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Being public while brown


This is an intresting article that discusses what we talked about today. If we create a profile for what we believe to be a criminal and then apply it to people who are not criminal we have a problem. Who decides what a criminal looks like? Does it only have to do with the way people dress or is it more about the color of their skin? I am having a hard time trying to figure out how this idea can be justified or even presented by elected officals as having some sort of merit.

RECAP: On Tuesday we focused on our attention on the question of the PIC. In your small groups, you looked over the PIC map and explored some questions in connection to Davis' passage from Are Prisons Obsolete?:

On the whole, people tend to take prisons for granted. It is difficult to imagine life without them. At the same time, there is reluctance to face the realities hidden within them, a fear of thinking about what happens inside them. Thus, the prison is present in our lives and, at the same time, it is absent from our lives (Davis, 15).

I want to begin my asking two questions:

  • What is the PIC? What is the industrial complex part of the name?
  • Why is it important for feminists to denaturalize prisons and think about the underlying ideologies, the influences, the institutions that benefit and the damaging effects of the PIC?
3341_covanthology_display.jpgOVERVIEW OF TODAY: Tuesday's class involved a broad overview of the concept of the PIC. For today's class, our readings, from color of violence: the incite! anthology, focus on how specific practices in the PIC cause/contribute to gender violence. Andrea J. Ritchie discusses how law enforcement practices are increasingly resulting in brutality against "women of color, poor and low-income women, and lesbians [I would add transgender people too] (140) instead of protection. Her discussion includes sections on policing gender binaries; racial profiling; rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment; responses to domestic violence and sexual assault; war on drugs; war on terror; and quality of life/gang policing. Patricia Allard examines economic violence and the devastating effects of welfare, education and housing policies on individuals, especially women of color, who have been convicted of felony drug offenses (158): 1. lifetime welfare ban; 2. suspension of federal postsecondary financial aid; and 3. "one strike and you're out" public housing policy. Stormy Ogden speaks out about her own experiences as a Pomo (recognized member of the Tule River Yokuts, Kashaya Pomo, and Lake Country Pomo Nations) women and ex-prisoner. She describes how the PIC, as an instrument of profit and social control, negatively impacts her community and American Indians in general: it is dehumanizing, abusive and robs American Indian tribes of important "human and cultural resources" for the survival of their cultures (169). Finally, the INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence Collective state the need for a critical analysis and strategies that address all forms of gender violence. They discuss how the anti-violence movement, while critically important, has relied too much on the criminal justice system without considering how that system contributes to gender violence. They also discuss how the anti-prison movement "has not always centered gender and sexuality in their analysis and organizing" (224). They argue for an approach to anti-violence work that considers violence in all of its forms and that develops and implements strategies that are not based on more violence but on "a collective commitment to guaranteeing the survival and care of all peoples" (226).

Before moving on to a discussion of these essays and why and how they are important feminist issues, I want to add one more perspective, that of transwomen in prison. (Heather has brought this issue up already here. Thanks Heather!) The following clip is the first part of a powerful documentary, Cruel and Unusual. Here is a description of the film at their website:

Most states separate prisoners by genitalia alone, so pre-op, transgender women are placed in men's correctional facilities, where they find themselves vulnerable and preyed upon. CRUEL AND UNUSUAL is a frank, often unsettling documentary, that portrays the challenges faced by these women. 

QUESTIONS: Why is the PIC, particularly in terms of its practices and the effects of those practices, an important feminist issue? Why is it important to hear/learn about the practices of the PIC and to listen to the stories of women (cis and trans) about their experiences with those practices?

FYI: Want to know more about gender violence and prisons/PIC? Check out this online journal issue from The Feminist Scholar Online, Women Prisons and Change.

Issue 4: The Sex Wars: Erotic vs. Pornographic?

There are all sorts of ways to discuss pornography as a contentious issue.

• Is pornography harmful to women? How?
• Should it be free speech? Is it a question of censorship?
• How should we regulate pornography? Who gets to decide what counts as pornography and how it should be regulated?
• Does pornography encourage/foster/promote violence? Is it violence--if so, what kind?
• What is pornography? What distinguishes the pornographic from the erotic?

For class on Tuesday (4/13), we are looking at pornography in relation to the erotic and the sex wars within feminism in the late 70s and early 80s. How is the debate framed? What is at stake in focusing exclusively on the pornographic and ignoring the erotic?

Some more questions: Is it possible to have a radical theory of sexuality that isn't reduced to the binary--erotic or pornographic? What are the implications for thinking about sex exclusively in terms of the exploitation/oppression of women? Are there other models for sexuality that envision sex/sexual expression/erotic as empowering or affirming as opposed to purely exploitative and violent?

What is at stake in reducing the debate to porn as something one is either for or against? As something that is either good or bad? As exploitative or empowering? How does sex/sexuality get left out of the discussion? How does this erotic as an expansive term get ignored? Where does pleasure fit into all of this?

Liberty versus Equality: again, coming into conflict...remember Dorothy Roberts and her discussion of liberty and equality in Killing the Black Body? This division produces a binary that mires us in an unwinnable debate.

Liberty: Freedom to choose/control over own life
Equality: Guarantee of certain rights/dismantling of oppressive systems and structures.

Even more questions for discussion: Who gets to decide what is good and bad sex? What is consensual and what is not? Who frames the debate? How does the framing of the debate exclude certain perspectives/important questions? Are women purely victims? Can they be agents--do they exist only as sexual objects? Can they be sexual subjects? How are we encouraged to deny the "yes" within ourselves (a la Lorde, "The uses of the erotic")? How is women's sexuality represented within pop culture? Where does morality fit into all of this? What sorts of values are we encouraging or discouraging in how we frame the debate as one between the erotic vs. pornographic?

Check out the following brief introduction to Audre Lorde ("The Uses of the Erotic") and her work as it is concerned with linking together communities who are fighting in the same war, but in different ways and from different locations. What is at stake in the "sex wars"? Are there ways to rethink how to understand sex/sexuality that enable feminists to envision themselves as connected and at the "edge of each other's battles" instead of as on opposite sides of struggle, pitted against each other?

What are...the sex wars? A Local Perspective

feminism-and-pornography.jpgFor next week we are discussing the feminist sex wars. What are...the sex wars? Check out this chapter from Sex Wars for a chronological history. Or, read this great overview of the Sex Wars, a history. For a great range of essays, covering many different perspectives on pornography, you can also check out Drucilla Cornell's edited collection, Feminism and Pornography.

One of the essays we are reading is by Andrea Dworkin ("Against the Male Flood") who, along with Catherine MacKinnon, was a key figure in the feminist anti-porn movement. Did you know that she and MacKinnon taught at the U in the 1980s? Did you also know that Dworkin and MacKinnon tried to get an anti-porn ordinance passed in Minneapolis?

Check out this link for more information. You can download the case file and an appendix that breaks down how the different council members voted. Here is a brief description:

Radical Feminism in Political Action: The Minneapolis Pornography Ordinance"
Emily Warren, MPP Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs:

In the city of Minneapolis, in the early 1980s, a series of events occurred that would throw this progressive city into the national spotlight. The mayor of Minneapolis, Don Fraser, had to decide whether or not to veto a proposed ordinance that contained a novel approach to the problem of pornography. Frustrated by the increasing number of adult entertainment businesses in Minneapolis, local feminists and community activists decided to fight back. Members of the community felt that the increased visibility of pornography in Minneapolis was a threat to women and caused neighborhood devaluation and decay. They enlisted the help of radical feminists Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, who were living in Minneapolis while teaching at the University of Minnesota. MacKinnon and Dworkin wrote a controversial ordinance for the city that defined pornography as sex discrimination in violation of a woman's civil rights. The ordinance included a broad new definition of pornography that some thought impinged upon the constitutional right to free expression. This case study looks at the contents of the ordinance, and the events in Minneapolis that led to the ordinance's creation. It also examines the relationship between First Amendment rights and the rights of women to be safe from sexual violence.

Issue #3: Family Values

After failing to post an entry for issue #2, I want to get back on track with posting my thoughts on the various issues we are covering. So in this post I want to briefly discuss feminist values/family values and how I have organized this section.

The essays that we are reading for Tuesday's class (3.23) are all responding to a particular moment within American popular/political culture when rhetoric about family values was frequently used to critique feminism and to position feminists as against the family and family values. One oft-cited example of connecting the promotion of family values with the critiquing of feminism is Pat Robertson's remarks in a 1992 letter opposing Iowa's equal rights initiative*:

The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.
*Note: When I originally posted this entry earlier today, I indicated that the Robertson quotation came from the 1992 Republic Convention. After further research, I determined that this was not the case (see here for more information).

Another notable (and perhaps the most popular) example of connecting feminism/feminist goals with the erosion of the family and its values is Dan Quayle's (in)famous comments about the fictional character, Murphy Brown in May of 1992:

It doesn't help matters when prime time TV has Murphy Brown -- a character who supposedly epitomizes today's intelligent, highly paid, professional woman -- mocking the importance of fathers, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another `lifestyle choice'. I know it is not fashionable to talk about moral values, but we need to do it. Even though our cultural leaders in Hollywood, network TV, the national newspapers routinely jeer at them, I think that most of us in this room know that some things are good, and other things are wrong. Now it's time to make the discussion public. -- Vice President Dan Quayle addressing the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco and criticizing Murphy Brown's decision to be a single (highly successful) mother, 5/19/92.

Important to note is that Quayle's comments on Murphy Brown are part of a larger speech in which he claims that one of the primary causes of the LA riots (which happened in the summer of 1992 right after the police who beat Rodney King were found not guilty) is the erosion of traditional family values. Here is a transcript of the entire speech and a news clip with an excerpt from the speech:

As an aside: Did you watch the entire clip? What do you make of the juxtaposition, by the newscasters, of the clip about Dan Quayle and his description of Murphy Brown as mocking the importance of fathers with the clip about Robert Reed (Mr. Brady) and the revelation that he had died of AIDS and not cancer? Is this merely coincidence that one clip leads to the next? Or, is some connection being encouraged in the viewer?

It would seem that for both Robertson and Quayle, feminism poses a serious threat to the family and its values about "right and wrong"? But, why is feminism such a threat? Why does feminists' desire to work for an equal rights amendment (Robertson) or a feminist's choice to be an unwed mother (Quayle) elicit such extreme responses? What anxieties/fears about white masculinity do these feminists claims tap into (see Chloe's post for more on this)?

In her essay, "It's All in the Family," Patricia Hill Collins focuses her attention on "the family" part of family values by exploring "how six dimensions of the traditional family ideal construct intersections of gender, race, and nation (63) and produce/reinforce gender/race/nation hierarchies. She argues that it is crucial for organizations --feminist or Black Nationalist, for example--to be critically aware how they use/invoke  'family.'

In their various contributions to the Feminist Family Values Forum, Lloyd, Jimenez, Steinem and Davis focus much of their attention on the "values" part of family values. Indeed, the purpose of the forum was to bring a wide range of women together to talk about what values actually mean and what values feminists want to embrace and promote.

In bringing all of these readings together, I want us to be curious about:
  • What are families? What are their values?
  • Is feminism bad for families and their values?
  • What sort of values do feminists promote?
  • What does it mean to value something?
  • Why is language about values (and morality) so exclusively linked with one particular vision/version of the family?
  • What differences do you see between the phrases "family values" and "families values"?
On Thursday (3.25), we will focus our attention on feminist values and the environment. Environmental justice and feminism in relation to environmental issues are important topics for many of the feminists we read for Tuesday and for Pardo, who we will read for Thursday. I wanted to highlight environmental issues because they are mentioned so frequently in our readings for this week (and on the blog throughout the semester) and because they enable us to think about the importance of values beyond the individual family.
  • How might making environmental issues central to the values we develop, live by, and promote enable us to think differently about the language of values and about how feminists are working to promote family values instead of destroying them? 
  • How does our understanding and treatment of the environment impact our families and their values?
Note: Also check out the entry that I posted, "Who is...Dr. Vandana Shiva," in connection with our readings and discussion on Thursday.

ISSUE #1: Reproductive Rights

killing_black_body.jpgHere are the notes from my brief introduction to our first issue from class on Tuesday (2.2). I will try to post these for each issue. They will be filed under the category, The Issues.
For the next two weeks, as we explore reproductive rights within feminism, we will closely examine (and call into question) a treasured valued within feminism: the idea of Choice. The idea of choice--the freedom to choose, the freedom to be who we want to be and to have the power to make the kinds of decisions that we want to make, regardless of our gender, race, class, etc.--is central to feminism in general, and most central to feminist organizing around reproductive rights.

  • What does it mean to have the power to choose, to be pro-choice, to be in control of our own reproductive destiny?
  • How do we understand choice?
  • Who gets to choose? What are the choices we get to make?

colorofviolence.gifThe readings for today and next week allow us to explore these questions and to look at:
  • How the movement for choice has sometimes come at the expense of certain women and
  • How there has often been a fine line between policies that work to broaden the choices of women in terms of reproduction and policies that serve to further regulate the bodies and behaviors of women  

We looked at:
  • Foundational rhetoric about choice and control over one's own body (see Sanger)
  • Birth control and the production of the pill (see the Pill)
  • Disturbing link between birth control and population control--is it choice or coercion? (see Roberts)

Next week we will look closer at the idea of choice-what it means for feminism, how it is understood, what the underlying implications of promoting choice are, etc. Next Tuesday, we will examine a wide range of feminist reflections on "choice" and then on Thursday, we will look at some recent feminist blog entries that discuss current, as in right now, issues related to choice. The point of our critical exploration is not to challenge or reject the idea of choice, that is the belief in the fundamental right of women to have control over their own personhood--in body/mind/spirit. All of these readings that we will be discussing in the next two weeks believe that this is still an important goal. Instead, the point of our critical exploration is to investigate the ways in which this belief has been realized within feminism and the limits of that realization.

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