Category Archives: Random topics

The Problem in Taking Refuge

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On my trip to Afghanistan about two years ago I remember crossing a barren park, with one swing set. In the blazing heat of the summer, I remember looking back and witnessing a line of women, but more specifically widows, waiting for basic food rations distributed at what looked like a UN tent. Each woman was given two containers of cooking oil and a bag of rice. Before thinking if that was enough food to last them a week, I thought about how they were going to carry these supplies to home. From what I could tell all these women either came by foot or by taxi and they did not have men to accompany them; a norm that developed out of the many years of war. This description that I am giving exemplifies the effects of war and poverty on women.Credits from  occhiogrosso-math.wikispaces.com/Refugee

Credits from occhiogrosso-math.wikispaces.com/Refugee

Put in groups in my Feminism Health and New Media class, each group was given a picture where we were to examine any sign of power relations from the scene. My group was given a picture of an Afghan Refugee camp in Peshawar and all we could see were endless tents and a clear blue sky and men. Where were the women in these refugee camps? As analyzed by my group and Professor Morgane Richardson, these women were inside the tents and built an indoor community for themselves; fearing sexual assault and also taking care of the elderly and vulnerable. This is the gendered experience of displaced women in refugee camps.

Using “gender as a lens to uncover hidden power relations,” as stated by Charli Carpenter, I also analyzed the experiences of women in a Syrian refugee camp shown on the news. The men who were most often approached by the news crew were raising the issue of political instability in the country and gave their opinions about the current events while the one woman who was interviewed talked about the health disparities in these refugee camps. She raised important points on the distance of health clinics from the refugee camp as well as the many people suffering from diarrhea and vomiting. Could these differences in concerns and responses to their experiences as refugees reflect their gendered perspectives?

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Systematic Vulnerability

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I was shocked to find out that in 2008 the UN Security Council declared rape as a weapon of war. The history of war is filled with women as victims and survivors during wartime as well as in the post-war period. But it’s better late than never for violence against women in times of war to be recognized. It is a stepping stone for the international community to acknowledge that in order to end rape as a weapon of war, women must become “…full participants in their nation’s national security sector and post-war negotiations and full participants in international peace-keeping missions.”

As analyzed by Mary-Wynne Ashford in The Impact of War on Women, the health effects of war are endured well after the war is over. Recognizing the many factors that contribute to making women vulnerable in wartime, Ashford argues that in regions where women do not have “basic rights of autonomy” they are most vulnerable during times of conflict. Making them more dependent on men for security, institutionalized patriarchy diminishes the autonomy of women’s economic, political and social roles in society.

Google Images search: UN rape as a weapon of war

Google Images search: UN rape as a weapon of war

The health disparities faced by women are also extensive. Ashford raises attention to the spreading of HIV/Aids as a result of systematic rape in many war torn countries. In the Rwandan Genocide, which is projected that between 200,000 and 500,000 women were raped, there was evidence that “weaponization of HIV” was used as a tactic by combatants. In some cases it was found that women were specifically taken to HIV positive soldiers to be raped. The horrific sexual exploitation of women is an act of exercising power over the “enemy”. In a highly patriarchal society, where women are treated as commodities, socially handicapped from being active citizens, these limitations placed on women are worsened. Unable to travel to health clinic and lacking sufficient medical supplies and care, are just some of the hostile effects of war on women.

Addressing systematic gender based violence towards women, non-profit organizations like MADRE aid women internationally by building health clinics, educating and “equipping women with tools to prevent sexual assault in war and in the aftermath of disasters.” Ensuring that rape and sexual violence should not be an expected occurrence in war zones, transnational organizations, women peace movements such as the one in Liberia led by Leymah Gbowee, and human rights activists have contributed to combating the long trend of sexual violence against women in times of war.

Image from ilga.org

Image from ilga.org

No More Misrepresentation of Women says film “Miss Representation”

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Inspired by the words of Jennifer Siebel Newsom, director of the film Miss Representation, I wanted to bring to light the increase in women’s positive representation in the media. I am proud to be part of the ever growing culture of women that are vocal about women’s misrepresentation in the media and how it affects our consciousness as a whole. Addressing the root reasons and solutions on how the media stereotypes and categorizes women “into boxes” that hinder our agency in society. This is an issue of gender inequality that is crucial to women worldwide.

Aimed at changing the status quo of patriarchy and sexism existing in the media, Newsom raises surprising statistics “where in leadership less than 18% of women [are]… in positions of leadership despite being 51% of the US population and despite giving birth to 100% of the population.” We as women should recognize our power as citizens and consumers, especially with the fact that in the US and similar stats worldwide, women are 86% of consumers and are active members of the global economy. Using this to our advantage, we have the power to strategically challenge and change this status quo. Media disempowers women by commodifying their bodies to sell their products ranging from magazines, to alcoholic beverages, to airline services and many other examples seen in advertisements. The same source of exploitation can also be a source of empowerment as represented by Geena Davis and her role in the movie A League of Their Own. She stated in Miss Representation that many young girls were approaching her and expressed how they began to join sports teams after watching her in the film. This proves that women in the media shown in an active and positive light can remind women of their potential in reality. This goes with the saying that we sometimes do not envision what we do not see. Her role in the film impacted the lives of many women and girls.

Increasing women’s agency is imperative in bridging the gap of gender inequality. I too have become an active producer using media by creating a short video with my fellow classmates that raises the problem and challenges women misrepresentation in the media. Blogs like feministteacher.com (that integrate feminist discourse and social justice in the education of elementary to high school students) and womensmediacenter.com work as outlets that highlight strong women leaders taking action in policy making, educational discourse, etc.

The media can be used to challenge the status quo, it just depends on where you are looking.

What Did You Expect

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Discussing the topic of stereotypes and internalized racism has allowed me to realize my experiences with narrow-minded commentary on my ethnicity. As an Asian-American and more specifically an Afghan-American, I have been commonly told that I look Hispanic. This becomes problematic when the response to my true ethnicity is look of surprise, denial or confusion. Numerous times I have had that uncomfortable conversation with people (who share the reaction mentioned above) in regards to my ethnicity. I respond by explaining how my appearance is common within my ethnic community and that just like any other ethnic group we have very diverse features. We not have one static identity. That leads me to think what they expected me to be…darker? Wearing what the west has deemed as the oppressive burqa?  Some people confuse my explaining with antagonism and ease off the subject. But my awkward and mostly ineffective ways at explaining the diversity among my ethnic community gets answered with “…ok. But you look Hispanic”.  As my cousin once told an individual who commented that she did not look Afghan, “what did you expect? Someone with horns and a tail.”

I always wondered if the common reaction to my ethnicity is rooted to the concept of internalized racism. Through the media, especially the news, these geographic regions have been the face of poverty, war, oppression and anti-American sentiment. Seen as those who have not adopted “liberal individualism” and the capitalist culture that the West has, is a root source which stereotypes form. The dichotomy of the East vs. West rhetoric which leads to prejudgments is critically analyzed by Edward Said’s critical analysis of Orientalism and the cultural ideas that formed its foundation. Being non-western in the west there is a desire to assimilate or “pass” as a privileged citizen in order to avoid being stereotyped. I was even once told that it might be a good thing that I could pass as Hispanic in order to avoid being harassed (especially during the post 9/11 against Afghans, Arab, Muslims and other groups blamed for starting the War on Terror).

Nadine Naber, my favorite writer on gender and cultural politics also exemplifies the stereotypical portrayal of non-westerners. She delves into how imperialist racism has constructed the identity of the Orient as “uncivilized” and “backwards”. The generalized, artificial attributions created by colonial European forces have been and are being portrayed by media and other cultural envoys ever since the Crusades!  The “othering” of marginalized ethnic groups in society enforces the desire of assimilation as an attempt to resist the stereotypical representations of ourselves by the culture defining us.

Other resources that draw on the theme of this blog post!

Bell hooks’ Killing Rage is a must read

Watch the film Amreeka by Cherien Dabis which draws on the 9/11 backlash stimulated by prejudiced stereotypes of Arab Americans

That’s Not Racist!

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Watching the video Sh*t White Girls Say to Black Girls brought a refreshing illustration of internalized racism. Out of the many common series of “Shit Girls Say” videos pouring on the internet, Franchesca Ramsey nails the hardly discussed racist comments towards people of color. This video should make you uneasy about the interpretations and stereotypes made for being a person of color. Through TV shows such as Tyler Perry’s “House of Payne”, these stereotypes placed on people of color are exaggerated and the media used to represent people of color are limited. As fellow blogger Kerishma Panigrahi pointed out, “no ethnic group is a monolith, yet the media insists on representing them in that way.” Racial diversity in the media has a long way to go.

bell hooks in her chapter “Black Beauty and Black Power” examines the solution that black activists developed against internalized racism. By creating a movement of “self-love” in the 70’s, black activism worked on interpreting black as empowering and going against the color caste hierarchy which lauded and gave privileges for having lighter features (122). An example of the revolutionary and politicized practice that halted in this movement was the use of chemical straighteners among women of color. Detaching away from the traditionally racist interpretation of natural hair being deviant among women of color, the natural texture of hair was more commonly worn and seen as a political and social effort to destigmatize the offensive attachments labeled on it. This form of reclaiming racial integrity can allow us to move forward from what is deemed beautiful and strip away the deviance assigned non-whites in society. The idea that the body that one was given at birth is not good enough is disproportionately adopted among women of color.

hooks also illuminates the problem that arose with the process of assimilation among people of color into mainstream society. Referring to this practice as “embracing liberal individualism”, she expands on how this worked to weaken black activism on beauty standards after the civil rights movement. Although people of color were “free” to choose how they wanted to carry themselves, especially in the aesthetics sense, it did not stop the self-policing and internalized culture against racist notions of beauty and the self. With current TV media discourse failing to positively shape our perspectives on beauty norms which connect to self-awareness and self-love, we can place our faith in cyber media and independent artists to encourage racial diversity.

Fifty Shades of Black- Huffington Post live

“We just want you to be healthier”- Scene from movie Knocked Up

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When I finally got power after Hurricane Sandy, the second thing I did was turn on my TV and see what Sunday movies were playing. I have always watched parts of the movie Knocked Up, but never the whole movie so I decided to watch it! Still bearing in mind this weeks topic on the “War on Obesity” I had to post one of the most iconic lines in the film related to this topic. Enjoy!

Interpreting Obesity

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Photo credit: Oprah.com

Oprah, a media mogul, entrepreneur, philanthropist, etc is also well known for her fluctuating weight. Media coverage focused on her body was trending through the years of her “struggle” or “battle” with weight issues. In a recent article “How Did I let this Happen Again?” Oprah writes out about her journey being medicalized for her weight gain. I was amazed that all the concepts and phrases mentioned in class in relation to obesity and the medicalization of addicts were commonly found when researching on Oprah’s weight history. Hitting rock bottom, prescribing weight gain via severe diets and other connections to body image and health are part of the narratives of many people who are diagnosed as obese.

As discussed in class with our guest speaker Melissa Campbell, fat bodies are objectified in mass media. They are alienated from the “real self” and are prescribed as deviant, hence the desire to attain slimness and therefore normalcy. In the controversial article “Oprah’s Weight Struggles a Microcosm of America’s Obesity Epidemic”, Jimmy Moore explores Oprah’s weight struggles. Criticizing her as negative, unable to commit and therefore lazy, Moore even goes so far as to diagnose Oprah with food addiction.

Below are phrases that I found in the article that refer to Oprah’s weight “struggle”.

– Weight demons

-“Off the wagon”

-Food addiction

-Poor choices

-“..addiction under control…”

-Obesity epidemic

Photo credit: cartoonstock.com

As we see, all these words in the end characterize the “obesity epidemic”. These problematic phrases use rhetoric that demonize, blame and medicalize people who are obese. Instead of celebrating the bodies of plus size women, media discourse works on shaming and displaying fat bodies as incomplete people. When I say this, I refer to this statement that declares Oprah’s history with her body as a “…sad but true story of a woman who has it all but can’t seem to figure out why she can’t lose weight.” Although this woman has power and fame, she is portrayed as not fulfilled.

However, new media is focused on empowering women who are labeled as obese via blogs, tumblr, and other forms of visual media. Fat fashion communities such as Manfattan were created to allow people to curate their own experiences as well enable role models into mainstream media that are not limited to sizes 0-4. This online community also works to break from the typical visual description about fatness and a space to share resources (where to purchase clothing, DIY tips, and sharing pictures). Changing the discourse on the “obesity epidemic”, fat fashion communities are not medicalizing their bodies as abnormal and therefore needing treatment via diets or weight loss surgeries. They are creating a community that does not discriminate and objectify fat bodies.

The Personhood of Mothers Ignored

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Susan Bordo’s “Are Mothers Persons?” delves into the contradictory rhetoric that exists around the bodily integrity of women compared to men through the legal system. With criticisms in social media that feminism is not needed, people fail to realize that women still do not receive equal pay for equal work and women’s reproductive rights are still being controlled by patriarchal law. One of the most expansive inequalities regarding women bodies and autonomy lies in the legal and social discourse of reproductive control. Examining the “legal double standard” regarding women’s bodies, Bordo reveals the attack on women’s personhood.

In the United States there is a long history of the non-consensual medical and legal interference of women bodies. Through the frequent practices of non-consensual sterilization, forced C-sections and abortions, women have been subjected as mere physical entities with no will or power to determine their reproductive fate. A court case between Angela Carder and the George Washington University Hospital revealed that a forced cesarean was practiced on Carder who was ill. This was carried out by the doctors and staff who did not agree with the practice but were required to do so by their hospitals regulations to perform C-sections on fatally ill patients. The court sided with the hospital stating that “…the woman’s right to avoid bodily intrusion could justifiably be put aside, as she had at best two says left of sedated life,” (77 Bordo). Angela Carder and her baby died after the operation was performed. In this case, a living persons will was ignored over the fact that she was pregnant, in which she was lawfully considered as life-support for the fetus. Pregnant women are also criminalize and suggested to have morality issues (or seen as selfish) for not allowing doctors and court ruling to invade their body on behalf of the unborn child.  Another controversial case regarding Rennie Gibbs reveals the attack on women, especially after miscarriages.

The increased rate of eugenics practices on women of color and poor women via sterilization during the Great Depression is part of history that is not mentioned in the textbooks. Mostly state sponsored forced sterilization was mainly experienced by women of color and poor women who were deemed unable to care for their children, or to prevent genetic defection. Most women experienced involuntary sterilization was directed towards the “mentally defective” and “feeble –minded” (75 Bordo). These categories of “unfit” parenting are based on stereotypical and racist discourse on ethnic minorities.

As a result of reading Bordo’s chapter, I have come to the realization that society needs to be more supportive of motherhood. Not through imposing medical intervention, criminalizing or treating potential mothers and mothers as needing to be heavily supervised by law. We need to understand that forcing pregnant women to “undergo medical treatment sets an unsavory precedent for further invasion of women’s privacy and bodily integrity,” (81 Bordo).

Phot Credit to strongfamiliesmovement.org

Reality TV and the Culture Industry

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I always used to watch What Not to Wear and a couple of weeks ago came across an interview with Stacy London. I saw a whole new side of her that I have never seen on the show. She talked about how her skin disorder, psoriasis, led her to fashion and loving the idea of self-transformation. Now she is in the business of transforming other people’s wardrobes and bodily transformations through the show.

The promise of reality TV shows such as What Not to Wear not only promote better clothing but also link their agenda to self-esteem, health, productivity in the dating world and relationship with family and friends. As Ouellette and Hay stated in Makeover Television, Governmentality and the Good Citizen, makeover TV functions to make “active and healthy citizens…” as part of a reinvention of the neoliberal government. The notion of being a “good citizen” is tied to the individual being responsible for their own governmentality. When the proper ‘citizenship’ is not practiced, the blame is placed on the individual. This form of policing though is framed by the surge of reality TV and other forms of media that have are part of the growing culture industry. The most commonly implied critique by the two fashion gurus of What Not to Wear was that when the nominated persons were credited for working in successful jobs or being dedicated to their family (example: mothers), their wardrobe did not present them as the good citizens that they are. This indication of failing to present and show society that you are a good citizen, even though you are a productive member of society is problematic according to the growing culture industry. So the hosts create a proposition that they will lead the participant from failure to success. This discourse continues throughout the show hoping that the end result will fulfill and complete the participant.

Reality TV shows like this also frame their solutions to the participants of these shows in a white framework. The dispersal of a What Not to Wear in India extends the role of Western media and reality TV in neoliberal reforms in the US across borders. This becomes problematic as it encourages Western hegemony in the non-West and extends the white frame-work of media gradually promoting a form of Eurocentric global governance.

Finding the Cure

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The commercialization of women’s health is prevalent in media discourse as shown in the documentary “Pink Ribbons Inc.”. We have seen that the combination of neoliberal globalization and women’s health issues has led to strong rhetoric on raising awareness around these issues. Although this is needed, what many feminist scholars have been critiquing is how women’s health issues, breast cancer in particular, have been reduced to the symbols and rhetoric of slogans such as “early detection.cure.prevention” (“Pink Ribbons Inc.”). Yet we realize through the narratives of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer that it is not as easy as the slogan says.

There is a chance for one in eight women to have breast cancer in her lifetime and about 39,510 women die from breast cancer each year in the United States. Being a woman is the most influential factor in being diagnosed with breast cancer. During Regan’s era there was increased pressure on corporate philanthropy which has led to cause marketing. Cause-marketing is a process that allows companies to associate to a cause that their buyers would potentially care about resulting in increased sales. Foundations like the Susan G. Komen foundation and Avon foundation for breast cancer are the most dominant in breast cancer related cause-marketing. In fact, as I was doing some online research about the commercialization of breast cancer while listening to Pandora, I instantly heard an advertisement of five hour energy drink’s collaboration with the Avon Breast Cancer Foundation.  In this promotion between October 1st and December 31st, 2012 for every bottle of “Pink Lemonade” sold, five cents will go towards the Avon foundation. Millions of dollars have been raised through the Avon foundation and the Susan G. Komen foundation yet where has that money went since there is still no cure. Women are continuously being treated through the “slash, burn and poison” approach and treatment for breast cancer has not really progressed over the years. Although early detection is imperative, it is not always the best way in “fighting” breast cancer. A cure is still needed and cause-marketing efforts have been good at raising money towards this cause. Yet these same institutions are concerned with framing breast cancer in the media as feminine, pink and “pretty” which diverges the goal of actually finding a cure. An Avon representative in the film stated that “…when you show the face of cancer only in anger, then people will think it’s hopeless…”

There is a need to repoliticize how breast cancer is portrayed in the media.  There must be a re-focus on the much needed cure for breast cancer and not so much its pink products.  I can’t help but think that the amount of money used to create these pink products could be used directly towards the research in finding the cure and funding other institutions committed to women’s health like Planned Parenthood that provide mammograms for all women.

Below I have a link to a video that shows the problematic relationship between commercializing and commodifying breast cancer.