Category Archives: Blog Assignments

Blog #7 UN Humanitarian Aid Work in Liberia

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“You are a UN Humanitarian Aid worker who has recently been sent to Liberia to provide aid to women, men and children in surrounding IDP camps…What steps do you think the UN must take to ensure the safety, health and well-being of these communities. What information must be recorded and why? What services must be delivered, and how?”

Liberia : Montserado refugee camp ©ECHO/ Sophie Vanhaeverbeke

Liberia : Montserado refugee camp ©ECHO/ Sophie Vanhaeverbeke

It is imperative that as a UN aid worker, I realize that I cannot impose my ideals on the Liberian people and that I understand the reasons and effects of the internal armed conflict they experienced. As fellow blogger Christine Galotti stated a “transnational” approach is needed to serve the Liberians. This can be achieved responsibly and effectively by the United Nations in establishing a relationship with community leaders and hear the grievances of Liberians. Many camps that hold internally displaced populations (IDP) face adverse effects of war as there are no social service infrastructures such as health clinics, schools, water filtration systems, etc. that can allow the community to sustain itself. The first step is to ensure the health needs and security of IDP’s.

In the post-war period, the violence does not end once arms are laid down. The effects of war are numerous and effect women, men and children differently.  From Ashford’s The Impact of War on Women, women are disproportionately affected by war experiencing “violence, rape and extortion in camps” (197). Liberian women suffered and survived the abuses and human rights violations committed by the anti-terrorist unit of Charles Taylor as well as the insurgency group, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). It is important to accommodate the current President of Liberia, Ellen Johnsons Sirleafs’ plan to investigate human rights abuses and tend to the people who have survived the war. These reports can encourage the international community, particularly Nigeria, Sierra Leone and other countries involved in ousting Charles Taylor to create a case for the injustices that he has committed.

The expansive issue of rape committed during the internal conflict in Liberia would also require UN forces to perform medical check-ups for the IDP’s and screen them for sexually transmitted diseases.  Raised in a blog by the Women’s Media Center (WMC), UN aid workers and peacekeepers are not trained on how to stop sexual violence, which causes many of them to avoid reporting it.  Patrick Cammerat, former commander of the UN in the Democratic Republic of Congo has begun the first steps in training UN workers to search for signs to prevent rape as well as not evade it. He feels exposure to the topic can enable UN workers to intervene, stop and/or prevent sexual violence. Building health clinics would ensure that the IDP residents would have medical attention when facing dehydration, diarrhea, vomiting, malnutrition, fevers and other health risks that could become deadly if not treated. Access to safe water, proper shelter, sanitation and food distribution are also steps needed to be taken to ensure the health of IDP’s.

In a segment of the film Pray the Devil Back to Hell, I remember the Women’s Liberation Movement went to the areas in which disarmament was taking place and acted as a monitoring agency for the process. One woman activist in particular mentioned that Liberia had in the past both successful and unsuccessful experiences with disarmament and therefore they knew what worked in their country and what did not. However, the UN peacekeeping forces dismissed their presence and expertise by emphasizing their authority in the process by stating that they were the professionals. To dismiss local guidance in a peacemaking process requires that an agency like the UN work with the people of Liberia, especially prominent members in the community that organized resistance towards Ex-President Charles Taylor.

The steps that are required to serve IDP camps effectively are expansive. It extends from taking care of the physical well-being of people to ensuring their security and stability. As a UN humanitarian aid worker, it is a difficult job to pursue and fulfill. International aid offers assistance to IDP camps in need; it unfortunately does not offer panaceas to the many issues that exist in these camps but I believe it exists to promote hope, activism and empowerment to these communities.

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Video BLog #3

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Video Blog Assignment:  In groups of two or three, produce a creative 1- 3min web video that challenges and/or demonstrates resistance towards some of the negative representations of women of color’s bodies online.

Here is my group’s analysis and response to racist discourse and how new media tackles it!

Real vs Virtual Advocacy

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The narratives of transgender individuals expressed through new media challenges and debunk the myths placed against them. Anne-Fausto Sterling in her piece The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female are not Enough boldly states that in trying to maintain a norm of a two sex binary and heteronormative culture, society exerts biopower and governmentality that police the bodies of transgender and intersex individuals. Using new media as a mode of social change, trans-blogging has given the lived experiences of the LGBT community visibility in the blogosphere. While promoting visibility, I also agree that new media is not the only solutions or mode of caring out a social change. As a strategy used by the LBGT community and networks, it has its advantages and disadvantages.

From Google Images (creative commons)

Elisabeth Jay Friedman’s The Reality of Virtual Reality: The Internet and Gender Equality Advocacy in Latin America explores how the “information and communication technology” (ICT) has empowered socially marginalized individuals to broadcast their ideas. The first LGBT blog I found, “Stuff Queer People Need to Know” has a blog entry that spread the word on the Transgender pride rally and picnic that took place in Chicago. This form of consciousness-raising gives visibility and stimulates activity within the marginalized community. Queer and Trans-blogging is using the internet as a method for promoting civil society advocacy. Yet a concern for merely examining the LGBT community’s activity online for advocating political change is raised by Friedman. It is definitely necessary to view how the community utilizes technology to increase their presence in new media but as Friedman stated “they provide only a partial view of the relationship between technology and political change.” For instance although a “Lesbian Health Fact Sheet” has been developed and shared on the internet by the National LGBT Cancer Network, it does not reflect the treatment, exclusion and discriminiation experienced by the LGBT community. The rate between change in the material world vs. the virtual one can be uneven.

The complications of ICT can be counterproductive and create instances of misinformation and miscommunication. It can also place pressures on established NGO’s and other vehicles of social change to utilizing the internet in order to be considered a vital resource in campaigning for gender equality (Friedman 4). As the blogosphere has much to contribute to gender equality campaigns, it can also be frustrating in areas where there is a “digital divide”. Not having access to the internet and computers as well as not knowing how to use these tools counteracts the “fluid” and “horizontal” production and distribution of knowledge and ideas within the LGBT community and other gender equality groups and NGO’s. As inspiring the argument is on ICT developing as a vital resource to the LGBT community, whether if it with the low cost that ICT aids in consciousness raising (via emails as opposed to printing flyers), I argue that it does not reveal the diversity and complexity within the LGBT community as fluently as some might argue. Both field and cyber activism are viable ways of enhancing gender equality.

Giving general visibility to the LGBT community online, ICT has helped promote interconnectivity and crucial information for gender equality campaigns. Also providing a form of online autonomy, new media has given the marginalized LBGT community many alternative media outlets.  Some examples are Kate Bornstein, Jen Jack Gieseking, and Huffington Posts’ “Gay Voices” blog page. Providing visibility for the LGBT community is one of the main elements credited with new media. Not undermining the physical and field activism that has occurred and is still happening, but in the 21st century, visibility via the web is often equated to providing autonomy and independence to these communities from mainstream media outlets.

With collective action taken by NGO’s and other groups advocating for social change in the LGBT community, there have been benefits gained from technology as well as drawbacks. It has decreased the distance between common initiatives  on an international level, promoting regional and local awareness on violations against the rights of women and the LGBT community. Although much controversy follows the NGOization of feminist agendas, on an individual level it has allowed for a healthy does of self-expression.

Blog #5- Changing Perspectives on Obesity

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Feeling comfortable in your own skin is difficult in a society that defines beauty by commercializing “femininity” (example: generating $$$ from lipstick, corsets, high heels, plastic surgery, weight loss surgery (WLS). While riding on the train, I saw an advertisement a couple of days ago that was promoting weight loss surgery. It showed you’re typical before and after pictures and phrases that read “No scarring!” but nothing on the health risks that constitute for “looking health”. The medicalization of obesity is led not only by surgical intervention, but also governmental initiatives and public discourse involved in the “public health crisis” (117 Throsby).

Karen Thorsby examines in her piece “Happy Re-Birthday: Weight Loss Surgery and the ‘New Me’” the methodology behind weight loss surgery (WLS) as an alternative way of surveillance and disciplining the body. With eighty percent of women participating in WLS as an alternative from dieting and other health interventions, we can understand how this disproportionately affects women and their bodies.  With the common debate that “dieting does not work” among people who are at high levels of obesity, this gives way for those undergoing WLS to commit to surgery (122). Throsby explains how surgery is observed as “opting in” to lose weight which constitutes those who choose WLS as the “subjects in the ‘war on obesity’ rather than as vilified objects (120). The decision to “opt in” surgery is often understood and regarded as a shift from being passive to taking action in one’s health (122). WLS centers also encouraged the rhetoric of “rebirth” in terms of the physical and mental transformation of the subject post-surgery. This implies that the body has been trained and disciplined to have self-control over their appetite. This behavior in relation to the body becomes normalized and embodied through proactive discourse on WLS. Deciding to go into surgery does not only change the body but is also understood as the “beginning of a new me” (122).

The discovery of the “real self” via WLS, dieting and other measures taken to meet the social standard of fit and healthy is highly problematic. Not only is this rhetoric reinforced by governmental action for social justice in the ‘war on obesity’ (led by Mayor Bloomberg in NYC) it also generates money to the culture industries that govern it. The treatment of the “fat body” as an alien life-form that has no restraint in their consumption of food places the blame and responsibility for fatness on the individual. But what characterizes this obesity “epidemic” in the 21st century is the increased role of governmentality from public officials. Tony Blair’s speech on living well described obesity as a “collective price for the failure to take shared responsibility (123 Throsby). Blair and other public officials like Michael Bloomberg are approving self-care not as merely an individual matter, but also as an essential form of active citizenship. With this type of discourse, surgery and other forms of self-transformation becomes a form of social participation. It eases people into taking measures (extreme or minimal) to fit into the category of a productive and fit citizen.

The dieting industry also plays a dominant role in our society’s ‘living healthy’ discourse. Almost every pop culture magazine has had a headline on healthy eating via a variety of diets. Interestingly I came across a blog called Junk Food Science that stated “fatness is not a risk factor for heart disease or premature death” . Findings such as this were shared in a recent American Heart Association meeting and debunked what we all thought was common knowledge on the harms of fatness. It is also stated this relationship between fat and unhealthiness was created by diet books, not scientific books.  Currently, the net worth of the US weight loss market is $60.9 billion dollars and has been increasing every year. The estimates from Marketdata Enterprise Inc. include diet practices from commercial weight loss chains, diet pills, diet trends, diet websites and diet food home delivery service. This is the profit that comes from the medicalization of obesity.

Blog #4- It’s Not Feminine to Look Dull

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While skimming through Allure magazine, I came across a poll taken by the makeup brand L’oreal Paris. Under the picture of a new variety of lipsticks it stated that “75% of women believe that wearing lipstick improves their confidence.” How convenient that the same brand that is selling lipstick is also promoting the social “benefits” of wearing their product. I’m not opposed to wearing lipstick and the big picture of three glorious lipstick colors did catch my eye at first. What is problematic is the statement that lipstick gives a woman confidence. What this notion does is give women the idea that lipstick, fashion, losing weight or whatever else is on the front cover of these magazines defines the normative femininity.

      

With headlines like “Cure dark circles” these entertainment magazines create a form of “self-policing” as well as place certain individual responsibilities as a means to present oneself as a “good citizen” (471 Oulette and Hay). In this type of environment, if a woman has dark circles the blame for looking tired and sleepless is on her.

Still flipping through the pages of the magazine, I reached a page titled “Vicious Circles”. Tired of hearing how others interpreted her dark under eye shadows; the author heavily relied on concealers. With comments like “Rough night”, “Have you tried Ambien” or my favorite “Smile-it can’t be that bad”, all suggested that there was something wrong with her and diagnosed her with insomnia. Dark circles are a human condition and can be hereditary, but I guess some people might forget this with the fully make-uped and often photo shopped faces displayed on every page of the magazine. You are drawn in by the advice bubbles on how to reduce your dark circles so as to appear energized and happy. Quick fixes such as taking an antihistamine if your allergies bring on dark circles become part of your daily routine to keep up with this identity. You so don’t want to be diagnosed with insomnia or depression by your peers and are encouraged to utilize what society has to offer you via over the counter drugs, make-up or even surgery.

This critiquing of the self and others in society is even more potent among people labeled as “addicts”. Interventions, reality shows and make-over TV are also modes of governmentality that lecture us on being self-sufficient citizens through health discourse to encourage productive citizenship (103 Daniels).  An addict is usually described as someone who looks tired, pale, unmanaged and like they don’t care about their appearance. These arbitrary characteristics of an addict become the way in which society spots out addicts begins a trend of discrimination based on looks. With shows like Intervention on A&E and other culture industry resources reinforcing the portrayal of an addict, this becomes a form of discourse that we use to understand the body and the self. The identity of self becomes based on an imaginary norm and people who are deviant from that norm are not accepted as productive citizens.

Blog #3- Digital Culture: Gender Expression and Oppersion

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In Kahn and Kellner, social media is treated as the key to “understanding and shaping the political and cultural life of the present age,” (89).  The internet has become a place where political and social discourse is unfolding and is challenging the top down system of epistemology (Daniels 2009, 102). With the advent and prevalent use of the internet and social media, it has allowed feminism to branch out and take form as cyber feminism. As Nouraie-Simone pointed out it has given women who feel repressed and voiceless in their society an area in cyberspace to free their thoughts and experiences. Cyber feminism is argued to have enabled the democratization of feminist thought globally. Kahn and Keller laud in particular the subculture that is forming around blogging and how it is used as a place to debate, comment, and critique feminist works and issues. This blog for instance is a perfect example of the “virtually democratic” use of the internet. Nouraie-Simone explores how blogging has given Iranian women a space of their own to express their thoughts in a safe and comfortable manner that most likely won’t get persecuted.

Not only is the internet a place for self-expression via blogs but social media websites have also transformed the ways in which people identify themselves and interact with each other. Social media networks like Facebook and Twitter require one to maintain a virtual self that works to make a social profile for everyone who has an account. This trans-formative aspect of the internet and how it has shaped its users is examined and critiqued in the documentary “We Live in Public” and Nathan Jurgenson’s Surveillance and Society. These pieces work to raise awareness of the cost of such “freedoms” that the internet offers.

https://i0.wp.com/www.wikinoticia.com/images/alt1040/alt1040.com.files.2010.03.We-live-in-public-285x300.png

In “We Live in Public”, surveillance is used as a hegemonic force which Josh Harris, a social media tycoon, uses “surveillance culture” to control the population that he has allowed into his domain. Harris uses biopower and the concept of the omniopticon in an underground society called “The Quiet: We Live in Public”. Biopower is used by Harris in order to have control over the bodies, thoughts, and personalities of the participants he is allowing into his project. The cameras that he implanted in the underground society were monitoring the showers, sleeping pods, bathrooms, and all other areas in the underground space.

Through this form of digital culture via cameras and the internet, one observes that the embodiment of women was highly stereotypical. A particular scene of the film showed a woman being sexually harassed while naked in the shower by one of the male citizens of Quiet. Harris and other onlookers were merely standing around and watching as this went on without doing anything. Harris seemed pleased and was laughing as this was happening. This haven that Harris created still contained the real world systems of oppression and affected women by sexualizing them. Harris referred to technology as a “new boy in town…” expanding the system of patriarchy through patriarchal media production.

Blog #2- Sexual Politics

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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.

Blog #1- About the author

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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.