Saturday, January 21, 2012

Occupy Providence

The walk into Burnside Park was not a casual stroll.  I was very unsure of what to expect from those I would encounter.  On Monday, January 19th, Martin Luther King Jr. day, the temperature was just below freezing.  In contrast to the village of rigged tents the camp appeared completely vaccant.  The only people I could see in the park appeared to be homeless and not affiliated with the camp.  This was a very odd scene, only applified by the loud music and large, active group of people enjoying the ice rink just neighboring the park.  It was only after finding the information booth at the center of the camp that I could identify roughly five to seven occupiers still active in their push to protest. 

I had listened in on a tight group of conversations between the few people out and visible.  They were attempting a loud call for assembly, though there was almost no noticable reaction or arrival of other faces to the small group in response.  The camp seemed more or less fizzled out.  I bumped into Ariel right around this point, and we both took advantage of an occupier by the name of Mike who was more than willing to speak with us while the few others attempted to rally up some energy and more residents as well.  Mike is passionate about the movement and the importance of mobilizing to give a voice to anyone looking for changes in America's capitalist structure.  He does not come off as an extremist or as confused or misguided.  He has traveled the country, visiting and working with a number of occupy sites including Boston, North Carolina, and Oklahoma.  Mike is from Charlotte, NC, which is where his motivation for involvement began.  It is common knowledge at this point that the message from occupiers at large regarded the serious disproportion of wealth that continues to grow year by year, and the perception of the government's failure to address the problem.  The rich get richer while the poor get poorer is a common sentiment for many among the lower, working, and middle-classes.  As Johnson says in Privilege, Power, and Difference;

"The trouble we're in privileges some groups at the expense of others. It creates a yawning divide in levels of income, wealth, dignity, safety, health, and quality of life. It promotes fear, suspicion, discrimination, harassment, and violence. It sets people against one another." 

I was a little surprised to hear that Mike's personal reason for joining the occupy movement focused on the government's influence and control on agriculture.  Mike's area of study in college revolved around horticulture, and he's a member of Future Farmers of America.  He has a strong interest in the production of healthy food sources, and fears for the future of Americans based on common popular consumption.  He mentioned the fact that his home town has no healthy option grocery stores, but multiple fast food chains.  He says this situation leaves residents little choice with regards to healty eating.  He takes issue with the priority of corporation profits over a healthy community.  Mike has witnessed the struggle for small privately owned "Mom and Pop" businesses to survive as bigger corporations and government restrictions choke their livelihood.  He believes in the importance of small business prosperity, as well as the necessity in healthier food alternatives.  He doesn't have optimism for Americans without the realization of how significant these things are for the future.  The days of subsistence based living are history.  Mike feels that the overpowering system of capitalism and commercialism have made this so.  He believes that the government has far too much power and control regarding food production, while showing little care for the preservation of small businesses and true health standards. 

I asked Mike how he felt about the current state of the movement, and of the Providence branch in particular.  He said that he still feels optimistic, though he's beginning to question the plan of action.  He believes that the significance of the movement and various encampments has been in the visualization of the conflict with government.  The media coverage resulting from making such a visible statement has been vitally important in gaining support and continuing for as long as it has.  This relates to another quote from Johnson in which he says; "the purpose is to change how we think so that we can change how we act, and by changing how we participate in the world, become part of the complex dynamic through which the world itself will change."  In large part, the power of such a movement was in the attempt to open the eyes of other citizens and motivate them to join the fight.  The question Mike finds himself asking now is whether this is enough anymore.  He feels the encampments were a great force of collective energy and positive enforcement for the cause, but it is likely that the effectiveness of the camps has since passed.  The energy that was so powerful in the initial movement has faded.  Mike says that many have left with the cold, and the media seems to have lost interest in some respects.  He feels that it is passed time to collectively re-enforce the movement's cause, but is unsure exactly how.  He mentioned that other cities such as Boston were more lively and exuded a more substantial presence than what he has experienced in Providence.  He feels that those still involved seem to show determination, but the effectiveness of the message is not what it was.  Mike spoke of his belief that the movement will see a new surge in participation towards the beginning of Spring.  There is even a worker strike loosely scheduled for May 2012 over exploitative practices.  He believes that with the warmer temperatures there will also be a renewed energy that will hopefully resemble that of the movement's early weeks.

The level of disorganization in this small group could be seen in the meeting just before the scheduled "Stop Achievement First" rally to the capitol building.  Though Mike represented the camp in the information booth centering the group, he had no clear idea of the purpose of the gathering meeting or whether there was indeed a rally in the works.  As it turned out, it was decided that the rally, though only about six members strong, would proceed to the stairs of the capitol to join other individuals in protest.


Once joining the group at the capitol building it was obvious that there were others involved in the event.  The purpose was in the effort to gain support and ultimately halt the Achievement First program in Providence.  The program states that it's intent is focused on the improvement in education afforded to public school students.  The arguments posed by protesters spoke of the misguided significance being placed on standardized testing, and the deterioration of quality education for all as a result.  Many voices supported the calling out of Mayor Taveras on the closing of multiple public schools within Providence, and the overcrowding of classrooms and resulting unemployment of teachers.  Among those in attendance came a collective chant; "Providence schools, not corporate schools!"  There were multiple speakers, both scheduled and inspired to speak.  One such speaker stated; "When our children have all graduated from 'Walmart Academy', at least we can say they all scored well on their standardized tests."   Another speaker called Mayor Taveras a "liar", and accused him of "selling out the community."  The involvement of city councilman Bryan Principe in the rally is in my opinion a perfect example of Andrea Ayvazian's explanation of the position of an ally.  Ayvazian defines an ally as; "a member of a dominant group in our society who works to dismantle any form of oppression from which she or he receives the benefit."  She speaks of the importance of such individuals in saying; "These change agents or allies have such a powerful impact because their actions embody the values they profess: their behavior and beliefs are conguent."  Though a visible member of local government, councilman Principe chose to speak against Mayor Taveras and the closing of public schools in the city stating; "Providence public schools have been neglected financially for years."  He believes that the mayor has only made a serious problem worse.  A final scheduled speaker who works within the public school system spoke on the fact that "school attendence has become compulsory", and in such a situation it is the responsibility of the school board and local government to make sure that quality education is afforded to all children.  I found the involvement in such a rally on the part of occupy protesters to be another example of how wide the range of issues are that the movement attempts to support.


While I see clearly some of the issues which drive the occupy movement, I feel that the past couple of months have seen little in the way of progression.  It's important that people speak on behalf of those getting the short end of the stick, but I'm uncertain that this particular endeavor has ever had the steam necessary to seriously challenge the powers that be.  It would be amazing to see more prosperity for the majority within the un-wealthy classes.  Unfortunately I don't expect anything close to a balance between classes within an economy based on capitalism. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Talking Points #7: "Teaching the Conflicts"

Discussing Love and Helmbrecht, "Teaching the Conflicts"
(Extended Comments)

I've found that the older I get, the more I criticize and tear down movies, television, and advertising.  It gets to the point sometimes that I feel sorry for those in the room with me.  God forbid they're enjoying something like the real housewives or anything reality TV....they hear some form of my frustration whether they want to or not.  In reading this piece I became more aware of the use of female emotion regarding empowerment as a tool in consumerism and pop culture.  While I would choose to focus on any student's well thought out posting, for the purpose of this assignment I thought it might also be more relative to look into a female's take on this reading.  As a combination of the two, I've decided to reflect on Kayla's post. 

 Love and Helmbrecht focus a fair amount of attention on public icons like Pink for the messages she conveys in her music and videos.  The reality of empowerment for women is separated between feeling vs. being.  Kayla references the text quote;

"we want women to understand they do have power and agency and that they are strong and capable. Yet we still want students to see a difference between feeling empowered because the media says they are, and actually being empowered..." 

Kayla mentions how she's identified with Pink's message and lyrics which speak to strength, and the aversion to falling in with the girly girl mentality.  Love and Helmbrecht address the fact that today's younger generation don't naturally distinguish the difference between true empowerment and the media's manipulation of empowerment.  It's important to provide strong role models as an example for youths.  Young people usually identify with and emulate those which they look up to.  A strong and empowered figure of feminism is an important contrast to the princess culture we've discussed.  Kayla speaks for this point saying; "I think seeing our icons sticking up for women's rights can really encourage some of us", speaking as a female who has received such inspiration.  The issue focused on here though is the distinction between being provided true empowerment, or just feeling a manipulated sense of it because it's been fed to young women.  Kayla admits this very realization of the difference in saying; "I can definitely relate to the feeling of empowerment because I personally love these songs"...."I just never saw it as a battle between feeling and actually being empowered."  The article points to the fact that for a number of icons such as Pink there is an image contradiction which questions the intention and validity of their messages to young women.  In the case of Pink it's noted that she herself has on occasion taken on the image of the very thing she seems to preach against. 

The linking of consumerism to a source of empowerment for women is addressed in this reading as well.  Consumerism based campaigns presenting questionable messages of empowerment and identity as it relates to beauty by product corporations such as Dove are analyzed.  Kayla makes a great point speaking on L'Oreal commercials using the slogan "Because you're worth it" and "We're still worth it."  She poses a great critique asking "If one morning I'm too lazy to pretty myself I'm not worth it?."  While such messages are intended to be perceived as empowering, Kayla nails the reality of the marketing campaign's intention, which is to feed on women's insecurities.  

The face of feminism and how it differs depending on generation is also discussed in the reading.  Love and Helmbrecht speak of the variations between post-feminsm and earlier waves saying;

"we find ourselves wondering if younger feminists would feel less alone in their beliefs if they could position their ideas and their work within a broader historical narrative about gendered struggles and the women's movement." 

The fact that many young women now identify female empowerment with pop celebrities and consumer based endeavors rather than those who lead the fight through activism, shows a level of disconnection from the message of those who've come before in the first and second waves.  Is it just me or am I getting worse with these run on sentences?  A quote from Jennifer Baumgardner, a third-wave feminist explains the position of younger feminsts saying; "[They] do not want to be tied to a fixed feminist identity that requires members to be 'anti-capitalist, super-serious, and hostile to bikini waxes and Madonna.'"  Love and Helmbrecht discuss the idea that consumerism led self-indulgency is a misdirection for the femist movement, and that the only possibility for true empowerment is in taking action, as action is the only true method for effecting change.  This is the difference between truely being empowered, and a media and consumerism based feeling of empowerment that becomes more an extention of an individual's buying power. 

Comments/Points to Share:

I chose to focus on a Kayla's discussion of the text as I found that her personal insights on the topic might have more dimension.  In being female she's had the experience of feeling the influence of media and pop culture in their use of female empowerment.  I find it becoming more and more obvious to me just how much consumerism encroaches in on just about every aspect of our daily lives.  If you watch a ball game, in any given shot you are likely to see more advertisements than players in frame.  Billboards in places like Las Vegas assault you from every angle.  TV shows now seem at best 50/50 between showtime and commercial time.  Corporations take advantage of affixing theirselves to all things popular in order to gain an edge.  McDonalds is now being reported as a major sponsor of the Olympic games....what message does this send to youth?  Big Macs fuel the world's best atheletes?  Off topic, but just stating that the influence of the media and consumerism plays into all areas of modern life for people of all distinctions.  

Where's the line between sexism and chivalry?

If the fight for equality is so that all people are seen as and treated as equals, does chivalry poke at this at bit?  Would this be considered a crack on the glass?  I was unexpectedly presented this question given the topics of our class, when I came across an MSN article speaking on the incident surrounding the cruise ship Costa Concordia that occurred earlier this week.  It's a great question that they've brought up which I expect would give people reason to consider their position.  Though I have every belief and instinct that children should always be placed first in line to safety, and I myself would expect to have my wife ahead of me (less to do with sexism, more to do with caring) as I'm sure most people would have their loved ones.....Does the tradition of women first in the case of an emergency mesh with the ideals of feminism?  I know that the orderly fashion plan is now common in such instances, but it seems that the traditional form of ladies first is still a popular expectation.  I would be interested to hear what everyone thinks. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Talking Points #6 Connections: Ayvazian and Occupy websites

Discussion on "Interrupting the Cycle of Oppression..." and Occupy Websites

Andrea Ayvazian speaks of the position many people find themselves in when they recognize issues of inequality but are unsure of how to address them.  The simple fact that the best action and direction for eliciting change isn't clear and obvious may leave many inspired to make it happen unwillful to take the initiative.  Ayvazian states; "it is hard for young people to grow up and fight racism if they have never met anyone who does."  This makes complete sense, as awareness is what begins the steps toward change.  If an individual is aware of a problem, but unaware of the possibility to take action or what options for action may be, the odds of that individual making a move on that problem are far less likely.  In Privilege, Power, and Difference, Johnson speaks of the importance of our decisions to participate in taking a stand.  He writes; "by changing how we participate in the world, [we] become part of the complex dynamic through which the world itself will change."  The Occupy Providence movement exemplifies this idea.  Those who are feeling the impact of economic inequality and displacement, as well as unethical economic control have been locked in the pursuit of government and social recognition of the need for change in practices.  Having the motivation and mindset for change is necessary, but it is through the example of those who help to pilot a cause, that the awareness that not only an issue of inequality exists, but also that the possibility to act against it exists as well. 

The term ally refers to a member of a dominant group who acts against forms of oppression of any kind that they might otherwise reap the benefit of.  An example of such an individual could be a male who is active in feminist rallies, or speaks for the equality of women in the work place.  Or the example Ayvazian speaks on of the group Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, wherein heterosexual individuals work to increase awareness and equality for homosexuals.  Ayvazian describes such behavior as; "intentional, overt, consistent activity that challenges prevailing patterns of oppresion, makes privileges that are so often invisible visible, and facilitates the empowerment of persons targeted by oppression."  She states that such actions are intentional and often involve taking a risk, which I relate to Audre Lorde's words on survival and taking a stand against oppression in "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master's House."  In the piece she says; "[survival] is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish."  I find this statement applicable here as it speaks of the reality of taking action, and that it is necessary to work beyond consequent negativities rather than allow them to be deterrents and impasses. 

Ayvazian continues by discussing the need for those in dominant positions in society to take up causes for equality, as the progress for change is considerably closer at hand for those who are in a position of power to advocate for it.  She says; "Because of our very privilege, we have the potential to stir up good trouble, to challenge the status quo, and to inspire real and lasting change."  The idea of good trouble is interesting, as the challenging of set norms causes trouble for the establishments that support them.  Any such trouble in the effort of positive enforcement for equality bases itself on good intentions and a new establishment of more diversity-conscious norms.  Johnson also addresses the need for those in a position of greater power through privilege to acknowlege and accept responsibility for taking part in enacting positive change.  The need for equal justice should not be a cause left to the oppressed and targeted groups to take on alone.  He states; "if people in privileged groups don't include themselves in the solution, the default is to leave it to blacks and women and Asians, Latinos, Native Americans, lesbians, gay men, and the lower and working classes to do it on their own.

Comments / Point To Share

While our readings address various angles of privilege and oppression, it is clear how they intertwine.  The need for equality bewteen groups stands far less a chance of being fully realized when being preached for by those experiencing the oppression alone.  "The master's tools will never dismantle the masters house" is a phrase which applies to all areas in advocating change toward equality.  When being afforded less power in society is the issue being pressed, where does the power for change come from when the disadvantaged themselves are the only ones doing the pressing? 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Comment on Economic (In) Justice

Economic (In) Justice

I attempted to leave a comment directly on the main page, but kept getting a blank screen instead.

As I touched on in an earlier post, the issue of economic inequality relates to feminism in the existence of oppression and exploitation of the poor, lower class, as well as working and middle classes by those in the wealthy upper classes.  This can also be viewed in the divisions of privileged and unprivileged in similar consideration to that of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, religion, etc.  One particular difference which has been a point of popular inclusion in protests and arguments surrounding the occupy movement is that in this case those being exploited far outnumber those in the position of privilege.  The societal ideal that what is normal, right, and accepted is determined by the majority is extremely questionable here.  These are points that I plan to speak more on in my post on the Occupy Providence assignment.  The main point is that issues of inequality must be addressed with a voice and a sentiment for change.  In this way the growing disparity of financial means between class catagories in our country fits into the context of feminist consideration.

Our country is continuing to loose it's edge globally while those who live within the wealthy upper class see exceeding growth in income.  In contrast, all below the line of upper class distinction appear relatively stagnant in comparison.  Incomes for many have actually declined while unemployment exploded during the past three years.  As covered in the news, CEO's and high level executives (many within the corporations who received federal bailouts) have enjoyed lofty bonuses and unreal retirement compensation packeges while the working class scrape by.  This cannot be said or assumed of anyone based solely on what class they fall into, as catagories can be wide in range, but this is a typical assessment of our current economic position in America.  The Ben Stein article link covering his discussion with Warren Buffet made some great points.  It's easy for most within the middle class and below to express the fairness and need to increase taxation of the wealthy in order to help balance the deficit.  I was somewhat unsure about this approach feeling that this might be comparable to taking from any dominant group in the opinion of fairness.  To target someone due to a perceived association to a group is a questionable tactic in attempting balance and equality.  Through Ben Stein's article though it became clear that in reality the consideration of increasing taxation for the wealthy was in the attempt to achieve a balance in percentage of income taxed, which in comparrison only seems fair.  The idea that those working to make ends meet and provide for a family have a greater percentage of their incomes taken in taxes than those of the highest income earners reminds me of points discussed in class on bank fees.  Those with the means to maintain high account balances earn greater interest accumulation while those without the means often incur penalty fees.  The rich get richer while the poor get poorer.

I came across a great blog post titled "We Are Not All Created Equal" speaking on the issues of class inequality in America and the grim reality of the difference between our idealistic views and actual state of affairs.  "It is hard to imagine even any temporary regression back to the days of the swelling American middle class. The forces of inequality are simply too powerful and the forces against inequality too weak. But at least we can end the hypocrisy. In ten years, the next generation will no longer have the faintest illusion that the United States is a country with equality of opportunity. The least they're entitled to is some honesty about why."  While this is a sad thought to consider, it makes a great point.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Talking Points #5: Economic Justice as a Feminist Issue

Economic Equality as a Feminist Issue

As we have discussed in class, feminism covers more than the struggle of any one independent group or structure.  The balance, or imbalance might be a better phrasing, of privilege and oppression, power and for all intents and purposes the powerless, fits in among topics of feminism.  The system of capitalism is an area which I had spent a significant portion of focus in my Classical Theories coursework this past fall semester.  I chose to study and write on the conceptual theories of Thorstein Veblen, famous for such books as The Theory of the Leisure Class, and The Vested Interests and The Common Man.  The general focus of such works surrounded the observed tendencies of people who fell within socio-economic class catagories as well as the responsibilies and cultural expectations that come with class distinction.  A society based on the system of capitalism has no possibility of existence without class distinction.  One might say that a premise of capitalism is the possibility to better one's financial standing and lifestyle given the resources to make it happen.  The consequent effect of having the ability to elevate one's economic status is of course that there be a measure of inequality as a result. 

The question of how or why economic inequity is a feminist issue is answered in the struggle for some sense of morality within the divergence of class identities.  Class is closely related to gender, race and ethnicity, religion, and other social categories and distinctions which fall prey to segregation or exclusion, oppression, stereotyping, and labeling.  Class diversity is a matter of power, privilege, oppression, and identity.  The Center for Working Class Studies website explains the need to recognize the distinctions in our social and economic culture for what they are and how we as a society are responsible for how they are addressed.  A quote that I found relavent to this states; “our belief that class doesn’t exist keeps us from understanding how much it matters.”  I've heard the problem of ignorance to class in America before.  To me, it's not so much an issue of believing that class doesn't exist in our country, but rather that it just is what it is.  The idea that the struggle for some...or most, is only natural seems to be common enough a perception that it is simply ignored by many.  It is clear also that any personal topic speaking on issues of what one has and another does not often seems easier to ignore or distance yourself from.  I would expect that the issue of class status and economic privilege is one which would invite some varying personal opinions and emotions depending on who's doing the talking (not unlike issues of gender, race, and sexuality). 

One thing that I find interesting is that while this topic can be so closely associated with our previously discussed topics in class, it also seems one which is so much easier to collectively or openly assign stereotypes to without as great a risk of coming across as narrow minded or being confronted for a negative comment.  Perhaps I feel this because I identify most with middle and working class people, and there is never a penalty in bad mouthing the wealthy....there's rarely one in speaking light of the poor either for that matter.  

I found the People Like Us website entertaining while identifying the reality of public perception and identification through things like employment, consumerism, and attitude.  I played the games available and see how common it is everyday to assign class distinction to people and items.  As a result these distinctions can affect choices in what we do, what we buy, and how we live relative to what resources we have and how we wish to be, and not to be perceived.  In playing the livingroom decorating game I found that I was perceived to be associated to working-middle-class with some hints toward upper-class taste (chose a Hi-def TV).  I find that in choosing between the items available, my taste seems to reflect what I have become accustomed to over time.  I didn't grow up with money...believe me.  And I find that I was proud to be associated as working or middle class.  I believe that such a sense of pride is also a product of identifying yourself with hard work and other people you respect within similar circles.  

I'm sure most can relate to Joe Queenan speaking on “permanent high school” saying that now we always feel the need to be cool.  We always feel the need to fit in and impress our friends.  This is basically the concept of keeping up with the Jones’…or better yet, staying one step ahead of them.
The story revolving around Burlington VT and the debate over choice of grocery store clearly depicts the topic of class characteristics and perceived classification.  Shaw’s represents the middle and working class resident who values mainstream products and reasonable prices vs. Onion River which in a way represents a more image conscious culture, who have the funds to pay typically higher prices for a selection focused more toward organic and pricey health food items.  Speaking as a tourist who recently visited Burlington during their busy warmer months, I was able to see the distinction that exists in the community.  What I noticed was a well populated middle-class town which surrounded a busy health concious, college town with an upper-middle class focused town center.  With this imbalance in a town that earned the distinction of one of the healthiest in America, I can see how class and cultural distinctions might continue to intensify.   
Questions/Comments/Points to Share:

I also focused on a phrase writen on the site which said “enshrined in national legend”  referring to the idea that all people are created equal.  I found this phrasing well suited, when considering the U.S. a land of equality, with such a multitude of people having experiences which would say otherwise.  I think it's interesting how class identification can present both a sense of pride, as well as a sense of powerlessness which unlike some of the other topics discussed, doesn't seem quite so easy to rectify simply by recognition of inequality and a change in mentality.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Talking Points #4: Quotes

Discussion on Rich in "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence"


The distinction of "Compulsory Heterosexuality" is one credited directly to Adrienne Rich.  The word heterosexuality defining the traditional (though this is questioned) relationship between women and men, and compulsory, meaning required or necessary.  The required or necessary spoken of in this context is related specifically to patriarchal society and control of culture.  Rich explains the mainstream belief of heterosexual relationships being sacred and most significant as a result of psychological dominance of women by male oppression.  The goal of such domination over relationship restriction is the male preservation of sexual, economic, and emotional access to women.  The idea that Rich not only entertains, but seriously enforces in this literature is the expectation that if not restrained by patriarchal control, women experiencing what she defines as a lesbian relationship will ultimately find greater significance and support in such relationships.  Women in Rich's opinion would find greater comfort, emotional bonding, and possibly romantic satisfaction in lesbian relationships.  She states that such is evident throughout history, though as a result of male action against such "deviant" behavior, historical documentation has been routinely erased from existence.  From birth it is explained that female bonds are strongest between one women and another, and only due to the sexual and reproductive drive of men has this been forced away in place of heterosexual values.  Rich also explains women's need of men, or belief of this, for the purpose of motherhood as another angle of ensnarement.  The arguement here is that it is in a woman's true nature to find greater companionship with another woman, rather than a man.  It has been the position of men over the ages to deter, shame, and ultimately eliminate this instinct. 

"Maternal affection is used to establish male right of sexual access, which however, must ever after be held by force (or through control of consciousness) since the original deep adult bonding is that of woman for woman."
This quote speaks of something I touched on in opening.  The belief is that men use the institution of reproducing and mothering a child provides necessity of heterosexual involvement and physical or sexual access.  After all, in order to procreate, intercourse between a male and female is required...or so men would have women believe.  This quote continues to infer that once such reproductive partnership is complete and mother has child, such access must then forever be maintained through other methods of force.  It is argued here that once the utility of a man is no longer needed, it is only natural for a woman to revert to a relationship among other women.  This enforces her discussion of the expected fear of men in loosing unlimited physical access while being rendered nearly insignificant.

"Men feel they can take advantage, so they want to, so they do."
This statement speaks on the issue of sexual harassment and the consideration of such actions being a result of men's arrousal from the vulnerability of women.  In this instance men are being dominant, placing women in a subordinate role, as Rich argues is the classic or traditional roles between man and woman.  Men, as a manner of taking control, feel conquest in the forcible advances on women.  As mentioned above, the possibility of being denied access by a women is an issue relating to loss of patriarchal control.  Harassment is a method of securing dominant satisfaction against the fear of female dismissal.

"The lie keeps numberless women psychologically trapped, trying to fit mind, spirit, and sexuality into a prescribed script because they cannot look beyond the parameters of the acceptable."
The lie spoken of here is the idea that heterosexuality is the natural course of a woman's sexual or relational nature.  Women in this case are "psychologically trapped" by cultural ideology, which is in origin patriarchal ideology.  Rather than living free to fulfil what Rich claims to be women's true nature of lesbianism, those under the constraint of male and mainstream dominance must remain entangled withing a sexual identity which they don't belong.  As a result of this entrapment all facets of their being are compromised and stifled from their true potential.  This acceptance of the defeat of true natural order is simply due to the inability of women to see the possibilies which lie beyond what male control has established for them.  This ultimately encompasses the idea Rich presents as patriarchal authority over the female psyche, which assumes that male control has extended to the overall influence of women's innacurate understanding of themselves and their potential. 

Questions/Comments/Point To Share:

While I truely believe in the right of all to decide for themselves how to live and socialize within the world, I also believe that sexual orientation though for some or many can be self doubted, it as I believe, is determined at birth rather than simply as a matter of personal choice.  I feel that at times this point is shaky in Rich's piece.  This discussion seems to infer overall that women are naturally inclined to be drawn to other women by bonds far beyond sexual in nature.  At points though, this seems considered more a question of decision than nature. 

It is made to account that by Rich's definition, all bonds and relationships of significance between women are a form of lesbian interaction.  Would this also mean that all male friendships are in reflection homosexual in nature?  I would argue that this is only amending an established definition to encompass her arguement.  I realize that she clearly states the problem with tying male and female homosexuality into one group, but I can't help but question placing the significance of one over the other.  Is it to say that females are more dynamic and as such lesbian relationships are more dynamic?  As a straight male my comprehension of Rich's interpretation and experiences are far from solid and may be little more than assumptions outside of what I might understand in her literature.  I do feel though that making the stride to assert that all women are lesbians at heart and by nature may be a bit of a stretch at self validation.  This idea seems to slight all women who truely identify themselves as heterosexual as being unaware of themselves, their relationships, their wants and goals.  It questions their very identity.

Speaking beyond this piece....while researching for a hopefully clear understanding of the literature I came across some interesting stats and information related to the parenting of children in a two woman household which some may find worth a look.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Talking Points #3: Reflection: ALL KIDS LOVE LOG!!!

"Cinderella Ate My Daughter" by Peggy Orenstein

The indentity of a toy's intended target gender in today's culture is extremely clear.  Anyone who might have forgotten just how obvious this is only needs to stroll through the toy section at any big box store to see the immediate difference between the boys and girls isles.  Peggy Orenstein makes her point beginning with the outdated and sexist character stereotypes found in classic and popular Disney films.  The roles of women as presented to girls still young and impressionable, are ones without goals beyond finding their prince, with their futures relying primarily, if not solely on their looks.  Orenstein says; "Their goals are to be saved by a prince, get married and be taken care of for the rest of their lives."  Some mothers fear the message this presents to girls in a time when the fight for gender equality is still attempting to make strides. 

Business strategists argue that gender specificity is wanted by children as reflected in toy sales.  "In order to be gender-fair, today's executives insist, they have to be gender-specific (NY Times)."  The growth in popularity of merchandising pink and blue exemplifies the segregation of gender-specific toys.  Though this seems to have undertaken a gender reversal during the twentieth century, as Orenstein explains, pink is now undeniably female specific.  The notion of the limiting of imaginative possibilies for girls is questioned.  While identifying many popular girl's toys as being domestic oriented, boy's toys are geared toward action.  It becomes blurry as to who may be more limited by popular expectations.  "Boys as young as four said their daddies would think it was 'bad' if they played with 'girls' toys, even something as innocuous as miniature dishes."  The consideration here is that while girls toys may be identified as promoting female stereotypes of materialism and beauty importance, girls may have greater freedom in expression and experimentation than the expectations of gender roles allow for boys.  The positive significance of stereotypically feminine or "princess" themed toys is posed as a necessary preservation of innocence that society seems so quick to corrupt.  The counter to this point is the consideration that the toy companies themselves may be the very first to be corruptors of young minds with the promotion of gender stereotypes, and particularly, what it means to be a girl or boy.  The dispute of the necessity of gender specificity is difficult to compromise on completely. 
While the extreme division between gender based merchandise is questioned, there is a natural and considerable difference between what is expected and accepted for one gender and another.  The topic of Sesame Street characters in Orensteins piece helps to illuminate this point; "If Cookie Monster was a female character, she'd be accused of being anorexic or bulimic," and, "were he a girl, Elmo's 'whimsey' might be misread as 'ditziness'."  These points, as unfortunate as they may be, are culturally valid.  Girls, while seemingly corralled into stereotypical femininity, also appear to have avoided resulting adult limitations as women grow to become professionals in varying fields.  This much can at least be said for many women of earlier generations.  The effects of current consumer trends in toys which focus on materialism and appearance are yet to be seen.


Questions/Comments/Point To Share:
My own experience growing up made it clear which toys were specific to me, and which were specific to my sister.  She had baby and Barbie dolls, My Little Pony, etc., while I had Teenage Mutant Ninja Turles, action figures, toy guns, and so on.  One exception I can still clearly remember was when I was probably around the age of 7 and my sister was 5.  At the pleading of both my sister and I while at Toys R Us, our mother bought us each a mini broom.  As odd as that may sound for a child, let alone a boy to want such a basic and unexciting cleaning tool, we were extremely excited at the fact that such a thing was made in a size specific to us.  What made these even more appealing was, just as in the discussion of children's bats in the Orenstein piece, the brooms were available in both pink and blue.  We were high on the fact that we each had clearly gender-dentifiable CLEANING UTENSILS.  I can remember how funny one man which my mother was in conversation with found our content in such things.  While my sister and I enjoyed the typical toys throughout childhood, and eventually pushed through teenage phases, niether of us have fallen into a trap of consequent suggestibility in adulthood.  My sister, now a great mother, doesn't twirl around in a gown from day to day submissive to men, just as I don't chuck grenades at pedestrians and attack suspected criminals with nunchucks.  I can see the importance of forming the right messages for children, but at some point I believe people may also be falling victim to their own paranoia.  I'm sure I will experience this to some extent myself when I take on the responsibility of raising children.  Never the less, it's important to recognize the necessity of letting children be children without overshadowing their early years with the heavy topics they will undoubtedly inherit naturally as they mature.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Hyperlinks: Lorde; The Master's Tools...

Faith Ringgold-The Flag Is Bleeding #2
In reading Audre Lorde's thoughts it became very clear just how different each person's experience in life can be.  Not that this thought isn't one to have crossed my mind previously, but in reading her perspectives reflecting the lack of complete representation in the continued feminist movement, Lorde clearly conveys frustration in the current state of communication.  Feminists of color, as well as lesbian and poor representatives rarely find an equal opportunity to lend a voice to discussions of oppression and the need for change.  The conference which Lorde was in attendance exemplifies her points in this area.  Those in attendance of such gatherings and discussions appear to be somewhat exclusive within a limited socioeconomic frame work.  Representatives in Lorde's experience tend to fit a mold of white academics of at least middle class society.  This club lacks the experiences and ideas of a great range of individuals with a voice to be heard. 

I came across a video on youtube which promotes a strong message of support for feminism.  The way in which this video is perfectly related to Lorde's literature, is that while it may not be possible to identify sexual orientation or economic class, there is an EXTREME lack of representation of women of color.  Only one image at the end of the series in all of those displayed in the over 4 minute video is of a woman who is clearly other than white.  Respect is paid to those women of the suffragist movement which we discussed in class (clean, well dressed, white, upper-middle-class).  This video clearly supports Lorde's position on diversity in expression. 

In searching related topics online I found an artist site for Faith Ringgold who is an artist, author, and professor.  Her painted quilt work is beautiful and extensive covering her over 35 year career.  Beyond viewing her artwork and brief biography the artist has a link under "Racial Questions and Answers" that relates to the frustration of identity found in Lorde's article; "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master's House."  These questions at least in small part, allow the participant the chance to consider their life and identity if waking up one day as another race and gender.  Questions such as "Whom would you tell first?", and "How do you feel about your new identity?" got me considering my comfort level in my own skin and how this, and in large part, my identity as I'm accustomed to it would change based on gender and ethnicity.  Answers collected by previous participants are available based on participant gender and race.  The questions posed led me to wonder of the feelings of those who feel oppressed.  Would you ultimately choose, if given the choice, to permanantly assume the identity of another race or gender to gain the expected privileges that accompany such an identity?  Would you instead choose to live with the characteristics which you're already familiar?  I believe that most would choose to remain who they are, as they are.  Though challenges may vary from one person to another, I don't believe sacrificing the person you have grown to become for the chance at some possible privilege benefit is a worthy cost.  At any rate, the short series of questions is worth a minute or two, and may even help broaden considerations on identity and perspective. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Johnson, Argument from Privilege, Power and Difference

Johnson discusses the significance of privilege and oppression relative to class status, race, sexuality, and gender in order to define how these concepts are relevant to each group variable.  He describes the reality of inequality as the "trouble we're in," speaking of the lack of collective unity toward changing the situation. 
This author argues that those who don't feel the power of oppression have little motivation to recognize the importance of enacting or at least attempting to change the system as it currently exists.  Johnson argues that in order to see change, it is first necessary for change of thought which will in turn lead to a change in action.  The change in individual actions can then broaden to greater participation of significant change. 
Oppression places those within groups of color, as well as homosexuals and females at an unfair disadvantage based on born characteristics.  The recognition of one's societal privilege is not always easily admitted, and can often bring on a sense of defensiveness.  The reality of discrimination and inequality due to stereotypes and assumptions leads to further separation in society through a consequent segregation.  This ultimately pits people against one another, making it less likely for people to work together or recognize their commonalities.  An issue is also identified in the mentality that as a white individual, the fact that you may not be directly oppressing another leaves you free of inclusion in the problem of inequality.  It is stated that one cannot be privileged without the necessity of another being oppressed.  This is the balance that is necessary for either to exist.  Though an individual may not directly act to oppress another, the simple reality of being privileged secures involvement in the issue.  It is necessary for those in a position of privilege to aid in the effort of change if there is to be any collective improvement.  Johnson discusses the "social construction" of reality which speaks of the group identifications of people as nothing more than names resulting from privilege and oppression.  These catagories are only significant within these constructs, and would otherwise hold little importance.  Privilege has little, if anything to do with what or who you are, and more to do with how we are catagorized by what people think we are.  The statement made by Harry Brod which says that privilege is not something taken but instead something society gives an individual is a concept I see directly related to a privileged person's detatchment from the issue of inequality.  As privilege isn't something a white male, for instance, can choose not to take, it may be an issue of believing that they have no involvement in inequality despite the reality that they receive privileges nonetheless.

I wasn't raised in a family of what I would classify even middle-class substance, and I myself haven't experienced any level of significant success.  I don't have any examples which I can identify which would classify as resulting from privilege.  This being said, I also see how my perception could be due to a level of blindness or detachment from oppression, as I can't identify any examples of oppression which I have had to endure either.

Intro Summary

I'm an undergraduate senior cramming my last number of courses in order to make graduation by May '12.  If unnecessary, I wouldn't plan to take an early Spring course, but as it is necessary in order to meet a credit requirement I find that I am excited to test myself over the next three weeks.  I am a Sociology major and I see how significant the subject of feminism relates to my study focus of people and behavior.  If I wasn't taking an early Spring course, I would be taking every opportunity I can afford to take out the snowboard and get some fresh, cold air.....I will still attempt to fit in a day or two if at all possible.  I am excited to gain greater knowledge and insight throughout the rest of my remaining time in school.