Must Read: Feminism for Real

Last week I received my copy of Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Copy of Feminism, edited by Jessica Yee, a  “Two Spirit multi-racial Indigenous hip hop feminist reproductive justice freedom fighter,” who founded the Native Youth Sexual Health Network.

If you follow this blog regularly you’ll know I read a lot. But this book has been more important for changing how I think about my feminist activism than all the books I’ve read in the last year combined. You can read some preview excerpts at the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives’ website (they’re also the book’s publishers), but I would really encourage you to buy the book and read the whole thing for yourself.

Feminism For Real is aimed at people who “haven’t yet engaged with feminist dialogue or academia”, and also people like me: the privileged, straight, white Women’s Studies set of feminists. But as Ashley at Bitch writes: “This book does not require you to have studied feminist theory in academia, and explains to us that mainstream feminism shouldn’t either.” Yee and the book’s contributors are mostly people who have been sidelined in some way from mainstream feminism and its academic ties – through race, sexual orientation, gender expression, colonialism, and/or class. The book’s writers have different backgrounds and different views on the possibilities of academia to ever be a site of social change – some believe real feminists should just say no to the Academy and join real grassroots movements, while others believe there are feminist academics trying their best who just need to do a better job  examining the problems they often unwittingly reinforce by being part of the Academy.

It’s not a hate on of academia or feminism, but it challenges us to look at how bogus our claims of women’s empowerment sometimes are when they’re built on unexamined privilege and unquestioning acceptance of white people’s knowledge.

Reading other reviews of this book on Bitch magazine blogs and elsewhere in the feminist blogosphere, I’ve seen a lot of people respond with really defensive comments. And I’ll admit that it is hard to read the book without getting a bit defensive. It’s hard not to read examples of how people felt marginalized in their Women’s Studies classes without thinking, “Well the classes at my school weren’t like that, so this has nothing to do with me.”

But the more I read, the more I realized that I am complicit, and besides, as a straight, white, middle-class feminist with an academic background, I’m the last person who should be evaluating how inclusive the academy is, or how successful it is at breaking down inequalities. It’s up to me to take responsibility for my privilege and try to make changes and become a true ally, but it won’t be up to me to say if I’ve succeeded. One contributor in Feminism For Real talks about their “blood memory” as a First Nations person – the memory of how you and your ancestors were treated and continue to be treated under colonialism.

I don’t have “blood memory”. My Scottish grandfather was never put in a residential school. My British grandmother was never told her children would lose their legal ethnic status if she married a non-British man. My British grandfather was never forced into slavery. My Swiss grandmother was not forced to pay a head tax when she came to Canada.

Not only did my ancestors not experience these things, I continue to profit off legacies of inequality.

That’s why I needed to read this book, and why I have to try to implement the recommendations made in the last section by Krysta Williams and Ashling Ligate for “Deconstructing Dialogue in Feminist Education”. I’ve examined my privilege in previous blog posts, but it’s something I have to work on every day, and I thought Williams and Ligate had some fantastic suggestions. I won’t give them all here because I think you should get the book and check them out yourself, but I’ll end off mentioning a few in particular that are ones I need to keep working on:

  • “DO be ready to take on “menial” tasks for communities you are trying to “ally” with.”- Williams & Ligate point out that being an ally can go really wrong if you’re always trying to take ownership of the struggle or the issues.
  • “Recognize that despite everything, communities that are labelled as “oppressed” or are struggling, are still vibrant, alive and thriving in whatever ways they can.” Don’t let recognizing struggle lead you to make out these communities as victims incapable of acting for themselves.
  • “DON’T pretend that you are separate from systems of oppression.”
  • “DO acknowledge that every issue is someone’s lived experience and open yourself to empathize with their pain and struggles without being creepy. Be real.”This goes back to the desire to say, “Well that wasn’t how I experienced it” or “I didn’t see that happening so you’re wrong.” Even if you didn’t see it, the other person’s experience is real and valid.

-Jarrah

 

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Racism 1 Comment

Women in Bangladesh: Freaks in the City

Dhaka, Bangladesh

by Farah Ghuznavi. This article was originally published in the Star Weekend Magazine, Bangladesh. Reprinted with permission.

Like any 21st-century metropolis, the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka has its darker side. To be fair, with an impossible population density, crumbling infrastructure, gritty urban poverty coexisting alongside extreme wealth, and the general absence of public service provision, that is hardly surprising. In recent years, the city’s inhabitants have been struggling with rising crime rates, but it remains a relatively safe city for foreigners.

Anyway, fears of crime aside there are any number of oddballs to be encountered in my hometown – as a friend of mine recently found out first hand. Nadiya is a feminist writer, poet and translator, and very much a free spirit. She is in the habit of taking morning walks with a friend in one of the city’s few remaining parks, a pleasant place where a number of people congregate in the early hours of the day to take their daily constitutional.

A couple of months ago Nadiya was walking in the park in the early morning, dressed in her tracksuit and doing her own thing. She was approached unexpectedly by an older man who accosted her, and began a tirade – “What’s wrong with you, woman? Why are you out so early in the morning, dressed indecently in order to lead astray the young men who are here to exercise?”

Initially, Nadiya was moderate in her response, simply saying, “Listen, I am minding my own business, and I suggest that you mind yours!”

Unfortunately, this man was clearly agitated and continued, “Look at you! You have short hair like a man; you are dressed like a man. I suppose you have a job too! So you probably think that you’re just as good as a man!”

At this point, Nadiya understandably lost it saying, “Nobody else in this park is looking at me, or has had anything bad to say about how I dress! So why are you looking at me?! If you want to look at something, I suggest you go home and take the burqa off your wife – whom you probably insist on keeping well covered at all times – and look at her instead!” Leaving him speechless with apoplectic rage, she stalked off.

In fact, Nadiya was so angry herself that she made a full circle of the route and very quickly found herself again walking on the path just behind him. Apparently, the “gentleman” is a regular at that park, so when his friends began to arrive for their morning walks, they invariably greeted him; and he was then forced to turn back to acknowledge them. Inevitably, he caught her eye almost every time he did that. And whenever he turned back, Nadiya said, in a tone that left no room for misunderstanding, “Don’t you look at me, mister…You just keep looking straight ahead! Don’t you dare look back at me!” Read more

Posted on by Farah Ghuznavi in Feminism Leave a comment

FFFF: What Would Buffy Do?

Today’s Friday Feminist Funny Film is a cute music video called What Would Buffy Do?

Because let’s face it, high school sucks for most people in one way or another. And Buffy philosophy can help you stand up for yourself and beat the suckage.

Happy Friday – have a great weekend!

-Jarrah

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in FFFF, Pop Culture Leave a comment

Women in Bangladesh: Rejecting Ridicule, Demanding Respect

Rush hour in Dhaka

by Farah Ghuznavi. This post was originally published in the Star Weekend Magazine, Bangladesh. Reprinted with permission.

Using virtually any form of transport in Dhaka, Bangladesh can be a hazardous enterprise. Not only because of the recklessness of drivers – or even the chaos created by the combination of buses, trucks, private cars, three-wheeled auto-rickshaws, rickshaws and the occasional sleepwalking pedestrian jostling each other for space on the roads – but because the variety of individuals you are likely to encounter covers a wide range of “chirias”. This is a term commonly used in Bangladesh to refer to weirdoes (and interestingly enough, ties in nicely with the term “chiria-khana” which means “zoo”).

And on the subject of exotic animals, bus rides in particular can be the equivalent of a virtual safari; albeit considerably less appealing and more than averagely weighted in terms of predators. While the diversity of likely encounters is considerable, there are occasions on which it gets as rowdy as feeding time at the zoo, particularly reminiscent of the Monkey House (providing, if needed, irrefutable proof of our cousinhood with simians). A colleague of mine, Sharmin, was widely admired for her ability to retain her sense of humour in the face of adverse circumstances. However, as she herself admitted, her daily bus rides to work invariably tried even her exceptionally sunny disposition.

Most days, she reduced us to fits of horrified laughter by describing incidents that she had witnessed or participated in during those trips. Through it all, she kept smiling. One day, when I asked her the reason behind her continued good humour, she let me in on a secret. Opening her handbag, she whipped out a rather large, lethal-looking safety pin “You know, no matter how hard you try, very often somebody will try to touch you on the bus. The problem is, it’s usually so crowded that you can’t even see the person who’s doing it. Therefore, when I find any hand suddenly materialising on any part of my body, I don’t bother asking questions anymore. I just use this!” That was the day I realised that Sharmin’s radiant smile masked a steely determination to dispense suitably rough justice to predators on public transport.

Sharmin’s experiences date back several years, but Polly, another friend, has since updated me on the current state of affairs. She works as a mobile physiotherapy provider, and frequently uses Dhaka buses to get her from one place to another. Polly is a feisty, and in my opinion, rather brave young woman. Unlike many women who become so embarrassed that they would rather ignore harassment than fight back, Polly does not pull her punches. On occasion, literally! Read more

Posted on by Farah Ghuznavi in Feminism Leave a comment

Bridesmaids: Achievement for Women?

Ever since the movie Bridesmaids was announced, the feminist blogosphere has been abuzz with speculation about the first women-oriented “bromance”-style movie. The movie opened in theatres in Canada last Friday and I had a chance to go see it this weekend so thought I’d weigh in on the discussion.

Bridesmaids is a new comedy from Judd Apatow, written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, and directed by Paul Feig. The plot revolves around Annie (Wiig), a single woman who’s in a casual relationship with a douchey guy (Jon Hamm) and who’s struggling to get back on her feet after her bakery business folded. Things take a turn for the even worse when her friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged and asks Annie to be her Maid of Honour. Annie accepts and joins the eclectic bridal party, including super-rich diva-esque Helen (Rose Byrne) and other bridesmaids played by Wendi McLendon-Covey, Melissa McCarthy, and Ellie Kemper.

One thing that distinguishes Bridesmaids from other wedding-oriented romcoms is its yuck factor (including the food poisoning scene covered in the trailer):

The toilet humour moments and the number of sex jokes are part of what’s led to some calling Bridesmaids The Hangover for Women”. A lot of feminist and women’s blogs like Jezebel and The Mary Sue praised Bridesmaids for blazing a new trail for women’s comedy and succeeding where other women-centric movies have failed.

So first, the good stuff about Bridesmaids:

  • The movie easily passes the Bechdel test. Even though the movie is wedding-focused it’s almost more about women and their friendships. Annie spends a lot of time talking with Lillian, Helen, and the other bridesmaids about things that aren’t related to men. One thing I really liked was that in at least a couple of scenes (one scene where the characters are post-workout and another where Lillian is crying), the movie showed the women with less makeup than you’d usually see in a mainstream Hollywood movie. Seeing more of the tiny “flaws” made the characters seem more real.
  • It shows weddings in all their insanity.Bridesmaids isn’t anti-wedding, per se, but it does show all the insanity that surrounds huge, expensive weddings. Annie, who’s broke, bears the brunt of it when she’s constantly forced to shell out for Maid of Honour responsibilities like buying a bridesmaid’s dress and organizing a shower and bachelorette party.
  • Kristen Wiig is hilarious. I didn’t think Bridesmaids was the funniest movie I’d ever seen, but it had a few great scenes, mostly because of Kristen Wiig’s awesome use of facial expressions. I particularly liked her drunk scene on the plane and her reaction when she finds out Maya Rudolph’s character is engaged. Other notable acting mentions to Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne.

Now, the critique:

  • It’s unoriginal. As Kjerstin at Bitch Magazine blogs points out: “While this film is garnering comparisons to The Hangover and not, say, The Brothers Karamazov, it’s like the six leading (mostly white) women were given a bucket of character and when they had to divvy it up, each had barely enough personality to fill a single high-heeled shoe.” The movie is rife with cliched stereotypes and jokes about diarrhea aren’t exactly creative. The only thing that makes it different is that the plot’s happening to women characters.
  • It portrays singledom as pathetic. Can’t go into this too much without getting into spoilers. Let’s just say Annie’s the only character that shows both sanity and a degree of independence but even she has a lot of insecurity over being single.
  • It’s only good because the bar’s set so low. Bridesmaids is not revolutionary and it’s not an achievement for women. I found it enjoyable, but it’s sad that this is considered so groundbreaking given the fact that it follows so many character cliches and has such a lack of clever humour. It’s also sad that the future of comedies not centred around straight, white men may hinge on the commercial success of Bridesmaids, given that I wouldn’t say it reached a pinnacle of movie quality, even for light comedies.

Bridesmaids isn’t an achievement for women. If anything, it reinforces the idea that women have to prove they can be as funny as men, in a style developed by men. That said, it was a nice break from the bromances and it was enjoyable and funny enough that I can still recommend it.

-Jarrah

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Pop Culture 5 Comments

The Round-Up: May 17, 2011

Here’s some great links we came across in the past week:

 

-Jarrah

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Fighting Homophobia in Burnaby Schools

On June 14th, the Burnaby Board of Education will vote on a proposed anti-homophobia and heterosexism policy, Policy 5.45. If it passes, Burnaby will become the 13th school district in BC to adopt such a policy. The goal of the policy is “To ensure that all members of the school community learn to work together in an atmosphere of respect and safety, free from homophobia, transphobia, antigay harassment and or/exclusion regardless of their sexual orientation of gender identity”.

It sounds like a bit of a no-brainer; who wouldn’t want to pass a policy designed to foster respect and safety? Yet no policy ever debated by the School Board has caused such uproar as this one.

The Burnaby Teachers Association (BTA) first pointed out the horrible bullying faced by gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, and questioning students and teachers twenty-one years ago. The BTA suggested at the time that the School Board should adopt an anti-homophobia and transphobia policy to make Burnaby schools safer and more inclusive for everyone. The School Board ignored the issue, but the BTA resurrected it in 1999. Again, their request was ignored.

Meanwhile, LGBTQ students and teachers continued to be bullied, verbally and physically abused, and sometimes even assaulted for their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

In 2001, four men with baseball bats beat Aaron Webster to death simply because he was gay. The identities of the murderers weren’t discovered until 2003, but it was proven that all four were youths from Burnaby, and two of them were under eighteen. They had driven 45 minutes to Stanley Park to have some “sport” beating up gay men. Once again, people pointed to the rampant homophobia in Burnaby schools, but it wasn’t until 2009 that the Burnaby Board of Education finally did something about the issue.

The Burnaby Board of Education spent two years putting together a draft anti-homophobia and heterosexism policy. They posted it on their website as a Notice of Motion. They sent information on the draft policy out to all of the PACs, and the District Parent Advisory Committee. They even made sure the policy got front-page coverage in both of the local papers: the Burnaby Now and the Burnaby Newsleader.

However, just when the policy was set to pass, anti-gay protesters showed up, arguing that they hadn’t been informed about the policy and accusing the School Board of having a hidden agenda. Flyers went out from an organization called Parents Voice, accusing the Burnaby School Board of trying to indoctrinate youth into becoming gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or transsexual.

At the last two meetings of the Burnaby School Board, protesters showed up to speak against the proposed anti-homophobia and heterosexism policy. Some had Bible verses written on placards, while others waved signs with sayings like “Respect Parental Rights”.

However, at the following School Board meeting on May 10th, students countered the protesters with their own rally, chanting “Five-Four-Five! Let the gays thrive!”

After the meeting, I sat down to talk with a number of the student  demonstrators. A couple of them identified as either gay or bi, but most were straight students out to show their support for their LGBTQ friends, classmates, and teachers. One of them pointed out, “They want us to respect parental rights, but what about student rights? We’re the ones who have to go to school every day. We’re the ones who have to watch our friends get bullied in the hallways just for being gay.”

The opponents of Policy 5.45 may feel that Burnaby schools teaching that homosexuality is not a sin somehow impedes their rights as parents, but who’s answering the question the very intelligent Moscrop student pointed out: what about student rights?

What about the rights of students – all students – to feel safe in their schools? If education is compulsory, then does not our society have a duty to make schools as safe and welcoming as possible? If we do not take steps to make sure that our students feel safe and respected, valued and supported, than is compulsory education anything other than a prison for children?

Education is the foundation of society; no-one should be made to feel excluded. No-one should be bullied because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; no-one should feel that their community is invisible – or worse, does not exist. No-one should be made to feel alone because their school refuses to acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ people.

An anti-homophobia and heterosexism policy will do more than dealing with bullying, it will show LGBTQ students that they are not alone. It will help the School District tackle the high drop-out rates among LGBTQ students, as well as the high suicide rates. And although it may be too late to help Aaron Webster, it will help to ensure that no Burnaby youth ever again thinks it’s okay to beat up, assault, or murder another queer person.

-Kaitlin

Note: On June 14, a “Wave of Pink” rally is being organized in Burnaby in support of Policy 5.45. Get more info at the Facebook event page.

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, LGBT 4 Comments