Stoya on feminism (via mollycrabapple)
Sang it for the babies…and the adults!
Black women are, it seems, damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Our collective singleness, independence, and unsanctioned mothering are an affront to mainstream womanhood. But a high-profile married black woman who uses her husband’s name (if only for purposes of showbiz) or admits the influence her male partner has had on her life is an affront to feminism.
Wilson says that in the context of pathologized black womanhood and black relationships, Beyoncé and the Knowles-Carter clan “counter a narrative about our families that has been defined by the media for too long about what our families must look like and how they’re comprised.” Black women’s sexuality and our roles as mothers and partners have been treated as public issues as far back as slavery, even as family life for most citizens has been viewed as a private matter. Our nation’s “peculiar institution” treated human beings—black human beings—as property. And so, black women’s partnering—when and whom we partnered with and the offspring of those unions—were at the very foundation of the American economy. According to Jackson, “People would talk about black women’s sexuality in polite company like they would talk about race horses foaling calves.”
Like critiques of her sexed-up performances, response to Beyoncé’s recent pregnancy illustrates that black female bodies remain fodder for public gossip. Even with the devotion of mainstream media (especially the entertainment and gossip genres) to monitoring female celebrities’ sexuality, “baby bumps,” and engagement rocks, the speculation about Beyoncé’s womb stands apart as truly bizarre. Almost as soon as the singer revealed her pregnancy at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards, there was conjecture—amplified by a televised interview in which the singer’s dress folded “suspiciously” around her middle—that it was all a ruse to cover for the use of a surrogate.
The HBO documentary, which chronicled her pregnancy, failed to quiet the deliberation. Gawker writer Rich Juzwiak proclaimed, “Beyoncé has never been less convincing about the veracity of her pregnancy than she was in her own movie…. We never see a full, clear shot of Beyoncé’s pregnant, swanlike body. Instead it’s presented in pieces, owing to the limitations of her Mac webcam. When her body is shown in full, it’s in grainy, black-and-white footage in which her face is shadowed.” There is, in this assessment, a disturbing assumption of ownership over Beyoncé’s body. Why won’t this woman display her naked body on television to prove to the world that she carried a baby in her uterus?
The conversation surrounding Beyoncé feels like assessing a prize thoroughbred rather than observing a human woman, and it is dismaying when so-called feminist discourse contributes to that. Feminism is about challenging structural inequalities in society, but the criticism of Beyoncé as a feminist figure smacks of hating the player and ignoring the game, to twist an old phrase.
Maroud highlights how many women of color feminists have taken issue with what they consider a clear example of imperial feminism, through importing western understandings of nakedness onto Islamic notions of the body; I want to draw attention to what continues to be overlooked. It seems that no one is emphasizing the fact that these white feminists do not own the method they have chosen to declare as their call to arms against patriarchy. In short, before we discuss how FEMEN is engaging in somewhat problematic dynamics with women of color feminists throughout the Middle East & North Africa region, we should recall that their chosen method of protest is certainly not exclusive to white European feminists. Have we forgotten the naked protests that have taken place in Nigeria, Liberia, Kenya and Uganda for over a century? While the conversations surrounding FEMEN’s growing presence in the MENA region certainly highlight valid arguments about Western feminism and how it relates to other notions of feminism/womanism throughout the globe, what I find to be the greatest example of liberalism is that they’ve managed to convince us that they own the method and in some ways, how we understand our own nakedness.
In this era of social media and new technologies FEMEN’s tactics are able to gain notice through their chosen mediums of expression and well connected network. The issue is not so much that they use naked protest as a method, but rather that we continue to confuse our disapproval of how their tactics mimic imperial feminism with the method itself. In other words, FEMEN’s expansion into the Middle East and North Africa is likely a glaring example of imperial feminism, but not because of the method.
I did what Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, encourages women to do in her book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. In a self-proclaimed feminist movement to address current gender disparities in leadership, Sandberg aims to galvanize women with a call to action to lean in and step up in the workplace.
I did step up. I leaned in at staff team meetings, sat at the table and contributed to the dialogue. I explored and pursued research opportunities. I asked for mentorship. I scheduled meetings with key players, and asked for their support and guidance in moving my research career forward.
But leaning in has its limitations for women in the workplace, and especially for Latinas.
When Latinas lean in at work, they are often examined through a lens blurred with ethnic prejudices, and socially prescribed roles and expectations. God forbid she has a Spanish accent…
More than once, a lost patient or hospital staff wandering down the hall came to my office door to ask for direction. “Are you the secretary?” they would ask. “No, I’m Dr. Perez, how can I help you?” I’d reply. My title was often met by a subtle facial expression of surprise.
My bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and Ph.D. has raised questions on the role that affirmative action must have played in my academic achievements. In her memoir, Justice Sonia Sotomayor describes a moment when her academic merits were credited to affirmative action, despite graduating summa cum laude from Princeton University. This perpetual attribution of Latinas’ achievements to tokenism is real in the workplace, and underestimates what accomplished Latinas bring to the table.
An assertive Latina at work risks being seen as “difficult” or “opinionated.” A confident voice level makes her “confrontational” or “loud.” We are expected to be nice and supportive, and less so leaders. These social perceptions and ethnic biases form an important part of the organizational barriers that women, and especially ethnic/racial women, face in the workplace. This, of course, is in addition to the organizational culture and policies that are blatantly gender biased when it comes to promoting women leadership.
Q: How would you characterize your activism? In my mind, I think of you as a Lakota reproductive justice rockstar. Is that accurate? Why or why not?
A: I would characterize my activism as bringing awareness about the injustices and atrocities that Indigenous women (which also boils down to all women) have faced historically, as well as currently. Specifically I feel it’s necessary to have my focus of discussions about Native women as I’ve always felt left out of mainstream media and culture because I am a native woman.
Q: What are one or two pressing issues that you wish people were paying more attention to? Why?
A: I wish more people were paying attention to the Violence Against Women Act with provisions for tribal women, immigrants, and LGBT communities. I also wish more people paid attention to the exploitation of lands the world over, as it is a direct exploitation and assault against women’s bodies.
Q: What do you love about South Dakota?
A: I love the land in South Dakota. We have a vast prairie, with one of the largest natural prairie eco-systems in the world; the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. I love listening to the Western Meadowlark, with its cheerful song that celebrates the summers on the prairie. I love seeing various birds of prey on any given day, sitting alongside the road or flying high in the sky, searching for their meal. I love the Red-Tail Hawk’s piercing song. I love the prairie sunsets with various colors of pastels streaming across a never ending sky over a sea of golden grass. I love the summer time in South Dakota.
My team doesn’t ask to try to wear a hijab. They are smarter and more respectful than that.
But, wearing a scarf while playing may give them COMPLETE INSIGHT into the lives of half a billion Muslim women. Right? RIGHT?!? *hijabdesk*.
My mates are also acutely aware that if they want to wear a head covering, they can get a scarf – yes, any random scarf – and put it on their head. No pixie dust, no blessing from an Ayatollah, no chanting or incense.
This is the part where I get to be thankful that my teammates don’t want to liberate me. They don’t insult and patronize me inquiring as to how my hijab “makes them feel”. It’s not exotic and interesting. It just is.
They don’t care about my hijab and what it represents to them. They are not that shallow.
Because NEWSFLASH: I am more, way more than my hijab.
They have realized that I am a person whose identity lies, not in a piece of cloth, but in the way I believe, speak, act and play.
This exercise reduces a Muslim woman to one yard of material. It is not an action that one can adequately educate and put another woman in their position. It’s completely disingenuous to think so.
Will having my teammates wear a hijab for a one hour match allow them to understand a lifetime of stares, barriers, “No, sorry you can’t play with that on” decisions, struggles and then my own strength and confidence to embrace it and keep going?
No. No, it won’t.
Just like wearing a hijab for one day will not provide a woman will contextual understanding of challenges and the realities that a woman in hijab may face: misogyny, cultural stresses, financial problems, prejudice, racism and even effects of war.
Does it realistically give people a glimpse of struggles faced by millions? Of a religion that is marred and scarred by stereotypes and assumptions, that is rife with misogynist practices? That has incredibly intrepid people working for the benefit of the world? That has kindness and millions of women who are Muslim who do not wear hijab?
Do we celebrate International Paghra Day with Sikhs? Or International Habit Day with Peruvian Nuns? International “Wear a Wig to Shul” Day with Orthodox Jews? Nope. Because that would be minimizing and politicizing their choice.
This dress-up activity is no more effective than having me wearing a firefighter outfit. I respect First Responders and love red. Does it give me full insight into their plight, intensity, committment, courage and years of training?
No. No, it doesn’t.
The Post’s treatment of feminism and Michelle Obama has more B.S. than intersectionality. The obfuscations abound. First, there is this odd aside to “feminist Americans” later placed in opposition to “black feminists.” It is unclear who the former is but it is particularly clear who the latter is not: black feminists are not mainstream feminists. This treatment of feminism sets up the premise that Michelle Obama may be living some black feminist fantasy but she has not ascended to acceptable “feminist American” ideals. The idea of being a “mom-in-chief” is apparently antithetical to acceptable choices that feminist Americans make. I do not want to pile on the writer. Frankly, her artlessness only reveals what many believe. Her problem is not that she has said that Michelle Obama is failing at feminism; it’s that she did not obscure that belief in the elitism that Slaughter so casually tosses about her “having it all” thesis.
Black feminists have been fighting this fight for a long time. The tension is grounded in the relative position to power that the Anne Marie Slaughters of the world have enjoyed by their proximity to white men. But Michelle turns that equation on its head. She is as close to power as any white woman has ever been. She is making choices afforded to her by the role of First Lady. That her choice is to work in the home rather than the workforce is only revolutionary because she is black. Every white First Lady has made the same decision. They were chided but they were not unilaterally cast as feminist failures. Neither was feminism constructed as “feminist Americans” versus black feminists to deconstruct the choices of white First Ladies. I do not recall a single instance of mainstream reporting on the black feminist response to Hillary Clinton as she reshaped the role of First Lady. Why, then, is it salient now?
Well, we know why, of course. We cannot reconcile Michelle Obama in the feminist imaginary anymore than we have been able to reconcile the reality of black women or poor women or immigrant women or trans women or any non-middle class white woman with “feminist Americans.” No matter how you define it, black women have always worked. Our bodies were literally constructed through enslavement as work units and modes of production. Our reproduction was a capitalist endeavor in labor production. If no black woman ever again works in the paid labor force in any position ever again ever, we are all rightful heirs to feminism by virtue of our lived historical experience in the U.S. Black women do not have to earn feminism. If anything, feminism should be earning black women. Even if we put aside the issues of terming motherhood as non-work as compatible with feminism (which it is not), the idea that someone who has come through black women, as has Michelle Obama, would need to prove her feminist bona fides to “feminist Americans” is ahistorical and disingenuous.
It is also why “having it all” debates hold very little appeal for me.