In conclusion…

So this is it. Classes are over and tomorrow begins finals week. I’m making some final touches on the critical essay today and studying for my first final tomorrow.

Hons201 was great fun and I’m genuinely sad to see it end. Prior to the class, I’d not been entirely familiar with feminist concepts. I think the greatest impact it’s had on me is that I hadn’t really applied feminist concepts to any media I was watching/listening to and now…well. I find myself being unable to STOP analyzing everything I watch/listen to. The blatancy of discrimination in society seems to have been amplified after taking this course. But, that’s good! Awareness is good (well, except, in the case of pinkwashing…but that’s another story).

I have to say I most enjoyed reading the radical feminist pieces by Rich and Caputi. I am actually using one of the readings from the same class for my critical essay (see: Cyberfeminism 2.0, Chapter 12), which is on intimate partner violence among same-sex couples.

All of the lecturers throughout the semester were fantastic. They spoke about topics I was not familiar with and they were engaging whilst doing so.

Some topics were difficult to relate to, such as trans* issues. Some topics I feel I need to explore more, either because it was complex or simply because I’m still interested in the topic.

Maintaining this blog was a challenge and a joy at the same time, and I just may continue to write more posts after the semester’s over (it’ll probably be less frequent, though). And I must add that I was/am impressed with the eloquence and depth of analysis in my classmates’ blog posts. It was a pleasure interacting with my classmates and being guided by professor Daniels and professor Richardson.

I wish you all the best on your finals/critical essays. I wish you all a fantastic winter vacation. If I don’t speak to you ever again (meaning, if you delete your blog/Twitter or happen to never be in another THHP class with me…) I wish you a FANTASTIC life.

Thanks for a great semester.

Cheers,

Sarah.

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The Need for UN Action in Liberia [Blog Assignment #7]

In the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, we see how ordinary, war-worn women subjected to daily violence against men and boys fought bravely through peaceful protest. The tyrannical rule of Liberian President Charles Taylor oversaw and perpetuated this oppression. Nobel Peace Prize Award winner Leymah Gbowee formed the Liberian Mass Action for Peace (which included Muslim and Christian women alike) to bring attention to the atrocities women had endured. With a push from LMAP, Charles Taylor was indicted for war crimes.

However, Charles Taylor’s regime has left a seemingly indelible mark on Liberian society. Violence against women and girls is the most frequent crime committed in Liberia today, even though it is less frequent than it was during Taylor’s regime.

Mary-Wynne Ashford in her article The Impact of War on Women outlines the ways to end the “vulnerability” of women during and after war. Ashford says we must,

  • “prevent war”
  • “ratify and implement existing agreements”
  • “address the role of women in responsibility to protect”
  • “address women’s needs when planning peacekeeping and humanitarian operations”
  • “increase the number of women in decision-making bodies”
  • “establish or restore justice systems, education,  health care and economic opportunities for women immediately after war”

As a Humanitarian Aid worker, I would make sure to be a part of a gender-focused UN organization similar to UN Women or the UNFPA.

Acquiring the data of rape and sexual assault in zones of conflict is the first step in providing aid. The gender based violence information system, started by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, should recruit more organizations (currently the UNOCHA, UNHCR, IRC, UNFPA,UNICEF, UNHCR, IRC and the WHO are members of the GBVIS committee). Being in control of data will make violence against women a starker reality (though it should be noted not all attacks are reported) and may prompt more action to be taken to combat it. Storing statistics of GBV (gender-based violence) would also protect the “safety, respect, dignity and consent” of the victims.

With information in hand, we take action.

Expanding on Ashford’s points, we need to provide safety for those who have suffered already, first and foremost. Providing health care, especially sexual care for the women who have been raped (a percentage as high as 90% in Liberia) and impregnated. Rape is a common tactic for control of women and asserting patriarchal dominance during war. Jobs for unemployed women would provide independence, empowerment and relief from poverty. Electing women into positions of power would increase the statistical likelihood of more rights for women and peaceful agreements. After providing aid to those who had suffered, one must turn to educating the future generations in order to provide a richer and more gender-equal society.

Gbwoee says,

If the issue of women’s rights is still a contentious issue in [the US], and if the women who these issues are affecting are silent or almost silent on it, the trend is that we will see some of these things rise up in our own communities.

Meaning, if we do not do not gain equal rights for ourselves in the US then the universality of having justice for all women is challenged. Humanitarian effort cannot solve all the worlds problems in one go, but it can try to make the situations more bearable. Justice for one is not justice for all.

Today violence against women is increasingly
recognized for what it is: a threat to democracy,
a barrier to lasting peace, a burden
on national economies, and an appalling
human rights violation.

-Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women

Problems in the Realm of Geekdom: Cosplay

For those of you not in the realm of geekdom, you may not know what cosplaying is.

Cosplay, a portmanteau of “costume” and “play,” is the act of people dressing up (and sometimes acting as) a character from either a film, TV show, comic book, anime, novel, etc. Comic book characters are the most common types that people choose to emulate (hence, the endless lists of Comic Book Conventions), and anime characters follow close behind.

“You can’t cosplay out of your race.

In this subset of geekdom, there is a problem that seems to be ignored–the lack of representation of characters in comic books/anime who aren’t Caucasian or Caucasian-looking. As if this lack of representation isn’t bad enough, whitewashing is rampant in fandom/geekdom. My fellow classmates Kaitlyn and Catherine talk about this problem  in their video ‘Whitewashing in Fanart.’ There is also a great blog called ‘Stop Whitewashing’ that features analyses of whitewashing not only in cartoons, but in live action works.

You can bet the archetypal white, heterosexual, elitist privileged male (and sometimes female) supergeek looms over cosplayers who cosplay “out of their race” and tuts at them because he/she sees them as inaccurate portrayals solely because their skin color does not match the character’s (one is reminded of the racist reaction to Rue in The Hunger Games film).

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Blogs like Cosplays with Color showcase plenty of excellent cosplays of White characters done by PoC. Skin color should not even be relevant because it is the costume and the heart that make a good cosplay.

“What’s your cup size?”

I have to admit. I love cosplaying. It’s fun and…okay, yes,  it can be ego-boosting if people really take to your cosplay. I cosplayed at New York Comic Con (NYCC) last year as Sebastian, a demon Victorian butler from a popular anime called Black Butler. (I couldn’t miss out on the chance to wear a waistcoat).

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As you can see, Sebastian is a male character and he’s modestly dressed. Not surprisingly, the most attention I got was from hyper teenage girls and the seldom professional photographer. I went to the Con with three other friends, one of whom cosplayed a female video game character that wears a tank top and fairly form-fitting pants. The attention she received was…very different (excited men of all ages snapping photos like hawks descending on prey).

Said friend was not even wearing anything low-cut or too revealing. There are women at conventions who DO wear low-cut/revealing costumes (as I’m sure you’re aware, many female characters in comics are scantily clad). These women are susceptible to the inevitable and intrusive male gaze.

I read a blog post several weeks ago written by a blogger named Mandy Caruso, who dressed up as Black Cat at NYCC and was openly degraded through verbal sexual assault. I was disgusted by what she had to go through. You can read her post here.

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She writes, in conclusion,

“…many people at these cons expect women cosplaying as vixens (or even just wearing particularly flattering costumes) to be open/ welcoming to crude male commentary and lecherous ogling, like our presence comes with subtitles that say “I represent your fantasy thus you may treat me like a fantasy and not a human in a costume.”And maybe that will always be how the majority of people see us. But that does not mean we have to put up with shit that crosses the line, it does not mean we owe them a fantasy….I encourage cosplaying women everywhere to be blunt and vocal with their rights, their personal boundaries, and their comfort level at conventions.”

The mentality that “she dressed like a slut so she deserved it” in reference to cosplayers like Mandy, which I see all the time, contributes to rape culture. The reality is that the absence of civility of the person perpetrating the harassment is the problem. Attention is fine, but offensive and intrusive attention is not.

I was pleased to find an Con Anti-Harassment organization (unfortunately, New York Comic Con is not listed as having any anti-harassment policies).

In summary, cosplay whoever you want, however you want…but be wary of unwanted attention.

Transgender Health: Trauma

After reading the very interesting article about PTSD for class, I became inspired to do more research about it and its relation to feminism. I stumbled across an article titled Lost in Trans-Lation: Interpreting Systems of Trauma for Transgender Clients that spoke of trauma as experienced by transgender people.

In a health assessment of 182 transgender people (three-fifths who were MTF and two-fifths who were FTM), 53.8% of 78 people responded “yes” to the question of whether they had been raped, 56.3% of 80 people said “yes” to experiencing violence in their homes, and 51.3% of 80 people said “yes” to being physically abused. It is notable that more than half of the respondents answered “yes” and is in-keeping with the statistic that more than half of transgender peoples experience some kind of violence in their lifetimes.

There are three main types of trauma, as Richmond, Burnes and Carroll write, that transgender persons experience: interpersonal, self-directed, and collective violence.

Examples of each type of violence, as explained in the Richmond, Burnes, and Carroll article, follow.

Interpersonal violence:

“More than half of transgender adults reported an unwanted sexual event before the age of 18” which was “attributed to peers’ curiosity about the sex of the transgender person.” This curiosity can be offensive and damaging because it is questioning a transgender person’s natural state.

Self-directed violence:

Transgender populations have high rates of suicide. “Studies that have asked directly about suicide ideation and suicide attempts predicted that approximately one third of transgender people have attempted suicide (Clements-Nolle et al., 2001; Kenagy, 2005). Nearly two thirds (67.3%) of Kenagy’s (2005) participants reported that the suicide attempt was related to their gender identity.”

Collective violence:

Discriminatory medical institutions cause poor health in transgender persons. “For many transgender trauma survivors, discriminatory emergency response care may
increase the severity of psychological distress following the initial trauma.”

Quick, name a film that has a bunch of female characters who talk to each other about things other than men!

Time’s up. You can’t think of any, can you? Even if you did, you have to admit that you didn’t have much to choose from.

The Bechdel Test was created by Alison Bechdel in her 1980s comic “Dykes to Watch Out For.”

If a film/TV show passes the following tests, then it has passed the overall Bechdel Test:

1. There must be two or more female characters

2. who talk to each other

3. about something other than men.

It is possibly the lowest standard we can have for women in films/TV. It does not include quality of the female characters nor does it include any events. It also does not record the amount of WoC or queer women represented. Thus, passing the Test doesn’t necessarily make a film/TV show a “feminist” show.

Jennifer Kesler writes in her blog post titled “The Bechdel test: it’s not about passing,” “Whether or not your story includes the Bechdel scene says absolutely nothing about whether it’s sexist or not. The measure of sexism is whether your story denies women the opportunity to participate in it.”

Kesler further writes how the Bechdel Test makes us question why there’s a dearth of female characters in the media. The truth is that there is only a tiny amount of well-developed female characters who contribute to the advancement of stories, Kesler notes.

The Huffington Post highlights a study by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism in 2009  which showed that 32.8 percent of actors are female and 67.2 are male (or 2.05 males to every one female). “This means that less than 17 percent of films are gender balanced, even though females make up half of the ticket-buying population.”

 

P.S.: I’ve recently begun watching Once Upon a Time, a fantasy TV series in which fairy tale characters under a curse find themselves in our “real world” without a single memory of their pasts. It passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. So, if you’re interested in seeing a Bechdel approved TV show/film for a change, I’d highly recommend you give Once a watch!

The Bechdel Test

Mississippi Blues

It was in high school–my junior year I believe–that we had to take a ‘Health’ class aka a sex-education class taught by our P.E. teacher. The only thing I can remember about the class was watching the film The Miracle of Life, and the inevitable gasping and cringing of my classmates on the up-close shot of the woman-giving-birth’s vagina.

I mean, I did go to an all-girl’s Catholic high school, so we were probably lucky that we got sex-ed at all. But it was in no way comprehensive.

Some people may say “but the kids have the internet! they’ll learn that way!” or “their parents will teach them!” I say it isn’t a given that kids will Google before they…google each other (I know, I know, that was a terrible joke attempt). Parents are just as unreliable, because parents either a) don’t want their children to have sex (be it because of religion or principles) or b) feel too embarrassed to have “the talk” c) are ignorant (in the case of a child being homosexual).

Watching the “The Education of Shelby Knox” film in class last week, I thought Ms. Knox was the sole sensible voice in a sea of stupidity. How someone could disregard the logic that teaching kids how to use contraceptives will promote fewer abortions is beyond me (see: Ms. Knox’s local pastor). Wouldn’t a pastor want fewer abortions?

Abstinence-only education will never resonate with kids and, as Ms. Knox observed, sex will always happen so it might as well happen smartly.

I was interested to see the current policies of NYC on sex education and was pleased to find out that we’ve mandated a comprehensive sex ed curriculum. But other places in the US aren’t so lucky.

According to State Health Facts as of 2010 Mississippi has the highest teen birth rate (55%). Why’s that? Slate.com writes, “Mississippi sex-ed instructors are specifically forbidden to show students how to use condoms, boys and girls must be separated for class even though they’re usually together for actual sex, parents can opt out completely, and school districts were given the opportunity to choose an “abstinence-only” curriculum—which the majority of them did.” Though, the state did pass a law in 2011 in attempt to approve sex-education. But the abstinence-only curriculum continues to loom.

It’s slow going but hopefully Mississippi gets its act together. By educating children/teens about sex at an early age, it will improve their lives and possibly even save them.