Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Why Racism (and the Violence it Engenders) Is Every Feminists' Problem

"In a real sense all life is interrelated. All [people] are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly." ~ MLK "The Man Who Was a Fool" from Strength to Love.

"Since all forms of oppression are linked in our society because they are supported by similar institutional and social structures, one system cannot be eradicated while the others remain intact" ~bell hooks "The Significance of Feminist Movement" from Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center.

Feminism, at its core, is about unequal power distribution. It's not about men against women; it's about power and subjugation. If one takes this concept seriously, it is easy to see how sexism and racism are inextricably linked.

I don't think there is enough conversation about the "inescapable network of mutuality," particularly within social justice movements. The history of the feminist movement itself is rank with elitism and racism. It's time to realize, and to act in a manner consistent with this awareness, that these issues are not separate. That we are not separate. That one kind of hatred and oppression is the same as another, comes from the same place and is, therefore, likely to be eradicated similarly.

So, if you call yourself a feminist, you've got plenty to be outraged by...

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dialectic

One thing my chronic illness has taught me is that I cannot do this alone. The same goes for feminism (or any social justice movement). That's why when my friend and I conceived this blog, we subtitled it "A Feminist Dialectic..." We wanted our posts to be conversation starters, and I (we) still want that. If anything posted here gets you thinking, talking, and acting, excellent! Remember too that you can post comments to enter into the conversation. I encourage other view points, light shed on gaps in my thinking, questions, additions...bring it. Bring your feminist dialectic to my yard. It's our yard after all; we're all sharing this world.


P.S. This is also why we accept submissions of essays, poetry, fiction...I'm currently looking for anything on the intersectionality of racism and sexism.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

European vs. White

The importance of names has been on my mind lately--see my last post, "Call me by My True Names." It began with something I had never seen before at my latest trip to the doctor, a new doctor. On the forms for new patients was a term I'd never seen or considered for myself: European. There was no "White," just as there was no "Black" or "Yellow" or "Brown" or "Red."


I think this is an important change and have been using it since on all forms I complete. Not checking "White" but writing in European in the "Other" box. My reasons?

1) The current PC terms for racial categories are based on geographical location, not color.

2) Why should white people be the only exception to this? I'm not offended at being called white and am not, therefore, seeking a kinder, gentler term for myself. I simply think we should have consistency because...

3)Race is social, not scientific. There is no biological basis for race. Race is an entirely social construct. That being the case, it makes much more sense to use the geographical categories to classify ourselves as people.

4) White being the only non-geographical identifier, sets us--as ever--apart from. This distinction reinforces the idea that White is the standard. That Whites have no country, no race, no culture. Whites are then positioned as "normal," the standard against which all others are compared. Non-Whites, then, become the only ones of place, culture, and color. The truth is, of course, that Whites do have countries of origin, have a socially constructed race, and have just as much culture as any other group of people. White people simply have the privilege, and incredibly powerful advantage, of not having to notice it because it is everywhere. It is The Norm. We never push against it or disrupt it because of our race...though we may based on other things such as wealth--or lack thereof--gender, gender classification, sexuality, immigrant status, language, education, region...

What say all of you? Am I right? Should European be the term we use and is that change as important as I think it is?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Call Me by My True Names

I owe so much to the peoples of the East. We all do. Siddhartha Gautama (India) taught people how to find peace on earth. Thich Nhat Hanh (Vietnam) explains how to practice nonviolence and mindfulness within ourselves in order to find that peace whenever we need it. Matsuo Basho(Japan) gave us the Haiku, and four centuries later Haruki Murakami (Japan)has already given us over 10 books of the most beautiful, disturbing, mythical, fiction ever written. Kar-Wai Wong (Hong Kong) created In the Mood for Love AND the best sequel ever made, 2046. Ziyi Zhyang (China) showed me my first real movie and performance. Muslims created public education. Malala Yousafzai (Pakistan) taught us that young girls can fight terrorists with such education and win even when they're shot point-blank in the head...

I've always been quite disturbed by the phenomenon of English names,which are particularly common among Eastern peoples living in the U.S. I first encountered this as a teacher when a student--so obviously not christened Charlie--told me his name was Charlie. This, he explained, was his English name as opposed to his birth name, that birth name being the one his parents worried about, argued over, and finally penned at his birth. The reason given for English names is that they are easier to pronounce, are less trouble for U.S. citizens who typically speak only one language and can choose not have exposure to unfamiliar languages.

I've had many thoughts on this over the years, ranging from outrage to acceptance...maybe it's not a big deal, maybe I would decide to do the same rather than hear people repeatedly mispronounce my lovely name. After all, this isn't my fight. Why am I even writing about this on a feminist blog? Because feminism is about unequal power structures, and unequal power structures overlap. Racism intersects with sexism, homophobia, classism...and unequal power structures are bad for everyone.

I recently saw a friend who has an English name that I had once asked her about. Her birth name is lovely--it's even spelled phonetically. Now, I make no judgement on anyone who chooses to use or not use an English name. That, I would guess, is an extremely personal decision. But as the person with the power in this situation of unequal power, I do see it as my responsibility to inquire about someone's birth name, and to learn how to say it correctly, and to use it if that is what that person wants. It's my responsibility to ask, to open that conversation, to recognize the situation for what it is (unequal, unfair, advantaged in my favor), to acknowledge that people have the right to be called by their true names.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Out of the Chronic Closet

You are not obligated to hide your illness to make other people comfortable

I came out today in the Daily City target, and it felt amazing. A large part of my illness is that I go into states where I lose, to varying degrees, speech and muscle control. Depending on the degree of loss, I have tics, for lack of a medical or diagnostic term, that I can suppress with difficulty. For example, it feels good to moan or repeat sounds. It also feels good to rock back and forth or to tap my hands in a certain way. In combination with the dazed expression on my face and lack of coordination and/ or speech, I look like someone with a serious mental disability. I look like a "retard." So, in public, I hide it as much as possible.

Until today in Target. I had read the above quote (the full quote is below) and it occurred to me that I didn't have to hide. It meant people stared. It meant I made them uncomfortable. It meant they wished I was different. I could not have cared less. It felt wonderfully free to just let myself be as sick as I actually am. It was so much easier than hiding!

It felt much like when I was in my early twenties and dressed like a dyke in a very small town where the women all had fake tans, nails and boobs. Where Tri-Tip is God and so is Jesus. People stared. People were uncomfortable. Some people were mean. I could not have cared less. I was me and they were them. People are different; get over it.

It felt much like the times have I shaved my head too. People stared. People were uncomfortable. People told me I would be pretty if I were different. I could not have cared less. I loved my shaved head. I loved defying my gender role in such a public way.

I think, as women, we often put other people's feelings before our own. We are socialized to do just that and it becomes "natural" behavior. Well, there is nothing natural about trying to hide who I am. Partnered with a woman or a man, bald-headed or long-haired, healthy or sick...this is me. And with that, I'm out.


How do you hide? In what ways do you make yourself uncomfortable for the sake of other people or for cultural norms?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Gilding the Lily

With very few exceptions, I have chosen not to wear make-up most of my adult life. Make up was for special occasions only. It was a very conscious choice; I knew that if I got into the habit, I would start to feel ugly without it. I did not want, what I felt, was an unhealthy, confidence-draining dependence. I was proud to explain my decision if I was ever asked about it. Granted--and I do NOT take this lightly--I've had it easy, blessed with qualities mainstream society considers beautiful: white, thin, tall, blond hair, blue-eyes, clear skin. Had this not been the case, I'm sure I would have made different decisions...but as it was, I didn't feel the need to and that choice was easy to make. Here's a picture of me in graduate school:


When I was hit with a chronic illness a few years ago, this began to change. My face began to be nothing short of ugly most of the time. My palor sickly greenish, my lips lost all color, the circles under my eyes dark and pronounced like bruises. Here's a picture of me in the midst of my illness:


Because of this, I now wear makeup on a daily basis, often not leaving the house without it. As I expected in younger days, I feel ugly without it. I also take great care to dress myself very fashionably. I have a list of outfits on a ring by my bed, so that when I get up for work I can be sure to be best dressed in the office. I don't work without make-up on. Here's a picture of me at work:


I've learned that this costuming, one could call it, is very common for those of us with chronic illness. We want so badly to hide our illness, to be seen as more than our illness, to be seen as capable, that we spend a great deal of our most precious and most limited resource (energy) on beautification...at least many women with chronic illness do.

I have no idea if men perform similar rituals with the limited beautification supplies available to them. I would hazard a guess, however, that they do not simply because men are not judged by their appearance as harshly, and with as many consequences as women are.

So, while I am grateful for my make-up each day as I apply it, I also feel a tinge of remorse, regret, guilt? I'm not sure what it is, but part of me knows I'm doing something that doesn't quite align with my own sense of something. Part of me feels like a phony.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

I'm Still Minding the Fucking Gap


Wage inequality has just increased, according to a recent article by Forbes. They report the findings of The Institute for women's Policy Research, which tell us that
Controlling for inflation, women’s earnings increased by 0.9 percent, while men’s earnings increased by 2.6 percent since 2014.

When I was in college, my sociology teacher told us that one reason for this was that women don't usually negotiate their salaries. Well, I'd be damned if that was going to be me! Fast forward a decade or so and you'd find me ankle deep in confusing stacks of full-time, tenure-track teaching new-hire paperwork. I was already intimidated. In the teaching world, there is a chart: X degree + X number years experience = X salary. My professor had mentioned this too as one of the reasons women don't think they can, and therefore don't, negotiate.


Despite ALL of this, I thought I should check and be sure. I asked a fellow teacher at a different college and was told that some unions allow and some don't allow negotiation. I asked my union representative via email if I was allowed to negotiate for my salary. His response was not a simple "yes" or "no," but (are you ready for this...sitting down?) "Why would you negotiate?" Emails were exchanged where I tried to state my case for earning more (moving to a much more expensive area, beating over 200 other candidates, publications... "None of these," my union representative said, "would be convincing to the administration." I was defeated. If I couldn't even get the support of my union, I wasn't about to try with my new employer.

When I sat down to sign my formal contract next to my salary it said "or as negotiated." I could have cried right there in the office. Instead, I signed and have held a resentment for that dope of a union rep. ever since.

BUT, I want this to be INSTRUCTIVE for others who have yet to negotiate at that first "real job" or any job. Here's what I learned:

1) You don't have to ask if you can negotiate. JUST NEGOTIATE. It's always negotiable.
2) Ask someone for help with negotiating. My husband had negotiated his salary several times, but not once did I ask his advice. I thought I had to do it all on my own. BIG mistake!
3) It ain't over until you sign that contract. I could have told the HR person that I actually wanted to speak to X about my salary. I didn't have to sign it right then.
4) Believe in what you're worth. Then, ask for it. Men do, and that's part of why they get more money than us.

Insurgents, what advice would you give a young woman about to negotiate her salary for the first time?


P.S. I forgot to put in my original posting that taking my own advice above, I successfully negotiated my salary at my next job!

P.P.S. Here is a helpful article for current job-seekers/ interviewers: "Get the Salary You Deserve: 4 Steps to Figuring out What You're Really Worth."

And another one on Equal Pay Day (and why we still need it)