Thursday, January 29, 2015

Brown Bag Reflection: Feminist Organizations

On 27th January 2015, the Women’s Studies Center held a brownbag introduction to some of the feminist organizations on campus. Present were Advocates, Lambda, Sisters of the Round Table (SORT), Vox, The Network, Organization of Asian Sisters in Solidarity (OASIS) and Anti-Racism Coalition (ARC). Providence Ryan from Advocates, a lgbtq+ and ally student group, started the talk off with her description of the club, and its new trajectory of intersectionality. In fact, intersectionality remained a central theme throughout the brown bag. SORT chair Christelle Boursiquot talked about the progression of the women and women of color organization; Chrissie Chen of OASIS, an Asian women support group, talked about bridging gaps between women at Colgate; and Michelle Sagalchik of ARC elaborated on intersectionality and its central place in the mission of the organization—the interconnectedness nature of structural oppressions of patriarchy, racism and heteronormativity. Julia Hooks, the president of Vox, the student branch of Planned Parenthood talked about the need for more conversations regarding pro-choice and abortion rights on campus, and Kendall Murtha, co-president of The Network, the sexual assault and relationship violence awareness group on campus, explained the origins of the club and the events they conduct each year. The brown bag ended after opening up to individual questions and passing of sign-up sheets.

One issue that bugged me throughout the brown bag was how none in the panel really talked about what feminism means. Given that the brown bag was held in Women’s Studies, all the panelists seemed to implicitly assume that everyone present would already know the meaning, which is unlikely. Not to mention, not everyone understands and relates to ‘feminism’ in the same way. Perhaps the panel could have touched upon their idea of what it means and how they practice it within their groups. In their defense however, 5 minutes is perhaps too little a time. I couldn’t shake the question away though: Can a club even claim to be feminist unless organized explicitly as such? Especially if not all of its members might identify as feminist? As a founding member of OASIS, one of the clubs in the panel, I know that not all members in it identify with the word; the concept of equality for everyone perhaps, but not the word itself. Yes, I realize that that means they are feminists because ‘equality’ is quite literally what the word means, but identifying as a feminist is also an inherently political stance. So, even if the club primarily works with feminist issues and advocates for them, does it get to put its members in the political position of identifying as a ‘feminist’, especially if they do not wish to do so? After all, the club is only the sum of its members, and thus, as feminist as its members.

The issue of non-identification with the word ‘feminism’ but identification with the concept is not a new phenomenon at all. Take, for instance, the ‘I don’t need feminism’ and meninist backlash (which, just so we’re clear—is utter um, BALDERDASH.) The refusal to call oneself ‘feminist’ stems manly from ignorance of what the word means, but more and more, I have been confused about the word myself. Make no mistake, I identify strongly as a feminist, and have for a long time, but the more I learn about it, the more I realize that it is subjective. (Note our plural form of the word in our blog title for instance.) A person’s individual experiences and identities are inherently a part of their feminism—at least in my iteration of it. Does that mean that if a person believes in eradication of sexual and gender oppression and/or all other oppressions but does not feel inclined to take a political side in any of the bullahalloo of women’s and other marginalized groups’ rights, is that their own non-identifying-as-such feminism? I most likely wouldn’t count it as such, but more and more I’m not sure. Does explicit identification with the word matter more, or even as much as, standing up for its beliefs?

Overall, the brown bag did not answer my question, but it provided for an excellent opportunity for students to connect with some of the most progressive and activist groups on campus, and feminist-identifying or not, to perhaps find an intersectional space for themselves within those organizations. Considering the sit-in and other events of last semester and the angry backlash that followed, our campus desperately needs it.

-Liza Paudel '15

Monday, December 8, 2014

Caring versus Curing

"We have to design a health delivery system by actually talking to people and asking, 'What would make this service better for you?' As soon as you start asking, you get a flood of answers."
~ Paul Farmer

As the semester comes to a close, I have been thinking a lot about women’s health. Specifically, women who are going through or have gone through cancer treatments. My curiosity surrounding this topic is rooted in my mom’s diagnosis with cancer and her experience through her diagnosis, treatment, and survival of ovarian/uterine cancer. My interest in women’s health and cancer has recently manifested into a research paper I am currently writing for my anthropology gender and culture class.

For my project, I interviewed various women, including my mother, and analyzed blog post of women who have been diagnosed with different types of cancers. I have used my project to provide a space where these women can ‘talk back’ to their experiences with the United States’ medical system. I have found that through these women’s experiences, their voices are often silenced by their doctors and the medicalization of their female bodies. These women expressed how they have never really had the opportunity to reflect on their experiences on an emotional level. This lack of reflection is due to the fact that their lives as cancer patients have been primarily focused on ‘curing’ them of the disease rather than ‘caring’ for themselves on a more holistic level.

These women’s narratives and their feelings of not being able to be cared for through their diagnosis allowed me to connect ideas from my women, health and medicine class, in which I am learning about the sociology side of medicine. The stories these women told highlighted various flaws in our medical system, which allows bodies, especially women’s bodies, to be medicalized. This process of medicalization manifested for these women through the way they perceived their bodies as not female due to mastectomies, hysterectomies, hair loss, fatigue, and many other adverse side effects these women experienced.

The personal narratives I heard made my question our health care system as a whole and how we, as a society, treat women with cancer. How do we create a health system that places more importance on care versus cure? How do we care for these women, and others affected by illness, after they are cured of this disease? What work must be done?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Black Lives Matter: My Silence Will Not Protect Me

"Your silence will not protect you."-Audre Lorde

Today I woke up overwhelmed by the knowledge that I had to write a racial identity essay, a foundations of political thought essay, a blog entry, a case study and so much more.  I grew concerned about my final grades that I decided to check out the new program, DegreeWorks, from the registrar and look at my degree audit. I calculated the gpa I would need to get into a decent masters programs over four times. Most of the masters programs I want are in London. My top choices required a 3.3 and I unfortunately have less than that with only three semesters left to bring my gpa up. I worry constantly over my ability to succeed after undergraduate university. I paced in my room walking back and forth between the bathroom and my room to take cold medication. I checked my email to find a response from advisor about a meeting we had set up for 12:30 today (thursday). She asked me if I perhaps wanted to switch times because of the die in at 12 in the Coop. I switched my time to 7 in the morning on friday knowing that I likely would not participate in the die in. And then, I felt utter shame.
I began justifying my action to not participate by saying that I have a lot of work and life has to go on after college. Indeed, it should or it ought to right? Later, as I strolled into work at women’s studies, I walk into a conversation between four students discussing how people act like they are so down for the cause, but aren’t willing to do anything to make things change. One student challenged my idea of “life goes on afterwards,”  because I had not asked myself whose life exactly goes on.  By saying that life goes on, I not only imply that the lives of the unarmed black people killed don’t matter, I also assert that the war brewing in this country is not real.  It is all too real. Disturbingly real. To suggest otherwise is to practice complicity. I am being complicit. That hurts, and yet I have to be honest with myself and reflect why.
I can’t remember the last time I had an uncritical conversation about life not concerning some overlap of race and gender. My blackness informs all my experiences and I bring it with me wherever I go. Some people may think I can just drop it by the wayside. To be honest,  I have tried. Perhaps my lack of participation in the die in and my bandwagon enthusiasm about activism on this campus is my act of trying to not fully take on the anger and the pain and the breaking and shattering reality.
I sought advice from someone I admire and feel gives me guidance. I asked hir “what does it mean that I’m not there?” Of course, only I can answer that question. I thought perhaps I had just given up because all the people who want to be there and are with the cause will be there or have shown their support in some other way. Then ze asked “ Do you feel you have enough privilege to give up?” The sorry thing is I probably do have the privilege as a middle class black woman from the suburbs to give up now until its me lying on the ground in my own blood filling cracks and crevices in the pavement or perhaps my face will be purple from being brutally strangled to death and taking every last breath that somehow proved my existence.
Perhaps I feel like the danger isn’t imminent enough. Perhaps I still hold out hope for other people on the sidelines to pick up my cross for me. Perhaps I am waiting for my fears to be proven wrong. In no way do I want to assert that any protest or the die in is an overreaction. It is the precise reaction. I simply question why my feet don’t move. Why am I not moved? I honestly think I am afraid that once I step into reality and see the truth in the mirror, I will have to let go of any hope for control. I think I’m afraid. No, I am terrified that the horrors of the videos on lynching, burning, and hosing of black bodies to erase our existence will not be the past but sitting on my doorstep.

I think people never thought the day would come when black people and people of color who stand in solidarity would pull themselves from the white blinding abyss to see the truth and speak truth. I think people, myself included, were not expecting that the simple life they have been living would be DISRUPTED AND DESTROYED. And the anticipation ought to unite and yet it terrifies us because now the utter terror that representations of whiteness, white supremacy, and white power we have walked around with for centuries are being fought against with a vengeance. I don’t know how much I am included in this “they,” but they perhaps aren’t ready for war. Perhaps people think it’s not fair that they should be scared of the black and brown bodies, of black power, of yellow peril, but we should.  We should feel terrified that complicity is unacceptable. Some people ought to be prepared to die while others will die regardless of their choices.

I think the reason I’m not out there is because I thought that by having the critical conversations I have with my friends about race, gender, sexuality and systems and institutions of power was enough to give me freedom within the system not recognizing that I will never know freedom as long as the system exist. As much as I talk about setting the system on fire, I never thought that I would actually have to. I think that I had this idea that I had found a way to “navigate” spaces by talking about the violence done to my psyche in the comfort of a group that understands this struggle of black personhood. And yet, here I am again letting whiteness constitute what my freedom looks like by not causing disruption, by being civil. I always thought I was not afraid to terrify, antagonize, upset, disrupt, and destroy the lives of people who don’t care for my existence, but I am because of just that. “That” being, the feeling I imagine I will surely bawl over when I lie on the ground as a lifeless black body and my classmates and peers step over my body basically shouting back at me that black lives don’t matter. I don’t want to see the complicity because then I would have to witness my hope incinerated by the fact that people indeed believe that black lives don’t matter; therefore, I do not matter. I would have to see the truth that people think of me as the black, steaming, vapid shit of the earth that does not deserve to breathe. I would have to go back to that place of hating my blackness, hating this life, and fighting the utter rage that honestly no one on this campus or in this world has ever seen. People get too scared when black and bodies are “aggressive.” You don’t know aggressive. You don’t know hostile.

People think that black people are making assumptions about all white people. If I were in fact making assumptions about all white people, then I wouldn’t be disappointed. I would not have hope. I would not stride into class everyday thinking that white people will change and that I can make a difference with the knowledge I learn. Perhaps it’s time I truly lose hope.
Writing this, I understand what it means for the post to come from a black body. By default it will be approached with caution.  People will assume that I am simply unreasonable, have corrupted morals, or don’t know all the facts. People will look for an excuse to fall back or point to me to say “ well this black woman doesn't agree with you raging, rioting lunatics so you’re wrong,” and those people will be rudely awakened and disappointed as they read each line. I know that if this were written by a white person, it would begin to be approached as the voice of reason. Then by the end, people would have written it off as a corrupted mind influenced by “the dangers of darkness.” I fear I will lose my job. I fear that I will get a call from my dean, saying that I have caused disruption and my free speech has limits. It is unbelievable but so real that those are risks I take for speaking out against injustice.

Perhaps people may say “just don’t take those risks” and don’t feel that way but do you think I want to feel like this? Like the shit of the earth? You think I don’t want to grow a thicker skin and not understand that to grow a thicker skin is to try to ignore the problem and to ignore the fact that people who say grow a thicker skin have the privilege of being in a world where people love and value them. You think I want this war? Point me to a viable legal channel not laced with bias, that has not disappointed me, that isn’t lined with bureaucracy, that does not perpetuate the problem. I don’t want this but what other choice do I have?

Lastly, if at any time you felt threatened by the “You” in this post, you should ask yourself why instead of saying that I’m antagonizing the people who would otherwise agree. Why are you afraid? And who and what is truly terrifying?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Practicing Feminism

How do I define feminism? How do I practice feminism?
My  working definition of feminism is that of bell hooks’ as “the eradication of all forms of oppressions which are not only limited to sexism, classism, racism…“

The way I practice feminism different daily depending on the space and place. At Colgate, I practice being a feminist by partaking and creating spaces to have conversations whose missions are to challenge the power hierarchies that exist on Colgate campus. The main space for these conversations is the Women Studies Department lounge through brown bags series, a feminist group called (Sisters of the Round Table)SORT and an LGBTQ and allies group called Advocates weekly meetings. Regardless of the topic at hand, these events attempt to create conversation to expand our understanding of the construction of gender roles, the effect of living in a capitalist society and how race, and class functions on this campus.  In SORT, one of the ways in which I practice my feminism is being conscious of the language that we use in the during these meetings spaces , of who is not part of the conversations and finding a way to further change our collective understanding of what it means being a feminist group on campus. Similar to SORT, in Advocates, I am oftentimes aware of the bodies that are not part of the conversation therefore I attempt to create a space to challenge our own understanding by looking at our intersectional identities. Therefore, I practice my feminism by engaging in conversations with whose goals are to create safe spaces to discuss and challenge the heteronormative, sexist, classist, racist, and privilege campus in which we live. Yet the most important ways I practice feminism is taking these conversations from these meetings to the classrooms and to my friends groups. Therefore, for me my practice of feminism encompasses the work of the collective and of the individual in order to eradicate all of forms of oppressions.  

-Stephanie Nabine

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Gift of Self Love

This week's brown bag focused on how students, professors, faculty, and staff practice self-love and self-care in their lives. The panel included Professor Rios, Professor Loe, Professor Page, Professor Benson, Dawn Lafrance and Emily Khazi. The brown bag began with each panelist describing what they see as self love and how they themselves find a sense of self love. Some agreed, that for them, self love is found with other people and through communities. In order to achieve self love, they felt that it needed to complicate the notion of self by seeking self love with others. Additionally, a panelist noted how this process of self love is not static and needs constant introspection. The audience had a chance to share the ways they practiced self love, which included exercise, listening to music, the outdoors, and cleaning. The panelist reserved the last few minutes of the brown bag to engage the audience in ways they practice self-love, which included a walk outdoors, breathing exercises, card writing, massage/heat therapy, and Reiki. I had the chance to participate in the Reiki session which was a very spiritual session. Overall, I think there was an overarching message that self love and self care is necessary within an individual's life, especially here at Colgate.