FEBRUARY–MARCH 2013 / VOLUME 1, ISSUE 1
b e g i n n i n g s
manifesta The need for Manifesta started in 1636, when a school was founded in Cambridge that wasn’t interested in including women among its pupils. It started in 1952, when the first library in the country built exclusively for undergraduates was also built exclusively for males. It started in the late nineteenth century, when almost all of the people of color on campus were waitstaff, and when Jewish student enrollment was restricted by quotas. It started the first time a woman was sexually assaulted at a final club. It started when students were expelled for being gay in the 1920’s, and queer faculty members were shamed in the 1990s. It started the first time a student felt unsafe on this campus having to choose between a male and female bathroom. Sometimes it’s easy to think that this is over and done with, part of a past solidly cut off from the present-day reality of life at Harvard College. Yet when we look closer, we find that vestiges remain even at the surface level, and that these histories shape much of the way we experience life here. We see concentrations of money, real estate, and social capital in the hands of groups dominated by white males. On the other hand, the centers for women, queer students, and students of color have been relegated to basements. And if we look a little deeper, we find that many of the investments enabling the University’s operation are in companies with abusive labor practices, from HEI Hotels and Resorts in the US, to companies forcibly displacing farmers in Southern Africa. What does it mean to attend a school with a “rich history” when that richness is overwhelmingly literal, and overwhelmingly concentrated in the hands of white men? When our fight songs were written about these men, our yearly traditions shaped by these men, and the majority of our housing was built for these men, how can women, people of color, working-class people and queer people find a way to feel relevant? How can we love this place without reservations? The truth is, we can’t. We can’t love Harvard without reservations because we can’t wholeheartedly love the society that produced Harvard, and that Harvard in turn helps shape. Harvard’s history—and its present—is not an accident or an anomaly. It’s the product of systems that empower some people while oppressing others, systems that shape much of the world we live in today. As Harvard students, we’re inheritors of the vast social and educational privilege that comes with attending an institution like this. We have a responsibility to acknowledge this privilege. And we also have the responsibility to use it, to speak. Our Manifesta is rooted in an engagement with these contradictions, but it grows from there. Above all, it comes from a feminism aimed at criticizing global systems of oppression that distort the way that all of us live our lives. It is about gender, but it is simultaneously and necessarily about race, class, sexuality, ability. It is a struggle that exists within the context of other struggles, and intersects with them, and has little meaning in and of itself without these intersections. And it requires the voices of many to keep moving forward. In this, our Manifesta, we offer some of those voices.
table of contents 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 15 17 20 22 23
Korean, American, Feminist Iâ€™d Like to Come Out as a Hairy Woman Who Cheers for Women? A Letter to My Grandmother Sexual Assault in the Military Vulnerability as a Key to Feminism Hip-Hop and Feminism The Hipocrisy of Honor Womenâ€™s Prisons and Health There are No Real Women Feminism 101 Points of Action
rachel cheong devi lockwood herman bhupal kara lessin valeria pelet sarah stein lubrano brianna suslovic sasanka jinadasa monique hassel reina gattuso maura church manifesta staff
layout editor features editors cultural criticism edtor creative non-fiction editor op-eds editor odds and ends editor
reed mcconnell anahi mendoza reina gattuso alex chen marina bolotnikova sandra korn rachel cheong melanie wang sasanka jinadasa terilyn chen
We would also like to extend a special thank-you to the Schlesinger Library and Peter H. Hunsberger for allowing us to reproduce his photos from the Radcliffe Archives on the front and back covers.
Korean, American, Feminist.
1. The day my dad moves out, I sit on the floor next to him as he packs his suitcase, numb. That night we have dinner without him for the first time. My mom picks up fajitas from the local Taco Cabana. “I don’t actually like to cook,” she says. 2. I’m eleven years old. My mom and I fight more than we ever have, but we talk more, too. “I’m trying to remember who I was before I married,” she says, during one of our fleeting truces. The sky outside the car window is grey, blooming with clouds. “I feel like I lost too many parts of myself.” 3. Before her marriage, I learn, my mom was a young radical enmeshed in the protest movement against dictator Chun Doo-Hwan. She was a college student, working to support her family. She was a feminist and a writer. She liked Korean poetry and Tarantino films. 4. At the end of eighth grade, our English teacher asks all of our parents to write us a letter saying something important. Mine explains why my parents stayed in America. It was because my mom cried when she found out I was a girl. It was because she wanted me to have a different life. 5. My mom gives me the sex talk once in elementary school, once more in middle school, and then repeatedly in high school. “It’s your body. I’ll put you on the shot when you think you’re ready.” The first time I hear this, my first kiss is four years away. “Mom! Please!” “I just want you to be safe.” 6. My grandmother thinks I should learn how to cook and clean. My mom intentionally avoids teaching me. Knowledge is a kind of destiny. Afraid that we become what we learn, her grandmother, a seamstress, refused to let her touch needles. My grandmother wants me to cook, but also wants me to study hard. “Your mom was always the best student in her class.” Decades later, this still makes her proud. 7. My mom trades in the sedan for a pickup truck, loads up the back with paint and used furniture. Forty-something with three kids, she’s starting a new career as a house flipper. “It would be great if nothing happened to your father,” she says, hands steady on the wheel. “But I can take care of you guys if something does.” 8. Middle school: a late bloomer with bad skin, I’m at once deeply unsure of myself and certain that I’m more right than anyone around me. I’m ranting in class one day, when someone interrupts to accuse me of being a feminist. Startled, I don’t deny it. How could I be otherwise? Of course that’s what I am. 4
I Would Like to Come Out as a Hairy Woman
Dear Harvard, Dear World, Dear People who have no business under my arms, grazing my legs, on my cheeks, or cupping my labia, I would like to come out as a hairy woman.
Yes, my armpits are fuzzy, my leg hair protrudes at awkward angles from my knees, and there’s an untamed, brown, curly delta protecting the lips of my vagina. I have stubborn ringlets on my head, thick eyebrows that I pluck to curves of my own volition, and an assembly line of diligent, light fuzz across my upper lip that moves along with every smile, kiss, and burst of uncontrollable laughter. And none of these five million follicles that give rise to the keratin medulla, cortex, and cuticle of my hairs, I would like to say, are any of your business. I first became aware that my hairiness was a problem after a middle school ballet class where one of the mothers, snide in her derision, told my mother: “You can wax that hair on her upper lip, you know.” And so began the monthly parade to the local Salon and Spa for the $14 lip wax treatment. I would enter the double-glass doors on my own to be greeted by a woman with manicured
orange nails and skin too orange for suburban Connecticut in February. She would mispronounce my name, pass me on to a high-heeled esthetician, and expect a tip and a kind note for the service. I was mortified at how red my upper lip was after such treatments, and the apparent lack of sympathy from the esthetician who, after seeing the state of my sometimes-bleeding always throbbing lip, would hand me a tissue dabbed with aloe and say, “Geez, you’re sensitive.” Oh, how I dreaded those salon days! The cheesy, ocean wave-inspired music attempting to calm my already aching nerves! The blue, ooey-gooey hot wax, applied with a wooden tongue depressor! The nonchalance with which she would discard my precious hairs, those hairs that I grew with my own, miraculous body, into the trash receptacle! At some point in early high school, trips to the salon ceased. My mother came home with an as-seen-on-TV product purchased at our local pharmacy. Miraculous! – the box claimed – No Pain Hair Removal! It was a battery-operated, pen-shaped device, designed to clip my facial hairs right at the source. But they grew back in days, thicker and rougher. The rotating blades would make my skin break out and itch.
At some point, I gave up altogether. I let my body grow. I found hairy women in my community, Harvard and otherwise, who joked, sang, wrote poems, and loved their hairy bodies for what they are. For what they insist to be. This self-love, I came to understand, is an iteration of feminism in its own right. Yet whenever I am home for more than 24 hours, I can expect a nagging comment from my mother: “What are you going to do about that hair on your lip? Your cheeks? Your chin? You just can’t have pubic hair sticking out of your bikini!” I won’t have it. I’m not taking it anymore. If there is a razor, or a pair of tweezers, or scissors in my bathroom, it’s for me. Not you, the casual beach-goer with judgmental eyes. Not you, my lover of nine months (for though I love you, my body is my own). Not you, the mother of a dancer who so shamelessly expects post-pubescent girls to remain perpetually bare of hair anywhere except on the top of their heads. Not you, my own mother, who claims to only be looking out for what’s best for me. I not taking it anymore. Let’s cut the crap. These hairs gracing this female body are here to stay.
Herman Kaur Bhupal Who Cheers for Women?
You name it, I tried it: swimming, tennis, soccer, basketball, gymnastics. I played all at some point, with every encouragement from my family and coaches. But when I managed to stay awake some nights to watch “the game” with my dad, it was never a women’s game. We usually watched basketball. College or professional, it didn’t matter; but it was always male. I say this not to accuse my father of sexism, but to point out that not even my being a girl who expressed an interest in sports was enough to direct our mutual attention towards women’s athletics. Neither of us ever thought about watching a WNBA game or looking into how the women’s NCAA tournament was panning out. Years later, I look back at those games and wonder why my Dad and I never questioned it, why I, as a young girl who was constantly looking for female role models in practically all other aspects of my life, was never inclined to learn more about woman athletes. Regardless of this one-sided TV exposure to sports, I later got to see some women in action. This was in the form of the Duke Women’s Basketball team. My mom worked at Duke Hospital and women’s basketball tickets were handed out free to the employees that expressed an interest. For three seasons, my mom would take my brother and I to games every few weeks. I remember one game in particular, when Duke defeated Clemson by a margin of approximately 40 points. As far as I was concerned (I never bothered to look up rankings), Duke Women’s Basketball was really good. Once I established myself as a fan, I began to wonder why tickets to see such a good team were offered for free. The men’s basketball team had such a dedicated fan-base that Duke students would camp out for tickets; it would have been ridiculous to think that my mother would have been able to acquire free tickets to any of their games. 6
I am answering my younger self’s question about why I had free access one team’s games but not to another’s. Both teams played the same sport, so that left the difference to be gender. The men’s games would often be packed while, even with the lure of free tickets, the women’s games would still have empty seats. Furthermore, the men’s team was often called “Duke Basketball” or “Blue Devils Basketball,” or other labels that did not specify gender, while the women’s team was always identified as “Duke Women’s Basketball” or other labels that made it very clear that the athletes were female.
This is true of most colleges I have heard of, as well as of high schools and middle schools. The male teams embody the school’s athletic spirit while the female teams represent an often overlooked and less intense version of that. In almost every case, when a friend mentions that they are going to watch a sports event, we assume that the athletes are male. Why is it that women’s athletics are not significant enough for us to have to ask that friend whether they will be attending a men’s or women’s tennis match, =or a men’s or women’s basketball game, or a men’s or women’s lacrosse game?
in a different dynamic? Did we think that boys would offer higher quality soccer? All three factors probably influenced our decision. Overall, it was a very positive experience, but there was always the feeling that the girls were doing the unconventional thing by playing on a boy’s team rather than that every teammate was playing for a co-ed team. After one scrimmage, I remember being told, “You play well, for a girl.” I was confused as to whether that meant I had played well in the context of the scrimmage or whether that meant I had done better than was expected of me because the speaker thought my gender would hold me back.
From Duke basketball to my recreational soccer team, I found a sense that men’s athletics were somehow better. At the end of the day, my protest against this is not even about women being just as good at a given sport as their male counterparts. It is about how the encouragement women receive – if they receive it at all – differs from what their brothers, I never had aspirations of playing sports boyfriends, or male friends hear regarding their own athletic endeavors. Today, in college or any other serious space; I it may be less common for a woman to participated in sports because I enjoyed hear “you shouldn’t be playing sports, them and because they were a convenient way to stay physically fit. Yet at the you’re just a girl,” but the language we use gives us the sense that a woman’s same age that I was going to the Duke athletic endeavors come second to a Women’s Basketball games, I noticed man’s. Laying out plans to fix this probthis discrepancy in my own life. I was transitioning between recreational soccer lem and then following through is imteams. My friend and I had been playing portant, but before we can do that, we need to be aware of the power we have for an all girls’ team, but we decided to on the most basic level, that of speech: give the co-ed – but still overwhelmingwe need to acknowledge and counter the ly male - team a try. Did we think that erasure that we practice when we speak being “good enough” to play with boys about women’s sports. would prove our own abilities? Did we think it would be a challenging to play
A letter to my grandmother
We were never that close – at least not by my measure. I have fleeting memories of times with you: your pink house, your small second wedding (and the unwieldy weight of the basket of flowers I held throughout it), and playing with your rings. You preferred statement rings: hunks of turquoise, lustrous gold, exploding with rubies. When you died, my mom allowed me to go through your jewelry and take what I wanted. It was then that I learned that the rings I so adored being decked in were only large enough for a slight woman such as yourself, or the entranced child that I had been. Instead, I took a pair of earrings. I wear them often, though I rarely think of you when I do. When I do think of you, it is mostly of the pinkness of your house and the burden of your wedding flowers and the closeness I felt with you when I dressed up in your rings. Recently, however, I remembered one of the last birthday gifts you gave me: funding for a fuchsia streak in my long, blonde, 14-year-old hair. You always wrinkled your nose at it, but the streak was the crowning glory of my middle school rebellion. For years, I had been journeying towards being perfectly righteous and rebellious and loudly myself – the streak, which I felt spoke volumes, was the zenith of it all. You would appreciate all the work I put into my hair nowadays. Before you died, I cared most about that streak and spent little time trying to tame the frizz on which it had been applied. Now, I have special hair products that I use to maximize my natural curls: shampoo, conditioner, and gel are the bare minimum. I have a special towel I use to dry my hair and special clips to tease it just right. You were a woman “back then”, you were a doctor’s wife. Your hair, I’m told, was perfectly done on your deathbed. You would approve of how much time I spend on my hair now, much more than you did of my hair in the days before you died. But this approval makes me wonder sometimes. My femininity and its relationship with the world are tenuous and transient: am I soft or hard, angry or complacent or simply at peace, bare bones or powdered and bejeweled, well-coifed or rebelliously dyed – and are these even indicators of anything true? Are these measures of how progressive I am, or just malleable and meaningless external factors? Sometimes I think that I am light-year ahead of where you were. How could I not? After all, you were never prominently featured in any of the family histories I’ve read. I wish the fuzzy-bearded scholars of our clan had bothered to write more about you, you who always stood in relation to your husband, difficult to make out in the gleam of his brilliance. I sometimes imagine what I could have learned. I know a couple facts, dusty from our familial apathy. You earned a B.A. from Wellesley College and an Ed.D. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education: there must have been a struggle. You were pregnant and taught in Hell’s Kitchen: there must have been a struggle. You were a woman and a mother in the ‘50s: there must have been a struggle. I wish that all the family historians had written accounts of you. I wish that you had written accounts of yourself. Because while how I present myself – from my hair down – is always a factor of only how I want to present myself, surely what I saw of you was not a life lived for your own satisfaction. Sometimes I think I am so far beyond where you ever could have been. But then I remember that it was you, wearing your shiny rings, with your always-perfect hair, from your pink house, who gave me the power to go fuchsia in the first place. It is with your life behind me that I am given power to proceed, fearless. Thank you.
“This we [won’t] defend”: Sexual assault in the U.S. military. Va l e r i a p e l e t
1 in 3. According to the Department of Defense, that number represents how many women in the military have been sexually assaulted. The Veterans Administration reports that close to 20% of female veterans have been victims of some form of sexual assault. At this rate, a woman has a greater chance of being raped by a fellow soldier than being killed in action. Even worse than these statistics, though, is the sheer unresponsiveness of the military itself. Apart from creating SAPRO (Sexual Assault and Prevention Office) in 2004, the US military has done little to address the sexual assault epidemic that has plagued every one of its branches for decades. Rhetoric calling for a “zero tolerance policy” has become nothing more than an ode to empty promises—promises that have left hundreds of thousands of servicewomen—as well as servicemen—desolate, spurned, and gasping for justice. 8
A STINGING SILENCE Accurately measuring the scope of sexual assault within the military is almost inconceivable because of scant reporting of the committed crimes. The DoD recognizes that about 80% of these episodes go unreported. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, commenting on this shroud of silence, has estimated that in 2011 alone, the actual number of sexual assaults could have totaled 19,000, dwarfing the official figure of 3,000 reported cases. This widespread taciturnity is due in large part to a dearth of legal prosecution. For example, of those 3,000 reported cases, less than 200 ended in court-martial convictions. One of the main issues that accounts for this disparity is that the majority of reported cases never make it to a court-martial. The military’s chain of com-
mand makes it so that the victim must report a crime to his/her superior, which, in most of these cases, is the unit commander. That person then has the discretion authorize a criminal investigation or put a stop to it altogether. Many times, victims are discouraged or intimidated from reporting because the unit commander might be friends with the rapist or be the rapist himself. For those who do report, their sexual assault cases are handled according to the reporting option they choose to file, which could either be restricted or unrestricted. The restricted reporting option’s primary aim is to protect the victim’s identity, for it “allows a sexual assault victim to confidentially disclose the details of his or her assault to specified individuals and receive medical treatment and counseling, without triggering the official investigative process.” Through this option, a victim can go to a base’s medical emergency room and be put in contact with his/her local Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), who will assign the victim a Victim Advocate (VA). The VA later informs the victim’s preference to the SARC, who will proceed to explicate the incident to the unit commander
without jeopardizing the victim’s anonymity. Back at the emergency room, the victim will be offered a forensic examination and appropriate follow-up medical treatment. Ideally, this option gives the victim more time to ponder the decision of whether or not an investigation should begin. Unrestricted reporting follows the same protocol as restricted reporting with the distinction of having the VA communicate the victim’s allegations to both the adequate Criminal Investigative Service as well as the victim’s unit commander. This action automatically signals the desire for the start of “an official investigation of the crime.” However, many female soldiers may choose not to report sexual assault at all. The gathering of evidence that occurs during an investigation can be very hard, especially since fellow soldiers can storm into victim’s quarters and destroy photographs, diaries, and other articles that might incriminate them. In addition, women in the military face high rates of sexual trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—in fact, PTSD rates for women in the military are higher than those for men who have served in combat roles. These factors combined can be enough to deter the filing of an official report. A HISTORY OF NONCHALANCE It seems as though the magnitude of repeat offenses has not disconcerted the military, for its continued—almost cyclical—reaction to sexual assault has allowed it to be routinely trivialized as the military’s dirty little secret. The past couple of decades, though rife with scandal, have not galvanized the military to overhaul the inner workings of its legal system. It took three instances of media-documented misconduct—the Tailhook scandal in 1991, the Aberdeen scandal in 1996, and the Air Force Academy scandal in 2003—for the military to establish SAPRO, an organization that stresses rape prevention and victim care. SAPRO’s efforts, however, have been lukewarm at best. While SAPRO focuses on prevention and response, its policies depend on tactics that rely on victim-blaming as the source of the problem. Dr. Kaye Whitely, former director of SAPRO, encouraged risk reduction strategies such as setting up a “buddy system” and a poster campaign with slogans that told soldiers, “Don’t risk it… Ask her when she’s sober.”
By no stretch of the imagination is sexual assault in the military something that can be avoided by plastering a poster or showing an instructional video. It is because of previous efforts that Until quite recently, the ultimate demany rape victims have called SAPRO “a cision to prosecute allegations of sexual joke” and something that “is not taken assault lay solely in the hands of unit seriously.” It assumes that women should commanders. It has not been uncommon always be on the lookout for rapists in for unit commanders, swayed by conflicts their own stations and scolds men for not of interest, to side with the accused, putapproaching these women in more “gentle- ting victims at fault, or simply ignore the manlike” ways. victim’s allegations so as not to cause any By no stretch of the imagination is “trouble.” One of the documentary’s comsexual assault in the military something mentators explains that in the unit comthat can be avoided by plastering a poster mander’s minds, to have a sexual assault or showing an instructional video. It is an occur under their watch would indicate a extremely disturbing and egregious matter loss of control, which could adversely affect consisting of predators taking advantage of potential job prospects. victims due in large part to an absence of Fortunately, Secretary of Defense Panetcriminal prosecution. ta rescinded that license from unit comCalifornia Congresswoman Jackie Spei- manders in April 2012. The Invisible War er has stated, “We should be troubled that takes partial credit for his sudden course when victims are deposed, they are asked of action. Nevertheless, the restricted/unabout their sexual histories, as if that were restricted report system remains in place, relevant to being raped, and that there are and it is far too soon to tell if Panetta’s no sentencing guidelines for military juries move has resulted in a substantial growth in sexual-assault and rape cases, where the of prosecution rates. predators often get slapped with 30 days The most recent legislation affecting in jail or demotion in rank, and then it’s the military comes in the form of President business as usual.” Obama’s new military budget. Passed earlier this year, it includes a small but signifiBEYOND THE BARRACKS cant clause that allows military health plans Perhaps the most upfront challenges to cover abortion costs in cases of incest or to the military’s inaction towards sexual rape. assault in recent memory have been The While these steps are indeed a step Invisible War, Kirby Dick’s gripping docuforward, they have not cracked the complicmentary, and a federal lawsuit filed by 17 ity that lines much of the military’s insular survivors back in February 2011. culture. Much more is still needed if the On the one hand, the lawsuit was dismilitary is ever going to stop handling missed in December of that year. The court sexual assault in a way that merely helps ruled that “rape is an occupational hazard victims cope with having been sexually of military service.” An appeal was filed assaulted instead of treating it as a problem shortly after. of accountability. On the other hand, The Invisible War However distorted the official numbers has been met with critical acclaim as well might be, it is clear that sexual assault in as numerous awards, including the Sunthe military is not simply a women’s issue. dance Film Festival’s Audience Award. The lack of response by the military, our The film provides a painstaking account government, and civilians turns this into a of survivors’ testimonies regarding sexual societal issue that goes beyond the barracks assault. It argues that having victims report and beckons to be addressed immediately. crimes to unit commanders is intrinsically And frankly, that’s not soon enough. problematic. 9
Vulnerability as a key to feminism. Vulnerability lies at the core of our social relationships and responsibilities. It may also show us a way of living purposefully. Sarah Stein Lubrano
“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain… When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” -Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
The above quote struck me when I read The Prophet for the first time this summer because it reminded me of the work of Lou Andreas-Salomé, an obscure turn-of-the-century German philosopher who wrote about the benefits of “primitive” experience. Gibran says that the key to joy is sorrow, just as the key to sorrow is joy; Andreas-Salomé suggested that women understood this best of all. She argued that the very aspects of female life—sex, love and motherhood—that make women most vulnerable, most
open to positive and especially negative experience, also make life as a woman most meaningful. For example, Andreas-Salomé believed motherhood represented the ultimate human relationship, and “it is therefore only to motherhood that it is given to realize a relationship fully, from its deepest original source to its topmost pinnacle: from its flesh and its blood to the spiritual self of the Other, in which the beginning of the world is rediscovered” (The Erotic, 84). The mother recognizes what it means
to exist physically and to give this physical existence to another person—not because she thinks about it rationally, but she experiences it. This experience, specifically experience as vulnerability, is key. Motherhood is not only physically but metaphysically painful, as “the mother consciously places that which belongs to her most intimate being outside herself, like an alien creature, with its own existence: in a final painful act of spontaneity, an ultimate relinquishment…” (84). Through direct experience comes painful recognition, but also the deepest understanding of the relationship between two human beings. Thus sorrow breeds not just joy but wisdom and experiential depth. Andreas-Salomé may have been one of the first writers to stress the importance of vulnerability and its special relationship to female life, but certainly she was not the last. Quite a few modern feminist writers have taken up the topic, always with their own specific understanding. Judith Butler began her 2004 book Undoing Gender with a poetic essay on vulnerability, in which she argued that the experience of “being laid bare from the start, dependent on those we do not know” is inherent in the human condition and the basis for much of the rest of our experiences and relationships. Like Andreas-Salomé, she stressed the value of this vulnerability, this time focusing on how it forms relationships. Vulnerability exposes us to both the harm we can do each other and the good, to violence and to love. Butler argues that both kinds of vulnerability tie us to each other and are fundamental to human existence: “[i]f we are outside of ourselves as sexual beings, given over from the start, crafted in part through the primary relations of dependency and attachment, then... [this state] is there as the function of sexuality itself, where sexuality is... coextensive with existence” (33). Vulnerability is positive not only because it yields more meaningful experiences, but because it forms inherently meaningful bonds. However positive, for many feminist philosophers, vulnerability is also an impetus for seeking social and political change. Butler ends her essay by stressing the danger of people being “made un-
real” if their vulnerability is used against them. This concern is philosophical and social, but also political. Like Butler, feminist legal scholar Martha Fineman takes vulnerability to be a key part of human nature, using “the concept of vulnerable detached from specific subgroups...to define the very meaning of what it means to be human” (266). Whatever depth vulnerability might bring to individual experiences, especially those of women and other oppressed groups, it is also in Fineman’s view the root of societal ills and societal responsibility, both long ignored and rejected by American scholars, politicians, and citizens. In her article The Vulnerable Subject and the Responsive State (2011), she argues that while political philosophers often stress the need for limited government to promote autonomy, “[a]utonomy is not an inherent human characteristic, but must be cultivated by a society that pays attention to the needs of its members, the operation of its institutions, and the implications of human fragility and vulnerability” (260). What does this particularly feminist emphasis on the importance of vulnerability suggest about philosophy, feminism, and vulnerability itself? In one sense, these theories about vulnerability constitute a critique of or alternative to the calculated mathematics of utility often used in philosophy, especially in political philosophy. For example, although many mothers might argue that the pleasures of motherhood outweigh the pains, this is not why the philosophers above would characterize mother-hood as a positive experience. They imply that mother hood is made meaningful not by the sum total of its negatives and positives, but by the intrinsic value of the journey itself and the relationships involved. Rather, no matter how sparse the pleasures and how deep the pain, the experi-
ence of motherhood entails a deep understanding of oneself. It reveals to a woman how she is tied inextricably to others, both reliant on and responsible for them. It is both connection and transformation itself, as the woman becomes both more reliant and more responsible through motherhood. While this idea that vulnerability is key to experience has wide applications, its most interesting implications arise when considering how the vulnerable individual ought to orient his or her self in the world. Feminism itself is often progress-based, geared toward the achievement of a better social state. Yet, as with all real-life social change, such progress comes slowly, haltingly, and sometimes not at all. Vulnerability is useful as a philosophical concept because it places a different kind of value on the feminist struggle itself: activism, both individual and political, ceases to be a series of means to an end, instead becoming a way of being in the world. Here, activism is the continuous process of genuine recognition of oneself and one’s relationship to others, through which the individual becomes more enlightened and better connected. Vulnerability and the recognition of vulnerability thus tie advocacy for others with living authentically and fully as an individual. When we live exposed to the world and all its possible harm, we live with direction, tied to others and true to ourselves.
“Vulnerability is useful as a philosophical concept because it places a different kind of value on the feminist struggle itself: activism, both individual and political, ceases to be a series of means to an end, instead becoming a way of being in the world.” 11
Rap and feminism.
Go ahead. Ask me
to rap Lil Wayne’s “A Milli” or Nicki Minaj’s verse from “Bottoms Up” by Trey Songz. Don’t even get me started on “Low” by Flo Rida and T-Pain. I spent my idle time in middle school and high school replaying these jams until the lyrics were ingrained in my brain. Granted, these were the radio-approved mainstream rap hits, but they’re rap hits nonetheless. I have been a feminist for as long as I can remember—and I’ve been a rap enthusiast for nearly as long as I’ve been a feminist. From my days riding the school bus and hearing “In da Club” by 50 Cent (censored, of course), I’ve always had an affinity for hip-hop. I was enamored with the genre’s catchy hooks, but as I listened, something began to nag at me. It bothered me when my favorite artists referred to women as “hoes” and “bitches,” regardless of how well these words fit into their rhyme schemes. It bothered me how “no homo” and “faggot” would surface amidst the aggressive lines rapped by the likes of Eminem. It bothered me when Lil Wayne would casually reference “pussy poppin’” and a “Sicilian bitch with long hair,” and denounce his rap rivals’ “faggot bullshit.” I was confused by my conflicting emotional reactions to the music that I ultimately loved. On one hand, I found myself spitting lyrics and
pop-lock-dropping to the beats. On the other hand, I took personal offense when my favorite artists chose to glorify misogyny and homophobia. As a queer woman of color, how am I supposed to feel when 2 Chainz tells me that he wants a “big booty hoe” for his birthday? Of course, rap and hip-hop do not exist outside of social context. In her 1994 article published in ZMagazine, feminist scholar bell hooks points out that the brand of black hip-hop masculinity that spews such homophobia and misogyny is rooted in the dominant norms of American society: “When young black males labor in the plantations of misogyny and sexism to produce gangsta rap, their right to speak this violence and be materially rewarded is extended to them by white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Far from being an expression of their ‘manhood,’ it is an expression of their own subjugation and humiliation by more powerful, less visible forces of patriarchal gangsterism.” In other words, before we destroy the sexist and heteronormative traditions present in hip-hop, we need to destroy the sexist and heteronormative traditions present in mainstream society. The negative values present in hip-hop culture – materialism, violence, objectification and abuse of women, heterosexism– are all present in the mainstream culture that is ultimately dictated by the ones with the most privilege: straight, white, wealthy cis-males.
The power dynamics of class and race in American society have created a flat, insulting image of black masculinity. Black men assert their authority through hiphop by degrading other oppressed groups and flaunting materialistic attitudes. The oppression of the black community is no excuse for the sexism and homophobia present in some rap, but when analyzing and critiquing this music, we must be sure not to simply blame black hip-hop artists for perpetuating patriarchy. Race and class play a large role in the attitudes that can be found in rap lyrics. Many hip-hop artists are either people of color, former residents of housing projects, or both. Jay-Z comes from Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects; Yelawolf references his trailer park origins in his lyrics. In their 2006 article for the Journal of Black Studies, Terri M. Adams and Douglas B. Fuller try to determine reasons for including blatant misogyny in rap lyrics. One potential reason, according to Adams and Fuller, is that by degrading women, these rappers are able to assert their own masculinity, boosting themselves up in a world where
they are oppressed because of their race and/or class. In addition, Adams and Fuller point out that the business of misogynistic hip-hop is lucrative. Even if artists don’t believe what they rap, there is a degree of complacency and conformity required to make it in the hip-hop world: if others have gotten successful by rapping about female degradation, it’s a path that clearly works. As I tried to contextualize the womanizing, gay-bashing hiphop persona that is often associated with American rappers, I began to trace the cash flow of the hip-hop industry. Most hiphop artists in the United States have signed with Universal Music Group or its subsidiaries, which include Island Def Jam Recordings. While sub-groups operate under large-scale music groups, the money filters up, from artists to managers, all the way up to chairmen and CEOs. The big man at Universal Music Group is chairman and CEO Lucian Grainge. Surprise! He’s a white, cisgender man. While rap might glorify having copious dough (a la Busta Rhymes’s “Arab Money,” a song that’s problematic in its own ways), rappers still give up some of their earnings to the rich white men in charge. Unfortunately, with their earnings goes some of their autonomy. The Crunk Feminist Collective has prepared a list of pointers for critiquing hip-hop, including embracing ambivalence and contextualizing/situating critique. Critiquing rap and hip-hop for homophobia and sexism can be difficult because the same qualities can be found, less explicitly, in other musical genres. As much as I love (and want to marry) Sara Quin of the indie
duo Tegan & Sara, her criticism of Tyler the Creator is tough to swallow—she criticizes misogyny and homophobia in rap, but from a place of privilege, demonstrating a class-blind and race-blind perspective. Quin falls into the trap that many other white feminists fall into: she criticizes only black hip-hop for its misogyny and homophobia, conveniently ignoring more white-dominated genres. All genres of music contain problematic lyrics and verses, ignorant and insensitive phrases that marginalize oppressed groups. Quin attacks Tyler the Creator without considering that he is an artist within a culture built from experiences living in poor urban communities of color. Poverty and racism are common themes in hip-hop, in addition to some of the slurs or problematic phrases that are commonly used in these communities. Quin is a white, cis female raised in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Her experiences are undoubtedly different from the experiences of the average hip-hop artist. Quin expects rappers to have the exact same understanding of what is problematic as she does. In actuality, the differing experiences of Quin and many hip-hop artists means that Quin’s expectations are not realistic. In her criticism of Tyler the Creator, Quin doesn’t seem to have an understanding of the race and class differences that sometimes lead to the problematic phrases that she attacks. She argues, “in this case I don’t think race or class actually has anything to do with his hateful message but has EVERYTHING to do with why everyone refuses to admonish him for that message.” This is the sort of race-blindness and class-blindness that weakens her critique. She believes that the media has given Tyler the Creator a pass, allowing him to say whatever he wants. True, Tyler the Creator spits some very problematic lines, but without an understanding of where these lines come from, her criticism is weak. With that contextualizing disclaimer, I can begin to take apart some of the common tropes in rap that perpetuate problematic perceptions of females and queer individuals. The easiest way to examine these tropes is by catching them in action – through the work of Eminem and Nicki Minaj. CASE STUDY No. 1: Eminem While this white rapper refuses to use the n-word, it’s very clear that he’s not afraid to spit rhymes about killing bitches and calling girls “nothing but sluts” , titling one of his songs “Kill You.” He ends this song with a disclaimer: “Haha, I’m just playing, ladies. You know I love you.” But does he really love
jen // CC BY 2.0
women if he’s willing to joke about choking, raping and drugging them? As a white hip-hop artist, Eminem defies the misconception that rap’s misogyny and homophobia are solely rooted in black culture. But by writing lyrics that discuss violence against women, Eminem is buying into the culture of hip-hop, a culture that seems to inherently promote aggression in the form of physical violence, threats, and problematic “playing” about sensitive topics. In the song “Love the Way You Lie,” a collaboration with domestic abuse survivor Rihanna, Eminem justifies clawing and biting women by explaining that he gets “lost in the moments” and claiming that he doesn’t know his own strength. As much as he raps about physically abusing women, he also frequently professes his love for his daughters (see “Hailie’s Song,” “Mockingbird,” “Just the Two of Us,” and “It’s OK” for reference). How can he, as a father, rap about abusing women while simultaneously discussing how his daughters need protection, love and care? This further proves how Eminem has reflected societal messages about females in his work, channeling the idea that they are in need of protection while simultaneously describing them as outlets of anger.
How can he, as a father, rap about abusing women while simultaneously discussing how his daughters need protection, love and care?
CASE STUDY No. 2: Nicki Minaj In a male-dominated art form like hip-hop, it’s extremely difficult for female rappers to get as much publicity and support as their male counterparts, especially when they face extra barriers such as objectification and trivialization. Thus, on one hand, Nicki Minaj is the epitome of an empowered female, but on 14
the other hand, she perpetuates the same attitudes that have kept other female artists from breaking into the rap game. Minaj has made it into the world of hip-hop through her tight rhymes, but also through her use of the common “diss” factor seen in hiphop. Since the beginning of her rap career, Minaj has been feuding with fellow female rapper Lil Kim. Many believe that Minaj’s single “Stupid Hoe” is directed at Lil Kim, but regardless, the song is aggressive to Minaj’s fellow females – especially with lines like “you can suck my diznick” and “I piss on bitches.” Minaj aggressively raps about conquering bitches and hoes in “Roman’s Revenge,” a collaboration with Eminem. In this particular track, Minaj tells a “bitch” to “play the back” and tells a “ho” that she’ll be wrapping her coffin “with a bow.” Eminem follows up, declaring that all of his “faggot” enemies can “suck it, no homo.” Hip-hop, unfortunately, is disproportionately focused on rival-shaming and aggressive assertion as the authority. But while bragging may be part of the game, that doesn’t mean that boasts need to be accompanied by undercuts to others. On another note, Nicki Minaj is the perfect example of how female hip-hop artists are subjected to unfair media attention. For example, the press frequently questions the legitimacy of Minaj’s buttocks and breasts. It seems like the media has (once again) fixated on the “real or fake” debate when it comes to a female celebrity’s body. At the same time, the media promotes a very specific body type, especially for females in hip-hop (think of the hip-hop vixens seen in nearly every hip-hop music video in existence). If Minaj’s figure isn’t 100 percent organic, why should she be blamed? She’s made a personal cosmetic decision, and in fact, the decision may have stemmed from criticism and speculation from the very reporters who are now scrutinizing her breasts and buttocks. Despite the narrow mold that female hip-hop personas are forced into, male rappers come in all shapes and
sizes without facing media harassment. Nicki Minaj, one of the most high-profile female rappers today, is a victim of both sexism and objectification. The Take-Away As much as aspects of hip-hop irk me, I can’t quit it. It still qualifies as an art form to me. Rap lyrics require a degree of creativity and ingenuity, and I respect the artists who can string together rhymes much better than I can. I’m just as grateful for the producers and artists who create the beats and mixes underneath rap and hip-hop lyrics. As far as the instances of misogyny and homophobia that I’ve encountered in this genre, I try look at them with a critical and enlightened eye. Hip-hop is here to stay, and it shares some of its sexist and heteronormative traits with other genres of music. While it can be, at times, more blatantly problematic, hip-hop deserves an audience. Dating back to the days of Gil Scott-Heron and other early rappers, hip-hop is still a form of expression derived from the African American experience. But what can we do to raise consciousness for audiences and artists? For feminists like myself who are fans of hip-hop, we can continue to listen, but with enlightened ears. We can still be critical of problematic lyrics and ideas in the genre, but we also need to cast a wide net, critically listening to other genres as well. This is an opportunity – it’s time to begin speaking up about what hip-hop is, and what it isn’t. If a lyric is problematic, we can separate our love of the genre from our dislike of misogyny and heterosexism. It should be possible to love rappers and hip-hop artists while still critically viewing their work and calling them out for playing into old, problematic tropes that rely on sexist and heterosexist phrases and ideas. By raising our voices as anti-racists and feminists, we can begin to have productive dialogue around how to make hip-hop as accessible and enjoyable as possible, for all.
The Hypocrisy of Honor
Dissecting the Role of Respectability in South Asian Violence Against Women
Asia. The “purity culture” of this reclamation has hypocritically led to increasing gender-based and sexual violence in the name of respect and modesty. According to Ratna Kapur in “A Love Song to Our Mongrel Selves: Hybridity, Sexuality and the Law,” the religious right in India often portrays the sexualization of young Indian women as a “Western” phenomenon that has brought about the moral decay of the nation. In this fashion, the head of a right-wing extremist group in India claimed that rapes did not happen in rural areas of India in the same way they happened in cities because of West-
ernization. He was defended by the mainstream conservative party, the BJP, which went on record saying “Indian culture is about respecting women. Several sociologists have studied crime patterns and inferred that adivasi [aboriginal] regions have not had even two rapes in 25 years. I am not justifying anyone but everyone has the right to hold an opinion. Even if you go through police reports you will see most atrocities against women are happening in urban areas — Mumbai, Thane, Pune Nasik.” There are several factors that may affect the sexual violence crime rates in rural areas, from underre-
After the horrific rapes, beatings, and murders that have held the news headlines in India, the women’s college Indrapastha College created new rules. “Curfew for students living in campus dormitories has been brought forward an hour to 9:30 p.m.,” the revised rules state, “And girls are now required to seek permission from the college administration before going out with friends and provide details of the friends they are going out with.” Faced with measures like this, feminists in India are valiantly fighting as women’s bodies are restricted in the name of their own safety. In order to “protect” the women of India, those in power have moved to confine the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators. This represents a powerful and alarming double standard: while women are responsible for their own bodies when they are violated, this responsibility does not extend to the right to plan their own families or love whom they choose. The cultural and political battles surrounding the current rape crisis in India beg a more complex analysis of gender roles, requiring solutions that extend far beyond law making and into the realm of restructuring a messy history of colonization, religion, and hybridization. While many Indian politicians blame Westernization and changing sexual mores for an increase in gender-based violence, we would do better to look to attempts to reassert Indian culture in postcolonial South
12/12/2012. India Gate, New Delhi 15
porting to education of what constitutes a rape. Yet rather than considering these factors, politicians in parties like the BJP make their beliefs clear: Indian men respect women. This is not an Indian problem. However, Kapur begs to differ: “Indian cultural values [are] deployed…by those in positions of power and dominance to legitimate dominant sexual norms in and through a stagnant, fetishised and exclusive understanding of culture,” she writes. By attempting to decolonize their culture, Indian postcolonial reformers have disavowed the sexual autonomy of women and thrust their modern problems onto an easy scapegoat—India’s colonial past. To expand this argument geographically and theoretically, take a look at the oppression of women in the name of their “rights” and their “respect.” Take the practice of Sati, in which widows immolate themselves along with the bodies of their husbands, something the British outlawed during colonization. Sati, in Sanskrit, means “good wife”—and a good wife’s purity lies on her husband’s funeral pyre. Particularly in Pakistan, acid attacks are becoming increasingly common practice as a way of publicly punishing and shaming women for transgressive behavior, such as when wives “dishonor” their husbands by asking for divorces or even when a young girl looks at a boy. In a similar vein, honor
12/29/2012. Salt Lake City, Kolkata killings are perpetrated against women to protect the honor of families with disobedient children who do not conform to the gender roles and regulations of their society. In order to protect the virtues of the women of South Asia, the men in their lives have taken to destroying them. Colonization, then, cannot be blamed for the rapes, beatings, and murders that plague the women of India. Instead, we should look to a culture of feigned purity and the erasure of South Asia’s rich sexual history to explain the destruction of women under the mandate that they demonstrate national loyalty by upholding oppressive cultural norms. In attempting to recover their country’s values, Indian men have sent their women to the frontlines of cultural battle, making them the figureheads of morality. When postcolonial Hindu reformers attacked the institution of sex work in order to reclaim India as pure—both reacting to and adapting Victorian sexual norms—the formerly sacred devadasi was degraded. While the devadasi had been a sacred sex worker who offered her sacrifice to the gods, reformers reacted Victorian colonists’ mocking of the practice by debasing the institution of the devadasi and redefining sexuality for Indian women.
“By protecting female purity, we deny women ownership of their sexuality, restricting their bodily autonomy.” 16
These practices were not confined to India. In Sri Lanka, Tamil women were asked to do their part in the thirty-year civil war by dressing conservatively and preserving their culture, as noted in Yasmin Tambiah’s “Sexuality and Sex Work under Militarizaiton in Sri Lanka.” When a woman’s role is to protect and preserve, her responsibility to uphold standards of morality, cultural transgression is the ultimate form of betrayal of one’s country. In return for this betrayal, women are served with violence in the name of the national honor they were supposed to uphold. By protecting female purity, we deny women ownership of their sexuality, restricting their bodily autonomy. This means more than a limit on sexual liberty; it means a limit to women’s rights to coexist with men as free and equal human beings. When postcolonial traditionalists blame the West for sexual violence, they deny their own responsibility to the women of India. It is a responsibility that goes deeper than the need for new laws against rape. Indian women deserve more than just protection: they deserve progress. They deserve a cultural shift, an affirmation from their politicians and religious leaders that they should be able to make choices about their bodies and behavior safely and without judgment, that they can walk outside without sexual harassment, and that they do not have to be respectable in order to not be raped.
It’s no secret that the United States has a problem
“She’s Out of Sight”: Female Prisoners and Health
with its prison system. In 2009, one out of every 31 adults in the country was in prison, in jail, or on supervised release. What’s less talked about, however, is the fastest growing population behind bars: female prisoners. While it is important to distinguish the human right violations that female prisoners face, we should not think of these issues as “outside of the norm” or “special,” when discussing the treatment of prisoners in general. Yet scholarship on the prison industrial complex tends to focus on the alarming increase of men of color in prison, unintentionally neglecting female prisoners and their human rights. In 1873, Indiana established the first women’s correctional facility in the United States, aiming to “train the prisoners in the important female role of ‘domesticity.’” Women fallen from the pedestal of delicacy and femininity were placed in cottages to re-learn domestic ways of life. Racial minorities were disproportionately represented in these facilities, and upon release, the womM ONI Q UE HA S S EL en became housekeepers, nannies, and cooks for affluent households, instead of assuming the roles of “good wives and mothers” for which prison presumably trained them. ent in first-person accounts. BrenMore than 100 years later, not da Meyers, an African American much has changed. Fifteen years woman, spent time behind bars in ago, women of color constituted Chicago for prostitution. Like many more than 70 percent of the federother woman, Meyers began selling al prisoner population but slightly her body at a young age and fell into less than a quarter of the U.S. popa cycle of criminality with no hope ulation. Furthermore, the victim of of escaping through governmental a woman’s crime is often herself: means. She explains, most women in the world today are behind bars because of drugs. There are 16,000 prostitutes From stealing a few dollars to score here in Chicago and there cocaine to selling their bodies, the are only 1 or 2 places where a amount of women behind bars woman can go if she’s trying has increased, while the number to get out of prostitution. of violent crimes they commit has And here in Chicago prosdecreased. titution is a felony upgrade, These trends are starkly appar-
which means that if a woman is arrested for prostitution she gets an X on her record and she’s out-casted again because there are 52 jobs she can’t get a hold of. So, she’s gotta get a minimum wage job if she exits prostitution. She can’t get public housing because they don’t let people with felonies get public housing. She can’t get a PELL grant because she’s got that felony against her. Brenda’s statement reveals that women in this situation, as another inmate explained to me, would rather gain a significant amount of money per hour than struggle in
celled. She explains:
needles, and the prevalence of drugs which have fatal symptoms of withThe structure in most women drawal, female prisoners need access jails/prisons doesn’t provide to preventive as well as immediate the female prisoner to retain health care upon entry and throughor to obtain her own identiout their stay. ty but instead gives her yet Certainly, this practice could another identity of prisoner have saved Gina, a Latina woman where she is still seeking who died from cervical cancer, which acceptance by either now bestarted as a treatable condition. Gina coming hard as in becoming bled non-stop for 8 months, despite or still being gang affiliated, repeatedly asking officials for help. being weak to be protectShe was serving a life and 7-year ed or still using drugs as a sentence for stealing $200 in order coping tool to deal with her to get money for cocaine. situation. Some of the maFrom treatment of HIV to bajor problems facing women sic female needs, women in prison behind the walls is that they face administrative battles with are cut off from society and authorities more frequently than labeled which their male counterparts. Even when strips away their preventative gynecological exams identity. and pap smears are administered, lack of cleanliness and privacy, and Helen’s inappropriately sized tools may all statement serves contribute to a general feeling of as a testament invasiveness, as described in one to the lack of California prison. Instead of mainemotional and taining the prisoner’s human dignity, psychiatric supas prisons by law are required to upport in American hold, female inmates often find their prisons. Even as pride and self-respect abandoned in far back as 1953, the name of “justice.” Exams might government cost and/or require a written request. officials recogBasic needs like sanitary napkins nized that many during menstruation are not always smaller crimes available, free of charge, or easily accan be directly cessible, requiring approval or manattributed to agement from bureaucrats in order drug addiction. Yet instead of imple- to obtain them. Instead of gaining menting comprehensive measures an independent identity, women for inmates struggling with drug become ashamed of a natural bodily consumption, an emptiness filled by function. organizations like Narcotics AnonOne health measure the prisymous, the prison system today has on-industrial complex administers resorted to perpetual, systematic im- with pleasure is prescription drugs. prisonment. For example, in 2005, Women are often prescribed more in California, 70 percent of the wom- psychotropic drugs than males and en in prison needed drug treatment, medical staff members frequentbut only 14 percent actually received ly prescribe these drugs without treatment while in prison. checking to determine if the inmate The problem is further exacerbat- is pregnant. One Native American ed when we take into account that, woman in Montana related her expeas documented by the World Health rience in lockup, stating, “Haldol is a Organization, women are more drug they give people who can’t cope likely to be addicted to harder drugs, with lockup. It makes you feel dead, which are often injected by needle. paralyzed.” Another inmate also Between higher rates of sexually described “faking” a mental illness transmitted diseases, shared or dirty when she was 18 years old and being
Yet instead of implementing comprehensive measures for inmates struggling with drug consumption, an emptiness filled by organizations like Narcotics Anonymous, the prison system today has resorted to perpetual, systematic imprisonment. a McDonalds. These women, who are often poor and undereducated, face significant systemic barriers to escaping a life of poverty and crime. Girls as young as 17 and 18 years old convicted of prostitution and other non-violent crimes are behind the same bars as seasoned offenders. Older women in the “game” can easily spot these first time offenders, and teach them the tricks of the trade. Sometimes, as in Brenda’s case, the girls are offered a place to stay and other luxuries to become a “wife”—or a girlfriend of a pimp. Helen Williams, a member of Narcotics Anonymous in Las Vegas, Nevada, worked with female prisoners suffering from drug abuse for 2 years before the program was can18
I was so humiliated, because you have to walk through regular people, and for them to see you shackled and handcuffed, you know, peo-
don’t get that. You are in there 24 hours and you’re taken back to the jail.” In the United States, almost no prisons allow newborns or toddlers to stay with their mother, even though there are 120,000 mothers in prison. This is not the case everywhere: in the European Union, for example, there are some progressive prisons which allow children to stay with their mothers until they are three years old. Some facilities even provide care and education for the children until they are as old as six years. Brenda, Helen, Gina, and Diana are women. They are not a number, nor a statistic; a stereotype nor an exception. From drug addiction to emotional abuse, each of these women’s stories testifies to a sickness not only within our prison system, but in our society as a whole. As one prisoner stated, “without the uniform, without the power of the state, the [strip search] would be sexual assault.” Her statement is not limited to just the strip search, but to the entire condition of women in prison today.
Central California Women’s Facility, Wikimedia Commons.
given Elavil, a heavy antidepressant. ple looking at you, pulling This practice is particularly dangertheir kids away…you can’t ous for two reasons: First, there is tell nobody when you’re a significant risk of misdiagnosis, having a baby. And for you which can be particularly toxic for to have stranger sitting next pregnant women. More importantto you. And I was shackled ly, as the warning label on Elavil and handcuffed for 19 hours suggests, women of such a young through the labor pains. I age (18-24) actually see an increase couldn’t move. I couldn’t sit in suicidal thoughts when taking up. I couldn’t - I just had to antidepressant drugs. By giving lay there and deal with the these drugs to women as frequently pain and deal with having an and freely as the system seems to do, officer next to me telling me prescription drug reliance (and profto be quiet. its for pharmaceutical companies) tends to rise. Pregnant women in prison often While improper diagnoses and experience the extreme emotional reliance on heavy medication are of pressure described by Diana, with great concern, these risks should not little help from the bureaucrats overshadow the very real and very who are supposed to care for them. serious mental illnesses women in Although The World Health Orgaprison battle. Around three out of nization suggests that women in every four women in state and local prison should have the option to see prisons have symptoms of mental a physician without the presence of illness, while only one in 10 in the prison operational staff, Delgado’s general population exhibit such experience while giving birth is not signs. Rates of self-harm and suicide rare. After giving birth to her daughare also higher in female prisoners ter without any family, she was finalthan among the general populations, ly allowed to call her grandmother indicating a need for psychiatric and ask her to be the guardian of the support. new baby. Diana was elated she There are many attempts to was allowed to spend the first five explain this phenomenon among days with her new daughter. “I got a women in prison. For example, chance to spend some time with her,” women in prison often have expeshe explains, “and the other women rienced previous sexual abuse. But there may be another factor: the way women are treated in prison as an extension of their treatment in society as a whole. Take the case of Diana Delgado, a Latina woman who was forced to sign a document admitting she was an accomplice to her abusive boyfriend’s drug ring in order to allow her children to stay with family members instead of in the foster care system. Seven months pregnant, Delgado was at high risk, but was still held in prison for her day in court. She describes walking through a clinic:
There are no real women — Feminism and the myth of authenticity. R e i n a G at t u s o
It began when UK journalist Suzanne Moore published an essay entitled “Seeing Red: The Power of Female Anger” in the New Statesman, a British political and cultural magazine. Most of the essay is a spoton paean to the necessity of fury in motivating change. But Moore’s piece contains a moment—a single sentence, a single part of a sentence—that ended up sparking a firestorm of debate. Of course, the argument began much before January of this year, before even the second-wave feminist movement, and it continues in every fashion magazine and much corresponding critique, every public restroom and much private space. It can be summed up in a familiar phrase: real women have curves. Moore was arguing for curves. She was arguing against strict ideals of female beauty, manufactured conceptions of what a woman must be. She wrote: “We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape––that of a Brazilian transsexual.” It’s the kind of comment many of us might utter without a second thought— and the ubiquity of that thoughtlessness is one of the reasons why Moore’s statement demands critique. Moore’s statement is meant to call to mind a stereotype: the image of a tall, glamorous, yet ultimately artificial-seeming transgender woman from a country many in the United States or the UK might deem “exotic.” And the reason for Moore’s evocation of this stereotype seems worthy enough: Moore wants to illustrate her anger that women are held to strict ideals of beauty, ideals that are for many of us unrealistic and unattain20
able, and that we encounter constantly on television and in the pages of fashion magazines. At first glance, Moore’s statement seems exactly the opposite of gender essentialism, a plea for freedom from strict ideals of what women “ought” to be. But for some women, the label “Brazilian transsexual” is a reality—and an often difficult one. Moore neglects that reality in her comparison, instead using a stereotype about an oppressed group as an apparent throwaway statement to make a point. Her own privilege as a cisgender British woman allows her to disregard the diverse, complex, and often painful experiences of a group of people she suggests to be monolithic and alien. This suggestion, rather than encouraging us to look beyond strict gender roles, actually perpetuates them by creating a hierarchy of “authentic” womanhood, one that blinds us to the urgent reality of others’ experiences. By equating trans identity with falsity and unattainability, Moore implies that transwomen can never be “real” women because they were labeled “male” at birth. She implies that there is something particular a “real”
woman must be, even if she defines this in opposition to popular strictures of female beauty. Ultimately, in invoking “a Brazilian transsexual” Moore creates an “other-other”—an ethnic other and a gendered other, an other that is less “real” than whatever a white, self-identified working class British person assigned “female” at birth has chosen as a metric of authenticity. “Brazilian transsexual,” in this case, means false, surgically-constructed, fetishized, fashionable, gorgeous, and fake. We are all guilty of statements like Moore’s. We are all, at one time or another, hurt by them. We can’t dismiss them as mere faux pas or social gaffes, labeled “unimportant” and thus unworthy of critique. When we excuse them as such, we fail to recognize that our moments of thoughtlessness both arise from and, if unchecked, help perpetuate structures of oppression. These structures are visible not only in the blatant act of discrimination and the violent hate crime, but in the thousands of small comments and behaviors that tacitly legitimize and normalize this hate. We must proactively choose to challenge that nor-
malization, and we must apologize when we fail to effectively critique our assumptions. But Moore didn’t apologize when called out for her comment on Twitter. Instead, she engaged in a contentious online argument, resorting to statements that went far beyond the thoughtlessness of privilege to be explicitly denigrating. Matters only got worse when Moore’s friend and fellow columnist, Julie Burchill, attempted to defend Moore by publishing a piece in The Observer so full of transphobic invective that editors apologized and pulled it off the web. Moore’s subsequent allusions to the incident in the Guardian, full of shaky apologies and ineffective defenses, read uneasily at best. Feminist dismissal of and discrimination against transgender people is nothing new. Some second-wave feminists in particular are notorious for dismissing trans people’s gender identities as illegitimate, and for excluding transwomen from female affinity groups. Yet this conflict extends far beyond the political battles of gender activists: it gets to the root of our anxieties about female authenticity and the legitimacy of our oppression. For many, the notion of transgender identity is deeply destabilizing. The idea that one’s body may not align with one’s gender identity, or that someone might identify across or beyond the categories “male” and “female,” forces us to be critical of the physiologically essentialist binary in which we have been taught to view gender. As we consider the diversity of trans experience, categories we may have previously viewed as incontrovertible, immutable, and universally consistent are shown to be contradictory and complex. That, perhaps, is the greatest threat of this kind of discussion: the revelation that gender is unstable from culture to culture, body to body, and mind to mind. That there is no one, essential consistency among every individual who identifies as “man” or “woman” beyond that self-identification, nor are all people so identified. That there is great
variance in the apparent precision of biological sex. Paradoxically, it’s a discussion that can be uniquely challenging for feminists, who are critically aware of the limiting and daunting pervasiveness of gender in everyday life. For many of us, the category of “woman” is a constant, painful and dangerous presence: while gender roles are culturally constructed, the hurt they cause is all too real. This fear makes us police the boundaries of our experience, threatened by the idea that a “false” woman—one who is “too pretty,” or the “wrong” race or age, or born with the “wrong” genitalia to really understand—will encroach upon space we have struggled so hard to win. In reality, of course, all women and everyone who does not conform to their assigned gender experience the pain and danger of oppression. No one needs proof of our gender identities in order to harass us on the street. This tendency to disregard some women as less “authentic” than others is apparent beyond the realms of feminist discourse. It is implicit in a kind of rhetoric we hear constantly. We can all think of numerous, mundane adages and examples: “real women have curves,” “real women don’t wear makeup,” “real advice from real girls.” Women who possess certain attributes we associate with cultural beauty ideals, women who behave according to certain social scripts, women with certain histories or backgrounds are labeled “fake.” In some ways, this labeling is well-meaning. Constantly bombarded with images of seemingly unattainable female physical and sexual “perfection,” it can feel empowering to claim ourselves as more “authentic” than women who seem to represent these ideals. But this is both a logical fallacy and a failure of empathy. Virtually any assumed criteria for membership to the category of “true” womanhood—whether the criteria be large breasts or ownership of a uterus or a refusal to wear makeup— inevitably categorize only a portion of all the people who identify as female. Some of these characteristics are mutually exclusive
No one needs proof of our gender identities in order to harass us on the street.
or contradictory, and all have exceptions. We can all name people who wear makeup or lack uteruses, but whose “real” womanhood we wouldn’t question. Regardless of our biology or the way we choose to present ourselves, we can be no more “real” than anyone else, and we risk dehumanizing others when we dismiss the legitimacy of their experience. When it comes to dismissing people who already face the dehumanization of oppression, this risk is particularly pressing. In defining transwomen as opposed to “real” femininity and as representative of “false” beauty ideals, Moore blames trans people as a group for reinforcing gender stereotypes. The tendency to blame transgender people for reinforcing gender binaries is a common one, specifically among people committed to critiquing gender roles. By assuming the trappings of femininity or masculinity, the argument goes, transgender people reinforce the stereotypes we all have to contend with, shoring up the rigidity of gender expectations. This is an argument based on a stereotyped understanding of trans gender identity and expression, and an ignorance of its diversity. And it is an argument that blames a group of people particularly oppressed by physiologically-based gender binaries for a system that we are collectively fighting against. We cannot disproportionately place the burden of dismantling an oppressive system on those whom it makes especially vulnerable. Nor should we fall into the trap of scapegoating those whose deviation from the norm makes them particularly visible, but not particularly guilty. By expressing the gender I was assigned at birth, I am certainly reinforcing some stereotypes—and I am breaking others. We all are. None of us created these stereotypes; all of us are contending with them; all of us affirm and challenge them in ways too nuanced, individual, and complex to vilify. We are no less authentic, our experiences are no less legitimate and real, whether we align with or diverge from any truism or stereotype about our gender identities. Rather, we contest the strictures placed on us together, in whatever small ways we are able, in the hope that this will lead slowly, eventually, to a better world.
FEMINISMS 101. M AURA CHURCH
Feminisms? With an s? That’s right! Although it’s usually lumped into one big f-bomb, feminism is actually a collection of ideologies, all generally related to women and women’s rights. Here’s an introduction to some of the most popular variants. Who knows, after seeing all the variation, you might even identify as a particular kind of feminist! Note: These short definitions represent complicated ideologies whose own subscribers debate their definition and purpose. For more thorough definitions, explore the resources at the bottom of this article. Cultural Feminism Cultural feminists hold an essentialist view that there is a female essence that is oppressed and undervalued. This essence is usually argued to be based on reproductive capacity. Cultural feminists work for a women-centered culture and believe in inherently female traits that bond women together. Eco Feminism Eco feminism roots women’s oppression in the exploitation of the environment. Eco feminists believe in a deep connection between women and nature, and argue that this connection is not represented or recognized by our current society. Lesbian Feminism Arising as a branch of second-wave 22
feminism, lesbian feminism refutes heteronormativity and its institutionalization. Some lesbian feminists advocate separatist organizations or communes, and many see lesbianism as a political choice that rejects patriarchy and heteronormativity. Famous lesbian feminists include Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, and Sheila Jeffreys. Liberal Feminism Liberal feminists believe that the gender inequalities oppressing women are deeply rooted in our public, political, and legal customs. Liberal feminism is individualistic, and focuses on each woman’s ability to assert her equality. Many liberal feminists are household names: Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Hillary Clinton. Marxist/Socialist Feminism While some types of feminism focus on the effects of patriarchal societies on gender inequality, socialist feminists assert that class and economies oppress women and that female eco-
nomic dependence on males creates inequality. Socialist feminists use many Marxist concepts to support their beliefs, and also hold that women’s liberation must occur alongside the liberation of all people. Radical Feminism Radical feminism is the main source of many feminist stereotypes. Radical feminists focus on the patriarchy as the oppressors of women and calls for a restructuring of society. While many varieties of mainstream feminism advocate for an examination of male-dominated societies, radical feminism often calls for severe and sometimes violent ways of restructuring society outside of the existing political structure. Famous radical feminists include Valerie Solanas, who called for the elimination of the male sex in her work SCUM Manifesto (worth a read!). Second-Wave Feminism Second-wave doesn’t refer to a particular type of feminism, but instead names a whole period of feminist history, from the 1960s to the 1980s. Second-wave feminism broadened the feminist debate, shifting its focus away from arguments about suffrage and instead to discussions of reproductive rights, sexuality, and women in the workforce. Many credit Betty Friedan’s The Second Sex as having sparked the beginning of second-wave feminism. For much more info, check out Bitch Magazine’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Feminism But Were Afraid to Ask,” the Women, Gender and Sexuality department’s fantastic library, or just explore on your own!
Points of Action
Our Harvard Can Do Better (campus anti-rape culture campaign) + Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to get involved International Women’s Rights Collective (IWRC)
+ Feb. 17, 11:3o am, Spindell Room, Quincy House: First General Meeting (on body politics) + Mar. 8-14: Women’s Week Events on women workers at Harvard and Half the Sky
Radcliffe Union of Students (RUS) + April 13: Crossroads Intersectionality Conference Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM)
+ Tu. and Th., 4-5 pm, at Mass Hall: Student Solidarity Hour with HUCTW workers + March 7, 5:30 pm, 1350 Mass Ave: Protest! Harvard Targets Women of Color for Termination
Harvard College Women’s Center +Located in the basement of Canaday B, safe space, free tea and condoms Office of Student Sexual Assault Prevention and Response
+ 24-hour response line at 617-495-9100
Office of BGLTQ Student Life +Located in the basement of Boylston Hall, safe space, frequent events Civil Liberties in Public Policy Conference
+ Connects activists from across the country to build the reproductive justice movement + April 12-14, Hampshire College, Amherst, MA
Boston Feminists for Liberation
+ Frequent events can be found at www.facebook.com/Bostonfeminists4lib
Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (Creators of Our Bodies, Ourselves) + Online Resource Center covering various health topics can be found at www.ourbodiesourselves.org/book/default.asp 23
tell me what
a feminist looks like