Recently in Dr. Sara's Reflections Category

Some final thoughts and a note of thanks

As the title indicates, this course has been about contemporary feminist debate. Taking a somewhat unconventional approach, I structured the course around the belief that debate is not about winning an argument or rigidly defending one's position. Instead, it about "living with contradictions" (Jaggar) and staying perpetually curious (Enloe) about problems--what they are, how we frame them, and what strategies we can develop for responding to them.

I selected readings that were meant to highlight the complicated and contradictory ways in which a wide range of feminist thinkers approach key social issues. The readings were also intended to take all of us out of our comfort zone and encourage us to dwell in a space of unknowingness, where easy answers about "what is to be done" aren't possible. While I find this space of unknowingness to be unsettling (and oftentimes exhausting), I also find it be invigorating. Staying in that space of unknowingness allows me to remain curious and fosters my desire to always ask lots of questions about the limits and possibilities of any approach to an issue. In my vision of feminist movement (and my list of feminist values), curiosity, openness and asking lots of questions are central.

Now, I want to be clear here. I am not suggesting that staying in a space of unknowingness is all that anyone, particularly feminists, should ever do. As Anna suggests in her comment to this entry, curiosity, even if it is a feminist curiosity, is not enough. We also need to think strategically and constructively about how to respond to our most pressing issues. But, I wonder, what questions are left unasked and what possibilities get foreclosed when we move too quickly out of our unknowingess? Indeed, what political, critical and ethical value can come out of safeguarding that space? To conclude this reflection, I want to paraphrase, and slightly modify, a passage from Judith Butler in her book, Undoing Gender: While asking questions, remaining uncertain and being curious are not all that feminist movement is or should be, I can't imagine feminist movement without them.

Thanks for a great semester. I truly appreciate how willing you all were to stay curious. And I appreciate how much you all embraced the blog. Have a great summer!

alg_brewer.jpgHave you heard about the Arizona Immigration Bill that was signed by Gov. Janice Brewer on Friday, April 23rd? According to the New York Times,

The law would require the police "when practicable" to detain people they reasonably suspected were in the country without authorization. It would also allow the police to charge immigrants with a state crime for not carrying immigration documents. And it allows residents to sue cities if they believe the law is not being enforced.
Brewer contends that the purpose of this bill is to protect the people of Arizona and secure the border:

There is no higher priority than protecting the citizens of Arizona. We cannot sacrifice our safety to the murderous greed of drug cartels. We cannot stand idly by as drop houses, kidnappings and violence compromise our quality of life.

We cannot delay while the destruction happening south of our international border creeps its way north.
In her explanation, Brewer claims that this new law will not result in more racial profiling and that she is committed to training officers on how to properly determine when and if to stop individuals and request their identification (this "proper" way, according to her, must not be based on "the color of their skin"). But, many people think that this bill will allow racial profiling (or even encourage it) and are highly critical of the implications and intent of the call for "safety" and "protection." In responding to Brewer's above statement,  the Feminist Texican (who wrote this great post on why we should "stop saying 'illegal'")  writes:

In a country where "illegal" is a noun that's synonymous with "Mexican" (Mexican drug cartels, Mexican border violence, border wall along Mexico, brown people swimming across the river from Mexico, etc.), I find it hard to believe that racial profiling rates against Latin@s aren't going to rise.  I seriously doubt police are going to start asking white people for their papers at even a fraction of the rate they question brown people. 
In an article over at the Arizona Republic, a law professor echoes Feminist Texican's sentiment, claiming

"That is almost inevitably going to be enforced in a racially discriminatory way, because how are the police going to have a 'reasonable suspicion' that you're here illegally?" said Paul Bender, a professor of law at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law and a principal deputy U.S. solicitor general from 1993 to 1997 under President Bill Clinton. "They're not going to ask every Anglo that they stop for speeding to show their immigration documents. If they did, we wouldn't have them and we'd all go to jail. They're going to ask the people who look Hispanic. Some of them are not going to have them, and they are going to be arrested."
[Note: Do you carry proof of citizenship around with you--a driver's license doesn't count. Addendum: Or does it? I have found conflicting reports and wonder, what proof do you have to give if you are stopped?] American Progress describes four dangerous economic, social and legal consequences of this law: 1. It legalizes racial profiling, 2. It undercuts the constitution and imbues local police with federal authority, 3. It will harm the state and local economy and 4. It is expensive and takes police away from community policing. For even more on this law, check out Stephen Colbert's humorous (yet critical) take on the issue:



The Word - No Problemo
www.colbertnation.com



What are the implications and consequences of this bill from a feminist perspective? What sorts of questions should feminists ask? What should feminist focus their attention on? How can we link this bill, and its consequences, to the issues we have explored all semester? I can imagine connections to all of the issues--reproductive rights/justice, work, family values, sex wars and the PIC. What connections can you make?

In her article for Gender Across Borders, Erin Rickard discusses how racial profiling makes Latin@ communities afraid of the police and less willing to contact them when domestic violence occurs. What are the consequences of this fear of the police for women? American Immigration Council wonders how much this bill will cost and if the people of Arizona can afford it. I wonder, what (types of) programs will be cut in order to pay for this bill? Due to the financial crisis, Arizona has already had to cut children's health insurance. Will women's health care (particularly reproductive health) be next? Immigration Blogprof wants us to ask, Why are there so many undocumented workers?, which makes me think of our discussion of La Dom√©stica and prompts me to ask: what rights do/should undocumented workers have and what rights are they denied with this law? Mark B. Evans over at Tuscan Citizen is curious about what counts as "reasonable suspicion" for pulling a driver over and checking their proof of citizenship? Will those outside of Gayle Rubin's charmed circle be targeted more? Do their "deviant" behaviors arouse suspicion? Prof Sussuro over at like a whisper outlines the effects of a law like this. Here's one they mention that seems to be speak directly to the issue of family values: "leaving children on the side of the road to fend for themselves when parents are arrested." 

A discussion of this bill from feminist perspectives fits nicely with our reading today, On Prisons, Borders, Safety, and Privilege. How is safety and protection functioning in this law, and at whose expense? What are the consequences of trying to ensure safety? Whose safety? Here are a few passages from the text that speak to these issues:

Who is made safe by strengthening a violent law-and-order system? And what does strengthening that system have to do with ending violence (3)?

What is your feminism for? If it is not for disruption and redistribution of power across society (i.e., not just for women [or people] like you), it cannot be so ignorant of, exploitative of, and even counter to the prison-abolition and immigrants' right movements--not only because marginalized women are involved in and affected by those struggles, but because they are where some of the most significant challenges to power are being made (6).
 

If feminist is about social change, it is about recognizing that safety in this society is a fantasy afforded only by assimilation to power, and the cost of that fake safety is the safety of those who cannot, or will not, access it. If feminism is about social change, it is about radically challenging prisons and borders of all kinds (7).

What if we crafted a collective feminist response to this issue--one that is not so much based on our own opinions but on the readings, discussions, films, issues that we have discussed this entire semester? What would we want to put in that response?

Maybe one place to start this response is with this statement by Critical Resistance and INCITE! Women of Color against Violence:

We seek to build a movement that not only ends violence, but that creates a society based on radical freedom, mutual accountability, and passionate reciprocity. In this society, safety and security will not be premised on violence or the threat of violence; it will be based on a collective commitment to guaranteeing the survival and care of all peoples (226).

Addendum: I just found this overview of more feminist responses to this issue at feministe.

Have you all seen the most recent Lady Gaga video, "Telephone"? In general, Lady Gaga has created quite a stir among feminists--Is Lady Gaga a feminist or isn't she?--and this video is no exception. Since a big chunk of the video takes place in prison, it seems fitting to use it to think about the feminist (im)possibilities of Lady Gaga in relation to prison and the PIC. In Are Prisons Obsolete, Angela Davis discusses how prisons loom large in our everyday lives, even as we work hard to keep them invisible, through our constant and repeated exposure to media images of the prison--in films, television shows...and videos. She writes:

But even those who do not consciously decide to watch a documentary or dramatic program on the topic of prisons inevitably consume prison images, whether they choose to or not, by the simple fact of watching movies or TV....The prison is one of the most important features of our image environment. This has caused us to take the existence of prisons for granted. The prison has become a key ingredient of our common sense. It is there, all around us. We do not question whether is should exist (18-19).
How is the prison represented in this video? What is Lady Gaga doing with (and to) the prison here? Is she reinforcing the idea of the prison as natural and as something that we should take for granted? Or is she de-naturalizing it (or is she doing both)? What ideologies does she reinforce in this video? Which ones does she subvert?



Now that you have watched the video, check out these feminist responses:

Youth, Values and Good (and bad) Intentions

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Today we are continuing our discussion about youth and feminist family values. On Tuesday we discussed "gender-neutral" parenting and watched clips from Free to be...You and me. One key question we pondered: How can/should feminists raise their children in ways that reflect feminist values? We discussed how the feminist values in the clips (Boy Meets Girl, Ladies First, William Wants a Doll, It's Alright to Cry) frequently reinforced certain harmful values (about gender stereotypes, sexual violence and victim blaming, heteronormativity) even as they attempted to present more "positive" messages about the freedom to move beyond limited roles (boys can be sensitive too, boys can have dolls, ladies don't have to rely on chivalry). Have we effectively answered these questions: What are feminist family values? And, what is gender-neutral parenting?

For today you read, "Good Intentions: The Beliefs and Values of Teens and Tweens Today"--a report from the Girl Scout Research Institute. I thought we could focus our attention on youth and their values. While Tuesday was from the perspective of parents and what types of values they might instill in their kids, I want today's focus to be on children as moral agents--that is, children as people who engage in their own moral/social deliberation and, by drawing upon a wide range of sources and examples, construct their own values.

I look forward to what questions you have about this topic and the reading. Here is one thing that makes me particularly curious about this study: bullying/cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is (very) briefly discussed in several places in this study.

  • How do people (ages 12-18) deal with bullying? 
  • Are there larger (as in structural) reasons that contribute to why some people bully and to who gets bullied?
  • What resources do they draw upon in coping with it (as the object of bullying) or speaking out against it (as a witness)?
  • What about the bully--what sort of moral compasses do they rely on in their own actions? Is it that they lack moral values (or sources of support) or are they relying on a different sort of value system?
The issue of bullying has been in the news a lot in the past year. Last year several very young boys committed suicide after being repeatedly harassed, reportedly for being gay. I wrote about it in my blog here. And just this week, 9 students (both girls and boys) were indicted on criminal charges for bullying and contributing to the suicide of Phoebe Prince. Here's one account of the story:



Why is this a feminist family values issue? How should feminists respond? Who does bullying affect, and how? How can/should we analyze this issue from these different perspectives:


  1. Individual/s: Phoebe and those who bullied her, their families
  2. School: other students, teachers, administrators
  3. Community: parents, other members of the community
  4. Local: town, neighboring schools
  5. National
  6. Structural/Systems of Power/Ideological Issues: larger values, norms, systemic issues
Another question: The bullying of Phoebe Prince is frequently being represented as a problem of "mean girls" (like in this article on the Huffington Post, or this interview from Tuesday night on Anderson Cooper 360). Is this a problem of mean girls? What are girls so often represented as the problem? Is this an accurate representation? According to the Girl Scout Study, girls are more likely than boys to step in and speak out against cyberbullying--46% girls to 35% boys (pages 42). What do we make of this statistic in relation to an emphasis on mean girls as the face of (cyber) bullying?

Here's another take on feminism and raising kids...

Check out this series at Bitch magazine--called Raising Trouble--about raising children. Scroll down to the bottom of Featherstone's profile page to find links to her various entries. Here is Liz Featherstone's description of the series:

Sex differences are an endless source of playful, even raucous amusement in our household. It's gender that causes confusion. Experts like Diane Levin (co-author, with Jean Kilbourne, of So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids) tell me that young children are attracted to neat dichotomies. Preschoolers are struggling to figure out how the world works, and where they fit in; that's why they're so compelled by gender stereotypes, especially those marketed to them by kiddie pop culture.

In this blog, "Raising Trouble," we'll be exploring this state of affairs extensively over the next couple months. Anything in particular you'd like explored? Let me know in the comments section!


Some thoughts about the blog as a public site

Hi everyone,

Recently a comment was posted on our blog from someone outside of this class. This comment is an excellent reminder to us all that our blog is public. By public blog I mean that anyone who has access to the internet can read our blog posts and comment on them. It is important to remember this fact as you make your posts (both comments and entries). For me, the fact that this blog is public is a very good thing because it enables us to connect with people/communities outside of this classroom and it extends our classroom beyond the physical class space and even the University. Additionally, knowing that this blog is a public one, encourages us to be accountable for the claims that we make in our posts as we write our blog entries to known audiences (all of us in the class) and unknown audiences (anyone who stumbles across our blog on the interwebz).

In most cases (at least that has been my experience developing and participating in over 15 different blogs), the public aspect of this blog can lead to productive engagements with other bloggers, students, scholars, community members. Blogging can lead to building coalitions with others who have similar goals. It can also help us to gain a critical awareness of a wide range of issues related to feminism or fighting inequality and social injustice. For more on these possibilities, check out this special issue on feminist blogging from the Feminist and Scholar Online. 

Sometimes the public aspect of a blog can generate comments that are unproductive and disrespectful. Instead of providing an invitation for critical engagement they make us angry and attempt to shut down our curiosity about an issue. These types of comments do not fit the spirit of our blog or of the course. For me, the point of the "this is a feminist issue because..." entries and comments is to inspire us to be curious about what feminisms are and how a wide range of feminists might respond to a variety of issues. At their best, these posts and the comments that follow them, invite us to wonder and to question and to learn more about the world (and not from any one ideological position).

question-mark.jpgSo, what should we do when we come across comments that bother or anger us? That we feel are disrespectful or unproductive? That encourage misinformation and that discourage us from talking with each other and learning from each other about our very different perspectives? And that don't enable us to develop any mutual strategies for negotiating our conflicts or our contested issues?

While this might not work all of the time, one thing we can do is to be curious and ask lots (and lots) of questions about:

  • how to engage in debate in ways that open up conversation instead of shutting it down
  • what perspectives get ignored when we frame our debate in narrow ways
  • what questions we could ask and what comments we could make that encourage all of us to wonder (about the world, our own positions) and inspire us to want to learn more about others' perspectives and experiences.
  • how our online engagments (and/or the engagements of others) practice or fail to practice feminist debate, as outlined in my what is feminist debate? handout

The Brady Bunch's Alice and the Nanny Problem

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brady1.gif

Here is an entry that I wrote on my own blog this past summer that is connected to our discussion for today and next week: The Trouble with Alice

The entry is about the precarious position that Alice, the housekeeper for the Brady family on the Brady Bunch, maintains within the Brady household/family. Here's an excerpt:

Alice's position as a part of the family is tenuous because she is being paid to be there. She is not an equal member. She is an employee with 8 bosses. If she makes a mistake or disobeys the rules, she won't be reprimanded or given a time out, she will be fired. She will lose her livelihood and her benefits and her living quarters (which, true to form, are right off of the kitchen). Alice's position is also tenuous because she has no real claim on any of the family members. Sure she has taken care of Bobby his whole life, but if she is fired she can't demand to be allowed to have a relationship with him. She has been a mother to the kids (and a sexless wife/secretary to Mike) but she has no rights or legal claim to that position. Lucky for her that she is white and a legal citizen of the U.S. Otherwise her position as domestic worker would be even more tenuous. For more on this, see here and here.

Alice's position is difficult because the kind of work she is doing--cooking, cleaning, drying off tears, counseling heartbroken Marcia, building up Jan's self-esteem, contending with Greg's often failed performances of (hyper) masculinity--is not really considered work. Taking care of others is invisible work that is done by individuals (mostly women) who are invisible as workers. Folding the sheets and watching the kids? That's not work, that's just what women do while men go to the office and design powder puff buildings for BeeBee Gallini.

Some housework commercials to think about...

Here are a few commercials involving women and housework that we will be discussing in class today.

First, a classic commercial from Calgon. Think about it in relation to the Enjoli commercial. How are women represented in these commercials? What solutions are they given for dealing with the stress of managing their various labors? How are those solutions different now? How are they similar?

Now, here are some commercials form 2009. How are women (and "women's" labor) represented in these commercials? Why/how are the mops gendered? What relationship does the woman have with their cleaning supplies? What do we make of this relationship?


Choice? What Choice?

I posted this image on my trouble blog way back in October. It reminds me of the discussion of choice in the Bitchfest article. What does the "freedom of choice" mean here? What does using freedom of choice to sell a product do to the meaning of choice as a feminist right/goal/value?

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Cynthia Enloe and curiosity

The following is an excerpt of a longer post about Enloe's essay on my blog, trouble. Click here for the entire post.

image006.jpgIn her promotion of curiosity, Enloe wants to encourage/inspire/entreat us to be curious; to never stop thinking and paying attention and, most importantly for me and my thinking about feminist virtue ethics, to care about the world. What is really cool about her brief essay is that her framing of a discussion of curiosity participates in that very effort. Instead of merely telling us that curiosity is important (for feminist thinking or as a way to connect all of her essays), she asks us to think about why we need to be convinced of that in the first place. Why, she wonders, aren't we curious about the world? Where does our lack of curiosity come from and who is invested in preventing us from asking questions and wondering about the world? By focusing on our lack of curiosity instead of on the value of curiosity, Enloe creates an opportunity (much like "labor made cheap") for investigation. Maybe writing "Feminists lack curiosity" instead of "Feminists value curiosity" on the blackboard would be followed by, "Why do they lack curiosity?" or "Why did we stop asking questions?"

One more thing...In my feminist debates class, we recently read bell hooks' feminism is for everybody. Hooks uses the phrase "white supremicist capitalist patriarchy" instead of just patriarchy (see my class blog entry for more information). In contrast, Enloe continues to emphasize "patriarchy," which she describes as "the structural and ideological system that perpetuates the privileging of masculinity" (4). Later in the essay, Enloe suggests that patriarchy is only one of many forms of oppression and she encourages us to investigate, "How much of what is going on here is caused by the workings of patriarchy? Sometimes patriarchy may be only a small part of the explanation. Other times patriarchy may hold the causal key" (7). Yet, even as she recognizes other forms of oppression and their connections to patriarchy, she still wants to separate out patriarchy and focus on it. So does one of these phrases, hooks' "white supremicist capitalist patriarchy" or Enloe's "patriarchy," encourage more curiosity and require more (potentially productive) effort? What do you think?

Some answers to your questions...

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1. As promised, here is a link to the Spring 2009 Feminist Debates blog.

2. Also, here are some links to entries that were effective in answering the direct engagement questions and engaging with the material:

First, the question I asked:

Write a (roughly) 200 word response to the following questions:

M. Sanger promoted the cause of birth control, but, in order to get support for it, she linked her cause with eugenicists. Her goal was to work within the system, to challenge and to change the laws in order to provide more control for women. But, in order to change the system, she had to compromise her ideas, downplaying her radically feminist message (as stated in the excerpt that we read for this week) and making birth control more about population control and family planning. Did she sell out too much? Or, was she able to use the system to get what she wanted? What do you think? What does Roberts think? What does Davis think?

A. Response to blog question #1

The author of this post did a great job of engaging with the question and the readings. She demonstrated that she thought carefully about her response and how the readings did/didn't support her own thinking. While she received full credit (20 points), this student could have drawn upon a specific example from the reading--not necessarily by quoting the article, but by talking specifically about how Roberts or Davis suggest that Sanger's thinking was problematic. 

B. I don't hate Margaret Sanger

The author of this post received full credit for her entry because she engaged with the question and connected it to the readings/ideas from the online discussion. Like in example A, this author could have provided a specific example of what/why/how Davis and Roberts discuss the "dark side of birth control."

C. Blog Response #1 2/9

The author of this blog does a great job of offering specific passages from the text and of critically reflecting on the question from a number of different angles.

There you have it--3 different examples of entries that demonstrated serious engagement with the readings/questions and that received all 20 points. Remember, there is not one right answer to this question and there is not one right way to demonstrate a serious enagement. Use these examples only as guidelines for your 3 direct engagement entries.

3. I mentioned in class that you should use MLA citation style in all of your papers. Here is a link to everything you ever wanted to know about using MLA style (books, periodicals, electronic resources, etc).

4. Finally, you wanted to know what I am looking for in your first paper. Here is how we will evaluate your first paper:

  • Following Directions:  5 points Your paper is 3-5 pages, double-spaced, and 11 or 12 point font.  
  • Style:  25 points Your paper is easy to read, your sentences flow nicely, there are few grammatical or spelling errors, there are no run-on sentences. All in all, you communicate your understanding of feminism and why it is important in clear and compelling ways.  
  • Content: 70 points Your paper effectively addresses what feminism is and why you are studying it. You provide your own, well thought out definition of feminism, you offer many examples, and you address many of the questions listed on the handout.

 If you have any questions about what I have written in this blog or even more questions about assignments/class, you can post them as comments to this entry.

Blogging as a form of Consciousness-Raising?

In Feminism is for Everybody, bell hooks argues for the importance of consciousness-raising and the need for more "feminist education for critical consciousness." She suggests that going door to door with pamphlets, wearing T-Shirts with feminist slogans, posting billboards, and writing brief, accessible books like hers could help feminists to make more people aware of systematic institutionalized and internalized sexism. How about blogs? Could we envision blogs as a way to educate others on what feminism is and the issues is stands for? What are the limits and possibilities of blogging about feminism (and/or blogging while feminist)?

For more on this issue, see The Scholar and Feminist Online special issue from 2007, "Blogging Feminism: (Web) Sites of Resistance". For more on the connections between consciousness-raising and blogging, check out this article from the special issue: "The Personal is Political: Feminist Blogging and Virtual Consciousness-Raising".

One more thing: bell hooks repeatedly makes reference to the term, "white supremicist capitalist patriarchy." If you want to know more about what she means, watch this youtube clip (in addition to discussing how racial stereotypes are used in films like Star Wars or how feminist backlash works in Leaving Las Vegas, she discusses "white supremicist capitalist patriachy," 4 minutes and 30 seconds in):


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