Monday, February 23, 2015

Brown bag reflections: Vagina Monologues

On 17th Feb, Women's Studies Center held a brown bag to discuss the Vagina Monologues with some of the cast and crew of the show. The show was held the weekend earlier from Feb 14-16 in Brehmer Theater to a packed audience all three nights. The brown bag began with some of the cast in the audience performing bits of their monologues. The director of the show this year, Natasha Torres '15, then began the conversation talking about her own experience seeing VM for the first time her first year, "I thought it was one of the most radical things I'd seen. There were women telling 'cunt'! I was also like what is wrong with them…" The next year she decided to audition for a role and she has been a part of it every year since. "I hadn't seen my vagina before I don't think. It made me realize I needed to get in touch with myself." Her words were echoed by some of the other panelists Sahara Zamudio, Monica Hoh, Anika Rutah and Nina Cook. Torres also talked about her role as a director, and how bonding within the cast/crew and conversations between them, and fostering that community was the most important aspect of the job for her. She reminisced that the community built around the show without her even realizing it. She also touched upon some of the problematic aspects within the show: its rigidity, and silences for instance. Those two in particular lingered in the discussion even as praises for the show featured in all the panelists' experience. 
Having been a part of the show myself, I have been thinking about the silences within the script myself. I remember Natasha's concerns about it and her efforts to alleviate some of them through the charity element of the show and the clit-tail hour that adds local Colgate experiences to the show. Even then, the show, while phenomenal, can often feel cripplingly inadequate, particularly in its limited inclusion of trans women and their experiences. Not misleading to its name, Vagina Monologues, only does include monologues and experiences--while pioneering and wide-ranging--of not women, but persons with vaginas. It has been a controversial issue for the show in recent years, with Mt. Holyoke College even scrapping the performance of the show entirely for the same reason.
It leads me to wonder however, about how helpful banning or not performing the show is in the big picture. The show is still pretty radical in its concept. Especially at a place like Colgate, so rife in slut-shaming and sexual assault and yet so silenced in the topic of sexuality of women, a group of women leading the stage talking about experiences with vaginas is incredibly powerful. As Hoh talked about her reaction after seeing the show her first time her first year, "That's probably the first time I have heard the word 'vagina' so many times." She is more than likely not alone in her reaction. As she remarked subsequently, "Why is it so?" Why are we not talking about this more? I think the show helped me have more honest conversations with my friends." Similar to Hoh, if the show nudges students on this campus to think about vaginas, and sexuality, and consent, say if it makes a drunk fratbro wonder about his partner's needs for once, then the show has more than done its job. On the show defense, there is only so much awareness and ground one show can cover--and the show already goes for three hours! This is not to say however, that the show couldn't do a better job of including more wide-ranging experiences. For now, maybe one way to go about improving the show without scrapping it altogether would be to encourage those silences to be filled in the optional clit-tail hour, as this year's show tried to. 

-Liza Paudel

Monday, February 16, 2015

BB Reflection: Black Identities 02/10/2015

This week’s Brown Bag panel featured students from the Black Student Union who spoke on the topic of “Black Identities.” The panel is part of a series of events hosted by the BSU during Black History Month. The panel included students from all class years as a representation of the various spaces that Black students inhabit throughout their time on Colgate’s campus. Students on the panel were asked to look critically upon their Black identities and to chart the path through which they came into their “Blackness”. The panel was moderated by the Center’s program assistant, Che Hatter, who encouraged the panel to think about the complex relationships between gender, sexuality, and experience in the structuring of their Black identities. The questions included, “how does your race and ethnicity effect your gender?”, “what does identifying as Black mean to you and why did you start identifying this way”, and “how have your views about Black identity, racial identity, and justice changed given recent events?”

From these questions, students were able to provide answers that exemplified the complexities of identity and identification and proved that experiences and perceptions of Blackness are different for every individual. At the same time, the conversation proved that there are commonalities that can serve as unifying forces within the Black community and other communities of color. The concept of solidarity manifested indirectly in many of the responses of the students on the panel. In response to the question of how racial identity is affected by gender, one student remarked that she was most aware of her identity as a Black woman when she was in the presence of Black men. The panelist felt as though the lack of support for Black women, specifically by Black men was disheartening and greatly affected her position as a Black woman at Colgate. The student’s emotional response to the question was in part a response to a post she saw earlier on Facebook; a testament to the power of social media and its ability to affect “real” life.  

Student’s discussed varying levels of growth and activism in response to recent events. For some panelists, the desire to advocate on behalf of issues of inclusivity and equity was revived by campus and national events. For others, familiarity with issues of racism and racial violence had already inspired optimal action and resulted in desensitization to sudden mass consciousness. One panelist recognized her need to practice self-care in regards to her activism and to focus on the community that she was fighting for rather than a desire to save everyone.

Overall, it was clear that all the panelists were proud of their Black identity, simply as a place of being, without need for explanation.  As the CB4 song playing before the Brown Bag testified, “I’m Black y’all, and I’m Black y’all, I’m Blackety Black, and I’m Black y’all.” Although the students were happy to share their personal Black identities, it was clear that their identity just was. As one of the panelists said “I’m Black because I’m Black”.

If you happened to miss the Brown Bag and would like to experience it for yourself, here is a link to the video: 

-Sharon Nicol '17

Sunday, February 8, 2015

BB Reflection: Oral Histories as Feminist Methodologies

This week’s brown bag included a panelist of students and professors who went on an alternative break trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania focusing on Education, Transmedia Activism, and Social Justice. On this trip, students interviewed community members part of grassroots/activists organizations who have previously used video and art to combat issues pertinent to the Philadelphia community. These videos were created through the Scribe Video Center, an organization that collaborates with people and groups doing grassroots activism. The students presented on several of these groups, which used oral her/hir/histories and storytelling as a methodology for their activism. Scribe the assigned the Colgate students to interview various groups on their experiences on making these videos and being social justice activists in their communities.
It is very exciting to learn about the work that Scribe is doing in Philly. It creates a space for people to tell their differing stories, stories that are often excluded from the mainstream narratives. They show various perspectives of events and experiences, but also creates a space within which people can share their similar experiences. This is what I would call feminisms in action. As a feminist methodology, the sharing of oral narratives gives voice to those people who are often silenced and opens up a space (in both time and physical space) that previously did not exist.
Being able to play a creative role in both participating and editing these videos helps to validate the experiences of the many participants. They also validate the social issues that have real consequences on their lives and/or that shape their identities. For instance, some Colgate students interviewed women who made a video about being Muslim women. Another group of students interviewed women whose children were taken away by the Philadelphia government Department of Human Services and put into foster care. These women are trying to get their children or grandchildren back while also challenging the legality/ constitutionality of the reasons why the government removed these children from their homes. Media activism is a highly important and critical tool in the 21st century, because it helps groups reach out to others easier, whether in their communities or beyond.
I think the panelists did a good job emphasizing their exact roles on this alternative break trip: they were there to listen and do what they were told to do. They were not intended to “help” the community with their own projects or agendas. I appreciated how they stepped back, and did what would be the most beneficial to the various communities. Their main goals were to conduct and record videos that would become a part of a larger archival project of the people of Philadelphia. They were there to record the her/hir/histories of people of varying identities and preserve their contributions. This archive will insure that these oral narratives are as much of a part of Philadelphia history as other “mainstream” stories depicted in the media. This is truly empowering. It is empowering not only for the participants and activist groups, but also for me.

Valerie Garcia ‘15
Women’s Health Intern

Monday, February 2, 2015

Moving Beyond Veils

            With the recent hype in the media about headgear worn largely by Muslim women, I think it is important to understand the basic facts and perspectives of women who actually wear headgear. I often see and hear misunderstandings about the headgear, which are perpetuated through Islamophobic news sources. Headgear, is a representation of Islam, and as such has become associated with terrorism and has been banned in countries like France. Furthermore, individuals who choose to wear headgear are often discriminated against.  Even at Colgate, I heard some guys label Muslim women walking across the Academic Quad as “towelheads.” I think it is misunderstanding and fear that leads many to label and impose ideas about what they think would “liberate” Muslim women.
            As Diamond Sharp clearly puts it in Bridging the Disconnect: Unveiling the Hijab and Islamic Feminism, “The common stereotype is that Muslim women are forced to cover themselves, and although that is true sometimes, the sentiment does not apply to the entire Muslim population… In countries such as Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, women are forced to wear it against their will and suffer physical violence, cultural exclusion, and even death if they do not adhere to the laws. Women in Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia must follow strictly enforced dress codes; the hijab is mandatory. In other countries, wearing the hijab is not required and is only encouraged and worn at will” (Sharp). Sharp’s essay does a very good job at providing an Islamic feminist perspective and demystifying the hijab.
            Though the most commonly used term, the hijab is not the only form of headgear worn. The four most commonly worn forms of headgear are a hijab, chador, niqab, and burka, though there are several others. To start, here’s a breakdown of the terminology: A hijab is a headscarf that covers the hair, ears and neck. A chador is a full cloak that covers the body and hair. A niqab is a veil that entirely covers the wearer but has a small opening for the eyes. A burqa is a full veil that covers the head and body and has a screen-like cloth that covers the eyes but can be seen through.
            Overall, it is important to recognize that for many individuals, wearing headgear is a choice which is often empowering and has deeply meaningful religious and spiritual significance. Rather than imposing preconceived ideas focused on what women are wearing, we should instead listen to what feminists within Islam, like Sharp, are saying. How can we move beyond discussions of head coverings to addressing the roots of inequality, the patriarchy and structural barriers enforcing inequality for Muslim women and transgender individuals?


Bridging the Disconnect: Unveiling the Hijab and Islamic Feminism