My identity has done much in my life to inform me of the world around me. As a heterosexual, white, upper middle class girl I have had many privileges given to me and obstacles as well. I would say that being upper middle class has probably shaped what the world has informed me of the most. There have been obstacles of course from being a girl, but since my parents had all girls and taught us that we could be anything that we wanted, I think that greatly impacted how much my gender helped in informing me of the world around me. Growing up as a child I was surrounded by a lot of other upper middle class people. As a result of this part of my background and since that is the only lifestyle that I saw around me, my world did very little, if anything, to inform me of things such as poverty. As a child I doubt that I even fully understood that there were many children all around the country and the world who were poor or even what the word poor truly means. Even now, despite all that I have learned through the course of my studies, I don't always fully understand the true meaning of poor unless I am actively thinking about it. For example, one thing that I say and joke about with my friends sometimes is that I am a poor college student. In actuality however, I am certainly not poor and what my friends and myself really mean when we say we are poor is that we don't have money to do whatever we want, whenever we want. We all are going to a good college, have nice homes, enough food and clothes, and enough for a little mad money on the weekends. We are certainly not poor. So despite all that I have learned, growing up in the upper middle class still affects my perception of the world to this day and always will.
In terms of research for my paper, I think that my gender affects what areas I want to focus on most for my project. As a young woman I have faced many obstacles and frustrations in my life, which have brought me to where I am today. I picked this major because of how intensely those common obstacles and frustrations have affected my life. Since my gender plays such a large role in my life, gender is usually the are that I wish to focus on when doing research because it is what intrigues me the most. As a result, I have noticed that when doing research on my project I tend to focus the majority of my time on gender instead of giving the equal attention that race and class deserve on the subject matter of prostituted women. Specifically, I need to do more research on the racial differences within prostitution because of what a large role race plays in prostitution. Furthermore, I volunteer at the aurora center as an advocate for those affected by sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking, (which I got into because it is a problem that faces my gender) and I use to volunteer at Breaking Free, and organization that helps prostituted women get out of prostitution which also affects the way I view the subject. I have been trained to view the subject of prostitution in a certain way which affects how well I am able to place myself outside of that role and take in views that contradict everything that I have been taught. The biggest hurdle that I think I will face is how I will have to word my thoughts in the project since it is a research paper. As an advocate I am suppose to believe everyone that comes in to the aurora center. That is the most important aspect of my job there. However, since I am writing a research paper I will have to force myself out of that role and report only the facts. For example, things that have not been legally proven will have to be referred to as "reported as" or "allegedly" instead of talking about it as something as if it were a legally proven
Recently in 5. Positionality Paper Category
I'm going to start by exploring what my identity is. I do find this idea a bit limiting, and feel it forces me to categorize myself in ways I try to avoid categorizing others - because sometimes it's hard to convey the interplay between different aspects of identity. So, who am I? I'm a poor white woman who was born and raised in Minneapolis. I'm half-adopted, still poor, and am a college student right now. To bring in more personal depth, my mother was sixteen, anorexic and in an abusive relationship with an alcoholic when she became pregnant with me. Who is my mom? My mom is badass, and I am a lot like my mom.
Aspects of my identity: gender - female, sexuality - questionable, race/ethnicity - human, adopted (but visibly I am white), class - working poor, nationality - American, politics - hate them, religion - hell no, travel status - been to a few '3rd' world places, view on academia - usually disgusted and frustrated (biggest issue = exclusion of those not privileged enough to like to read and the use of stupidly large words... if you're so smart you should be able to talk or write so others can understand you).
So how does my identity inform my view of the world around me? It gives me context, and perhaps a chip on my shoulder (or it could just be my mood right now). So how can I, this white lady who holds privilege from skin color alone talk or write about police brutality? I have a question for my readers here: how could I not? How else can the bridge between privileged white people in academia and intercity minority residents who have experienced state-sanctioned violence be bridged? How can already marginalized people make academics pay attention or care? I'm not writing to 'save' or 'help,' I'm writing because I'm pissed off and disgusted by what I see happening to other human beings.
You want to know who I am and what I do? I'm a person who has seen a lot of bullshit. And I can write about this because I've seen it, it's effected people close to me, and I can amass a bigger audience than most people who have actually experienced (for no reason other than my skin color and the fact I managed to make it to college). What I'm talking about is violence. It's about someone I know having their eardrum burst and seltzer water poured into it while being called racist words. Or the woman who was raped by police and charged with a felony after the hospital forced her to report the rape to the same officers who raped her. But more than that, it's about all the people who have been brutalized and never say shit because the system that we live in has beat them down mentally first. At minimum I can make you angry with what I write, or angry about what I write, you can call it untrue; I don't care what you think but I do hope you think twice about dismissing what I say.
Maybe to put it overly simply: I write because what else am I supposed to do?
What else can I do to make someone pay attention to something so obvious to me?
I was standing on he corner of Sixth Street and Couch probably smoking, and staring through the perpetual mist for the bus. I waited impatiently even though I had no where to go, and was intentionally averting my eyes from the dingy marquee outside this disreputable bar across the street that always proclaimed NOW HIRING DANCERS followed by the ever appealing phrase NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY. The sunset felt particularly cold. It had only been six weeks since my estranged born again older sister had kicked my teenage libertine ass out of her house. I moved to Portland with naive dreams of grand adventures, to meet her, and become a feminist superhero, but so far I just lived in some guy's truck under a bridge.
The irony of my homelessness was that my parents who reside in the bowels of the 7th ring of suburban hell sprawl couldn't help me out. Like many families oscillating in the vast sea of hybrid midwestern whiteness, my parents purchased the American Dream on credit. The house, the cars, and the status were all a misguided illusion, we never had any money. I was only homeless for those weeks, and I already knew how to steal, charm, and find all the things I needed; but I had defiantly had enough.
It has been interesting to observe and analyze the power dynamics on the floor of the club, especially with my gender lense and simultaneous exposure to Foucault's writing on the dynamic and fluid nature of the construction of power. Sex work is not a clear exploitation of female sexuality as it is stereotyped to be, nor do dancers always have the upper hand. The binary understanding of sex work as being either empowering, or victimizing is not very useful. Personally I find the contribution to capitalist production and the materialism promoted by sex work to be far more socially damaging than the commodification of the (female) body. The real area of sociological interest for me has been the locker room.
My first night was pathetic; I had the worst cough and had danced barefoot. Even though public nudity was nothing new to me I was terrified. What am I doing I though, I don't have an act or like any cool tricks. The thrill of blatant exhibitionism and the immediate gratification of a dollar for every wiggle and booty pop was thrilling and addicting though. I was far from glam and sexy but I managed to make enough to stay in a hotel room, and maybe even order room service. In the dressing room I was fascinated by the other dancers, they were loud, rude, hilarious, and delightfully unladylike. Though dancers are notoriously stand offish to new girls, these chicks were super chatty, a house girl named Mia reprimanded me for not wearing shoes informing me that it's part of the uniform, and I just needed to get over it. She said it like she was annoyed to be talking to me, but know she was really just looking out. I was beyond embarrassed to tell her that I couldn't afford to buy some,because she was as fabulous as a drag queen. Another girl Adrianna was crouched on the floor shoving her sparkly belongings into her backpack snickering at Mia digs. In a fluid motion she opened her locker and threw a gigantic pair of shoes at me. Without looking up at me she said "Here take these, you can just have em. I hate them." It wasn't long until I had an apartment, a new bike, a respectable record collection, and a work locker full of my own shoes, and spandex. In my first week of dancing I made jokes with my friend Joey-Ariel-Nicole that I was a "lifer." Jokes are only funny when infused with truths. I was infatuated with the industry, and it was the best job I had ever had. That type of comradery that Adrianna and even Mia showed me that first day only grew stronger. Angel-Trish was one of those intimidatingly cool dancers too, the type of person who really never took anybody's shit. She taught me how to give couch dances the first night we meet, she literally held my hand through it. She taught me how to hustle, and she took me into her house that was already full with four kids when I became transitional again later on. I have no idea why she helped me out like that, and when I would ask she would just laugh at me or say something to the effect of, "I like your style, girl." I was blessed with tough, sexy friends with animal, gem, and food and fake girl-next-door names. The friendships I made in the industry, and the strong woman centric community that has given me so much love and support was something I never expected, nor realized that I so desperately needed.
There has already been a lot of writing in the sex positive feminist community about sex work, and the subversive potential of the gender performance of sex work, and about the non-normative sexuality displayed by audacious women, luckily. I really want to explore is the radical organizing potential of this strong community that already holds a cooperative ethic. The community created by dancer's had been invaluable to me personally, but I would like to see us organize and develop our collective power in an even bigger way. I feel we are at an advantageous time to address the our needs, as the labor organizing community is looking for ways to appeal to younger people and sex up their efforts. There is a potential for even greater collaboration.
When my parents found out about my job they sad I was evil, going to hell, ECT. It was everything I had expected them to say when I told them I was half gay. They were very proud of me when I moved back to Minneapolis and got a job wearing pants. I was less impressed, waitressing was just whoring your personality to me, no different. When I jumped back into dancing I jumped directly into the belly of the beast. I had been unfamiliar with the exploitative practices of corporate strip clubs, the funny money, mandatory two-for-one dances, and the managerial pressure to give 110% on the job were almost too much for me to tolerate. I work at Dream girls, which is owned by the De ja Vu Corporation, which is owned by Hustler. People are often surprised to earn that dancer's pay a third to half of what they make every night in house fees in addition to tipping the entire support staff out, that we have to sell drinks, and that we are wrongfully considered independent contractors. I really want to provide a forum for these strong women to address their needs, and build a collective voice so that in the future dancers don't have to tolerate corporate exploitation, and that sex positivism dominates the scene.
Before anyone reads my intro, please keep in mind that whatever response to or thoughts about it you have would be really helpful to me- Comment please!! I want to take a first-person narrative approach to my paper, but am unsure still. This positionality paper is kind of a trial-run on writing a narrative and it feels really informal to me, maybe too informal?
As I begin this paper, I am overwhelmed. How can I possibly go about explaining the positionality that I inhabit and that will inevitably influence my writing when it is nearly impossible to calculate what exactly this positionality is? I am not sure I can even fully understand my own positionality in relation to any subject I approach, precisely because of that positionality affecting my outlook. I could start by listing the various descriptors that so often get cast against or along side one another to create an intersectionality that designates the cultural space I occupy. If this is the case, then I am: white, female, heterosexual, upper class, educated, midwestern, atheist and the list goes on. But even if I were to extend this list to infinity with everything I think is a qualitative or quantitative aspect of my true and essential self, it would not be me. Who I am, and the positionality from which I approach any topic or theory, is constantly changing. Some changes are big, like realization that I am a feminist after my first Intro to Women's Studies course, and some changes are small, like reading a text that I thought was interesting (or for that matter a text that I hated and any shade of grey in between). I believe that the only way I can approach this mountain of figuring out my place in relation to everything and everyone out there is to figure out the path that led me to where I am*, and trying to decide where that will take me as I go on (and as I work on my project).
*Note: My explanation of "the path that led me to where I am" will seem brief but this is just to keep this paper within the constraints of 2-3 pages. I intend to include this narrative in my final paper and will possibly lengthen it. Here I keep it simply to aspects that I think are relative to my development of character in relation to my field of study.
[I am imagining this section to be towards the end of my paper, after I have described my past research findings, and current theorizing on the topic. It will also be the introduction to my section about feminist ethics.
The longer paper I'll turn in on Wednesday will be longer and generally more awesome. Prepare yourselves!]
The research and the subsequent theorizing I engaged in are rife with dangerous power imbalances and important positionality questions. From the very beginning of my research in Kenya, I was aware of the problematic aspects. Here I was, an upper-middle class American white woman, entering Kenya and after just a few months of residency and internship, expecting to be able to a) identify a question worth asking from my point of view b) identify a question that could be meaningful from the Kenyan perspective c) identify a way of answering my question that might elicit some sort of truth in a completely different cultural landscape d) have an approach to the problem that does not reify colonial relationships. I know this list is incomplete but it gives the reader an idea of the variety of problems inherent to a transnational project with little prior research or training.
While in Kenya, although I remember thinking at length about these issues, here is all I actually wrote on this particular topic:
"One main bias comes from the social status of the researcher as an American white female. This produces a number of pre-conceived notions in the minds of Kenyans, particularly that white people are rich donors who can assist foreigners in traveling to other countries. Often at the beginning of an interview, people would ask for compensation, either in cash or in food. These sorts of expectations may have influenced the reasons that people came for the interview.
It is also very possible that respondents gave a certain answer the interviewer to appear a certain way. Perhaps they would want to appear of a higher status, or to not give any indication of an HIV/AIDS status. Inevitably the presence of an outsider, especially one considered to be of a higher "standing" in the community will affect the type of response that is given."
TO BE CONTINUED...
Attached is a copy of the positionality paper assignment that is not outlined in your syllabus. I wanted to make sure you all had plenty of time to think about the assignment before it is due around the end of the month. I will bring hard copies of the assignment to class on Wednesday.
If you have a chance please look over the assignment and come to class with any questions that you might have after looking at it.
Some quick reminders -
The assignment is due Wednesday February 24th. Please bring two hard copies of your 2-3 page paper to class on the day it is due. By 10:00pm on Tuesday February 23rd please post the introduction of your positionality paper to the course blog. By class time on Wednesday try to look over everyone's post. There are more detailed instructions in the attachment.
See you all Wednesday!