the f-word: feminism
Friday, April 30, 2004
31 DAYS OF EVERYTHING
i arrived at our kitty-infested home last night to discover that Mel had written the following on our whiteboard (I don't remember the exact words, but here's the gist):
May is clutter-reduction month! Each day, choose 1 item to give away and 1 item to throw away.
i think that this is indeed a brilliant clutter-reduction plan for our dinky little house. i'll take it one step further, though. i'm planning to offer a (by "a" i mean "my," of course) feminist interpretation of/perspective on each item i toss for the purpose of illustrating that nothing exists entirely outside the realm of feminist analysis.
what do i mean by "feminist?" at the beginning of my little month-long exercise, here's how i'm defining feminism. granted that my definition is fluid and may change over the course of the month. feminism is, in this case, a set of theories rooted in gender-based oppression but one that has historically expanded to address other institutionalized oppressions.
yes, yes--it's far, far more complicated than that little statement above. it illustrates primarily the route by which i began to navigate an increasingly complex social system and understand it as being organized along several (obvious and less-obvious) axes: gender, race, class, sexual orientation, ability, and others. it's worth reiterating, too, that our social system places value (read: power) at certain places along these axes, which are arranged hierarchically in a way that privileges a certain group of people (e.g., white, wealthy, straight men) at the expense of others.
yes, yes--it's far, far more complicated than that little paragraph above. it's arguable whether or not these "axes" even exist; as a social constructionist, i'd say that they're created and re-created in myriad ways by institutions that criss-cross our social landscape (who knew you'd be getting a sociology 101 lesson here, too?): media, military-industrial complex, educational establishment, etc. and, of course, it's not just that "all (fill in the group)s are oppressed, nor that the boundary lines around all groups are as solid as we think they are. this is a good thing. but, rather than get too mired in the theory, perhaps i'll post the text (and, if i get really fancy, the slides) from my women's studies capstone presentation.
Thursday, April 29, 2004
from In These Times, via feministing.com:
Feminism's Future: Young feminists of color take the mic
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
DRUG COVERAGE DISPARITIES BY RACE/ETHNICITY
This article, "Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Prescription Coverage and Medication Use" conducted and published by Health Care Financing Review found that "among beneficiaries without any drug coverage black persons and Hispanics used 10 to 40 percent fewer medications, on average, than white persons with the same illness, and spent up to 60 percent less in total drug costs." Why? Check out the article to find out.
Friday, April 23, 2004
LITTLE HOT BUTTONS
after reading Feministe's recent, very thoughtful post titled Abortion, Sex Ed, and Religious Morality: A Futile Debate?, i find myself reflecting on the whole point of debate around such (what might be called) hot-button issues as abortion and (currently) same-sex (same-gender?) marriage. they're so very, very polarized and polarizing--and to what end, on either side? i think Feministe's comment is right on the money:
"Within these debates, it is the framing, the false binaries, that get to me. I don't know that anything can be framed in black and white. We live in shades of gray, there is context to everything. The biased reporting, the bad statistics, the preconceptions of all sides don't allow for real conversation on the issue. Only debate. Debate using bad statistics, biased reporting, and misconceptions to prove points that can never be proven. The binaries presuppose choices that are anything but - to say that you must choose A or Z denies that possibilities B-Y exist altogether."
a little story may be instructive here: my partner and i visited a popular ocean look-out spot last weekend. parked in the lot near the look-out was a car with a bumper sticker i hadn't seen until that day: a red background with white lettering reading "Marriage=" followed by a little man + little woman symbol. my hackles and blood pressure rose, i growled audibly, and, in my head, i gave the man a mean & nasty look. he was sitting right there, drinking his coffee with his car window open and looking out over the water. after calming down, i reflected on my reaction:
maybe he's driving someone else's car. maybe he doesn't hate me; he just hates my sins. maybe if i talked to him... aha!
i wish i had poked my head in his car window, smiled, and shook his hand, engaging him in a calm discussion. who knows if he would've been game; lord knows i might not have been, had he started shouting that i'm a godless sinner. it would've been worth the effort, though. i would've said, "hello, sir. my name's clare, and i couldn't help but notice your bumper sticker. i wanted to introduce myself and talk about it. because, when i see that bumper sticker, i think to myself: 'there's someone who hates me just because i'm a lesbian.' now, i don't like to make assumptions about people based on their bumper stickers, but i'd like to know if this is true. if it is, i'll happily move on and leave you to enjoy your view. if my assumption is incorrect, though, let's talk about same-sex marriage. why do you feel the way you do?"
these types of debates, though, never proceed in a calm or rational manner, which is understandable given the complex and highly emotional nature of the topics themselves. returning to Feministe's post, it's the debates that degenerate into side-taking and name-calling that seem to me to be the most pointless. what to do?
it may very well be that these types of hyper, angry angry, polarizing debates are useful for both "sides" to help sharpen their respective points of view. but what do they actually accomplish? perhaps it's just that i'm more averse to these kinds of debate by nature, and, for similarly-minded folk, a better solution may be to work with folks with whom you know or at least think you might have something in common. like in politic-ing, democratic socialists know they aren't going to get the votes of conservative republicans. in fact, put these two groups of people in a room together and you're likely to come to fisticuffs sooner rather than later. actually, i don't believe this is necessarily the case, and the whys of un-reasoned debate in america are the subject of a later post. but back to my point: it's at the fundamental level of core beliefs that these debates strike, and those with solid beliefs on one side or the other are very unlikely to magically change their mind when presented with simplistic statistics and slogans from the other side. so, i ask again: why bother with that?
it seems to me much more productive to switch gears with these purported "enemies": talk about a common goal, as Feministe mentions. and, failing an achievement of common ground, why stick with the discussion? there are plenty of other groups available for reasoned discussion... er, i think. no, really, there are. for example, a public discussion between pro-choice and pro-life folk began in the early 90's and continues in various forms to date. the Public Conversations Project seeks to achieve "constructive conversations that reach across differences." it's the "constructive" part that intrigues me; otherwise, it's just wasted oxygen.
or is it? i'm up for being proven wrong on that one.
one of the goals here is to address or at least raise the "gray area"--Feministe's B-Y (i'm sorry; i just really like that metaphor)--where people's real lives fall. discussing these complexities is not only useful for building deeper, more sensible communication between "sides," the act of raising and talking about them might actually produce concrete results.
i realize that the world isn't going to turn into my version of a utopia overnight; any reasonable activist understands that this is the case, and no amount of screaming will hasten its arrival.
[more to come]
Thursday, April 22, 2004
WHITE NOISE, part II
attending a presentation titled "White Lies" prompted me to write the following in my "other" journal--the one i make rather archaically with paper & pen:
"about whiteness: i feel a little funky when white people try to claim that their ethnicities/diversities are overlooked. it's true, and i guess subsuming these differences is a way of maintaining the invisibility of whiteness s the assumed default race, but you (me) as a white person, no matter how hard you try, can't talk about race without pointing toward your own privilige. to pass as white is to take advantage of certain privileges, whether or not you want them. that's a truth. when thinking & writing about racism, it seems to me that telling the truth is an important--no, integral--and sometimes radical act.
in the performance i saw, called "White Lies," the performer [Anne Sibley O'Brien] made a point of naming the lies that she had identified through her experiences. furthermore, my sense is: whatever makes you uncomfortable is probably an indicator of progress--a lesson learned.
so. the lies.
i was raised, in once sense, anyway, in a culture where folks who looked like me were the assume default, where families that looked like mine were the presumed ideal. it's much more than luck; it's institutionalized privilege that i (perhaps unwittingly) reinforce every time i buy into, believe, don't question, or support that well-constructed illusion. as a member of a group of people born into privilege, it's my job to deconstruct the structure that allows these inequalities to persist. what inequalities? that's another, easier conversation. but why is it my responsibility?
i think it's only fair. i get to have certain things (assumptions about my legitimacy, education, income, believability...) just beause i'm white. it's not fair to the rest of the world that that's the case. so, with power comes responsibility to even things out as well as i can. there's a caveat here, though. the "as well as i can" part doesn't mean that i'm the authority on what's good for the world. for this power with which i was born is not an automatic indicator of righteousness, however much "might makes right" in this day and age.
so, i've successfully avoided talking about the real issues here, for at least a few paragraphs. what, exactly, am i obligated to do as a white person, regarding issues of racism?
let's talk truths again. what are the truths that i know about my own power, about how it manifests itself in my thoughts & emotions, in my daily life? that seems like a good place to start.
yet another disclaimer, though. i'm concerned about the phenomenon of confession (a la Foucault) in my own thinking & writing on these issues. while self-knowledge is important to know where to begin, i sense that the next step is key: the action part of this process. once i know what the problems are, what's the next step? how do i engage others in this--what needs to be an--active process?"
so. so. writing myself in a circle, i can see.
returning to the performance, i think it's a good idea to refer to kstyle's comments (slightly edited):
On : 3/19/2004 8:43:27 AM kStyle (www) said:
"It's weird to me that so many people see "Whiteness" as a unified thing. I sure don't. My dad's mom came from Madeira; my dad's grandfather came from the Azores. They are very different from my mom's side of the family, but both sides are white. I think that lumping "white" together as a group is inaccurate and ignores the struggles of the immigrant experience and the large differences between ethnicities and cultures.
(There's a great, great episode of The West Wing where Josh is arguing with a black senator who insists that African-Americans should be paid reparation. In a heated moment, Josh gives up civility and yells (paraphrase), "I'd love to give you 10 million dollars, but I don't think the SS officer gave my grandfather's wallet back.")"
On : 3/24/2004 10:43:36 AM kStyle (www) said:
"I should add, this is not to say that I'm denying the weight of racism and what a terrible thing it is. It's just that immigrants to the US didn't always have it so great, even if they were white."
I think k's comments highlight another important piece of working against institutionalized racism: understanding that racism is not about Whites versus all other Brown people. if we look closely at the history of racism, we'll see that our understandings of race--even of categories of people we now consider standards (e.g., on the 2000 Census, "The minimum categories for race are now: American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; Black or African American; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; and White... There are also two minimum categories for ethnicity: Hispanic or Latino and Not Hispanic or Latino. Hispanics and Latinos may be of any race.") have changed historically to include/exclude any number of groups of people, based on any number of ethnicities. this is not to say that, for example, the fact that my Finnish and subsequent Finnish-American ancestors were considered an inferior ethnicity (compared to the Swedes who lived in the area) in northern Minnesota means that i am now Oppressed. rather, for white people who don't think about histories of race, ethnicity, and oppression, perhaps thinking about the many ethnicities that might be considered "white" could be a way into thinking about the broader complexities inherent in our understandings of race and racism.
but i'm writing myself into a spiral, now. oh, boy.
Anne Sibley O'Brien's performance was invaluable in that it made me think. She articulated her experiences with being a white person working to end racism in her local and international communities--how easy it is to both literally and figuratively (in the case of this performance) wrap herself in a mantle of do-gooder-ness. how she's somehow "better" than other white people just because she's doing this work. how convenient it is to point the finger at other white people and never reflect on one's own personal history. i especially remember/liked the very, very end of the performance where she named the lies as she has learned them and encouraged others to share their own stories--a "coming out" of sorts, a way for white people to start from a place free of judgment and guilt and talk about the lies they learned, when they learned them and how, and ways to un-learn them. her performance was a great starting point; i just wish that there were more of them, because her experience was just that--her experience.
so, what's my experience? what's your experience?
Saturday, April 17, 2004
IN THE MEANTIME
there's some good posting/commentary by ann and kstyle about beauty over on ann's site. check it out.
i'm hoping to be back in full-gear next week. have a faboo weekend.
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
apologies--i'm putting myself on extended hiatus so that i may physically and mentally recover from last week's vacation. i'll get back into the swing when i'm well.
Thursday, April 01, 2004
(as noted in my media blog) as of tomorrow at 5pm, i'll be on a little vaca for a week or so. i'll return a new and significantly more relaxed person... i hope. maybe i'll bring back a little blog-related giftie for the one of you who actually reads this thing.
have a great week or so, in the meantime!