How NOT to write about Africa

19 09 2009

This is really well done and totally worth watching.





Caster Semenya to undergo sex determination

29 08 2009

In case you haven’t heard, there has been some serious bullshit going on about Caster Semenya, an 18-year-old world champion runner from South Africa, whose privacy is being invaded beyond belief in a controversy over whether the runner has too many male characteristics to compete as a woman.  On Tuesday, Semenya won the 800-meters race at the track and field world championships, just hours after it was determined by track officials that she would need to undergo sex testing to determine her further eligibility to compete as a woman.  Many people globally are rightfully angered about the public invasion of the young woman’s privacy.

Lamine Diack, President of the International Association of Athletics Federations, (the organization who ordered the investigation) has admitted that the confidentiality of the investigation was breached, called this “regrettable,” and asked for an inquiry.  However, these words are little comfort to those who are outraged by the implicit sexism, heteronormativity and racism in the investigation.  Controversy and finger-pointing has also arisen over who was the one to raise the question about Semenya’s sex to the I.A.A.F.  It has also been noted that white South Africans seem to be conspicuously absent as Semenya’s supporters.

Leonard Chuene, President of Athletics South Africa, said to The New York Times:   “We are not going to allow Europeans to define and describe our children…The only scientists I believe in are the parents of this child.”

According to a test three years ago, Semenya’s testosterone levels were in the normal range for women, and she was judged to be definitely female.  But regardless of the results, these investigations emphasize how global society continues to denigrate, mock, and intimidate those who do not conform to a rigid binary of gender stereotypes.

The New York Times notes that Semenya has been subjected to harassment about her sex before.  “Boys used to tease her all the time…Sometimes she’d have to beat them up,” said Semenya’s great aunt, Martina Mpati.  Semenya’s high school principal told South African newspaper “The Star” that at some track meets, the other team would demand proof of her sex identity, but after they returned from the toilets, “she would be cleared and the competition would resume.”

But as if physical exams and taunting weren’t enough, her sex has become an item of global attention and speculation, simply because of the way that she looks and speaks.  Semenya should not be subjected to this blatant gender discrimination.  But sadly, Semenya is forced to deal with this discrimination on both a private and public level, and she is being further taunted and humiliated globally because this most recent investigation was made public.

Dave Zirin calls out the “twisted, sexist, racist, and heteronormative” history of track and field in this MSNBC video on the subject.  Check it out.

Zirin also wrote an excellent piece on the subject in which he points out that:

fifty years ago, Olympic official Norman Cox proposed that in the case of black women, “the International Olympic Committee should create a special category of competition for them — the unfairly advantaged ‘hermaphrodites.'”

But it seems that we have remained relatively stagnant on this issue, and it still seems all too often that the athletic success of women (especially non-white women) causes their sex identity or honesty (or both) to be questioned.  The possibility of an endless spectrum of genders, even sexes, seems to be thought of as entirely impossible in a global athletics culture which values only a clear-cut gender binary in which male is the more athletically successful of the two categories.  We must resist this urge to define what is acceptable by these stereotypes of what it means to be male or female, masculine or feminine.  Perhaps only with the erasure of these stereotypes and this rigid gender/sex binary will we be able to stop the further humiliation and degradation of innocent people like Semenya.





A Closer Look at “The Women’s Crusade”

27 08 2009

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about “The Women’s Crusade”, the leading article in last weekend’s New York Times magazine by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The first time I read the article, there were several things that irked me but I chose to ignore them because I was just so excited that the Times, a prominent and well regarded mainstream publication, was dedicating an entire magazine to international women’s issues. Emblazoned on the magazine cover was of the magazine was “Why Women’s Rights Are the Cause of Our Time”. Seeing this thrilled me because it was exciting to see women’s issues being brought to the forefront instead of shoved aside, like what typically happens.

But after mulling over the article over the past few days, I decided that the things that irked me originally should not be ignored. While it’s phenomenal that Kristof and WuDunn wrote a compelling article about the need to elevate the status of women across the globe, it is also important to approach it with a critical eye.

The first thing that I noticed that was bothersome was right in the first paragraph where it says:

In this century, [the paramount moral challenge] is the brutality inflicted on so many women and girls around the globe: sex trafficking, acid attacks, bride burnings and mass rape.

Kristof and WuDunn discuss these brutalities as they occur in Asian and African countries, but for all of the international rhetoric used, shouldn’t the focus then be truly global instead of just limited to Asia and Africa? Sex trafficking occurs in wealthy western nations as well, including the US. According to the Polaris Project, each year an alarming 200,000 American children are at high risk for being trafficked into the sex industry.

Rape, while utilized as a weapon of war in conflict ridden countries like the Congo, is also a brutality that women and girls endure in America as well. Let’s not forget the 68 page report released by Human Rights Watch in March 2009 that put Los Angeles to shame by revealing that at least 12,669 untested rape kits have just been sitting in police storage facilities and crime labs in Los Angeles. (But the good news: yesterday L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yarovslavksy announced that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department will 100% fund the testing of every single rape kit in the backlog within the next two years. Furthermore they will expand their staff to ensure that rape kits will no longer be just languishing on the shelves.)

Read the rest of this entry »





Sunday Catch Up

26 07 2009

Here are a few things we missed:

This Is What Rape Culture Looks Like.

A woman walks into a rape, uh, bar…

New laws help domestic violence victims.

Human rights violations in U.K. jail.

Women and the Minimum Wage.

Women don’t ask for nasty voyeurism.

Complimentary.

On Gendered Language.

On the word “transition”.

Perhaps Silverton is Not Completely Accepting of their Trans Mayor.

Banning Cesar Chavez: Whites “Sanitizing” US History Again.

Same crap, different day.

Marketing Asian Women to Anti-feminist Men.

When the Outside Looks Like the Inside.





Weekend Reads

6 06 2009

It’s the first weekend of June…my, does time fly!  Here are good posts to check out this weekend:

The mainstream media has covered the opting out debate a whole lot.  But what’s missing from this coverage is that opting out, leaving one’s professional career to raise a family, is something that only women with privilege can truly do.  Ann Friedman has a piece out called  When Opting Out Isn’t an Option that discusses the need to shift the conversation about women and work.  She includes women who don’t have the luxury to opt out, the majority of women in this country, in the picture and discusses how the recession can be an opportunity to reframe the opting out debate.

There’s a great op-ed in the New York Times today about Ann Lohman, an English midwife who emigrated to New York and committed suicide in 1878 after years and years of anti-choice harassment.  She called herself Madame Restell, sold herbs and pills designed to end pregnancies, performed abortions if the herbs and pills did not work which she charged on a sliding scale depending on her patient’s ability to pay, taught sex education classes, provided shelter for pregnant women, delivered babies and set up an adoption service.  The op-ed examines Lohman’s legacy as a a champion for reproductive rights and illustrates how anti-choice violence continues to threaten those who do dedicate their lives to defending reproductive rights.

One of the reasons why people reject feminism is because it historically, and continues to, exclude certain marginalized bodies like the LGBTQ community and people of color.  Racism Review tackles this issue in Gloria Steinem, Where Are You Now? During Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign feminist activist Gloria Steinem wrote a piece in the NYTimes condemning the mainstream media’s sexist treatment of Clinton.  However, Sonia Sotomayor has been the target of countless racist and sexist attacks ever since her nomination but prominent white feminists who have publicly condemned sexism before, like Steinem, have been silent.  Why have none of them spoken up for Sotomayor?

Transphobia and violence against the trans community remains persistent throughout the world.  There have been many recent violent hate crimes against trans people in various countries: the U.S., Honduras, the Dominican Republic, India, Turkey, Canada, Serbia, Peru and Venezuela.  Bird of paradox reports that this year alone in Venezuela, there have been more than 20 trans people murdered so far.  This is deeply saddening and upsetting – launching violent assaults and murdering people are not appropriate or acceptable ways to treat the trans community.

Privilege is something that we continually think and write about.  But what exactly is privilege?  One way that people think of privilege is “You haven’t thought of these issues in the same way that I have because they don’t affect you in the same way.”  Another way to think about privilege is “You don’t have to think of these issues because they don’t affect you.”  Echidne of the Snakes has a post titled Thoughts on privilege (by Suzie) in which she discusses privilege and how it plays into our lives.

There’s a post on Womanist Musings about how an eight year old girl from Winnipeg showed up at school with her arms covered with white supremacist markings like swatstikas (which were “sun wheels that represented peace and love”) and “H.H.” for “Heil Hitler”.  Her parents taught her that Hitler was a “good man ‘for killing lots of people that didn’t belong there'”.  When a detective asked her for her parents’ thoughts on ethnic minorities, she responded that they felt that ethnic minorities “‘should be killed or go back to their country'”.  She also said “Some people from Pakistan carry AIDS and they could kill you”.  Remember that these insidious words are coming from the mouth of an eight year old.  Her parents clearly are not setting a good example in perpetuating their bigotry.





Latina, South Asian, Whatever – They’re all the same, aren’t they?

5 06 2009

Ever since Sotomayor’s nomination, she has been under attack by so many insensitive, ignorant assholes.  The latest ridiculous OMG! WTF?!! head-banging-against-desk bullshit:

national review

So… Sotomayor is South Asian?  She’s dressed up in South Asian attire, seated in front of what seems to be the Himalayan Mountains, has very slanted (and therefore obviously Asian) eyes.  First she was a Mexican, and now she is the wise, all-knowing Buddha.

Women of color are all the same.   It doesn’t matter what their ethnic identity/background really is.  The bottom line is that because they are not white men, their ethnic identity clearly isn’t important.  They are just otherized and dismissed as the insignificant (non white male) OTHER.  Renee has a great analysis:

The very normalization of whiteness is what allows these kinds of images to exist.  These cartoons scream DIFFERNT, DIFFERENT, DIFFERENT…without acknowledging that the issue is not really difference but the value that has been applied to difference.  As Sotomayor goes through the confirmation process we will probably see more attacks of this nature.  Though whiteness is under no great attack from invading Puerto Rican women seeking to rule, the idea that  one could possibly sit on what has been commonly a throne to white men is threatening because it suggests that white men do not have a monopoly on intelligence.

This is also a stereotypical caricature of Buddhism.  While Buddhism did originate in India, Buddhists exist throughout the world.  Not all Buddhists are Asian.  Not all Buddhists seclude themselves in the Himalayan mountains meditating for days and days.  And of course, because Sotomayor is an intelligent, hard-working and successful woman with credentials, she must be Asian because they’re the smart ones.  No other people of color are wise!  Gotta use the Asian stereotype!





The newest American Girl doll is a j00

30 05 2009

For those of you who aren’t familiar with American Girl, I’ll summarize.  American Girl is a collection of dolls, who all have an individual backstory and personality, and who are meant to help educate young girls about different significant historical periods.  Felicity was from the American Revolution, Kirsten was a Swedish immigrant from the 1850s, Addy was a run-away slave from the Civil War period, Samantha was Victorian-era, and Molly grew up during World War II; since I was little, they’ve added plenty of more historical dolls, and there are series of books about each one (including a book about the “holidays,” namely Christmas or similar).

The company also started releasing modern dolls, which could be personalized to look JUST like you (but in doll form, and they didn’t introduce curly hair for a while, those weirdos).  The clothing and accessories were modern, too.  I wanted one, but since I already had a doll (Kirsten, who, by the way, is the best), my parents wouldn’t buy me a second.  Boo.

One day, though, I was looking through the catalog, and I noticed that in the holiday section for the modern dolls, they now had a Chanukah outfit and accessories.  Maybe it was a sign that I would some day turn into a feminist or something, but I showed it to my parents and told them that it upset me.  “Why?” they asked.  “Because they’re only doing it just to look like they’re including Jewish people,” I said.  I pointed out how all of the accessories were ridiculously stereotypical (a dreidel and menorah), and the clothing was somewhat offensive; the clothing was white and blue, which I pointed out to my parents were the colors of the Israeli flag, but were only considered “Chanukah” colors because people think that if Christmas has colors, so do other, “Christmas-like” holidays.  I also didn’t understand why there was a Chanukah outfit, but nothing about the high holy days or Pesach.  My parents taught me the word “tokenism,” and I wrote a letter to the Pleasant Company, makers of the dolls, telling them that I, a young customer, was unhappy with the Chanukah outfit.

That’s right, folks.  I got offended over something as a KID that today would offend the crap out of me now.  This is really impressive, considering that when I was little, I wanted nothing more than to be a Disney Princess.  Go figure.

For the record, a couple catalog seasons later, and for the rest of the time we subscribed, there was no Chanukah outfit.

So, why is this relevant?  Well, meet Rebecca Rubin.  She’s the first Jewish American Girl doll!

My feelings are conflicted.  On the one hand, I still find it pretty insulting that the Pleasant Company has to make such a big deal out of their cultural dolls (they did the same thing with Addy, Kaya, and Josefina).  I also need to wait and see exactly how they handle the doll’s story: are they JUST going to talk about Chanukah?  Are they going to make a huge deal about explaining all of the Jewish culture and faith that’s in the story?  Essentially, is Rebecca Rubin going to be “Jewish immigration for dummies?” or is it going to exist as a way for Jewish American Girl fans to connect better to the franchise?

The one thing I hope I’ll appreciate is that part of the character’s story is dealing with Christmas being celebrated in public schools.  I still have trouble dealing with the pervasive nature of Christian commercial holidays.

This’ll be the first time I’ve read American Girl books in a million years, so once I actually get my hands on them and see what’s in them, I’ll be updating.  American Girl, which is pretty famous for selling merchandise that costs more than a solid gold toilet, is also famous for teaching young girls American (and American immigrant) history through the historical dolls.  The history is from the point of view of women and girls, which to me will always make the franchise somewhat positive, even if the commercial aspects drive me abso-positively nuts.