videos, she is dancing in sexual ways for the pleasure of men who are just sitting and watching her. To me, she shows that even when women feel empowered by their sexuality, they are often still feeding into the male-dominated culture.
I am glad that Ariel brought up the idea of generation differences because this is another important part of Love and Helmbrecht's article. Ariel says that he is a part of the so-called "third generation movement" and that the issues that applied to people in generations before ours do not necessarily apply to us today. Love and Helmbrecht want their readers to recognize that this is true--there are different issues for women today than there were many years ago. However, they stress that it is important to understand that the issues of both generations are connected in many ways and cannot be viewed as separate.
"'Attributing our differences to generation rather than to politics sets us firmly into psychologized thinking, and into versions of mother/daughter relations--somehow, we are never sisters who might have things to teach each other across our differences...'" (Love and Helmbrecht 43).
Ariel recognizes that the generation we live in is much more open and accepting of different types of people and different ways of living. But he also understands that our generation is like this because of the work that has been done by people in the past. Love and Helmbrecht refer to this as "paving the way," and this is a very important step in continuing to make change for future generations.
Point to Share:
I want to talk about this new campaign for Lean Cuisine called "Culinary Chic." It basically combines losing weight with being fashionable, and by its website and commercials, you can see that it is very clearly targeted only towards women. Why does everything women do have to be turned into a fashion statement? Why is it assumed that all women will want to buy something more if they believe that it is fashionable?
Monday, January 16, 2012
"Interrupting The Cycle Of Oppression: The Role Of Allies As Agents Of Change"
By Andrea Ayvazian
Occupy Movement Websites
Ayvazian's article is very much tied to the Occupy Movement in that every person who has chosen to take part in it is acting as an ally in some way. The main objectives of the movement are to fight against greed, government corruption, unemployment, and economic inequality. However, not everyone who is participating in the movement is directly suffering from these things. Many of the Occupy activists are just people who understand the problems and believe that we need to change them, whether or not it will have an effect on their lives:
"On September 17th, men and women of all races, backgrounds, political and religious beliefs, began to organize in nonviolent protest" ("Occupy Together").
Ayvazian defines an ally as someone from a dominant group in our society who chooses to fight for the rights and benefits of the oppressed group. In other words, the goals of an ally do not bring about any direct advantage to the ally. Ayvazian explains that for every form of oppression, there is a dominant group that receives an unearned privilege and a targeted group that is denied that privilege.
This reminded me a lot of Allan Johnson's article in which he describes how the lives of the advantaged and the disadvantaged are closely connected and intertwined because one allows the other to happen. One group is privileged at the expense of another group. Therefore, he explains that the dominant groups cannot just pass off the problems of the oppressed groups as something that does not belong to them. Johnson argues that the systems of privilege and oppression affect everyone:
"There is no way that a problem of difference can involve just one group of people...there is no way to separate the problem of not being white from being white. This means privilege is always a problem for people who don't have it and for people who do, because privilege is always in relation to others" (Johnson 10).
Ayvazian emphasizes the fact that being in a dominant (i.e. privileged) group, is what gives a person the opportunity to become an ally. She explains that oppression and even violence are often unable to be reduced until people from the dominant groups come together to fight against it. She gives an example of women who are physically abused by men and how counseling, restraining orders, and even fighting back do not make any strong or lasting changes in the men's behavior. However, when men come together in support groups to talk about and fight against men's violence against women, the problems are greatly reduced. Ayvazian strongly encourages members of dominant groups to speak to other members of that group about ending oppression and violence.
This relates very well to Johnson's insistence that members of dominant groups are the ones who are responsible for fighting against oppression. He argues that the oppressed groups do not have enough power in our society to make change and therefore, they need the help of those with privilege and power:
"But these groups can't do it on their own, because they don't have the power to change entrenched systems of privilege by themselves. If they could do that, there wouldn't be a problem in the first place. The simple truth is that the trouble we're in can't be solved unless people who are heterosexual or male or Anglo or white or economically comfortable feel obligated to make the problem of privilege their problem and to do something about it" (Johnson 10).
Ayvazian would definitely consider Johnson to be an ally because he is a white, straight, middle-class male, who is fighting for equality within the realms of gender, race, class, and sexual orientation. He is not oppressed in any of these groups, however he believes strongly enough in the need for equality that he puts in a great effort to fight for it.
Both Ayvazian and Johnson believe that if one is lucky enough to be part of a dominant group, one must use the privilege and power that this brings in order to take risks, be proactive, and fight against oppression. This is what makes someone a true ally.
Sunday, January 15, 2012
Thursday, January 12, 2012
"People Like Us" and "The Center for Working Class Studies"
Within both of these websites, the part that struck a chord with me was the stories of real (and sometimes fictional) women dealing with class issues. The stories were not always about poverty or the fight for survival, but in each account, the woman was in some way struggling to come to terms with her place in the system of social class.
On the "People Like Us" website, I found two stories (possibly fictional) of women dealing with class if different ways. The first was about a woman named Val, who came from a working class family but married a man whose immigrant family had invested in land and become very wealthy. Val was now able to pay her family back for all of the hard work and support they had given her when she was growing up. However, her father strongly valued working hard to earn his own living, and he refused to take her money. The new difference in their social classes made Val's interactions with her family very uncomfortable.
The second story was about a woman named Karen, who moved around a lot due to her father's job. Karen became aware of social class when she noticed that in some places her family was considered high in rank, but in other places, where everyone was of higher class, her family was considered low class. This highly affected her experiences in each place, especially when she was seen as lower class and felt as though she didn't have the same opportunities as other women her age.
Within the Resources section on the "People Like Us" website, I found an excerpt, titled "Working Poor," from Barbara Ehrenreich's book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Ehrenreich tells the story of a woman who is part of a maid service where she works on a team with several other women to clean houses. The author of the story closely observes the difficulties that each of the women on her team is experiencing: one girl does not have enough money to buy a soda, another woman struggles to support her child, another woman cannot afford dental care for her impacted wisdom tooth. All of the woman are concerned about whether their male supervisor will pay them on time and how to manage the cheap and insufficient cleaning equipment they are given to do their job. Social class has a powerful effect on each of the women in this maid service.
On the "Center For Working Class Studies" website, I found a blog called Working-Class Perspectives. I found one post that, for me, really represented women's struggles with social class, called "A Visit to the Food Pantry." The post is a story written by Jeanne Bryner, a poet, former emergency room nurse, and community affiliate of the Center for Working-Class Studies. She describes her trip to a local food pantry with her daughter, who frequents the pantry and asked her mother to join her. As Bryner stands in line waiting to get her food, she contemplates the others waiting with her. One thing that sticks out to her is the number of mothers, either with their children or picking out diapers and food for the ones at home. She also notices the fact that a large majority of the people there are elderly women, which causes her much concern: "Oh Lord, I think, who will carry their food inside when they get home?"
These stories all together made me think of several ways in which economic inequity is a feminist issue. First, I thought of the male advantage in our society and how a man is more likely to get a higher-paying or higher-esteemed job, or to receive higher pay at the same job as a woman. Therefore, it is easier for a woman to end up with a lower income than a man. As more and more women work at low-paying jobs while men work the higher-paying jobs, it becomes normal and almost necessary for women to make up the lower class. This also makes it harder for women to work their way up, when they are starting from a lower point than men.
In reading these stories, I also thought of how child-rearing plays into women's experiences of social class. It is easy for a man to leave a woman who is pregnant to raise the child on her own. Being a single mother makes it harder for women to work or go to school because they need to be watching the child. A woman who already does not have much money often cannot afford to pay for daycare or a babysitter. Even if she is able to work, it is hard to make enough money on one's own to support oneself and a child. Being a single mother can become a vicious cycle that keeps the woman perpetually within the lower class.
The stories on these websites also reminded me of intersectionality in feminism and how many groups of women (black, lesbian, lower class) are excluded from the fight. If women are going to fight for women's rights, they cannot leave out the poor, working class women who are struggling to survive. In a way, the middle and upper class feminists are responsible for including working class women in their arguments because women living in poverty often lack the resources needed to participate in activism. They have more basic needs that they have to attend to first. This reminded me of some of the other articles we've read, which assert the fact that the privileged groups are the ones who are responsible for taking action and making change.
Point to Share:
There is a game that I played on the "People Like Us" website called Chintz or Shag. The game lets you pick out different objects to create your fantasy living room. Each object represents either working-class, middle-class, or high-class taste. In the end, the game tells you which social class you fit into based on your preferences. I found this to be a very interesting way of explaining how each social class experiences life in an entirely different way, down to the things that look visually pleasing to us. The game really points out the importance of recognizing social class as part of what makes us who we are.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
"Compulsory Heterosexuality And Lesbian Existence"
By Adrienne Rich
Heterosexuality is one of the many "privileges" that become invisible in our society today because they are so often assumed or expected. This is part of what Rich attempts to point out in her article, which asserts the existence of lesbians, whose sexual preferences lie along a continuum, ranging from alliance in a common cause to close emotional bonds to sexual relationships. Rich refutes the common arguments that women are innately sexually oriented towards men and that women who identify as lesbians are merely acting out due to bitterness towards men. She attempts to reveal the reasons why so many women find themselves in heterosexual relationships despite their known (or unknown) desires for the opposite. She groups all of these reasons under one name: Compulsory Heterosexuality.
Rich raises the idea that there have been many factors throughout history that have made it difficult or even dangerous for women to not marry a man:
“Chodorow's account barely glances at the constraints and sanctions which historically have enforced or ensured the coupling of women with men and obstructed or penalized women's coupling or allying in independent groups with other women” (84).
“Women have married because it was necessary, in order to survive economically, in order to have children who would not suffer economic deprivation or social ostracism, in order to remain respectable, in order to do what was expected of women...” (92).
She presents a question that she claims is often left out of feminist literature--whether more women would reject heterosexual relationships and identify as lesbians if they lived in a different environment that made this easier:
“In none of them is the question ever raised as to whether, in a different context or other things being equal, women would choose heterosexual coupling and marriage” (82).
Rich raises this question in order to combat the widely held belief that women have a natural, biological attraction to men, despite their strong, emotionally rewarding relationships with other women:
“...as if, despite profound emotional impulses and complementarities drawing women toward women, there is a mystical/biological heterosexual inclination, a 'preference' or 'choice' which draws women toward men” (84).
She explains that the attraction to men may be there, in all women, but it is not something innate and hardwired. It comes from the institutions in our society that make heterosexuality the "norm" and anything outside of this "deviant" and "abhorrent." In other words, compulsory heterosexuality is man-made and man-maintained but is so powerful that we begin to see it as biological:
“I am suggesting that heterosexuality, like motherhood, needs to be recognized and studied as a political institution...” (84).
Rich introduces male power manifestations as one of the ways in which heterosexuality is enforced on women. She describes many of the ways in which male power has an effect on women, including denying them of their own sexuality, forcing male sexuality on them, controlling or robbing them of their children, confining them physically, and using them as objects in male transactions. All of these manifestations of male power in some way compel women to heterosexuality:
“Some of the forms by which male power manifests itself are more easily recognizable as enforcing heterosexuality on women than are others. Yet each one I have listed adds to the cluster of forces within which women have been convinced that marriage and sexual orientation toward men are inevitable—even if unsatisfying or oppressive—components of their lives” (86).
Rich raises another important aspect of this form of compulsory heterosexuality. She explains that sexual abuse done by males to females is considered acceptable and therefore becomes invisible in our daily lives, unlike sexual activity between two women:
“...enforced submission and the use of cruelty, if played out in heterosexual pairing, is sexually 'normal,' while sensuality between women, including erotic mutualityand respect, is 'queer,' 'sick,' and either pornographic in itself or not very exciting compared with the sexuality of whips and bondage” (86).
This normalcy and even necessity of male to female sexual abuse becomes so ingrained that both men and women accept it with open arms:
“The adolescent male sex drive, which, as both young women and men are taught, once triggered cannot take responsibility for itself or take no for an answer, becomes, according to Barry, the norm and rationale for adult male sexual behavior...Women learn to accept as natural the inevitability of this 'drive' because they receive it as dogma” (88).
The point that Rich eventually wants to illuminate for her readers is that heterosexuality may not be as biological as we think it is--even for those of us who happily and readily engage in heterosexual relationships. She challenges women who consider themselves to be heterosexual to look into the ways in which their attraction to men has been shaped and coerced by the society in which we live. And she recognizes that this may be a very difficult step to take.
Point to Share:
Rich brings up the idea of procreation and romantic relationships going hand in hand, and how we often assume that this is the way things work. But she points out that they don't necessarily have to coincide. This made me think about women who use sperm donors to get pregnant rather than a partner and how this can be just as fulfilling and successful as when partners choose to procreate together. I want to think about other ways in which these two things that we assume would go together do not always do so.