Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Global Feminisms

             Tuesday’s Brown Bag on Global Feminisms featured a panel of four Colgate Professors discussing their different types of feminist activism. PCON Professor Susan Thomson, a human rights lawyer, researcher, and author, spoke about activism in her work, her research, and in her classroom. Feminism, she said, is informed by the ability to speak and give voice, to self-reflect on privilege, to be curious, and to able to question why things are the way they are. The main point of Professor Thomson’s contribution is that challenging traditions that protect men and power is a very slow process. She realized this at a very young age after an incidence of domestic violence in her town went unspoken and unquestioned. In her work as a human rights lawyer, she has had two successes in the last twenty years. Professor Thomson asks us to question why and how people are in the positions that they are. Professor of Educational Studies Anna Rios was the second professor sharing her story. She described her experience with feminism as being very elliptical. Professor Rios grew up in an immigrant household and witnessed the experience of her indigenous Peruvian grandmother and the difficulties and harships she faced operating in a patriarchal system. After sharing her grandmother’s story, Professor Rios spoke about how women of color carve out spaces to enact their own agency because oftentimes, they can be forgotten in the larger feminist narrative as a result of an assumed universal experience.
          Professor of German studies Tessa Wegener shared her story of moving to Germany with her mother and her new husband and the affect that had on her conceptions of feminism and how it relates to her interest in women’s writing in post war era and issues of migration and integration. She explained watching her independent mother become a German housewife and the ways in which she was restricted spatially to the domestic sphere. Professor Wegener also spoke a lot about the importance of writing and how it allows women to articulate and share their experiences. Professor of Economics and Women Studies Ulla Grapard was the last professor to share her experiences before the discussions was opened up to Q&A. She spoke about her experience coming of age in 1950s Denmark. I really enjoyed this part of the discussion because it was interesting to hear about the rigid gender roles that existed and the ways in which she rebelled against them. It was interesting to hear about the expectations of docility and politeness and what sort of consequences came from going against those norms. She was discouraged from pursuing economics, and from studying gender and economics. Professor Grapard also talked about pay and gender equality, job segregation, and education. I really enjoyed this discussion and thought it was great to hear from these women their activism.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Steubenville Rape: Reactions and Resistance


Exactly one week ago, Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old West Virginia girl. As if the details of the rape were not horrific enough, the reactions to the crime were nothing less of depraved, misogynist, and even sadistic. These frightening reactions, however, do not stem from one source. There is, in fact a progressive line of appalling reactions starting with the reactions of the people at the party and ending with the media coverage on the guilty verdict. Beginning with the people at the party, can I just ask, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!” I still cannot believe that people pulled out their phones to record and take photos of this incoherent girl being violated by two men. The mere fact that these men removed her clothes and engaged in nonconsensual sexual acts with her practically lifeless body is heinous enough, but to record it? How is this a normal person’s reaction? I’m assuming that not all of the men and women (yes, women too) who took photos are sociopaths, so, how is it that their immediate response to this behavior was to further degrade the girl by recording her and distributing the videos? If this is not evidence that we live in a rape culture, then perhaps the other reactions are. 
            For instance, let us focus on the reaction of one Mr. Michael Nodianos. Nodianos, identified as a former baseball player at Steubenville High School, is recorded in a 12- minute video cracking himself up about the videos and photos that circulated after the rape. The video is so atrocious that I couldn’t even watch the full thing. You know, everyone wants to believe that women are regarded as equal members of society, but, Mr. Nodianos, you have just successfully illustrated the utterly disgusting way people continue to view women. Thanks dude. I won’t recount the entire video since, as I just mentioned, I did not watch the full thing. I will, however, point out a few key phrases that Nodianos finds completely hilarious. He begins the video by laughing about how “dead” the girl was and then goes on to say, "She is so raped. Her puss is about as dry as the sun right now." Nodianos makes some other choice remarks such as, "They raped her quicker than Mike Tyson!" and "they raped her more than the Duke lacrosse team!" The fact that this man acknowledges that a girl had been raped and goes on to laugh about it is so disappointing and sad. No person, be it a man or a woman, should find rape funny. Rape in other countries is used as a weapon of war and here sits this kid on video laughing about it. What does that say about our culture and the way we raise our children? I can only hope that this reaction will open parents’ eyes as to the importance of discussing these issues.

            Unfortunately, the jarring reactions to this girl’s rape do not end here. Rape is so embedded in our culture that even the media finds a way to victimize the rapists. In a video I have attached to this post, CNN laments the guilty verdict by focusing on the effects that the rape trial will have on the rapists, not the victim. In one specific piece of the segment, reporter Poppy Harlow stated that the scene was "incredibly difficult" to watch and goes on to say, "These two young men -- who had such promising futures, star football players, very good students -- literally watched as they believed their life fell apart." It is mind boggling to me that CNN sympathizes with the rapists and says nothing of the victim’s ordeal. Hellooooooo!!!!! These men are rapists, RAPISTS! There is no need to feel sorry for them. They deserve way more than they got and, spoiler alert, they did this to themselves.

            While I am so sorry that this happened, I am kind of happy that this story has gained so much media coverage. It is unfortunate that something as vicious as this crime had to occur before people took notice, but I am glad people are in fact noticing. Too many rapes like these go unnoticed and it is about time that society at large realizes that we live in a rape culture. It is not something that we whiny feminists have made up: it’s true, it’s real, and something needs to be done about it. So, as a closing note, take this as a lesson. First, being drunk does not equal consent. Second, don’t be a bystander; if you see something, say something. Third, watch what you put up online; it might just come back to bite you in the butt.

-Ariel Rivera '13

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Women and Shopping

The article, "The Real Reason Women Shop More Than Men",  published on the Forbes website is about the underlying reason(s) women shop so much. It is written by a woman, Bridget Brennan, who is also the CEO of a consulting firm called Female Factor. She is one of the world’s leading authorities on marketing and selling to women. Initially, I thought it would be a flowery, stereotypical article about how desperate some women are to keep up with the latest trends. However, it really was a sincere article. The reason, it turns out, is because women are putting others before themselves. Along with shopping for themselves, women shop for their loved ones. They think of their partners, children, relatives and then buy items for them. This brings up the question: why do women feel the need to put others before themselves or feel the need to buy things for everyone else? Personally, I think that it is ok to be selfish once in a while and splurge on a new top. However, this article is saying that women tend to get what they need but they also get things for their loved ones in such a way that they analyze how it would impact the receiver. So, does this all stem from the fact that women feel the pressure to please others? I think that this could be a major part of it because some women place a tremendous amount of pressure on themselves to be caring, loving, pleasing, and present all the time. It says a lot that a good amount of women cannot go out for a day of shopping without buying things for others. I also wonder why some men do not feel this pressure or need to shop for loved ones. What do you think about this? Is there any way that you think we can lessen the need to please that some women have? 

Read the article HERE

By: Natalie George  

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

19 Mar BB: Senior Concentrators Speak Out: Part I

I love hearing other students talk about issues they care about, so this brown bag was a treat for me.  Six of the fourteen WMST concentrators in WMST 490 presented on their practicum projects: Andrea Liptack, Kate Thomson, Caroline Prins, Natalie Siedhof, Kelsey Gibb, and Michelle Moon.  The topics ranged from body image and fat talk to storytelling and support of private struggles, to virginity, to birth control and abortion.  In solidarity with these projects, I shall tell my own stories of body image, virginity, reproductive/hormonal rights, and mental health.

I lost my virginity this semester.  I still haven't decided whether or not I'm happy about this, because I think it's very complex.  Like I said during the discussion, I question what and why we define virginity.  I think I personally see virginity as an identity label that we take on or reject based on our own (dis)satisfaction or perception of our sex lives.  So in this way, I think labeling oneself a virgin can be liberatory, and I think part of my unease is that I liked the idea of being a virgin, that no man had come along worthy of my body to that level, that there was a level of self-worth one could tie into that label.  Then again, for many people it is a scientific 'fact' about one's sex life that is narrowly defined heteronormatively and is often not associated with pleasure.  For that reason I'm happy not to call myself a virgin, because it's not in this sense of 'purity' anything I value.  The major struggle I have is that my first time was fairly enjoyable, but as soon as I did it I realized that I had indeed lost something.  There was a threshold that I had crossed, a level of intimacy I established with this stranger that I'd never established so explicitly before, and it had me worried, because we aren't in a relationship and I wondered what it said about the experience that I didn't orgasm.  So maybe in some sense I am still a virgin: I've never had someone else finish me off.  And I think I like that, because it gives me something else to give, another type of possible intimacy not linked to patriarchal ideas of penetrative purity.

A bigger part of my sexual struggle is completely tied in with body image, mental health, and hormones.  As a transwoman, my body is a political battleground, like the rest of my sisters fighting for reproductive rights.  Insurance doesn't cover my medications, so I have to pay out of pocket, and as a college student who still has no firm plans after graduation, that's really scary.  My hormones are my new body.  Without them, it's harder and harder for me to pass.  Even with them it's a daily battle with people's perceptions, the maintenance required in our culture for legible femininity, and my own self-doubts.  Mentally, my view of my self is admittedly pretty low, and it's difficult for me to see myself as attractive.  And how do you prove you're attractive in a patriarchal society?  You get a man to tell you so, or in my case, to vote with his dick.  So far I've got a giant amount of nos, but some very prominent yesses.  And maybe that should tell me something (if nothing else I've learned from my four years of feminist thinking): that contrary to what you tell yourself in the mirror, there are guys out there who are just fine being with you as a transwoman.  And if you're letting him define you and he says you're beautiful, and you still don't believe it?  Then you're probably wrong.  It's been getting better.  Now that I know that it is indeed possible for me to get some if I want to, I don't really feel the need to.  My desire to engage in hooking up has decreased significantly, because I realized that my project was not just seeing if it were possible for me to navigate a sexual relationship with a (presumably) straight male as a male-bodied woman, but it was tied up in self-worth, and that's not healthy.  Now that I know that I can get validation from men, I don't really want it.  I kinda just wanna diva-stomp my way around campus in my sweatpants.  In fact, I think I'll do just that.  #donthatemecuzImbeautiful

Xavia Publius '13

Monday, March 18, 2013

One Foot in Both Worlds: Being a Feminist at Colgate


When I originally began to think about a topic for my capstone praxis project, I tried to think about feminist issues that I could truly be invested in. As someone who is very critical about the world she lives in, I found it hard to narrow the topics down to something I could really focus on and that, to be honest, hadn’t been so overdone. I finally realized that, although I am very much a feminist and that I care about so many different feminist issues, I have never before been pushed to really DO something about them. It then hit me that a feminist issue I truly care about, and that affects me at a very deep level, is the negative backlash against feminism. While there have been many brown bags conducted about feminism as the “F word” and things of the like, I really never thought that this issue affected everyone. All of the people involved in Women’s Studies always seem so courageous and unafraid of what people think. I, however, did not see myself that way. My capstone began as a selfish endeavor to make feminism less threatening so that I could feel more comfortable expressing my own feminist identity, but throughout the first half of this semester, I have come to learn that this isn’t an individual issue: many men and women are in the same position I am in.

As a student on Colgate’s campus, I find it close to impossible to ignore what others say and/or think about me. I am usually a very confident and independent woman but, for some reason, things just seem different here. There is enormous social pressure be a certain person and, in my case, a certain woman. I especially feel pressure as someone who is actively immersed in Greek life. I am not in a sorority, but I do attend parties and am in a relationship with a man that was a member of a fraternity. I feel very much attached to that aspect of campus, which brings both its costs and rewards. While I do feel this enormous social pressure, I do also feel a sense of belonging. I enjoy going out and associating with members of Greek life. I have never felt forced to be their friends or to do things at their parties I have not wanted to do. The issue, however, is that I feel like I can’t be my full self in that I can’t be overtly feminist. 

Feminism for many people on campus is threatening and carries with it a negative stigma. It makes it very difficult to negotiate the tension between being a feminist and being part of the mainstream on campus. While the two do not have to be mutually exclusive, there is this perception that they are. This perceived separation makes it very difficult to claim one’s feminist identity without feeling a sense of judgment or embarrassment. As I have spent more and more time in the Women’s Studies Center this semester I have come to realize that many people struggle with this tension. I am not the only one who feels this way and something needs to be done to fix it.

I have been challenged by my capstone to DO something and, for now, I think talking about this issue is one major step in the right direction. I am still considering ways in which we can make feminism part of the mainstream culture on campus and would love it if people who identify with what I am saying would offer suggestions on how to go about this. I am only one person but, if everyone comes together and challenges him/herself to DO something, perhaps we can in fact enact change on campus. 

-Ariel Rivera '13

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"Vaginas Against Violence"

The Vagina Monologues, as part of the national VDAY campaign founded by Eve Ensler, claims it will continue "until the violence stops". This year with VDAY's newest campaign, 1 Billion Rising, the message is stronger than ever with the powerful UN statistic that 1 in 3 women in the world will be subject to violence at some point in her lifetime. The success of the Vagina Monologues on campus and the overwhelming support of over 500 attendees sent a clear message: Colgate cares, and Colgate also wants to end this international war on women. Colgate wants the violence to stop.
...but what does that mean? What constitutes violence? And how does one translate the desire to end violence to action? How far away or close to home are these statistics and what are the faces of these women we are helping?

These are the questions posed at the Vaginas Against Violence brown bag which took place earlier in February in the Center for WMST with panelists from the cast of Vagina Monologues. The first portion of the brown bag was spent dechipering what constitutes a violent act. To illuminate the complexity of the issue, the panelists asked the audience to determine whether the following were instances of violence or not:
- domestic violence - rape - name calling - Female Genital Mutilation - sterilization - BDSM - sex trafficking - prostitution - vaginal cosmetic surgery
Some of these were more obvious instances of violence (ex. domestic violence which quite literally has the word "violence" in its title) while others were met with more mixed reactions. Some audience participants debated whether instances of cosmetic surgery or prostitution should be considered violence against women's bodies because they seem to involve more "personal agency and choice". On the other hand, voluntary and consentual instances of BDSM were not considered to be instances of violence despite the physical impact it has on the body. It became clear "violence" is strongly tied to issues of consent and personal choice (or rather, the lack there of).
However, to add another layer of complexity, how do we distinguish between personal choice on an individual versus systemic basis? Especially in our privileged social location at Colgate, it's easy to understand why Female Genital Mutilation in Africa is a form of violence against women's bodies, but what about middle class women in western nations who voluntarily choose to get their labia reduced via vaginal cosmetic surgery? What forms of cultural constraints are those women subject to? Even with this seemingly personal decision, how much control do women in the latter case really have over their bodies and bodily satisfaction? This is not to say that vaginal cosmetic surgery as a whole should be written off as an act of violence - that would be reductionist and discounting the agnecy that does go into such decisions - but it certainly complicates the issue of consent and personal choice.
If anything can be concluded from the first part of this brown bag, it is that there is that violence is not a black and white issue, it is not easily categorized, and it has many different faces.

But what can we do? When the topic of "violence" seems so vast and never ending, how does one act as an activist against it?
EDUCATION: dispel myths about violence, educate others and educate yourself. Find out what resources your local community has to offer. Victims of Violence is an excellent local resource for survivors of assault that provide a 24 hour hotline.
AWARENESS: the biggest fuel for violence is SILENCE, don't be silent! This does not have to happen on a large scale, even talking to close friends and family will help to destigmatize.
SPEAK UP IN ANY WAY YOU CAN: write poetry, share an article, make art, make this issue VISIBLE.

Break the silence so we can end the violence.

- Christina Liu '13

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"Can You Listen to Pop Music and Still Be a Feminist?”

Tuesday’s Brown Bag presentation, “Can You Listen to Pop Music and Still Be a Feminist?” was led by Professor Mary Simonson , Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies and Women's Studies. I found the format to be really engaging. The lecture included a lot of question and answer as well as the audience’s participation in dissecting music snippets, lyrics, and promotional images. The most interesting part of the lecture for me was learning about the story of abuse being told in the song “We Are Young” by F.U.N. It essentially is very easy to overlook these lyrics because of the genre, the chorus, and the beat of the song. Analyzing music in this manner was something that I had never really paid much attention to before this presentation. Unless a song or band is blatantly sexist, it is very easy for me to miss sexist language and I think this is true for many people. Professor Simonson also examined the career trajectories of BeyoncĂ© and Lady Gaga and asked us to think about how they might be doing feminist work through their art. We also talked about how to better support music and artists that whose art align with our values and how to listen to music that is not so feminist while not supporting the artists who create it. I really enjoyed this Brown Bag because I think it’s a pretty unique topic and as a consumer of music, I don’t often think of how to use my buying power. I agree with professor Simonson that we can listen to pop music that we love and still identify and act as feminists as long as we are aware and are able to analyze its contents.