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Got 99 problems and one-percent feminism is all of them

24 Apr

This post originally appeared in the Georgetown Voice.

by Erin Riordan

On April 12, Georgetown University’s Women in Leadership hosted their inaugural Own It Summit. Tickets for the event sold out within 24 hours, hundreds of students and community members attended and a host of impressive speakers participated in panels and workshops. Despite these remarkable achievements, I would not call the Own It Summit a complete success. While this event certainly did empower female leaders, it also left out a significant number of voices in promoting a narrow view of what kind of woman we talk about when we discuss female leadership and success.

It needs to be acknowledged that this event had several barriers to entry that prevented the summit from being accessible to everyone. The $20 entry fee was an economic barrier for many lower-income students and women, and while there were scholarships offered, it is still likely that this fee was a deterrent for some. The entry fee also sent the message, whether intentional or otherwise, that this was an event for women with the means to pay an entrance fee.

The racial makeup of both the event organizers and panelists was also strongly biased towards the perspectives of white women. While women of color did participate, eight of the ten student organizers were white, and 17 out of the 24 panelists were white. It is possible that the event planners made a conscious effort to include a diverse array of voices, but when a space is so dominated by the perspectives of white women, it reinforces the larger structural dynamic that white voices matter more than voices of color.

These dynamics of race and class impacted the perception of the event, as well as those who felt comfortable attending and participating. I spoke with many friends who decided not to attend the summit because they felt their voices and perspectives would not be adequately represented. One friend, who did attend, left after the first hour, saying, “I didn’t feel that a lot of the topics I engage with when I talk about feminism, like class struggles that affect women, labor rights, and race in particular, were being addressed at all.” She went on to say, ”I sensed that the conference would be talking about your more typical ‘Lean In’ and one-percent feminism, which in my opinion is inherently oppressive and exclusive of the large percentage of women who really do need to be talked about when we talk about gender discrimination.” “One-percent feminism” is generally defined as feminism that focuses mainly on the needs of white, socioeconomically privileged women pursuing more traditional kinds of success.

Any event on campus that aims to further women’s leadership and empowerment needs to better represent the voices of all women. While I am a white woman, racism and racial politics in the workplace matter to me because dismantling racism and supporting my fellow women matters to me. An optional session during the summit on “Women of Color” is not sufficient because everyone should hear the voices of women of color, not just the few who choose to listen.

Similarly, focusing on traditional ideas of high-powered success is not sufficient, as it does not include or acknowledge the realities and struggles of working class and poor women. In the fight for gender justice we cannot just be concerned with the struggles of women who occupy space within mainstream, socioeconomically privileged feminism. Fighting for a national living wage and fair conditions in the workplace is as important to me as fighting for my own fair pay, and that should be reflected in all feminist spaces.

Transwomen also need to be engaged in these conversations, as they face unique struggles in the workplace that should be of concern to every person who claims to support the empowerment of women. Any event that supports women’s leadership needs to include the varied perspectives of women of color, poor and working class women, transwomen, and all the other women whose voices were not heard or adequately represented by the Own It Summit. Without these voices, our movement will only support women who are already privileged in many other areas of their lives. To achieve true justice and support all women, we need to engage and listen to voices that the GUWIL Own It Summit did not represent.

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Reacting to the Red Light District

11 Apr

by Nicole Chenelle

When I say that I spent a week in Amsterdam during my semester abroad, most people respond with something along the lines of, “Oh! So did you see the Red Light district?” coupled with wide eyes and giggles. I spent the week in Amsterdam with my Prostitution and the Sex Trade class. We met with NGOs, government organizations, and former sex workers to discuss the status of sex work within the Netherlands. I definitely saw the Red Light district.

This week-long trip to Amsterdam with my Prostitution and the Sex Trade class was the reason I chose to study abroad at the Danish Institute of Study Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. As a women’s and gender studies minor at Georgetown, the idea of studying prostitution in countries were it is legal was exciting. I had never engaged with prostitution academically, and I was looking forward to the opportunity to study the issue through a lens of legality. My Prostitution and the Sex Trade course included a three-day intensive study in our home base of Copenhagen, where prostitution is legal, a three-day trip to Sweden, where prostitution is legal but the client is criminalized, and this week-long trip to Amsterdam, where brothels, as well as prostitution, is legal.

The Red Light district of Amsterdam cannot be ignored. Centrally located around the city’s oldest church, the Red Light district demands that you notice the sex work happening all around you. Whether it’s the beckoning of the dolled-up women in the windows, the neon lights advertising sex shows, or rainbow-colored condoms hanging in the windows of the Condomerie, sex permeates the atmosphere of Amsterdam. The Red Light district is both a neighborhood which celebrates sex and pleasure and one who’s glitter and lipstick camouflages exploitation and human trafficking.

The majority of our class discussions and my own personal musings come back to this question – can you separate freely chosen sex work versus the trafficking of human beings for the purposes of sexual exploitation? Can sex work even be chosen, or do the economic motivators limit the agency of this choice? How can we, or should we even, aid the Eastern European girls in the windows whose boyfriends would legally qualify as pimps? How do we stop the human rights violation of trafficking while allowing individuals to sell sex if that is what they so chose? Is sex work just another form of labor, or is there something about sex which makes it inherently different? These are questions I have spent my semester abroad contemplating, questions that activists and lawmakers have spent their whole careers thinking about, without coming to an obvious conclusion.

Learning about the sex industry in Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands has made my ignorance about the sex trade in the United States glaring apparent. I know prostitution is illegal in the majority of the United States, but it still exists. Criminalizing the prostitute herself (or himself, but most often herself) does nothing but create a cycle of criminality. Marring these women with a criminal record does the opposite of helping them exit the sex industry, but instead, makes getting a job in another profession near impossible. Is the Nordic model, or the criminalization of the customer, the solution for the United States? Criminalizing the men who purchase sex rather than the women themselves is a step in the right direction, yet I worry that the Nordic model merely plays lip-service to the ideal of eradicating prostitution rather than enacting real change. I find myself leaning towards supporting the legalization of prostitution, yet fear that legalization would encourage sex traffickers to do their business in that country. The more I study prostitution and the sex trade, the more I come to appreciate the complexity and nuances of this issue, and the more I recognize that anyone who has a simple solution isn’t thinking hard enough.

Tired

7 Apr

by Anonymous

I should be angry. I should be enraged and impassioned. I should be motivated to fight and struggle. But I’m not. I’m simply too tired.

I’m tired of going to my evolutionary biology class. Tired of being a gay in person in a space where all we talk about is critical importance of heterosexual mating behavior. Homosexual animal behavior was alluded to once – as something bonobos do for fun in their spare time. I’m tired of my sexual orientation being reduced to an outlier in the data.

I’m tired of hearing professors casually use the word “rape” in classes containing survivors of sexual assault.

I’m tired of being warned to avoid certain professors because they’re sexist. (Does anyone even ever say that to male students?)

I’m tired of people believing that my painted nails and long hair tell them anything substantive about me.

I’m tired of explaining why a lesbian cares so much about reproductive choice.

I’m tired of that little bit of discomfort every time I write or say “mi novia” in my Spanish classes.

I’m tired of going to parties with my straight friends and being the only one that doesn’t get the option of a hook-up (I enjoy sex just as much as everyone else.)

I’m tired of my dreams of motherhood being tainted by the extraordinary cost of IVF and the logistic and bureaucratic nightmare of the adoption process.

I’m tired of feeling feminist shame every time I enjoy a TV show or movie that happens to include female characters that personify lofty western beauty standards.

I’m tired of being asked if I have a boyfriend. The answer is always going to be no, no matter how much you’d like to define me by relationships with men.

I’m tired of knowing how much more likely I am to be raped that my hetero best friend. I didn’t do anything to deserve this.

I’m tired of knowing how likely it is that my hetero best friend will be raped before we graduate. She didn’t do anything to deserve this either.

I’m tired of explaining why feminism is still relevant.

I’m tired of being told I talk too much about “women’s issues.” You can bet that no matter how tired I get, I will never stop talking.

Are Allies Entitled to a Voice? To Self-Care?

24 Feb

by Kat Kelley

Despite the oppression I face as a woman, I derive privilege from many of my identities- I am white, a member of the Georgetown community, and- on the spectrums / in the spheres of gender identity and sexual orientation- I pretty much identify and present as cisgendered and heterosexual.

I’m also pretty good at being a feminist, within my communities, but I’m pretty subpar at intersectionality. I have struggled to find my voice as an ‘ally’ on issues that affect marginalized identities that do not define me.

Thus, I’ve made an effort to shut up and education myself, two leading pieces of advice on allyship from Mia McKenzie, founding editor and editor-in-chief of Black Girl Dangerous. McKenzie argues that ally is not a valid title or identity but a “practice,” an “active thing.” She continues on to say that it is ‘exhausting’ and that it “ought to” be, “because the people who experience racism, misogyny, ableism, queerphobia, transphobia, classism, etc. are exhausted. So, why shouldn’t their ‘allies’ be?”

This piece both challenged and rejuvenated my constant regular but inconsistent attempts at allyship. I absolutely agree that I am not entitled to the term ‘ally,’ and actually prefer McKenzie’s interpretation. I fuck up at social justice all the time and often ‘retreat’ into my privilege in the name of self-care. I feel fraudulent as an ‘ally’ every time I ‘pick my battles,’ every time I decide to ignore racist, ableist, heteronormative, or gendernormative microagressions.

I certainly do not want to misrepresent McKenzie’s words; she did not explicitly say that allies are not entitled to a voice or to self-care. I did, however, interpret her words to imply that the role for allies’ voices is limited, and that self-care is a privilege for individuals not experiencing a particular kind of oppression, and that instead of seeking self-care we should resign ourselves to exhaustion.

After reading her article, I immediately felt discomfort at her words, in large part due to the fact that my approach to social justice began in 2009, when I became a sexual assault crisis counselor, speaking to survivors of sexual assault on a 24-hour crisis hotline- a position in which self-care is vital. However, being called out on your privilege is uncomfortable, and often elicits a defensive response. I thought that I may just be reacting negatively to her words because of that privilege, because of how convenient it is to retreat into my privilege when I’m exhausted, or trying to maintain a relationship, or trying to study for a midterm or when I’m trying to cope with my own experiences of oppression.

Ultimately, I think we –members of social justice movements – should recognize that for the sustainability, mainstream acceptance (which is unfortunately a pretty valuable thing), and growth of our movements, we need to make a space for part-time allies. I don’t mean that we should validate the allyship of anyone who shares the HRC equality sign on their facebook page, but if someone listens to call-outs when they fuck up, if they strive to be better allies, if they don’t actively perpetuate privilege and oppression, I want them on my team.

Why? People of privileged identities are not entitled to the safe spaces of people of marginalized identities, and they certainly aren’t entitled to a voice in those spaces. However, social justice work is complex and the roles within a given movement are diverse. We need bridge people just as much as we need radical voices that won’t budge. We need people who can do ‘translation’ work, and leverage their privilege and reach the spaces in which they are accepted due to their seemingly-less radical beliefs.

This is coming from someone who six months ago was drunk-crying to her best friend soul mate, partner in feminism, utter idol and inspiration, Erin Riordan, saying “I’m not radical enough.” But ultimately, the Erins of the world could not uproot the patriarchy alone any more than the Kats could. While Erin is unapologetic and uncompromising (weirdly enough those words, just like ‘radical’ don’t always have a positive connotation; to me they are the highest compliments I can give), I could spend hours talking to a misogynist, meeting them where they are, facilitating their break down and challenging of their own biases. While my beliefs are ‘radical’ my approaches are more mainstream, more socially palatable.

We need the Erins of the world to call out HRC for sucking at incorporating trans rights and justice into their work, and we need the HRC equality sign all over Facebook to ensure that LGBTQ-youth know that a portion of their friends support (some of) their rights, so that bigots know that they can’t get away with saying ‘faggot’ in front of many of their peers. The invalidating oversimplification of these roles would be to label them as ‘prinicpled’ vs. ‘pragmatic,’ but ultimately no movement can succeed if they forget those most marginalized or if they alienate the mainstream members of their community.

We need casual allies, we need bridge people, not to speak ‘on behalf’ of people of marginalized identities, but to work within their communities, and encourage people of their privileged identities to recognize, check, and dismantle those privileges.

While I love intra-feminist dialogue, it can be frustrating to talk with individuals who don’t self-identify as feminists and whom need convincing that feminism is relevant, who invalidate the microaggressions I regularly experience as a woman. Allies have an invaluable role to play in validating the experiences of people of marginalized identities to people of privileged identities. I don’t need a man to tell me that my experiences are valid, but other men may respond well to their peers acknowledging that my experiences are valid and that I’m not just sensitive / overreacting / hyperaware.

Finally, self-care is vital to the sustainability of a movement, or of an individual’s work within a movement. Radicalism is more ‘popular’ or tenable in youth because burnout is real. Nonprofits that don’t enable and encourage their employees to practice self-care see debilitating levels of employee turnover.

It’s okay to turn off your feminist lens for 30 minutes to watch TV produced in our rape culture. It’s okay to not call your uncle out for racial microaggressions because you want to enjoy Thanksgiving. It’s okay to prioritize you over ‘the’ movement every now and then. Self-care isn’t selfish, self-care is sustainable.

Audre Lorde selfcare

The Obruni Diaries: A Break from Expectation

6 Nov

by Allyn Faenza

This weekend, nine of us on my program traveled to an area known as Bonwire, which is a small town outside of Kumasi, Ghana. We were divided into small groups and placed with families that spoke little English; we stayed for three days and two nights. We did our best to integrate ourselves into their families by cooking meals, playing with the children, observing the parents in the markets, and attending church services if we felt comfortable. The trip was intended to be an experience for us to learn how Ghanaians in rural villages use their resources to make a living and to see how village life compares to the city life in Accra. And it was just that and much, much more…

A large topic of conversation in my sociology, theology, and history classes at the University of Ghana is the role of women in the Ghanaian family structure of the past and present. The message I keep getting is that wives are largely responsible for housework, cooking, and childrearing, while husbands are expected to leave the home each day to earn the family’s income. Women may work, but they are very rarely the breadwinners for the family; if they do earn the main source of income for their families, it would be emasculating for the man to admit it is so. I have heard students and professors reaffirm these gender roles, and often males and females make no dispute that these roles are the “natural” or “proper” roles for wives and husbands.

With this knowledge of Ghanaian culture in my rearview, I expected to see nothing different in my rural home stay, but my expectations shifted suddenly when I met a two-year old named Hattim Muhammed and his father. This weekend my friend Kaela and I shared a home with small family of three children plus their father and mother. Also at the home were the family’s son-in-law and his son Hattim, who were staying at the home for a long visit. However, during the entire weekend, Kaela and I never saw Hattim’s mother. Hattim’s father told me his wife was working in Accra as a nurse, and he was in charge of raising Hattim until they returned to Accra together as a family. I was so taken aback by this gender role swap that I forgot to ask more questions so I could better understand this family dynamic. Hattim and his father played with toys, ate meals, and practiced their English together. The two of them shared an intimate relationship that comes with comfort, respect, and love, which led me to believe that they have spent a good amount of time with one another. Perhaps this was a break in their normal parental roles, or perhaps it is exactly as it appears: the mother is the breadwinner for their family and the father raises Hattim and keeps house.

But what about those traditional gender roles fulfilled by mothers and fathers that my classmates and professors talk about being inherent in Ghanaian culture? Is Hattim’s family the norm or the exception? What would Ghanaians have to say about this family?

This situation was the first time I have seen a father alone with his child. I always see women carrying their babies or young children, and on the rare occasion I see a man carrying a child, his wife is never far behind. Hattim’s family was a dramatic break from my previous experience and education on familial relations in Ghana. I still have questions about this family, but what I am beginning to understand is that Ghanaian culture is very complex and ever-changing. While women in the workplace and men in the home may be the cultural norm of the past and present and future, their roles may be more flexible than I originally thought. I must keep in mind that Ghana is not in a vacuum, completely unaffected by the current trends of international integration of values, norms, expectations, and products. Ghanaians are changing to meet the demands of their country, and slowly but surely this also means Ghanaian families are stepping up to gender normativity to meet the demands of their jobs and children despite traditional roles.

This piece is part of a weekly column about the author’s experiences abroad in Ghana.

How JUPS Changed My Life

3 Nov

by Margaux Nielsen

I fervently believe that everyone should take at least one Justice and Peace Studies (JUPS) class during their time at Georgetown. Full disclosure: I was peripherally involved in the recent formation of the JUPS major, so I may be a little biased. On the other hand, I took my first JUPS class on a whim, and it completely challenged and transformed the way I think – so I may be an example of how important and powerful JUPS can be.

JUPS provides you with a different lens—a different perspective on the world and its problems. Johan Galtung’s conflict triangle, depicting the interconnectedness of direct, structural, and cultural violence, is one of the most significant and foundational concepts in JUPS. In a nutshell, Galtung argues that violence exists in forms other than physical, direct violence. Cultural and structural violence are imbedded in the system, largely unseen but intensely felt. Cultural violence is the intolerance for people who “refuse” to learn English and the dearth of non-whites in media and popular culture. Structural violence is the state of our inner-city public schools and the way men and women assess a woman’s appearance and judge accordingly. These covert forms of violence surround us and influence the way we think and act. JUPS causes you to examine, if not outright challenge, their prevalence and influence in our lives.

Concepts like Galtung’s pushed me to reassess the world around me. And as I opened my eyes to subtle systems of oppression, I realized my place within them. I realized that as a white woman I experience privilege and oppression simultaneously. While I have the opportunities and social standing given to whites in a society structured by white supremacy, I also experience the invisibility and objectification faced by women in a patriarchal society. Both realities helped me to confront the white supremacy latent within me, a constantly ongoing process, and identify myself firmly as a feminist. I credit my life-changing personal growth to JUPS and to the people who teach and take its classes. Both the material itself and the intelligent people who digest it have confronted me with the oppression faced by people different from me and people like me, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Once JUPS introduced me to the idea that structural violence contributes to and sustains inequalities, I saw it all around me. Since my boyfriend and I have become a recognizable couple on campus, many men seem perplexed as to how to interact with me. It seems that if I can’t be treated as a sexual object, I can’t be treated as anything at all. And so, in many – especially male-dominated – social interactions, I stand next to my boyfriend invisible.

“Hi, I’m John.”

He extends his hand to my boyfriend, arm around my shoulder to the right of me. Then, a hesitation. I look directly at him, waiting for the expected, standard introduction. But he doesn’t look at me. Instead, his gaze clumsily stumbles to the ground until it turns to my friend Will.

“Hi, I’m John.”

He extends his hand to Will, to the left of me. Then, he walks away, without even a first glance at me.

I wish I could assure myself that it was an isolated incident, just social awkwardness or a harmless oversight. But it happens all the time. In groups where I am the only woman, I stand physically in the circle but socially outside of it. Conversation flows back and forth, but no one even looks at me, let alone speaks to me. I never realized how much I valued eye contact until I was denied it. Eye contact is so much more than a look; it is recognition, appreciation, respect, and humanity. When I stand in a group that looks at one another but never at me, I can’t help but feel inferior – like my voice and self are not even worth a listen or a glance. No matter how often I speak up or how many faces I defiantly stare into, my comments are dismissed and my looks ignored. Roughly around the fifth separate occasion that the members of these groups interact with me, I am begrudgingly admitted into the circle and bestowed with a glance every now and then or even an occasional chuckle at one of my remarks.

Unfortunately, most of my interactions with most men are tainted by the structural violence of patriarchy and sexism and their dehumanizing implications. JUPS prompted me not only to notice this behavior but also to understand it. Just as I have been raised with the ideology of white supremacy, men have been raised with the ideology of male superiority. Television, film, advertisements, teachers, mothers, fathers, and friends have, both explicitly and implicitly, taught them that women should be beautiful, thin, agreeable, quiet, and obedient. Even though most people would not deny that women can be plain, chubby, assertive, ambitious, and assertive, it is not what we should be or what we are expected to be. And so, women are treated like the one-dimensional objects that society depicts them as. If everyone always told you that dogs hate chicken, you would assume it was true, even as their eyes beg for the drumstick on your plate.

And so, I return to my most fervent belief: everyone should take a JUPS class. Black and white, rich and poor, SFS and MSB, men and women, and everyone that falls in between those stale dichotomies. Structural and cultural violence create both oppressors and oppressed, and we all need to work together to ensure that we are neither. Though the task is undeniably daunting on both a personal and societal level, we can and must apply the JUPS lens to collectively topple the violence that surrounds us and establish the stable, positive peace that each and every one of us deserves. So please, take that first JUPS class, whether it ends up being a random elective, a minor, or a major, I promise it will impact you for years to come. And I mean, pre-registration starts November 4th, so you can take that first step sooner rather than later.

Problematizing “Coming Out”

11 Oct

by Emily Coccia

Imagine this scenario: a group of self-identified queer women gather together to talk. They come up with topics of discussion, with issues that concern them. But these topics, while important, are never the common bond, the shared experience; instead, they are the areas of division within this already small community. Rather than looking for a shared discourse, a language common to all, they focus on areas of ever-greater marginalization. And as important as those are on an individual basis, one must ask: How is it possible that half of the group leaves disheartened, wondering why in a group that should be their own, there was nothing that applied to them? In a circle with an already-narrow common denominator, why did they feel like they didn’t belong?

As National Coming Out Day rolls by and Georgetown’s LGBTQ groups host events in Red Square, I have to stop and wonder: are we doing more harm than good? When we excessively and compulsively label ourselves, creating ever-narrower bounds for our identity, do we actually seal ourselves off from the possibilities inherent in human existence?

Perhaps this is a side effect of being a student in Intro to Queer Theory, of reading as Foucault problematizes the notion of “coming out,” of revealing the secret, the one secret that defines our identity. As I navigate LGBTQ-labeled spaces, I fail to find a spot for myself. I see people so sure of their identities that they come, not with an L, G, B, T, or Q, but with a list of four or five more designators. And while I can certainly respect this pride and refusal to stand by the norm, I still can’t help but feel that this might not be helping anyone. I feel compelled to buy into this specification, to label myself and box myself into some neat category. I feel how easy (relatively speaking) it would be to take a broad survey and check off the categories that apply to me, to know precisely who I am and who I want as a partner (be that relationship platonic, multiple, or nonexistent).

But frankly, that would be a lie. I don’t want a box. I don’t want a label. I don’t want to “find” myself in a dictionary definition. Instead, I want possibility—an openness to love and happiness, whatever form that might take. I want to find myself on a broad “lesbian continuum” with Adrienne Rich. I want to stand and queer the notions of femininity and masculinity with Judith Butler. I want to talk about the false dichotomy of binaries and the linguistic problems of labels with Eve Sedgwick.

On National Coming Out Day, that’s not the point. The point is to find pride in an identity, to find pride in community—and that’s a beautiful moment. It’s an amazing feeling of pride that emerges from seeing how far Georgetown as a community and America writ large has come. But I can’t help but worry that when the rainbow flags get folded back up, when the door is disassembled, when the day comes to a close, that we will be left with labels that separate and segregate us within an already small community and with specified identities that may close us off from the possibilities of love and happiness standing among the disparate community left around of us.