There hasn’t been many of these stories that I felt I could relate to. Believe me. When I started reading the first story I was like, oh shit, how am I going to write about this woman’s experience in a community that I am not a part of. By the end, I was like damn, this story about a black woman’s struggle with self identity and her hair is one that I needed.
The first story I read was From Americanah (2013) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The story revolves around Ifemelu’s experience going through the world having insecurities about her hair and needing it to look a certain way to be pretty because society told her that is what beauty looks like. When her hair gets damaged and she has to cut it off, her self esteem plummets. To top it all off, she finds out that her boyfriend is cheating on her. It isn’t hard to imagine how she is comparing herself to his side hoe and all of his ex girlfriends. When describing the other woman, Ifemelu describes her as “a woman who liked her hair and thought Curt (the boyfriend) would too”. Not only does she not like her hair, she hates that she feels that way. I know exactly what she is feeling. I had someone I was talking to tell me that my insecurities were unattractive. Like, damn. People always joke about the hippies in the 70’s being all peace love and whatnot. But, is that such a bad idea? That we could just love and support everyone? This story also makes you think about the structural issue of magazines/society telling these young African-American women that they need to alter their hair (to make it straight and to look more like white women) in order to look beautiful. So not only do we need to change how we talk to other human beings, we need to change the structures that shame people for the purpose of selling a product.
The second story, Big Yoga Student (2012) by Kimberly Dark, continues the same narrative of dealing with self image and they pressure people put on you and your image. This story follows the author through her experience being an active person, as well as a yoga teacher, while also being considered overweight. She talks about how she had to come to terms with one thing: “living a good life is more about acceptance than it is about attainment”. Dark chooses to live her life not with the concern of attaining a small goal weight, but being fit, healthy, and accepting herself for who she is. It is also interesting how Dark describes peoples’ reactions to her weight when they come into the yoga classes she teaches. They either walk out because they don’t think she could teach an effective, rigorous class, or they pity her and say she’s brave for doing what she does while being so large. Fuck these people. Fuck the people who think that overweight people doing exercise/ go to the gym are brave and go around making comments that they wouldn’t to a skinnier person, regardless of if it positive or not. The extra attention on top of worrying about getting in shape is what keeps overweight people from wanting to go to the gym. Now, its not just yourself you are trying to impress, its everyone else who you seem to have to prove yourself to. I think it is stories like Kimberly’s that give people who are uncomfortable with going to the gym some motivation that you shouldn’t worry about getting the skinniest body or worrying about what other people think. You can just focus on you. I think that the point Kimberly is trying to get across is fuck everyone else and do you. And as a society, we need to stop being so judgmental and just let people live their lives without adding any more stress on them than they already put on themselves.
The 2 articles this week talked a lot about race and masculinity. The first article, If Men Could Menstruate by Gloria Steinem, talks about how people of the white people have spent centuries trying to convince everyone else that being white makes them superior, especially white men. It goes into discussing the concept of how men would react to having a menstrual cycle. In reality, they would spin in to make it a trait that made them superior to women, even though it is seen as a weakness when women have it. My favorite line that really emphasizes how ridiculous the concept is “Lesbians would be said to fear blood and therefore life itself – though probably only because they needed a good menstruating man”. It kind of shows that no matter the circumstances, men would spin it to make it seem like they were the superior gender, because they are already at the top in this patriarchal society and having a period wouldn’t change that.
The second article, Beauty (Re)discovers the Male Body by Susan Bordo, talked about the history of mens fashion. I actually found this article really interesting with its discussion about how our view of masculinity and fashion really is centric to the cultures that we are exposed to. Bordo argued that “the idea ‘that men don’t want to look like they’re trying to be fashionable or sexy’ was rather culture-bound”. I think that this topic is a double-edged sword. If a man cares too much about the way he looks, he isn’t manly. However, if he cares too little, he is sometimes seen as a slob(all from the American perspective).We have somehow gotten to a point in society where if men care about fashion, they aren’t as masculine as men who don’t. I think that this is mainly an American thing that has come about in the past few decades, because in the past, men being fashionable was seen as something that was desired and showed class. Other cultures view fashion as a masculine trait, such as the French, Italians, and Spanish. Is it fair for us to judge other cultures for their desire to be stylish just because we don’t? Bordo says that “there are dangers in drawing broad conclusions on the basis of only those worlds with which one is familiar”. I think that this whole conversation can be boiled down to society trying to put people into boxes and trying to amplify differences that can be criticized. As if our society doesn’t already scrutinize enough over sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, socioeconomic background, etc., have we really stooped so low that the clothes people wear are a topic of debate? Letting people express individuality without criticism is something I hope we get to in the near future. There are too many serious issues going on today to be critical of someone’s masculinity based on the clothing they choose to wear. This will do nothing more than teach our youth that the level of masculinity they express through their clothing is something to be concerned about. We need to find things that unify us, not divide.
The first article I read this week was Guilty Pleasures: Pornography, Prostitution, and Stripping by Jackson Katz. It is an understatement to say that this isn’t my normal reading material. Overall, the article mostly focuses on the porn industry and how it is having a negative effect on the young men growing up today. This topic is one that I have never heard come up in conversation or brought up in an article because sex is still a topic that people don’t want to talk about. Katz said, “some men avoid this sort of introspection because it is still awkward to talk honestly about sex in this culture, and they are embarrassed”. This was in regard to how porn sort of grooms men into thinking that they have to be dominant and violent in order to please a woman and to please themselves, because this is what they are seeing on their computers. I think that this is valid in a sense. The author of the article mentioned people being opposed to porn as a whole because of these types of videos. I don’t think this should be the case. By opposing the porn industry as a whole, you are putting out into the world that sexual activity is something to be ashamed of. I think that what needs to start happening is that there needs to be more open sex ed courses in schools. If teens are going to find this content anyway, it would be stupid not to have more open dialogue about sex and how what they are see is fantasy. There is no shame in wanting to partake in what they are seeing on the screen, as long as it is with a consenting partner. I think this is the vital point. Men ( and other people who commit violent, sexual assaults) that are getting these ideas from porn may have been deterred if someone had an open and sincere conversation about sexuality and consent. Are there shit people in these industries? Absolutely. But you aren’t going to be able to take them down. We need to reform what we are teaching our youth so they don’t have to turn to porn as their only sexual education.
And on another topic that people are too scared to talk about, I read It’s Time to End the Long History of Feminism Failing Transgender Women by Tina Vasquez. As someone who isn’t the most educated about all the facets of feminism, my jaw dropped reading this article. When I thought about feminism, I never thought there were assholes out there who excluded transpersons from their movements. How can you just pick and choose who you want equal rights for? How is that any different than people arguing in the mens favor in a debate about the male/female pay gap? There are no equal rights until there are equal rights for all. From my understanding, if sounds like these trans-exlusionary feminists are still supportive of other LGBT+ groups. If you aren’t going to support the group as a whole, don’t bring it up. Thats’s not the kind of representation we want. My favorite part of the article was its call to action: “it’s time to expose trans-exlusionary feminists for who they really are”. We aren’t going to allow people to decide who deserves rights and acceptance and who doesn’t. There is still a lot of transphobia in society today. There are still a lot of people who are unwilling to accept people who are different than them. News flash, people. You don’t have to be a part of the community to not be an asshole toward them.
La Conciencia de la Mestiza/Towards a new Consciousness by Gloria Anzaldua was a piece of writing I had difficulties comprehending in its entirety due to many parts being in Spanish and the language used. Overall, the point that I observed is that people are so concerned about labeling others and putting them in a box. The reality is that these days, a lot of people don’t fit in such a simple box. People identify with many different categories and need to space to express and be accepted by all of them. The author goes into how members of the gay community are sometimes ousted by their racial communities because of their sexual orientation. However, these people have connections to people from other racial groups through the gay community. I think the moral of this story is to just be accepting of everyones intersectional diversities and realize you aren’t the voice of whether that person is worthy of being a part of your community or not. Its not your community, its everyones.
Going along with our need to define people by categories, society also targets them for their own personal gain. As outlined in Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex (1998) by Angela Davis, the current prison system we have, mostly privatized, profits on mass incarceration. Overall, Davis talks about how although companies and society may say they are for the fight against racism, they are still profiting from the racial injustices that fill our prisons today. Examples of this are companies who use (free) prison labor to take jobs away from other citizens yet aren’t as heavily criticized as companies who outsource to other countries because technically, its American labor. There needs to be more light brought to this. American taxpayers are paying taxes that get divided in favor of prison systems instead of schooling and education that could help children develop into citizens who don’t have to resort to crime to get by. This piece really emphasizes the structural problems in our society, not only keeping a group of people in a “lower class” and depriving them of the things they need to strive which makes a great deal of people resort to or get entrapped in crime, and then the large companies who profit from these systems.
Structure and Intersectionality
Intersectionality is the theoretical term used to discuss the interlocking systems of oppression of gender, race, class, sexuality, age, ability, religion, and nationality that shape people’s experience and access to power (Sarasate, Shaw, Rellihan).
In M. Soledad Caballero’s Before Intersectionality (NEW), we are brought into the discussion of structure and intersectionality. The character grew up in a time where there were only two groups you could be in, black and white. As immigrants from a Spanish speaking country, they were neither. I think this brings up a good conversation on putting people into groups. There are so many different aspects that can affect someone’s life experience that they may never fit into a cookie cutter group. For example, if you separate people into groups of straight and LGBT, you group people together that have so many other factors that affect them. They are not going to have the same experience. Lower class people in the LGBT community are going to have a different experience than upper class members. Their race is also going to affect their experience. As a society we really need to think deeper about people as individuals instead of in groups because the different factors that could be affecting their lives is endless.
The second article I read for this week was Kimbrle Crenshaw’s Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color. This article was long and dense. If I tried to talk about the whole thing, I would lose track of my point and it would all just become gibberish. The part I wanted to focus on was the paragraph starting with “I observed the dynamics of structural intersectionality……and relatives for temporary shelter” (Crenshaw). This paragraph discusses how women of color are treated in when it comes to shelters and domestic violence. It talks about the need to have more consideration made when handling people of color in domestic violence situations because there are other factors that affect their ability to deal with the situation they are in. There are structural factors that inhibit their ability to escape DV, such as there being higher unemployment, poverty, and lack of job skills. These people were doomed before the DV even began. Their resources are limited and it may appear that they have no escape. Organizations, as well as the government, need to working on fixing these structural problems in order to give everyone a chance to access aid when they are in distress. For instance, the organization I volunteer at provides clothing, toiletries, and diapers to anyone who contacts us, as long as they are on some form of aid, such as food stamps. Our society has to get to a place where everyone is cared about and helped when they need some support.
In Anne Fausto-Sterling’s The Five Sexes, Revisited (2000), she discusses her definition of the different sexes mostly in terms of medical practices when intersex individuals are born. She goes into talking about how most of the time, doctors decide what sex the baby is going to be and tells the parents that this is whats happening without really giving them the option of a surgery not happening. These parents do not really know the other options, such as letting the child grow older and deciding then if they identify as a boy or girl or whatever they chose to be. What really threw me through a loop was the stories of adults who were born intersex, assigned a sex through surgery by a doctor who claimed they were following natures course. These adults sometimes come to the realization that they are not the sex that the doctor assigned to them. The part that I am interested in is how they go forward from there. Our society still has a large prejudice agains trans people. How do people around them react? Because, really they were born as one of the 3 sexes Anne presents other than male and female. Its more that they are rejecting the doctors choice. The story doesn’t elaborate further, but one thing stuck in my head. Why are we so afraid of sexual ambiguity that because you are so uncomfortable not being able to put your child into a box of male or female? Gender roles are so engraved in our society that someone who doesn’t fit the status quo has to be dealt with. I would like to see some statistics on how many intersex children were assigned male versus female. It is no secret that society deems men as the superior sex. So did this have any effect on the surgeons decision? Real questions, people.
A story that ties in with the previous one is Because You’re a Girl (2002) by Ijoema A. The main character discusses growing up in Nigeria and the traditions that kept her in a servant role to the rest of her family in the “preparation” for her future marriage. To keep it short, she feels oppressed. She is angry that her brothers don’t have to share the work with her. When she moves to the United States for college, she experiences this whole new life where she doesn’t have to do anything for anyone but herself. She then moves to the US after college because she didn’t want to live with the oppression. This story ties in with the last story because it shows the control that people try to take over others. With the intersex children, the doctors and families made “permanent” decisions for these children without their consent because it happens soon after birth. In this story, the main character is stuck under the misogyny of women in her culture. Both parties in these stories need to be given agency over their own lives. We keep learning of more and more areas in which people demean and/or control others. At least with authors continuing to tell these stories, we are able to bring the message to more and more people in the search for justice/change.
We are a world divided. I don’t see an end to that in my lifetime. There are so many so many subgroups that society puts us in to diminish us. There is no dispute that we actually belong to these groups like men and women, members of the LGBTQ community, people of color, etc. But can’t we all just…..be people? Sometimes, when one group of people makes an advancement, they forget to include the other people that need help. Or worse, people support one group of people while actively opposing another. bell hooks, a well known feminist scholar, states, “Given the reality of racism, it made sense that white men were more willing to consider women’s rights when the granting of those rights could serve the interests of maintaining white supremacy” (Saraswati, pg. 21-22). I can pretty much guess that those men had no interest supporting those women until they knew it could benefit them. In this case, its a step forward for women, but a detriment to people of color. So is that really a win for those women if they endorsed the suppression (and harming) of other people trying to gain equality? NO. The world is so divided that we need to actively help the progression of all equality, not just the group that we belong in. hooks continues to talk about how women of privilege tended to stop caring once they got to the level they were striving for, like equality in the workplace for women (which still isn’t accepted everywhere). I think that is easiest to do for people who doesn’t have much intersectionality in their life. As a white, middle-class female from rural Pennsylvania, its easy to say that I don’t have many problems. As discussed in Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, McIntosh states that “my skin color was an asset for any move I was educated to want to make” (Saraswatei, pg. 74). I was given the privilege of being white without me having to do a damn thing. Others, who also didn’t chose their circumstances, whether it be skin color, sexual orientation, etc., are being faced with struggles everyday just to get the same power I was given at birth. Some may say “why are you being so outspoken about these problems you see happening around you? It doesn’t affect you!” I’ve been given the opportunity to not acknowledge social/structural inequality because i’ve been groomed to believe that my place toward the top of that hierarchy allows me to do so. But why should that stop us from speaking out? Just because we don’t all feel the direct effects of peoples’ prejudice against other groups, doesn’t mean we can’t use our privileged place on the hierarchy to help disrupt the ideas and actions that keep that hierarchy in place. I would just like to note that when I googled the word “prejudice” to make sure I was using it in the proper context, a picture of Donald Trump popped up. So while the near future with our orange asshat’s administration seems bleak, all of use who have been given privilege in our society need to use it to help lift up others who don’t have the mobility to access every avenue we can.
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Saraswati, L. Ayu, et al. Introduction to Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Interdisciplinary and Intersectional Approaches. Oxford University Press, 2018.