Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Report of Thinking Gender Program
UCLA Center for the Study of Women
Grand Horizon Ballroom, UCLA Covel Commons
April 7 and 8, 2016
I attended this annual conference to bridge the gap between my world as a Second Wave feminist and the world of feminists who have come of age in the last 20 or 30 years. I’ve included summaries of the more noteworthy panel talks in the Appendix and a list of terms.
I hope you correspond with me about your reactions and opinions. Keeping a feminist consciousness requires us to have discussions.
The public conference highlights graduate student research on women, sexuality, and gender across all disciplines and historical periods. The event was co-sponsored by several departments, including social science, World Arts and Culture, ethnic and gender studies, History, Law, English, Theater and Film Studies. The speakers came from UCLA and other campuses.
My goal was to learn what research the academic community is doing and what it’s discussing. Specifically, I hoped to learn more about post-feminism and other current feminist theories and get a sense of what people are saying about the current controversies involving transgender and queer forces.
THE PROGRAM: “SPATIAL AWARENESS,
AND GENDERED SPACES”
Posters and Exhibits: “Dance For Me: Drag Kings and Performative Sexuality”; “Hermanitas: A Critical Race Analysis as Praxis in everyday Femtorship amongst Women of Color in Academia”; How Online Sexual Harassment Affects Women Online”; Educator’s Perceptions of High School Sex Education; It is More Than Just About Compliance”; “The Construction and Performance of Gender in Binary Restrooms”
Keynote Speaker: Aili Mari Tripp discussed her new book, “Women and Power in Postconflict Africa (Cambridge University Press Studies in Gender and Politics, 2015).
Screenings (4 short films): “They Want to Give it a Name”, “Who is Park Joo Young?”, “Porn Star Quotidian”, “Your Choice”
Our Favorite Short Film: “Your Choice”
An experimental piece about the disjointed relationship of contemporary bodily awareness and larger systems of oppression, this film showed topsy-turvy 3-D renderings of a woman’s physical body over poetic narration.
Sessions 1, 2, 3, 4 , each with 3 or 4 papers
See APPENDIX for summaries of the more noteworthy papers)
Concurrent Workshops We Attended:
Instructor: Martha Dina Arguello, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Intersection of Gender, Justice, and the Environment, (participants will learn techniques to reduce their contact with harmful toxins and about issues of reproductive justice and environmental racism)
HIGHLIGHTS OF 2 EXHIBITS AND KEYNOTE TALK
Posters & Exhibits
“The Construction and Performance of Gender in Binary Restrooms” consisted of the results of a questionnaire the exhibitor, Bo James Hwang, had given to UCLA students in which they were asked if they would be willing to have their tuition increased $2.00 each quarter to pay for changing the signs on bathrooms to gender neutral terms, and analyzed the results to see if those favoring changing the signs knew someone who was transgender, or had other information about the issue. They found that knowing someone who was transgender was positively associated with agreeing to pay extra to have signs changed. Since the exhibitor wasn’t present, we couldn’t ask why it would be so expensive to just change some signs.
This exhibit received the award for best exhibit.
Rebecca Nevarez’s exhibit, “Dance for me. Drag Kings and Performative Sexuality” had colorful photos of the Dancers. She told me about the frequent popular performances around the greater Los Angeles area.
“Hermanitas: A Critical Race Analysis as Praxis in everyday Femtorship amongst Women of Color in Academia”. I noted that the program of Femtorship were using an adaptation of consciousness-raising groups to bring women of color together to share their experiences with each other. Madison spoke to several women who arrived to host the exhibit. When Madison gave her my card, one of them said she was a Shodhini and she knew me. I wonder how much her Shodhini experience had helped her to devise this program which seems to be doing very well.
Keynote Talk: Aili Mari Tripp, Professor of Political Science and Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Tripp, https://ailitripp.wordpress.com. gave an excellent power-point presentation with numerous charts and graphs to illustrate the impact of conflict in African states on subsequent political representation of women and increased legislation and constitutional changes relating to women’s rights. She speculated that perhaps the disruptions of the social structure might allow for the emergence of women’s voices.
During Q and A, Madison relayed my question about whether the differences in economies or World Bank structural adjustment programs could account for the striking relationships between conflicts (not civil wars) and subsequent rise of political representation by women. She seemed puzzled by the question, then said that there “had been some issues awhile back, but they are now resolved”.
Her answer seemed purposely vague and dismissive.
I’ve ordered her book, “Women and Power in Postconflict Africa”, Cambridge University Press Studies in Gender and Politics, 2015. I hope to speak to Silvia Federici who was in Nigeria during the implementation of the structural adjustment programs to find out if her experience jibes with Tripp’s.
We found the conference quite stimulating.
As you can see from a quick look at the program and the reports, there are many new terms and terms that have a different meaning now. Some of this is because as new social science and political theories develop, they either coin new terms or use familiar terms in a new way. Additionally, today’s feminists have become intrigued with linguistics, and sometimes terms are given new meanings as a feminist strategy to bring about social change.
See APPENDIX for a list of terms you will encounter in any contemporary feminist discussion.
My goal of understanding the post-feminist theories was partly met. A particularly interesting exchange took place after the Implicit Bias and Stereotype Threat Panel that was moderated by Juliet Williams, a professor in the Gender Studies Department. (see Appendix, Best Paper)
It was only after summing up the conference that we realized that concerns about female issues of controlling our reproduction, asserting female sexuality, access to childcare, issues of how mothers are treated in the society were almost missing. Out of 24 talks, 5 exhibit presentations and 4 films, only one talk presented information on birth control in China and two films showed women’s experiences with adoption and self-image. One Korean adoptee learned that the adoption agencies mixed up the names of the adopting mothers, and one showed images of parts of the female body.
Panel Reports And Q&A
I highly recommend reading the whole paper. Please contact us and we’ll get it to you.
Keira Stearns, Political Science and International Relations, USC
Women as Political Subjects? An analysis of the UN Department of Political Affairs and Perceptions of Women’s Agency
“Why do women still struggle to be included in formal peace talks?” Stearns analyzed the annual reports, requests for funding, newsletters and bulletins from the UN Department of Political Affairs. She found that the DPA used violence as the primary criterion by which parties are given legitimacy. She says this implicitly and explicitly makes men the primary subjects of peace negotiations. Women, by contrast, are portrayed as peaceful, apolitical, and only emerging from a local context.
She reviews the research of many scholars which find that the discourse about peace talks often reinforces the victimhood of women and denies their agency. They point to patriarchal modes of thinking, resulting in assumptions about women that may serve to reinforce their subordination. Women are assumed to be more peaceful, more democratically oriented, and more likely to ensure the success of the peace process, which can limit women’s agency to modes that are acceptable to the international community. They argue that the focus on the vulnerability of women enables the perpetuation of gender stereotypes that prevent women from playing a more active role in peacekeeping.
There are two broad frames within which women’s participation is discussed. Some stake a claim for women based on the transformative potential that women have on traditional security institutions, the “transformation thesis”. They believe that women bring something to the peace table because they are women. The more extreme versions of this argument argue that women’s approaches to war and peace are fundamentally different than that of men. This essentialist approach suggests that women are inherently more peaceful than men, are more likely to build bridges and are more invested in peace than their male counterparts.
The other framework is the perspective that takes the “rights-based thesis”. They argue that women’s presence does not need to be justified, and women do not need to provide instrumental value to be included. They argue that claiming space on the basis of an idealized femininity may be effective, but it inherently proscribes the area in which it is appropriate for women to operate. This reinforces the divide between “women’s issues” and all other issues, limited women’s concerns to the so-called “soft” or humanitarian issues while leaving others, like disarmament for example, outside their purview. This strengthens the idea that such issue areas are the traditional domain of masculinity.
Stearns analyzed the DPA’s guidance for the training and advising of mediators, and saw three main themes. 1st. Men are nearly always treated as the norm. 2nd, women are usually constructed as emerging from a local civil society context, with interests focusing on women’s issues. 3rd Women are usually treated as instrumental, although much of the justification for their presence is rooted in adherence to UN directives.
A close look at how men are portrayed illustrates that men are overwhelmingly linked to the use of violence. For example, in a discussion of spoilers, a senior mediation expert is quoted, “I would say never underestimate how easy it is for a few men with a few guns to blow away everything you’ve carefully built over a long period.” She quotes descriptions of warring parties and guerillas that make it sound like only men are guerillas or fighters, and women are always the victims. It’s all from a male point of view. This puts men in the central subject position and suggests they are the norm.
Women are portrayed as coming from a local, civil society context. Because grassroots civil society groups are positioned in opposition to higher level policy actor, the linkage of women with local civil society groups has significant implications for their legitimacy at peace tables.
Stearns says this way of characterizing women implies that women have an interest in being at peace tables only because of their concern for women’s issues. They are assumed to hold no other preferences or insight into broader peace and security issues.
Women are seen as valuable because of what they can bring to the peace table, because of their focus on women’s issues, or because of their access to other networks. Specifically, women are seen as being important links to local and grassroots levels, able to leverage their influence in their communities to sway support of the peace process. Rather than ascribe them any particular skills or attributes, these documents take women’s presence as necessary to keep with the commitments outlined in UN procedures.
Stearns sums up by saying that women are outside the central nexus of mediation. They are “linked” or consulted” for instrumental reasons. The assumption that they are apolitical and only concerned with women’s issue marginalizes them in a room full of “conflict parties” who have “interests”, and who will act as “spoilers” if they don’t get their way.
The gendered assumptions and understandings underpinning the DPA’s approach to peace talks must also be interrogated, and perceptions of political agency must be broadened.
Q & A Keira Stearn presentation
MODERATOR Juliet Williams, Gender Studies, UCLA
Q: “How important is all of this research in this post-feminist era and ideology? We are in agreement that sexism is bad and wrong. We are allowed to feel like we’re part of a sexist-free landscape, but it’s really a state of denial about the state of sexism.
…by disclosing in the present moment the existence of practices, structures, beliefs, you’re confronting what to do about this culture of denial. You’re forcing us to confront the persistence of sexism, but it’s not necessarily that the sexism of the moment is the same our mothers experienced. What would be the same and what would be different if you had taken up this research 2 years ago, 40 years ago, 60 years ago? Is this about sexism staying the same or is this about sexism changing? What might be illuminated if you thought more historically about how your studies would have looked?”
A. Keira Stearn
“It’s all very new. Women have a place now and until the UN Beijing conference, women didn’t even have a place. We have come so far in institutionalizing it. We’re still dealing with patriarchal attitudes. Adding women doesn’t break down patriarchy. We’re still contending with these attitudes.”
Q: Professor Williams
The American University’s study …unfortunately, some of the implicit actors in retaining the oppression are women. Shortchanging girls and in America we’re talking about who were the primary actors in schools holding girls back or telling girls to be quiet. Teachers were 65% women at the time. Could you talk a little bit about the collusion that we participate in as women in reinforcing this. There’s a lot of women employed in retail so how do we wake ourselves up, and even in women in such desperate situations as a war-torn country.
A. Keira Stearn
There’s so many different intersecting identities. There’s a huge Global North/Global South divide, largely, they are from the North. There’s been efforts to get more leaders from the South, but talking about women colluding, we have this narrative of poor victimized women in war and only granting them access through their victimhood, in spite of the good work they’ve done. White women v. women of color, rich women v. poor women, Global North v. Global South.
In this interchange, I finally got the meaning of “post-feminist” era. I believe Williams is saying that the demands of women to be equal have been heard by national and international governmental bodies and society in general, so now we’re past the stage of confronting male-dominated society. We just need to change the residual sexism.
I like Kiera’s response. She says that “adding women doesn’t break down patriarchy.” This indicates to me that she sees that real living men occupy positions of authority and power in patriarchal structures, and we need to do more than just add women. We need to break down the structure that is enforcing gender discrimination.
I found this to be a powerful paper, because while Stearns agreed that women are most often the victims and therefore have more interests in peace, and are effective on the grass roots level, to justify their inclusion in national peace talks on this basis is not the right approach and leads to them not being regarded as legitimate representatives of everybody’s desire for peace, but rather tangential to the “real” political process. I feel that too much of the feminist case for equality has been based on these “instrumental” arguments. Women should be represented equally at the peace table, because we are half the citizens. We don’t have to earn our right to be there, even though we have done so.
Sonja Dolinsek, History, Universitat Erfurt
Traffic in Women, Slavery, Sex Work, The Transnational Politics of Sexual Labour in the Era of the World Women’s Conferences (1975-1985).
As a historian, she sees her role to question current categories, conflict lines and political demands in the contemporary debates on sex work and trafficking in which there are “supposedly” two clearly defined, diametrically opposed and hermetically sealed stable positions on sexual labour—notably those who define sex work as labor and those who define it as sexual violence. She was interested in the moments of openness and uncertainty, as well as fluidity, where alliances, arguments and demands were in flux.
She reviewed UN conference reports. A variety of political actors, either delegates of governments, national and international, (UN, UNESCO), Non-Governmental Organizations (Anti-Slavery Society) or grassroots organizations (COYOTE, English Collective of Prostitutes, Wages for Housework Campaign).
She sees the politics of sexual labor gathering momentum in 1980.
The Convention for the suppression of the traffic in persons and the exploitation of the Prostitution of Others” was passed in 1949, but little interest was shown in implementing it. An explosion of anti-trafficking politics and activities after the UN’s adoption of the Palermo Protocol against trafficking in 2000 occurred. The Convention had three goals. 1) It “abolished” so-called “state-regulated” prostitution” which in 19th and early 20th century consisted of special registration schemes for sex workers (usually with the police), compulsory and often coerced gynecological examinations, deprivation of the right to freely move in areas not reserved for sexual labor, criminalization or penalization of non-registered sex workers, but also of so-called “promiscuous” women, who were often criminalized based on a suspicion of prostitution. 2) It targeted the so-called “exploitation of the prostitution of others, which refers to any involvement of 3rd parties with someone’s sexual labor, including not only “pimps”, but also potentially one’s own children, partners, friends and colleagues. 3) The disappearance of sexual labor from modern societies and mandated prevention and rehabilitation for “victims of prostitution”. Mostly the first two goals were taken up during the International Women’s Decade and adapted, appropriated and translated based on different social contexts of various actors.
During the 70’s in the U.S., a movement to decriminalize sex labour emerged in the women’s movement and culminated in a resolution at the 1973 N.O.W. national conference.
At the Mexico City Women’s Conference in 1975, Marie-Pierre Herzog, Director of the UNESCO Human Rights Division mobilized the Human Rights discourse to characterize prostitution as a human rights violation akin to torture.
Just before the conference, French prostitutes occupied a church in Lyon, seeking refuge from a police crackdown. They protested arrests of and fines for themselves and for others, such as their children and partners. To overcome the dichotomy of whore and mother, they claimed they were good mothers. They wanted their sexual labour to be recognized as work, to pay taxes and Social Security and a pension fund. The occupation was eventually raided by the police with some women being injured.
In 1986, the N.O.W. resolution calling for the decriminalization of prostitution was replaced by one focused exclusively on “traffic in women” proposed by Kathleen Barry, who characterized paid sex as “female sexual slavery”. This approach gained momentum after the publication of an article in Ms. Magazine in November 1979 and the book “Female Sexual Slavery” by Barry.
At that time, prostitution had not entered into mainstream feminist discourse. The movement was focused on rape and battered women.
At the UN conference on Women in Copenhagen, Barry co-presented a workshop on female sexual slavery. The activist, Selma James of the British Wages for Housework, interrupted the workshop several times. James worked closely with the English Collective of Prostitutes. Later, COYOTE founder, Margo St. James, sided with Barry in disapproving of James’ tactics. Dolinsek believes the joint statement Barry and St. James issued shows that “alliances are not fixed”. She also thinks the incident shows that questions about alliances, strategies and conflicts in the field of sexual labor are worth exploring in more depth which are not reduced to a simple pro/contra.
The contending factions continued working separately but all of them briefly engaged with the then still existing International Abolitionist Federation (IAF). The IAF had been founded in the late 19th century with the goal of abolishing state-regulated prostitution.
Barry wanted to abolish the practice, not just abolition of state-regulated prostitution. The newly emerging sex workers’ rights movement targeted laws against prostitution and opposed jail sentences and punishment of sex workers for having offered sex for money. They sought positive rights under the International Declaration for Human Rights. They presented a statement at the “Second World Whore’s Congress which took place at the European Parliament in 1986, asserting that prostitutes “be granted the same human rights as every other citizen.”
Dolinsek concludes that is questionable whether it is even desirable to reconstruct the debate in binary terms that assume a divide that may not have been there. Yet.
Dolinsek sought me out at the end of conference to ask what my opinion was. I found her paper refreshing, because I criticize both feminist approaches to this issue for not looking at it from the prostitute’s or sex worker’s view in a pragmatic way. Until we overthrow patriarchy, women will have to figure out how to survive. One popular way to survive, especially if you want to have children, is by marrying. Marriage is an oppressive institution and we work to change laws to make it less oppressive, but in the meantime, many women marry. I think prostitution under patriarchy is an oppressive institution and we can reform it to make it less oppressive to females, but in the meantime women will continue to be prostitutes or sex workers. I do have one caveat to this, however. I think that the rights of all women need to be taken into consideration on this issue, because when women are degraded in pornography or prostitution, that affects all of us. So I do not seek to think of prostitutes or sex workers as “sex-positive” people and that encouraging pornography and prostitution is going to advance humankind. Therefore, I have no problem with using state power to limit practices that create a “hostile environment” for all of us, such as male co-workers being able to openly access pornography on their computers or newsstands at bus stops or in supermarkets selling pornographic magazines.
But, I share Dolincek’s hope that whatever feminists feel about this issue, that we can agree to respect we have different visceral responses, and work jointly on any actions that we can all support.
Alexandria Wilson, Political Science, U of Florida
The Anti-Trafficking Movement in Post-communist Europe
Wilson reports that trafficking has increased in formerly communist countries in Europe (CEE: Central and Eastern Europe) due to porous borders, hard economic times, and the loss of social safety nets caused by the transition into a free market economy, in which the economy, particularly the agricultural sector, where mass media is not available to inform women about the problem, and the illiteracy rate is high. Women facing poverty are the targets of traffickers; traffickers lure them into sex trafficking by prospects of marriage or finding a job. Travel bans have been lifted, and foreign governments and labor unions, who use a top down approach, are concerned about the influx of migrants. Feminist organizations are concerned with gender equality and the protection of human rights, but they have few active supporters because many feel that anti-male rhetoric separates them from those males with whom they worked closely to gain independence. Further, the small impact that trafficking has on the average person’s life, and the large amounts of money from governments and NGO’s lead people to believe that the problem is being taken care of.
The international anti-trafficking movement began as a movement to protect women from sexual exploitation, however over time it turned into a nationalist concern about protecting states from migrants and increasing the social control of women. Inter-governmental organizations (INGO), such as Ford Foundation, Global Fund for Women and the Soros Foundation impose Western-style feminist agendas to NGOs in CEE. Local organizations tend to focus on the causes of trafficking by getting better employment and resources for women, while donors impose trafficking intervention services and place a emphasis on short term projects rather than advocacy for structural solutions. The proliferation of NGOs is not necessarily a sign of strengthening society because they are beholden to elites and donors. And Europeanization has been perceived as a threat to traditional values.
Shahrzad Shirvani, Architecture, UC Berkeley
Public Spaces of ’‘Freedom”; the Emergence of Gendered-Exclusive Parks in Tehran
“In a 15 Hectare of land in District 3 of Northern Tehran, where the view from outside is blocked by a number of long trees, exists an exclusive paradise for women. The area surrounded by 13-feet green iron panels allows women to freely take off their scarves and Islamic coverings and let their bodies feel the natural sunlight in public, albeit ‘without men’s interference’. The first women-exclusive park, called Mother’s Paradise, was inaugurated in 2007.”
The park is monitored for ‘proper behavior’ both inside and outside the fences. A team of 35 women manage the park, including guards, gardeners and staff.
The park offers several types of facilities, including different exercise areas such as roofed and unroofed spaces that provide basic amenities for sport and fitness, a relaxing center that offers massages, a walking pathway, small shopping kiosks, an amphitheater, a cultural center with an area for religious and group meetings. There’s a place for kids to play while their mothers are exercising. Little boys of 6 can enter with their mothers. Photos and videos from the park areas are prohibited.
The park is open every day from 5:30 am to 7:00 pm. On the weekend, the park is open to the whole family.
Questionnaires on a web blog show that most women of the lower middle class feel satisfied using the park.
Under the religious regime that was installed in 1979, women were required to be veiled and return to traditional and religious ideologies of the Islamic state. However, the Islamic government never succeeded in forming a national understanding of what would be considered a “proper cover”.
The veil has been an instrument of social change. In recent years, fashion has become a signifier for women’s resistance. Young designers are creating individual and private fashion brands as a way of active opposition with the imposed dress codes. Their secular trend is now redefining “mandatory Islamic coverings”, operating through women’s bodies in response to the coercive acts of patriarchy. The “morality police” monitor and control public spaces, but they keep the meaning of “fashion” indeterminate in order to be able to redefine it in times of need.
Q & A Shahrzad Shirvani presentation
I wanted to ask about the nature of women-only spaces in the West because I feel like this is an idealized playground of “we are free and therefore we don’t need women only spaces” but the idea of the women’s only park in Iran is very beautiful and comforting to me and I wish I had one. And I wanted to ask the panelists their opinion of women-only spaces in the West and do we need them?
A: Shahrzad Shirvani
May I just add something to that? What you’re saying is correct and I agree with you, but this notion of “good” or “bad” is again creating those norms for ourselves. So it depends on what basis you’re going to create such an exclusion for women. As I mentioned, this freedom is on the edge, it can be both beneficial for the women who are in the park trying to use their freedom isolated in those fences or it can be considered that these women are suppressed because they have only this territory to be free. It’s all about the relationship between the dominated and the dominators and how these two are trying to balance themselves, their ways of living in cities, their rights, their families, even, you know, creating social relationships between themselves. So after women are free to go to these spaces and take off their veils, then the relationship between the gender binaries start to break and change. So what you’re dealing with now, in the context of America, if you have these kinds of secluded spaces the issue of safety comes into play. There’s nobody to harm them. But in another sense they’re secluding themselves again. It’s very much deterred on the context, the why, the who. It’s very contextual.
I very much enjoyed the exchange in this panel. However, I will say that it felt like the questions I raised were being answered with political correctness more than anything else. Because, as a few of the presentations mention, Western feminism has been perceived as yet another method of foisting Western values onto the women of the world, I can understand reluctance to dive in to issues like reproductive justice and the necessity of women-only spaces. I felt that, overall, the answers were a little too objective, too broad. This panel gave me a lot to think about in terms of broadening my own perception of the needs of the women of the world.
Dalila Ozier, Anthropology, UCLA
Sexual Violence in the YouTube Community
Ozier reports on a pattern of abuse where successful YouTubers coerce women and underage girls into sexual relationships, sexually harass their female fans, or otherwise leverage their Internet fame for the purpose of sexual gratification. She cites how a blog post from one victim struck a chord with others within the YouTube community, who began to write posts that levied accusations similar to hers. This began a broader discussion about the unequal power dynamic between content producers and content consumers.
Ozier argues that the social structure of the YouTube community allows for sustained patterns of sexual abuse and harassment and the “myth of egalitarianism” used to describe YouTube culture disguises these structural inequalities. Also, she looks at the role public performance plays in how YouTube community members judge published narratives about sexual abuse as being either authentic or inauthentic.
She says that the structure of a minority of YouTubers who produce and distribute creative content contrasts with a vast majority who prefer to participate as consumers, thus mimicking the producer-consumer dichotomy in the traditional media industry. Behind a veneer of democracy, producers have structural and cultural power over consumers. This explains why the advice to consumers to “just say no” is an ineffective model for avoiding unwanted sex. Further, the myth of a democratized YouTube allows acts of abuse to go unchecked behind a constructed image of egalitarianism.
The success of the blog posts to open up a discussion of sexual abuse does offer a model to resist the structural inequality. However, to establish authenticity, the bloggers use two strategies: expert authentication and intertextual authentication. Prominent YouTubers can cosign such narratives, or the bloggers can use each others’ accounts to authenticate their accounts.
Hannah Carlan, Anthropology, UCLA
Gender Violence, Neoliberal Institutions and Digital Activism in India
Carlan worked for one neoliberal NGO in New Delhi in 2015 to determine whether the rising availability and use of the digital media might be shaping the way feminist activists construct and carry out their political goals. In particular, she looked at the recent flowering of large scale online and offline protests following the 2012 bus gang rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey in New Delhi. Her interviewees at the NGO had both positive and somewhat pessimistic views of the power of digital technologies to reshape attitudes toward violence, and concerns about the opening up of vulnerabilities to a increasingly repressive state government that was sensitive to criticism and some individuals have been targeted and silenced. She noted that under neoliberal policies, NGOs do social provisioning. The neoliberal embraces “the logic of empowerment”, in which it is the responsibility of the individual to lift herself out of poverty, rather than the state or the NGO to provide support in the form of welfare benefits. In Neoliberal thinking, the individual entrepreneurial subjects are expected to achieve upward mobility by participating in the free market.
NGOs are now making efforts to harness the internet as a tool for lifting women out of violence and poverty. The protests that emerged after Jyoti’s gang rape on a public bus were largely organized by student groups through Facebook and their collective mobilization online and offline pressured the government to respond to demands for new legislation. Twitter offers a unique platform for collectively identifying, articulating and contesting racial injustices. Using hash tags in Twitter, such as #Justice for Jyoti, showed the ability to create a crucial site wherein groups construct their own narratives as digital activists—a new form of organized resistance against state power.
Carlan points out that neoliberalism and market fundamentalism have resulted in increasing dispossession and depression, particularly in the Global South, and neoliberal institutions, especially NGOs, often take a hybrid form that becomes a mode of governance.
Facebook is currently engaged in an extensive project to educate students at 35 colleges and universities across India about various uses of social media, called “Social Surfing”. “Access is Empowerment” is the slogan. Also, they’re teaching students how to protect themselves from online harassment.
Carlan notes there is ambivalence about how the NGO is simultaneously putting forth a neoliberal agenda while potentially broadening the impact of social causes.
Tyanna Slobe, Anthropology, UCLA
Stereotyping the White Girl: Voicing Race, Class and Gender Anxieties in Online Representations of Contemporary US Girlhood
Slobe played several excerpts from online performances that mocked the “creaky voice”, the vocal affectations associated with the “whimsical and annoying fashions of American teenage girls. MWG-“mock white girls”. The “Valley Girl” is perceived as “annoying, immature, and frivolous.”
The first MWG “Savior” comes from books, blogs and lectures wherein financially successful women disclose to younger and less-accomplished girls their secrets. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 “Lean In” is an example. They emphasize gender equality can be achieved if women and girls “lean in” to roles and institutions created by middle-to-upper class white men. Exaggerated mock performances ideologically link the features to excessiveness and inauthenticity. Actress Lake Bell mocked “sexy baby vocal virus on Conan O’Brien’s Late Night.
Slobe points out that Savior MWG ignores institutional structures and barriers that produce inequalities in professional spheres in the US.
The second MWG is “Shit White Girls Say”. A montage of clips are shown from YouTube wherein Franchesca, a black woman, appears in a platinum blond wig and performs a stereotypical white girl talking to someone in MWG register, voicing naïve racism. Tag questions (like “Right?” or “You know what I mean?) at the end of a statement parody the white girl’s ideological conceptions of whiteness as unmarked and invisible relative to other racialized categories. The white girl uses tag questions to induce her black friend to agree with reductive statements about all black people.
The third videos, from Brandon Calvillo’s Vine account (a micro-blogging social media platform)is entitled “Teenage Girl Problems” (over 5.5 million followers). Brandon shifts into MWG in the creation of Ashley, an expressive, vapid, and emotional teenage girl who is always on her phone. Brandon indexes and perpetuates stereotypes about modern girls as excessively conformist. Friends are trivialized.
Q & A Tyanna Slobe presentation
Q: Audience Member 1
A: Tyanna Slobe
Q: Audience Member 1
I’m not sure… There’s a bunch of things going on so I’m just gonna throw them at the wall and see what sticks.
A: Tyanna Slobe
Q: Audience Member 1
I appreciate your research because I learned a lot from it. And I actually have done the “Mock White Girl” voice when I’m joking around with my friends and you’ve given me pause so I appreciate that. I think one thing that I find troubling is the flattening of a power dynamic I think, I think is what I might be hearing. So, for example, I didn’t know very much about “Mock Spanish Girl” that you talked about at the beginning.
A: Tyanna Slobe
Q: Audience Member 1
“Mock Spanish,” I didn’t know about that but I would think that at least from what I’ve seen, the “Mock White Girl” stuff in the video is not sort of coming from the same place. So in my understanding, given the reality that the type of power that white girls have compared to other girls, and middle and upper class white girls, that the mocking of them, if we can even call it that and I’m not convinced that we can necessarily call it that, maybe a disruption of that power or a commentary on that power, just like other commentaries on that power might be. But I feel like using words like mockery or stereotypes kind of gets uncomfortably close to a reverse racism and those kinds of narratives which I have, I have problems with. So I’m troubled by that. At the same time, and not to take away from that, I’m also hearing something that is, I think, a critique on the ways that sexism is operating, that ageism is operating, and other kinds of very valid oppressions are operating and I appreciated that. So I guess I have a question for you but I also have a challenge. My question is: how in your research are you tending to the possibility that your research might lend itself very well to people who want to believe that—especially in the era of Trump, I’m Canadian so y’all have stuff going on that I’m not even gonna try to touch —-but a lot of people like to talk about how white people are being harmed in this world when they’re not in the ways that other people and people of color are. So I feel like there’s potential for your research being used as a part of that narrative, so I’m wondering if you could speak out loud about how you’re being careful if you think that’s actually true. The challenge is: if you haven’t thought of that, I dare you to because I think that there is a possibility for your research to speak to people like me who are black and queer and female and also dealing with the challenges that I exist in everyday.
A: Tyanna Slobe
Yes, so it’s interesting that you said that, and thank you. In my MA thesis that I wrote a couple of years ago, it was before I had seen the “Shit White Girls Say” videos and it was definitely focusing on things like ageism and gender and things like that, and these other two and some other examples of videos. I saw the “Shit White Girls Say” videos about a month before I finished so I didn’t have time, to like, add this whole other section to my thesis. But since then, I have seen them and I think they’re really important because they’re using the same… And so… I am using the word stereotype because Jane Hunt (not sure of author’s name) uses it when she talks about “Mock Spanish” and like negative stereotypes ideologically associated with it, with Spanish speakers in the US and how code switching into Spanish is used in a way that’s like indexing these stereotypes. So I guess I’m using that in terms of a way to think about how things like tag questions are used to index these stereotypes about uncertainty, for example, and these broader stereotypes about whiteness. But the thing that was really important about the “Shit White Girls Say” videos is that they are not the same in terms of the critiques. Right? So like the first example and the last example are critiquing girls’ voices and like socialites, but the “Shit White Girls Say” videos are critiquing naive racism that girls of color are experiencing from white girls. I am hesitant to say that I’m critical of the “Mock White Girl,” I’m not. I used to be. When I first saw these videos I was like “Wow this is really, like, ageist.” And I took this like, you know, that’s why it originally attracted my attention. But that’s sort of the point I was trying to make I guess, is that it’s so… As a like object of analysis there’s so many different ways that this voice is heard and critiqued for so many different reasons that are really dynamic. Does that..?
Q: Audience Member 1
If you haven’t used critical race theory, um you know the idea of intersectionality and um, you know hybrid positionality might be helpful to being able to help articulate the differences between the “Shit White Girls Say” and then the other two examples. Because that distinction that you just explained wasn’t as clear.
A: Tyanna Slobe
It wasn’t clear, ok.
Q: Audience Member 1
And so that may be a way to create some space to talk about it.
A: Tyanna Slobe
Thank you, that matters, thank you.
Q: Audience Member 2
I also think that in terms of the “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls” in addition to what was already being said, I think that you should really seriously consider the kind of resistive act that, um, a black woman to do this, a black woman launching that kind of critique does, right? Especially in terms of thinking about in relation to a black man. Thinking historically, when we know, thinking way back to the plantation that there are ways in which black women experienced a kind of violence by white slave owner’s wives. Right? In the type of way that if black women spoke out against the slave owner’s wife, it could be really really, really quickly violent in many different ways. So I think that there’s a particular way that you should consider honoring the way that it is a resistive act for a black woman to launch that kind of critique on a white women understanding the historical context. And If you want a particular book, I do have it.
I have reported on this presentation, even though it never really got beyond being descriptive of a phenomenon, because it presented a sharp contrast to all the other presentations in that it put forth the question, albeit unarticulated, of whether the mockery and stereotyping of white girls and their voices and mannerisms is coming from a legitimate criticism of their bigotry or is it rather scapegoating them, using their naïve racism as the source of harmful racism in this country, rather than criticizing the white male establishment that uses the powers in has in national institutions to perpetuate inequality among different peoples.
I would like to add that I see parallels between stereotyping white girls and the automatic condemnation of 2nd Wave and/or Western feminism. While Tyanna’s presentation was sequenced in such a way that it did not coherently frame her research to make the point she was aiming for, I think it brings up an important subject of society’s willingness to dismiss white girls and women as being uninformed and ignorantly racist.
In fact, I noted that throughout the conference, white women were consistently asked how they reconciled their positionality in their research of topics relating to other cultures and ethnicities. Even when these women specifically stated and acknowledged their positionality over the course of their presentations, they would still be prodded for explanation when the floor was opened to questions. While there is a reality to viewing the world through “whitewashed” or “Westernized” lenses, I found that these particular questions did not contribute to the overall discussion, but seemed more like shorthanded attempts at stirring up controversy---which they never did.
LIST OF NEW TERMS
Positionality, Space, Post-Structural, Post-Feminist, Post-Colonialism, Post-Modern, Gender, Discourse, Representation, Performative, Femtorship, Intersectionality, Kyriarchy, Binary, Construction, Ecofeminism, Subjectivities, Subversion, Contestation, Narrative, Queer, Negotiation, Identity, Mindfulness, Neoliberal, Agency, Late Capitalism, Fetish