My second post for the McGill Human Rights Interns blog is about how Canadian criminal law stigmatizes people living with HIV/AIDS by making non-disclosure of their status a criminal offence, without contextualizing their situation. I also discuss “Positive Women: Exposing Injustice,” a documentary film produced by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, which premiered two weeks ago.
All posts in category intersectionality
Posted by RK on June 28, 2012
So, I bought into the hype and started watching Girls. Do I like the show? Yes I do. But do I like the characters on that show? I don’t know about that. I’ve also been reading the critiques of the show with some interest. Like many things, the show has created a lot of oppositional politics – some have declared Lena Dunham’s creation as a feminist show, while for others it’s just “pandering, privileged dross“, and others it’s yet another show that is too white.
It seems that in the internet age, we should always have an opinion about something, and that opinion should be black and white. Maybe it’s because a headline like “Is Girls feminist?” “Is Girls a privileged piece of trash?” would inevitably get more page hits than a title like “I don’t know how I feel: can Girls can be many things at once?” And I get it, I get that websites and the writers that write for them must make money somehow, and that money comes from advertisers that pay money depending on page views. Since I have neither the need to generate page views nor see this as a “business”, I might as well say some conflicting opinions.
My first reaction to watching the first two episodes: I couldn’t help but hate all the characters for being so selfish, being so self-conscious, and also blind to their privileged status (such as: getting mad when Hannah’s parents told her that they were finally cutting her off, financially). I also acknowledge that hate came about because it hit a bit close to home – being overeducated, yet still having not much earning potential, etc. But I like the show; the conversation seems real, a lot of things happen, and people seem to be going through shitty times and yet funny things still happen. This is a lot like real life, for people like me and others in my social circle.
One commenter on this post (where produceer Teddy Zee questions the all-white cast of the show) said that Zee should be focusing his attention to class, rather than race. However, those things cannot be so neatly separated in our reality – to question whether something is classist must also invite the class-race correspondence in America.
To those that say the show is not “about” race: I get it. It’s tiring to talk about this all the time. But, I will just say this: maybe not everything is “about” something [insert women, race, class, whatever you'd like]. Sometimes, you know, it’s really hard to not notice the lack of an identity category that you belong to in these cultural products that are being proposed as the “voice of my generation”. If Girls, or any other show, is not “about” race but is about “society” or my “generation”, then I think it’s okay for me (and others) to bring up the fact that I cannot locate my identity categories reflected in these representations, without being faulted for being “too sensitive”.
Maybe we just get so excited when something deviates so slightly from the white, male, heteronormative and middle-class perspective that we tend to brush it with broad strokes of “PROGRESS!!!!!!” when in fact, it is progress with a caveat, or just a slight deviation.
Do I fault Lena Dunham personally for not including characters of colour? No. But is it valid to ask questions about why these types of shows that make the white, (upper-) middle-class, heteronormative stories keep getting told and picked in the media over others? I think so. Will I keep watching Girls? Most likely yes.
Posted by RK on April 27, 2012
The trailer for the film “Miss Representation” seems very promising in its exposure of media’s harmful effect on young women. I hope to see it in Montreal theatres soon. This also seems to have come at an appropriate time, right when I’m starting to doubt my own feminist orientation after an incident like the photo below:
The recent controversy surrounding the NYC Slutwalk involved a white woman marched with a sign that said “Woman is N***** of the World” – after the John Lennon/Yoko Ono duet. According to this Racialicious post, a black woman did ask the protester to take the sign down – but not before many pictures had already been taken.
Lots of good responses have been circulating on the internet already, like this one from Crunk Feminist Collective, so I’ll try not to be redundant.
It’s disconcerting to me that it took a woman of colour to point out the problem of the message. It also troubles me to see that some people are defending the sign because apparently John and Yoko had no racist intent (and here we are, talking about intention again).
Ever since I was 19 I’ve been calling myself a feminist. Yet, these days I find myself qualifying that word – I’m a feminist interested in anti-racist work, I’m a feminist interested in LGBTQ rights also, etc. If mainstream feminism is so race-blind that it takes a woman of colour to correct it, then where is the hope? If I continue to call myself a feminist will I just be a smattering of “diversity” at the mostly-white table of big-league feminists? I also see the insidious mark of capitalism seeping in, where feminism is now about book deals and speaking engagements at universities and/or luncheons that aren’t very accessible to those who might need it the most. Has feminism been co-opted so much that it’s only about expanding one’s social capital rather than growing a strong society? The proliferation of faux-”empowerment” books for women that has not translated into more representation of women in leadership positions in society certainly seems to indicate that. What have I, a 1.5-generation immigrant woman of colour, have actually done for women like me in the times I’ve called myself a feminist? Is it time to frame myself in another ‘-ism’ to actually give back to the community, rather than pat myself on the back for coming this far?
Posted by RK on October 13, 2011
As part of the Feminist Fashion Bloggers network, I am participating in the guest blogging challenge. Today’s post is brought to you by the lovely Claire of My Illustrative Life (where you will find my musings on being a feminist fashion blogger).
Having read Rosel’s post before thinking about what to write, I decided to just riff off her themes.
It’s interesting how many fashion bloggers (or bloggers who cover fashion) I know who did the opposite of identify with the fashion people during their teens. And who have spent a big chunk of their lives thinking that fashion was for the frivolous, that to be interested in looks and sartorial experimentation was to be guilty. Myself included, of course.
I spent a lot of time thinking that fashion meant “prescriptive” and that talking about fashion meant judging people by the rules of the moment. That’s what it seemed to mean at school, and in fashion magazines, and on fashion television. I spent a lot of time thinking that feminism wasn’t something we needed any more, but also thinking that girls, in general, were annoying. There are pros and cons to all-girls schooling, what can I say.
Fashion blogging didn’t make me accept feminism (this did) but it did do about sixty-five percent of the work in showing me that “female space” is not synonymous with “oh my goodness, oh my goodness, where is the door, I really really need to leave now”.
I think it’s interesting and maybe poignant that fashion blogging – easily and commonly enough categorised as self-indulgent, self-involved silly, shallow and pointless – has so much helped me (I am sure I am not alone) to unpack the assumptions and grudges that had built up behind my eyes – the kind that make a person a angry web of internalised sexism and contribute to the bigger, crueler gender-based societal problems that the ‘<i>serious</i>’ news blogs and feminist blogs cover.
Feminism, exploring feminism and other anti-kyriarchy policies, have made me a better clothes-wearer. I think more about why I like what I do, how I can wear things to say things, what I have the right or responsibility to wear and not wear.
Rosel said this, in her guest post over at my place:
“Which brings me to the point of why being part of the feminist fashion bloggers has been so valuable for me. FFB reminds me that blogging can be diverse with enormous potential for discussion and subversion.”
I think it’s interesting that blogging needs to do what it does.
Blogging has a lot of different purposes but I think that one of the most valuable things it does is take people seriously. It’s strange how writing essays or diary entries to an audience of potentially none, potentially hundred-thousand-millions is the same as listening. Just by having similar – or similarly non-mainstream -views, and putting them on e-paper we’re all validating each other and saying “yes, it’s OK, you’re not the only one who isn’t satisfied”. But don’t you think it’s silly that we feel like we need that?
To practise feminist fashion blogging is to practise a very small scale version of intersectionality. It’s a helpful model of behaviour.
Posted by RK on May 11, 2011
I was going to do an outfit post, then changed my mind once I realized the burqa ban in France goes into effect today. It somehow seems wrong for me to write about what I get to wear freely every day when there are other women who are put in jail for the exact same thing.
I have a few things to say about this. First of all, Nicolas Sarkozy’s statement that the ban is about women in France being “respected” or “personal dignity, particularly women’s dignity” (quoted in this Jezebel article on the ban) is not only grossly condescending to Muslim women, but highly problematic on other levels. By banning the burqa under the pretense of protecting women’s dignity, the French government is placing inherent value on a garment, rather than letting the individuals make meaning out of the garment on their own. So the underlying assumption here is that if you wear a burqa, you are an oppressed person who doesn’t know any better. This creates a false logic/binary of covering vs. not covering; as in, if being covered head to toe signifies oppression, showing skin – no matter what context – is liberatory. I think any critical thinker can tell that such logic does not work.
The ban not only has consequences for Muslim women directly, but also for Western women, or women who do not wear the burqa. Why? Because if we extend French government’s logic, any woman who wears X garment can be read in a certain way, and ONLY in that way. It takes away the power of self-representation from women, and the agency for women to signify themselves. Women wearing short skirts might be lacking dignity too, so why not just ban short skirts too? But the government won’t do such a thing because what the non-Muslims wear is their business. Only Muslim women have no clue how to think for themselves, and are blindly (and willingly) letting themselves to be oppressed. They couldn’t possibly be wearing the niqab or the burqa as an expression of their faith or their culture.
Of course, under the rhetoric of a creepy “father” figure protecting the Muslim women is the deeply conservative and anti-immigrant suspicion of France that is at work here. It troubles me to no end that when surveyed, citizens of various countries also supported the burqa ban (as explained at the bottom of this CNN article), displaying Western culture’s deeply problematic views on Muslim women.
[clip: Niqabitch, one of many protest groups that happened when the French Senate finalized the burqa ban]
Posted by RK on April 11, 2011
But during my exploration of feminism and fashion, I’ve also learned that it’s pretty darn hard to practice what you preach. For example, I just learned that Target, known for their anti-gay activities in the past, is still doing some questionable homophobic activities by suing a gay marriage activist group to stay off Target grounds. And yet, none of the fashion blogs I read has mentioned this. And I know that a popular item that is “going around” the fashion blogosphere is the Tucker for Target dress (featured in Academichic and What Would a Nerd Wear, among others). What disappoints me about this is that the two blogs I mentioned parenthetically are written by socially active academics, and Academichic bloggers identify explicitly as LGBTQ activists and allies of LGBTQ rights. Before I found out about Target’s donation practices, I once wished that Target stores would open up in Canada (expressed in a recent Q&A I did over here), so I’m not exactly an innocent party, either.
What to make of this disconnect? While I am disappointed the lack of commentary from the academic fashion blogging community, I also don’t want to condemn them too harshly – because in a capitalist framework, having a choice (to say no to unethically produced goods) always comes with privilege. The ability to be a more politically and socially conscious person must come with the material means to pay extra dollars for organic, fair-trade goods, and I know that it’s impossible to be 100% ethical in our purchases. I despise this reality, but I think it’s important to acknowledge it. The unfortunate correlation between choice and privilege is also why I don’t like it when people get overly self-righteous about how everyone should live and say things like: “everyone can buy fair-trade things if they try.” No, they can’t. Some people struggle to put decent food and clean clothes on them and their families, let alone have time to think about where they came from.
This difficulty is just another part of praxis – that we are not disembodied, abstract beings only existing in language (although being on the internet sometimes feels that way), but human beings with bills to pay, and a less-than-enough shopping budget. These imperfections are a part of a feminist reality, and I don’t want to ignore them. So I would like to start talking about these limitations honestly, and think about ways to create not only responsible consumers, but also responsible manufacturers (without needing privileged access). I have no answers on how this can actually be done, but I think I can at least urge style bloggers to become more aware of corporations’ practices outside of the shopping area. Because some of us style bloggers are big enough to actually influence the consumer market out there, and because it’s about time that we feminists started thinking about empowerment in more ways than just averting the male gaze, or becoming one enlightened human being at the expense of others.
Posted by RK on March 30, 2011