Marilyn Frye in her piece “Sexism” explores the relationship between sex identifying behavior and how society as a result has created a dimorphic sex system. She is critical about how the constant need to behave, dress and speak like a female or male is a way for society to justify and treat the females and males differently. She raises the obvious point that this is irrational because the actual difference between females and males do not justify the subordination of women and herald men as dominant. Think about a time when you came into contact with someone and could not indicate what sex or gender they were. One of the first things you observe is their clothing, body language, behavior, the tone and pitch of voice and other “sex marking behavior”. Frye delves into how this occurrence is normalized to the extent that it affects our behavior when one eliminates sex-marking behavior. This is found in the medicalization of intersexindividuals and the procedures taken to “fix” them into either sex category of male or female. In regards to intersex individuals, the constant sex marking behavior patterns that society regulates individuals to follow becomes problematic.
“Sex-identification intrudes into every moment of our lives and discourse…” (Frye 19). The linguistic and physical behavior we carry out is based on the sex of the individual we are encountering. As I mentioned earlier this becomes problematic in a society that only recognizes a two sex/gender system. The pressure to conform into either of the sex categories normalizes the false perception of the human sex/gender system. As a result, individuals who are intersex suffer the consequences of having an often termed ambiguous sex. Intersex individuals are people with “chromosome patterns other than XX or XY and individuals whose external genitalia at birth exhibit some degree of ambiguity,” (25).
Throughout medical history, doctors and parents have allowed intersex newborns and individuals to be surgically or chemically “corrected” into with one of the two sex dichotomies. Surgeries are commonly performed on newborns and in most cases remove the enlarged clitoris because doctors think it can be easily restructured. Yet, the surgery often scars the tissue or mutilates the genitalia of the intersex individual which has psychologically and physically damaging effects. The alternative to surgery is hormonal therapies which work to aid in the “normal” development of the individual’s sexed body. These are examples of how intersex individuals are diagnosed with a disorder rather than the medical field recognizing that two sex system unreliable. We have created a binary sex system and we try to fit people in either category, but this system is clearly failing.
In the isolated Alaskan villages where roads, reliable electricity and communication are undependable, “one in three American Indian women have been raped or have experienced an attempted rape”. The New York Times article “For Native American Women, Scourge of Rape” provides insight on how Native American women are disproportionately susceptible to rape and other forms of sexual assault throughout all the reservations. The rate of sexual assault among Native American women is more than twice the national average. The stats become more alarming in rural villages where sexual assault has become a norm among the young Native American women.
The Violation Against Women Act (VAWA), passed in 1994, allocated federal funds to investigate and prosecute violent crimes against women. The recent reauthorization of VAWA raised controversy as many House Representatives believe that the new provisions still does not protect Native American women, the LGBT community as well as immigrant women. “Among those who commit crime of rape and domestic violence on reservations, 88 percent are non-Native offenders and under current law these abusers cannot be arrested or prosecuted on tribal lands,” stated in feministcampus.org.
What has been excluded from the VAWA is the ability for tribal courts to prosecute non-native Americans who are suspected of sexually harassing their Native American spouses and partners. Although this act is being reauthorized for the third time, there has been no proper and effective legislation to prevent or prosecute these cases of sexual assault that are disproportionately affecting Native women. Disagreement among American politicians plays a critical role in why legislation to protect Native American women, immigrant women and the LGBT community has been stagnant. The U.S senate fears that by empowering the tribal courts to prosecute and investigate sexual assault cases, that it would expand the tribal courts authority. In order to subordinate the tribal Native Americans, the U.S government is willing to allow native women to feel less safe and more susceptible to sexual abuse.
The hindrances that Native American villagers face in terms of preventative measures and treatment for sexually abused women are countless. They include shortages of supplies in Native American hospitals such as a shortage of sexual assault kits, lack of birth control and lack of trained staff who can prepare rape examinations which is needed for documentation in rape court cases. There is hope that with the current fight to reauthorize VAWA that the funds directed towards protecting women who are sexually abused can reach all victims equally.
In Adrienne Rich’s Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence, she states that many feminist authors ignore lesbian existence while critiquing the institution of heterosexuality and the hegemonic masculinity that enforces it. Rich raises arguments about the disparity of economic and social power distributed in a heterosexual relationship and how there is an “economic imperative to heterosexuality and marriage and to the sanction imposed against single women and widows…” (Rich 634). Yet authors such as Nancy Chodrow, Dinnerstein and Barbra Ehrenreich critique the hegemonic institution of heterosexuality while simultaneously prescribing it as a norm that should be practiced. This is done by assuming all women are innately heterosexual and ignoring the history and possibility of women having a relationship with other women. By enforcing heterosexuality as a natural bond that just needs to be restructured and convincing women that a heterosexual orientation and marriage is compulsory, allows patriarchal terrorism, gycnocide and other forms of violence against women to transpire. It becomes the place where “male power is manifested and maintained” (640). Compulsory Heterosexuality is very much existent in contemporary society and is preserved by the male power entitled in heterosexual relationships.
Forces of compulsory heterosexuality are framed by the power of men which “deny women sexuality or to force it upon them”, assign women as economic dependents of men and limit the working sphere of women, dictate the female dress code and limit their educational opportunities. The power of men in society range from the social, economic and political sphere mainly enforced through legislation. In the case of domestic violence, the film Sin by Silence provides a contemporary example of how heterosexuality is forced on women, even in cases of abusive relationships. The Convicted Women against Abuse (CWAA) formed in 1989 is a group of women who are serving life sentences in prison for murdering their abusers. These women were mentally, physically and emotionally abused by their partners. Often these women are not supported by the police who reduce the violence committed by the male abuser as a marital issue. The power to deal with the abused wife, girlfriend or partner is left to the male abuser, often resulting in more violence. It is assumed that the women, who are not essentially seen as victims but as the wife of the abuser, are in the violent relationship by choice.
Charged for the murder of their abusers, the court did not acknowledge battered women’s syndrome (until 2002) which functions as a form of evidence to show that there was a pattern of violence in the relationship and that any act of violence by the victim was most likely self-defense. By not acknowledging battered woman’s syndrome, it preserved the violence that would occur in these domestic violence cases until either partner was killed or arrested, which doesn’t result in restructuring heterosexual relationships but preserving the male dominance in the relationship.
We barely hear or read about the struggles of these women and how they tried to leave such oppressed and detrimental relationships. Yet we do see and hear of other forms of sexual violence through our current media outlets. In Rihanna’s music video for her song “We Found Love”, the video explicitly works to link sex, violence, love and drugs as well as portraying the line drawn between love and sexualized violence. Throughout the beginning of the video Rihanna and her partner are happy and enjoying each other’s company, the video gets serious and becomes the pinnacle for what an abusive relationship is. The most disturbing scene of the video shows Rihanna’s abusive partner carving in her skin “MINE” as an act of sexualized violence. The video flashes scenes of intense arguments, violent shoves, drunken blackouts as well as the laughs shared during various dates which put together make the video a blur. Jane Caputi in her piece The Sexual Politics of Murder states that this “flow” of content is a strategy used by television that show TV programs along with commercials in a flow of continuous and uninterrupted content that blurs the contents together (442). The “mixed messages” that are being portrayed in this video are a reality in many abusive relationships, yet I don’t think that the music industry should be responsible for giving a face to this type of situation. Consciousness raising is important, but to the women of all ages as well as men watching this video, the content of this video becomes normalized and acceptable. These forms of sexualized violence are portrayed in contemporary media and depending through which medium, the internet has transformed violence against women. In the case of pop culture and media outlets such as music videos and magazines, sexualized violence has been preserved through the stereotype of an inferior and sexualized woman.
Short Video Assignment #1: In groups of 3, produce a short video describing the kind of feminist health care clinic that you would create. Make sure to include: 1. Target Community Members (Low-income, families, etc), 2. Clinic Goals/Mission Statement, 3. Services Provided, 4. How you will handle payments for patients, (is it a sliding scale, set free, etc), 5. Staff/Volunteer Organizational Structure (is there a board? Do you have a licensed physician? Who has a say in the decisions? Are the decisions made by board members or consensus based?, etc).
We read and speak often about the intersectionality of race, gender and sexuality in the setting of Women and Gender studies classes. In “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics” Kimberle Crenshaw analyzes how the legal system in the United States systematically ignores how race affects the experiences of Black women. Interpreting their experience as merely “women’s experience” or the “Black experience” constitutes discriminatory policies that fail to acknowledge how both race and sex impact the lives of every individual. The theory of intersectionality analyzes how cultural and social classifications such as gender, class, sexuality, etc. interact with each other and work simultaneously to create systematic oppression. Aside from the classifications listed above, it is important to understand and analyze how immigration status interrelates with gender and sexuality. The UndocuQueer movement is taking a vital role in providing insight for how the intersections of sexuality and immigration status lead to social marginalization.
It has rarely been brought to my attention how gender and sexuality affect undocumented immigrants. This interest of mine has been raised by two guest speakers that attended my Gender and Immigration class. They are part of the UndocuQueer movement that is now gaining visibility in the public eye. The powerful mantra of the movement is “UndocuQueer Unashamed and Unafraid!” and with these words, strong individuals are “coming out” and stating their identity and how their queer and undocumented status acts as a double bind of oppression. Taking a stand against anti-immigration laws as well as advocating LGBT rights, the UndocuQueer movement are drawing the parallels between these two issues that are often treated seperately.
The story of Fernanda shows the fear that she has lived with being undocumented as well as her fear of expressing her sexual preference. She reveals on her blog that her parents would encourage her to “…be as quiet and as invisible as possible to avoid any trouble…” in fear of deportation. She is rendered invisible by the government, a system which ideally works to protect and secure rights. Not being able to share her queer identity as well as her lack of an immigration status made Fernanda feel irritated, embarrassed and alone.
The marginalization of Fernanda and other UndocuQueer individuals by a society that fails to understand the theory of intersectionality is being tackled by the UndocuQueer movement on a grassroots level. Facebook, blogs and other media outlets are being utilized to spread the message that UndocuQueer individuals are not ashamed of their identity.
Reading, talking and blogging about the medicalization of women led me to go through my feminist theory readings that I saved from two semesters ago (yes I am a hoarder). While flipping through stuffed folders, I found a piece by Rosemarie Garland-Thomas titled “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory” which interestingly correlates with my Feminism New Media and Health class. This article delves into how feminist theory can deepen the approach of disability studies to better understand how gender impacts the ways in which women’s identities are constructed and maintained by society. Similar to how feminist theory works to debunk essentialist notions of femininity, disability theory emphasizes that disability is not a natural state of the physical inferiority of the body. Instead, it is the “…culturally fabricated narrative of the body, similar to what we understand as the fictions of race and gender,” (Garland-Thomas 5). The significance of feminist disability theory is that it integrates the process of how women and the disabled are “subjugated” to their bodies.
Audre Lorde, author of The Cancer Journals demonstrated her experience with breast cancer before and after her mastectomy. While in her post-mastectomy state, Lorde discusses her problematic recovery process as the hospital officials seemed more concerned about replacing her amputated breast with a prosthetic breast than her physical and mental well being. During her recovery, it was all too common for hospital officials and representatives from plastic surgery companies to encourage her to obtain a prosthetic breast as a result of her mastectomy. Feminists challenge the assumption that obtaining a prosthetic breast or breast implantation will help the patient feel unchanged, normal and still feminine, as if without breasts, a woman is no longer a woman. The intersections between medicine and appearance in the case of breast cancer survivors are treated as a cosmetic issue, when in reality it is far from that. Breast cancer is a serious illness and instead of helping women wear their post-mastectomy scars proudly as survivors of breast cancer, the institution of medicine is concerned with women appearing normal, erasing any “imperfections” away.
The representation of women as disabled goes beyond appearance. It has also combined with hegemonic/patriarchal discourses on feminine characteristics. An example of this is found in the works of Aristotle when he stated that women were “lacking”, irrational and imperfect compared to men. We live in a world where men are dominantly described as being physically strong and women are adversely described as weak, this in turn shapes the way women are treated in society. Aristotle stating that women were ruled by their emotions therefore unable to vote resulted in disabling women from public activity.
Feminist disability theory addresses the “status of the lived body, the politics of appearance, the medicalization of the body… [and] the construction of social identity…” (Garland Thomas 4). Understanding this structure of relations can help us critique how society treats in the category of women.
From the year 1969 to 2012 much has changed in the sphere of women’s health. In the past, organizations such as the “Cooperative Jane Collection” thrived in providing health care “…by women, for women” as stated in Sandra Morgen’s book Into Our Own Hands. Even before that time period Ehrenreich and English enlightened us on the supportive and essential role of the midwife in early twentieth century customs in her piece For Her Own Good. Nearly entering the year 2013 we have organizations like Planned Parenthood that are fulfilling the goals of the women’s health movement which began in the late 60’s. Yet even though we are about four decades into the future, why is it that Planned Parenthood and other women’s health networks are still being targeted by anti-abortion legislation and my favorite, Mitt Romney. Women’s health networks are constantly being threatened on reduction in funding, closing of clinics and outlawing essential services such as distributing birth control, cancer screenings, etc. which are essential for women, especially low-income women. Does this sound familiar? Looks like we’re going to make a trip a couple of decades back when controversial laws on women’s reproductive health was being hotly debated and restricted…oh wait its still going on. These facilities are constantly under fire for providing abortion services and counseling, oral contraceptives and information on their effects as well as checking up on general health concerns.
There are currently “944 provisions” that legislators have introduced in 2012 associated to women’s reproductive health rights cited Planned Parenthood: Action Center. The legislation being introduced further limits the reproductive rights of women by outlawing abortions, eliminating mandatory ultra-sounds, restriction on distributing and informing patients on oral contraceptives, etc. A recent article I read in the Huffington Post titled “Texas Planned Parenthood Awaits Funding Cutoff” elongates the list of state legislators threatening to limit women’s accessibility to proper healthcare. Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas are the most accessible and most funded centers devoted to serving women’s health. Texas legislators are avid at withholding funding to clinics that provide abortions as a way to penalize health providers associated with abortion services. The health services provided in these clinics help with family planning and other services to about “130,000 low-income women”, especially those who do not have Medicaid (Weber and Weissert).
The women’s health movement is still fighting for rights that were promised to them by past feminist movements. Those rights are slowly being taken away by intolerant government officials who are giving away women’s bodily integrity to male dominated government. The power of women’s health, bodies and ability to plan for their future is diminishing, but the fight must go on!
The resistance to fight the attack on women’s health is just as fierce as it was in the past. Using media and social networking as a viable tool, the feminist community can put pressure on state legislators to halt decisions that undermine women’s healthcare. “…The women’s health movement is not widely known,” which is true when speaking in context to its historical representation. I sure didn’t know about the “Cooperative Jane Collective” group and their extraordinary commitment to assisting women in abortion services and their hands-on journey to learning and educating women on their bodies. Additionally, organizations like Planned Parenthood and educating books such as Our Bodies, Ourselves, make it easy for women to be empowered by learning about their bodies. The latter are widely known sources that are the offspring of the women’s health movement. So although the history of how it all began is not widely known by everyone, everyone has a piece of that history within their everyday lives.
My name is Mariam Chardiwall and I am a junior at Hunter College. This is my first Honors class as well as the first blog and twitter account I have created, which comes to show that there is a first time for everything! I am a feminist and I have found this out while taking my first Women and Gender Studies class two years ago at HunterCollege. It’s not like I never heard the term “feminist” before, but I did not know of the wholesome meaning behind it. Understanding the gendered world that we live in through feminist epistemology is an empowering process that I am going through.
I have created this blog for my “Feminism: New Media and Health” class and will be exploring aspects of women’s health from a Bottom-up knowledge approach, which does not rely on patriarchal discourse prevalent in the media and other sources of information. Understanding women’s health is not about analyzing if women are eating from all the major food groups of the food pyramid (which was established by Kellogg’s and other major food industries). As Professor Daniels stated in class, it is about the “…ways in which being a woman can be harmful to your health…”
Having unfolded the objective of this blog, I am excited to carry on with the “new media” aspect of this class as well interacting with the work of my peers. Although I enjoy reading much more than writing, this class will help me expand on the burst of thoughts I have while reading.