15 April 2010

Using radio to encourage manliness

In the past, I've pretty much stayed away from listening to the radio in my car for no reason other than the fact that my own music is a lot better [IMHO]. However, because of a busy schedule and laziness and little time spent in my car, the radio has been playing more and more often. And, come to find out, the radio isn't a very "safe space" to be a feminist. More than once during the last week, my preferred station (I'm having a hard time remembering why I like it anymore...) has been broadcasting these awful conversations between their DJs and whoever chooses to call in and chat with the DJs. Most recently, the radio show hosts, who I perceive to be men (in fact, I believe they've both IDed themselves as men on the show) asked listeners to call in about their most "girly-man" friends, whatever the crap that means. So, people called in to chat about their male partners who shave body hair or get it waxed, or about how they prefer to wear pink shirts everyday. The DJs were just dying the whole time, like pink-clad men are unheard of in their worlds. After each caller explained their girly-manness, the DJs went on and ONNNNN about this apparent phenomenon and gushed and cracked jokes and were apparently shocked about this.

I don't know about you, but I don't really get it.

First of all, it's just annoying to listen to (so I stopped, don't worry about it). I would like to please know what the need was for this conversation. I felt like the whole conversation was getting at socialized standards of masculinity and femininity, and what it means to be a REAL man (versus, apparently, a fake one). For whatever silly reasons that I do not understand, wearing pink and calling yourself a man actually makes you a girly-man. And getting rid of body hair, well, only the REALEST menz keep their body hair. Physical body standards don't really add up to me as the components of masculinity, because I don't really know anymore what masculinity is, aside from a narrow box to assign roles to people so they know how to act in the world. Meanwhile, those standards hurt men because they have to reach and reach and reach to obtain the unobtainable standards of manliness. At the same time, non-men deal with the internalized impacts of men forcing men to be REAL men. It shows up in the form of rape and sexual assault, in violent relationships, in homophobia, and in encouraging other men to strive for those standards.

So, thanks, Unnamed Radio Station, for perpetuation unrealistic standards of gender socialization on a daily basis. No wonder men rape other people in an effort to attain some ounce of the power they're told they should have.


12 April 2010

Reproductive justice: bigger than abortion

The big issue that I think initially pushed me into feminism was the "choice" issue and reproductive justice. Since high school, I've been super interested in abortion rights and access, and have worked with any number of national organizations in guaranteeing that my generation and the next continue to have safe, legal access to abortion and other reproductive health care. So enveloped in this issue, I didn't realize that I was missing a HUGE, enormous, astronomically important piece of the issue. Choice is really important and, I think, a key aspect of the reproductive rights movement. However, it is NOT an all-encompassing view of repro justice. In fact, it skips most discussions about what "choice" REALLY means.

"Choice" means having the option of choosing to pay for an abortion, paying to give birth and adopt out, or paying to raise a child. "Choice" also means telling your doctor that you do NOT want to be sterilized, and having a doctor who obeys that request. "Choice" can mean that you don't have to worry about your doctor choosing a C-Section for you because it makes the procedure take less time. On top of all of those, "choice" is being able to have the financial means to go to a doctor who knows your cultural traditions, recognizes the value of those traditions for you, and who abides by your every wish to make your medical experience as pleasant as possible. So, really, choice is a lot more than "choosing" an abortion. Some women live in communities that perhaps encourage abortions for Women of Color, or other communities that post billboards encouraging Black/African-American women to stop obtaining abortions. These messages aren't clear and steer clear of actually explaining the issue fully.

I think there needs to be a shift in the way we as a culture look at this issue, and it starts with re-evaluating what we mean when we use the word "choice". I would love to see a transition away from the epic, never-ending battle of Pro-Choice vs. Pro-Life (whatever either of those terms mean) and into a movement for reproductive justice. The issue is about so many things outside of abortion that it just doesn't fit to phrase your stance based on that one issue. One of the ways I think we need to start making that transition is to make information about repro justice more accessible to more communities.

This past weekend, Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program (CLPP) put on its annual reproductive justice conference. The theme this year was "From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom". I didn't plan my schedule well enough to go (*pout*), but it sounds like it was an amazing weekend, and I think the conference organizers did a great job of highlighting that this issue is more than abortion. However, the conference was held on the east coast, which is a pretty hefty plane ticket if you're coming from almost anywhere. Conference attendees were able to choose how much they paid for the actual conference, childcare was available, and the overall experience sounds like it was pretty accessible for folks with disabilities. It sounds like organizers did everything they could to make this conference one that had as few barriers for attendance as possible. Unfortunately, it also took place over the course of 3 days which is a pretty substantial chunk of time for people who may need to work nearly everyday. The point is, unless you had money to afford a plane ticket or lived in the area, or you have the availability with work/school to take off for a few days, the conference wasn't very easy to access. What that means is that a lot of voices went unheard at that event, and it isn't unlike other similar events.

I attended the March for Women's Lives in 2004, which was an incredible experience with the women in my family. Meanwhile, if you didn't have the funds to afford to travel to Washington D.C., purchase a hotel room for at least a night, and also take that time off work, that event was also missing some representation. These events are absolutely necessary if we ever hope to invoke change in the future for this issue, and I don't think we should stop having them. On the same token, I hope we can start finding ways to reach out to low-income women (who are often the women who are most impacted by this issue), Women of Color, and other marginalized identities to make sure those voices are heard, too. I recognize the challenges of an organization to make these events accessible without also draining their funding, but I would love to see (and be apart of) those efforts to include more people.

02 April 2010

Barely touching the surface of white privilege

I spend a lot of time talking about my subordinated identities (being a woman, specifically, but among a few others), and very little time talking about my privileged or dominate identities. This is one of the biggest fails of the current feminist movement from my perspective (which is of course colored by my experiences as a white, middle class, non-Christian, US born, pansexual, college educated women) because I spend so much time working on unpacking my [very few] subordinated identities that I don't take the time to unpack what comes with my [many] dominant identities. If I ever anticipate change, perhaps the way to do so is not by working on changing the minds of those with dominant identities, but rather by making an effort to work on my own dominant identities. On the same token, I don't expect that all men will suddenly understand how their gender identity oppresses other genders, and I suppose I'll have to continue learning and educating about gender oppression while also learning about my dominant identities and about all the ways those identities impact others without my knowledge.

For example! I am white. This is no secret, but I lived the majority of my life paying nearly no attention to the fact that I am white and receiving any number of privileges based on that uncontrollable piece of my identity. I went through elementary, middle, and high school in a predominantly white, middle class neighborhood where I was never questioned by authority figures based on the color of my skin, assumed to be stealing because of the color of my skin, or regarded as unworthy by teachers and classmates if I made a mistake. While I was dealing with other issues I'm certain, I never dealt with race in the same ways as people of color. Daily, however, my perceived racial/ethnic identity gave me endless advantages over the other students of color at my schools. Teachers probably paid more attention to me and heaped on words of encouragement when I did something only mediocre (which may have also been because I was a girl), invited me to join clubs and groups and honors societies, and pushed me to reach higher and do better. The point is that I was never forced to be aware of my whiteness, and in turn benefited from it daily without knowing it.

I think this is an enormous error on the part of white people. I was raised to believe that everybody is the same, everybody deserves my friendship or caring or love. Unfortunately, the world outside of my home wasn't so encouraging of those relations, and I wasn't ever pushed to defy those expectations that I found at school, work, and play. I can, in fact, remember my first friend who identified as a person of color. She was great and one of my best friends, but we as a pair had almost no other mutual friends. We spent time together at school, during lunch, and in classes, but we went our separate ways once the bell rang. I rarely called her at home because I was intimidated by my lack of knowledge about her family, and then she moved away for her father's work and we've hardly spoken since. I think that, in my community, it didn't seem acceptable to be friends outside of a school setting, and neither of us pushed that limit. I could attribute the characteristics of our friendship to other things, like maybe we were involved with different activities after school, or we didn't have any way to get to and from each other's houses. Of course, those same things stood in the way of my time with white friends too, but I found a way to make that work. It would be interesting to know now if my friend actually saw it at that point as an issue of white versus non-white. I've become increasingly more aware that people of color are often raised with the knowledge from family members that they are not the "same" as the white kids. So maybe she knew that our friendship was a little taboo, even in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Even if she didn't, looking back, we might both be able to pinpoint that as one of the reasons for our friendship demise.

It should really be a conversation all along that white people benefit in this society, often by no fault of their own, but at the expense of people of color, and that we should be aware of. I see trouble when those who are subordinated get to spend so much of their time recognizing and experiencing that position in society, while those who (intentionally or not) continue to enforce societal norms around power and privilege don't spend any time at all pondering their role in that. It seems inappropriate that those in the dominant role not consider how to make positive changes and leave that work to those who are subordinated because of the attitude that it doesn't really affect them. I would say that white privilege affects everybody, holding everybody to absurd stereotypes that don't make any sense when applied to entire groups. That is only one of the reasons that one might consider paying more attention to their whiteness. On top of that, folks who care about others might be interested in how their unintentional actions impact the lives of others. I don't love the idea that because I had no control over the color of my skin that I now get to ignore injustices or ignore my own role in those injustices. It seems unfair that people of color get to think about it day in and day out while I ignore the ways I am oppressive.

The idea of whiteness is really REALLY big and I don't think I could write a dissertation and cover all of the points of research and thought about this. Hopefully I'll delve into this more at another point. In the meantime, you should probably read White Like Me by Tim Wise. He does a brilliant job, I think, of putting this issue into words and stories that make the issue relevant to people who've never thought about it before [ahem, white people].