Tag Archives: Feminism

5 Years of Feminist Activism!

1848_1679204842323100_2455440285072812659_nToday marks the 5th anniversary of Feminist Activism’s first blog post! To celebrate I’m counting down my top five favorite posts from throughout the years. They’re not necessarily the posts that have gotten the most views or interactions, but they’re the ones I think have been most poignant. If your top five would be different, tell everyone which posts you’d have preferred in the comments. Thanks for being a part of my life, and for helping make the world a better place for the past half-a-decade, and here’s to 50 more years of Feminist Activism!Unruly Mob
5. Five Articles Explaining Abortion in
Texas
So, number five is actually a compilation of five of the many articles I’ve written about bodily autonomy and my experiences fighting for Reproductive Justice in Texas. Obviously I have a lot to say about abortion, and my experiences at the Capitol have only amplified and solidified my commitment to making sure everyone who is faced with an unwanted or unsustainable pregnancy has the option, means and opportunity to terminate if they choose to. The articles that outline my experiences at the Capitol will always be close to my heart, especially since they served as a sort of living history journal for the unprecedented civic participation and nonviolent action that took place during the passage of HB2. I and all other Americans dedicated to Reproductive Justice wait with baited breath for the Supreme Court’s decision this spring.

shaimaa4. Religion and Modest Dress
This post is one that still regularly gets a number of views, and since Islamophobia and hijab are frequent topics of discussion amongst both liberals and conservatives, the reality check that Islam is not the only religion that tries to control women’s bodies is definitely relevant. I only tackled the three Abrahamic faiths in this piece though, so if you have contributions about clothing and head-covering in other religions or faith practices, please feel free to share them in the comments!

 

3. Ode to Street Harassers
Normally poetry is not my preferred method of expressing myself, but this slam-poetry style post still runs through my head whenever I, or anyone I know, is subjected to a public reminder that we are not safe. Street harassment is a pernicious problem for people who do not identify as masculine, white, able cis-men. If you identify as a masculine, white, able cis-man, please, use your privilege, use your power to speak out against street harassment, and help make the streets safer for the rest of humanity.

Not Public Space

2. #OccupyGezi
Türkiye was my second-home for two years and every time I read about Turks standing up against their current government my heart sings. Their courage in speaking up and resisting the tear gas, pepper spray, water cannons and rubber bullets of a dictatorship terrified of the people banding together is still inspiring, years later. The legacy of the çapullar, the woman in redduran adam and all the unsung heros of the incredible direniş will live on, whether Erdoğan continues to flout the rule of law and democracy or not.

Waving flag

feminism1.  Socially Constructed Gender Roles: The Root of All Evil
Inequality in any area is completely unconscionable. My assertion is that because the majority of people see gender roles (which severely perpetuate inequality) as innate and immutable it is easier for the general public to ignore or excuse away other kinds of inequalities. Only once everyone understands that sex and gender are social constructs which perpetuate patterns of inequality can we as a society band together, despite our differences, to tackle inequalities based on other issues like sexual orientation, ability, age, race, religion and immigration status. Thank you for doing your part, and supporting me while I do mine, to eradicate socially constructed gender roles. Keep up the good fight Feminist Activists!

 

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Socially Constructed Gender Roles: The Root of All Evil

For me, inequality is the biggest issue facing humanity today because it is inequality that is the root cause of so many of the world’s problems. Environmental degradation– inequality in resource distribution and power relations. War- inequality between nations. Poverty and violence- inequality between individuals. I’m sure you’re wondering where socially constructed gender roles come into all this.

From the time the sex of a fetus is known, even before it is born, its gender is being socially constructed for it, telling it how a good boy/girl should look, sound, act, and think. This socialization process continues on everyday for the rest of one’s life. Every society and every family have their own ideas as to how a good boy or girl should be, and these ideas are consciously and subconsciously taught to children from the moment they are born.

As soon as a child is birthed in the United States it is wrapped in pink if it’s a girl and blue if it’s a boy so that the whole world has a visual cue of whether or not it’s appropriate to call the baby “tiny and pretty” or “big and strong.” The first question everyone asks when a child is born is, “Is it a boy or a girl?” (totally denying the existence of intersex people) because the answer shapes the entirety of how other people will relate to this tiny human being. And what is a socially acceptable way to relate to people of the same and the opposite sex varies greatly across time and culture. Many, many people have done research and explained this phenomena much better than I can with this post.

Now, I know some readers are thinking “What’s the big deal? Girls like pink, and they like to be called pretty. Boys are supposed to be strong.” This is where the fault lies. Yes, there are biological differences between the sexes, I am not denying that, but to demand that on the basis of external genitalia one child play with trucks and one with dolls is like trying to push a rabbit through a key hole– you may eventually succeed but it will be messy and not without serious injury.

This separation of the genders, the dichotomy of man/woman, is dangerous and illogical, for man can only be defined by what he is not: woman, and vice versa. The danger lies in dichotomies themselves for the most basic pairing is good/bad, therefore in any other dichotomy society forms one side will equate to good and one side to bad (masculine/feminine, light/dark, straight/gay etc.).

From this we learn as young children that men are rational, strong, and intelligent AND that these are the traits a leader must embody. To contrast, we learn that women are emotional, fragile, and intuitive and that these traits are not suited to leadership. Therefore if a woman wants to become a leader, wants her voice to be respected and heard, she must take on “masculine” traits at great risk to her femininity and marriageability. At the same time if a man embodies the “feminine” qualities of being emotional, fragile and intuitive, he is seen as less than a man and inherently unworthy of respect.

Women in nearly all societies around the world at disadvantaged from the moment they are born simply because the rules have been written to favor males. For a very long time women in the US were relegated to the private sphere, if they had the class privilege, and men were expected to be in the public sphere. Again, the dichotomy here public/private reinforces what is important and what is “personal” and therefore unimportant, respectively.

The male norm of reference (ie. when someone says, “Think of a person,” most people think of a man) means that women are expected to be able to physically and emotionally act like men if they are to compete in the public sphere while men who wish to stay home and care for their children, though ridiculed for their choices, are not expected to give up their “masculine” traits. Sports and physical strength is the best example of this. Over and over again in opposition to the idea that men and women should be equal is the statement that men and women are not physically equal. True. Yet, the definition of what physical strength is was written to describe a man! Practically all sports were invented by men and then when women cannot best men at their own game they are considered undeserving of equality???

Such strong messages are sent to children from a very early age as “Boys don’t cry” and “Good girls sit with their knees together” are uttered across America. This idea that to be “ladylike” is to take up as little space as possible, while men are encouraged to show their physical abilities by taking up as much space as possible, not only reinforces the sexist public/private dichotomy but also leads to low self-esteem and eating disorders.

What we tell children they are, can be and should do has a profound impact on each individual child. If a child grows up being told s/he can do and be whatever s/he wants, that child will usually believe it, whether or not success is to follow. For children who grow up in poverty whose parents don’t have the time, resources or role models to encourage their children to great heights, those children will unfortunately probably continue to live in the cycle of poverty.

The same is true of gender expectations. If a young boy is playing and scrapes his knees he is told to buck up and so, stops crying, at which point some loving adult says “Boys will be boys.” Check that article out for a great POV on how gender roles harm boys too. In many families the same scenario with a daughter would play out quite differently, if a young girl scraped her knees playing she might be chided for being “too tomboyish” while the loving adult in her life will lament that now she won’t look pretty in her Sunday dress.

I maintain that this most basic reinforcement of inequality that permeates every single component of our lives, is the basis for and the rationale behind anyone’s ability to perpetuate inequality on any other level. It is no shock that the leaders of most companies that perpetuate environmental degradation and most of the world’s powerful politicians are male, that most violence in the world is carried out by males, and that most of the world’s poor are women. Men (and women) have been taught all their lives that men are better, and to be “good masculine men” they must be physically dominant, stoic, and decisive. It is no surprise these traits carry over into their leadership styles which then impact every aspect of life and maintain inequality.

This is not to say, in any way, that there are not brave, heroic men and women and intersex people all over the world fighting against inequality. Everyday people risk their lives fighting against environmental degradation, war and poverty, and speak out against violence against women, children, the elderly, the disabled and the LGBTQAI community. (See what I mean about the male norm of reference! If you’re not a young, nondisabled, straight white male you’re the Other.)

Every fight against injustice and inequality is a good one and worth the fight (as long as its nonviolent… and we’ll get in to strategy in another post) but those hoping for true equality will always fall short of the mark if they do not address the underlying cause of all inequalities: gender inequality caused by socially constructed gender roles. The following quote by Graça Machel, President of the Foundation for Community Development Chair of the GAVI Fund Board, explains this well.

“Without gender equality none of the Millennium Development Goals will be achieved. That is why this report is so valuable. ‘Because I am a Girl’ documents the impact of gender inequality on the lives of girls. It shows clearly and powerfully that our failure to make an equal, more just world has resulted in the most intolerable of situations. In today’s world, to discriminate on the basis of sex and gender is morally indefensible; economically, politically and socially unsupportable.”

So, by now, I hope you’re salivating wondering how you can help eradicate all forms of inequality from racism to ageism by challenging socially constructed gender roles. It’s easy! All you have to do is speak out when someone makes a blanket statement such as “All women get excited to get their hair done,” or “All men love cars;” buy gender neutral toys for any little ones in your life; equally cite examples of men, women, transgender, intersex, nondisabled, and disabled leaders of all races, ages and classes; support marriage equality; speak out against militarization (more on this in another post); and volunteer with your local women’s organization.

Ok, you don’t have to do all of it. But if you did, you would be amazing, and would be rapidly contributing to worldwide equality. The biggest, and easiest thing you can do is to just ask “WHY?” If someone makes a blanket statement, start a conversation about gender roles. If someone challenges your offering of a gift like a deck of cards or marbles with “Why didn’t you get him/her a present that is more masculine/feminine?” they are obviously ungrateful, but it is a good point for you to ask why it is so important to that person that the child be lead in one direction or the other.

I genuinely do not understand the apprehension people have about equality between the sexes, nor do I understand the archaic clinging-to of scripted gender roles. Strength, emotionality, intelligence, intuition, and anything else that can be described as either “masculine” or “feminine” are simply HUMAN traits, and should be treated as such. Henceforth some boys would become strong stoic men and some girls would become passive emotional women but there would also be space in society for strong emotional men, passive emotional men, strong emotional women, and strong stoic women, in addition to space being opened up for intersexed and transgender people.

I am not advocating all women disregard their feminine traits or men throw off their masculinities, rather, I want everyone to be free to be who s/he is without coercion from society telling them they are too this or not enough that. The world would not exist without balance, and socially constructed gender roles brazenly defy any balance within an individual because certain qualities have been labeled as being “boys only” or “girls only.” Every single one of us needs to embrace the “feminine” and “masculine” traits within us and not being afraid to flout tradition. (See the article below at pinkisforboys for a great discussion on the problem of naming with respect to “feminine” and “masculine”… the fact that I can’t think of any other way to describe these traits that isn’t gendered is proof of the problem!)

This post has gotten longer than I expected it to be, but I never want to leave you without a complete understanding of where I am coming from in fighting gender inequality. If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, links, or information please join the discussion in the comments. And love one another!


The Personal Is Political

In honor of the transition from Black History Month to Women’s History Month I want to explain this classic feminist idea: the personal is political.

People who say they have no interest in politics are at best apathetic and naïve and at worst complacent and heartless. Every single decision you make is political. From the huge life decisions you make–if and who you will marry (if you are legally able) and what you do for a living–to the miniscule, seemingly insignificant daily choices you make–what you will (or won’t) eat for lunch and which websites to log onto–every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Everything you say or don’t say, everything you do or don’t do, is all political. Choosing to marry an attractive person of the opposite sex but the same race and work only to make money have an impact on you, your family, your community, and your society. Choosing to eat only locally produced, fair trade, organic vegetables and log onto change.org also impacts every aspect of your life and the lives of those around you. I am not, yet, advocating for any particular choices. I am merely hoping to show you what power you have. Once you understand the responsibility that comes with being able to choose, it’s up to you to make the right choices for you.

To explore the power choice has, I want to examine two areas of life: partnership and food.

Most people living in the United States and following the marriage equality debates around the world understand just how political choosing a partner can be. While I do believe that who one is attracted to may be instinctual, who one choses to partner with is entirely political. Now, I know that this argument can and will be used to claim that LGBTQIA individuals should just suck it up and choose an “opposite sex” partner, (if that exists–see the Wiki discussion on intersex) but this is definitely not my intention. In fact, I would argue the opposite, that those who have the option to, and support equality,  should choose a “same sex” partner if only for political reasons. Obviously this is extreme but there are other partnering options individuals can choose while remaining true to the person (or people– go here for more info) they are genuinely attracted to.

One option “straight” people have to show their support for equality is to be vocal about it: have an opinion, tell people what you think, correct people when they make crude or ignorant statements. Another is to use gender-neutral language when talking about a partner; this shows that gender/sex is not the most important aspect of your relationship, and confuses people who think they know you are “straight.” Examples include saying spouse instead of husband/wife if you are legally able to be married, or partner instead of boyfriend/girlfriend if you are not legally committed. Many hetero couples also honor marriage equality by refusing to wed until and unless marriage equality is enacted. On the other hand, some people will only marry in places where marriage equality is the law, thus supporting the legal and economic state of equality. Choosing marriage, monogamy and one-on-one partnerships is political. The choice to reproduce, or not, is also an extremely loaded, highly politicized decision.

The food one eats and has access to is also political. If you cannot afford to shop at WholeFoods and buy most of your groceries from a WalMart, that is political, both for you and for society. Classism can wreak havoc on equality debates, especially when discussing speciesism. See this blog for a great discussion on classism from vegans. Merely being able to cut one entire food group (meat) from your diet is a luxury for many Americans who can barely afford to feed themselves and their children. Knowing where your food comes from, understanding the impact this item has had on the environment, and the people and animals affected by it, can severely change the choices you make. If what you’re eating is processed, where did the original ingredients come from? are they doused in chemical fertilizers and pesticides? who farmed them? were they paid a living wage? did they have any other work opportunities? When you start questioning everything you will begin to make choices that reflect what you care about, if you have that privilege.

I recently stopped eating chocolate. I am not a vegan, or even vegetarian. I do not eat meat often because it is expensive and I am poor. I do eat eggs regularly though, because they are inexpensive and readily available. Living in Turkey and not speaking Turkish my ability to know the source of my food is lessened. However, local bazaars are a wonderful place to buy fresh produce from small family farms. Unfortunately at the moment I cannot usually afford to buy from the farmers who say they use organic practices. My partner and I eat a lot of store-bought pasta and bread. It’s cheap and it keeps us alive and it is produced in Turkey where the minimum wage is somewhat livable. For now we have to take the chance that the pesticides used on the wheat fields won’t kill us. Small amounts of chocolate was one of the few luxuries I used to afford myself on my meager budget but recently I re-taught myself what damage the cocoa industry does to both the people and the environment. Watch this if you’re interested in learning about the oppression of the adults and children trafficked into work in the cocoa industry of the Ivory Coast and Mali. Once I learn which brands of chocolate that are sold here use fair trade labor I may go back to my chocoholic roots. If you live in the US here are some good chocolate options for you. Remember, every choice you make is political.

The ability to choose or not is also very political, as evidenced by the abortion debate in the US. Many feminists argue that women who are forced into prostitution because they have no other options except starvation are socio-politically being denied the right to choose. If you have the privilege of options, in any circumstance, weigh your choices carefully, for they affect you and everyone and everything around you profoundly. If you choose to take strategic nonviolent action and participate in a boycott of Hershey’s, you are recognizing your own power. Your personal decision will have an effect on the political climate of that company. And that company’s politics may affect you personally. (The Hershey’s plant in my hometown shut down and moved to Mexico after 41 years of being made in California, putting nearly 600 people, and their families out of work.)

The personal is political. Your choices matter, exercise them responsibly. You have a voice, you have power, you can make a difference. And you will if you choose carefully, and understand the political repercussions of your decisions.

Join me tomorrow (and every day in March!) to kick off Women’s History Month! Tomorrow’s discussion will be about Arab American and Middle Eastern American women’s activism in the United States. Any thoughts, links, and resources are welcome!


Purpose and Meaning

Sexual equality symbol

Image via Wikipedia

I want to explain why I am so passionate about feminism and activism, and in particular feminist activism. This post will touch on two things that cause controversy both amongst feminist circles and the not-so-feminist: parenting and spirituality. First let me say that I in no way want to ruffle anyone’s feathers–my explanations for my choices and my feelings are just that: mine. I am in no way passing judgement on those who do not feel the way I do or make the same choices I make. This is about me, not you. I am fully pro-choice, so feel free to make your own. Please respect mine.

A considerable number of the people I knew from childhood and high school are now married and/or parents. This is not unusual, I am 25, the same age my mother was when she had me. The prospect of having children, however, completely terrifies me. I have no doubt that my partner and I would be excellent parents if we chose to procreate. Thankfully we are currently on the same page and do not foresee children in our future.

There are a great number of reasons–material, physical, and philosophical–we have decided children are not for us.

Let’s start with the material: If we can barely afford to feed ourselves, how would we ever be able to provide for a child what it deserves? Diapers, clothes, shoes, school and food for another person for at least the next 18 years are waaaaay out of our budget.

Physical: All of the women in my family suffer from terrible morning sickness throughout their pregnancies. I once calculated that over the course of her eight full-term pregnancies my grandmother would have spent more than two years doing NOTHING but vomiting. No, thank you. Also, weight gain, hypertension, gestational diabetes, stretch marks, incontinence, hormonal insanity and super-sensitivity to smell culminating in my vagina being ripped apart by a baby? Again, no, thank you. Nothing about not sleeping, constantly worrying, and wondering if we’re doing anything right sounds like fun for us.

Philosophical: This is the big one. For me, the world is too fucked up to bring a life into it, let alone a life that I would be responsible for. From sexism to racism to ableism to environmental degradation to militarization, etc. there are way too many things that I feel would need to change before I would be satisfied that the world my child would be delivered into would be one s/he could enjoy. My partner and I also do not in any way feel responsible enough to be parents and know that we are too selfish to dedicate our lives to a baby. (And there are far too many children in the world who are already in need of loving parents so if we did decide parenting is something we wanted to do, we would most likely adopt.)

“Wait until you turn 26!” I keep being told. “You’ll change your mind,” I hear. “One day you’ll wake up and not be able to think of anything but having a baby,” I am warned.

I do not believe in biological reductionism. I have never really *wanted* to have a child. Ever. And while I am completely open to the idea that that might change, I completely resent other people telling me how my mind and body will interact in the future. Especially the implication that as a woman my logic/reasoning will not be able to overcome whatever emotional/hormonal urge I may develop to reproduce bothers me. I have been told that once the “biological clock” starts ticking women feel they have no purpose unless they have a baby. This is the argument I hate most. This argument is also a slap in the face to women who want to reproduce and cannot.

Some people should reproduce and be parents and some… many, should not. Watch Animal Planet if you need any proof that maternal instincts are not universal. I have good maternal instincts but they are generally directed to wanting to cuddle with cute babies, human or animal (and then give them back to their parents). My instincts to care for people or animals who are smaller, younger and/or weaker than I am are expressed differently. I do know that I need to be careful that my need to help others does not manifest itself in ageist or ableist ways.

My life has purpose, without children. My purpose in life is to change the world. I have known this for a long time and have been working to fulfill that purpose for at least the past 10 years. To those who say I am young and idealistic, I say “Thank you.” I hope I will never lose my conviction that I am capable of anything I set my mind to. (Thanks Mom and Dad!) Certainly having a partner who supports me in every campaign I undertake and friends who gladly join me on my soapboxes bolsters my belief that change is possible.

Change is possible. This is the biggest lesson of strategic nonviolent conflict. To engage in SNVA one imperatively must believe this. Therefore, the purpose of my life is to use strategic nonviolent action to advance equality and social justice.

Obviously I am splitting hairs in distinguishing the purpose of life and the meaning of life but keep reading.

Many people, my family included, turn to religion or spirituality for comfort when life is difficult, and to answers when questions about the meaning of life arise. I, instead, turn to feminism and activism. I know many, many feminists who are also spiritual beings. I am not one of them. I am an atheist. As much as I have tried to be spiritual to “fit in” with feminist groups to which I have belonged, I am not inherently spiritual. I am intellectually interested in the paranormal–ghosts, spirits, astrology, witchcraft, etc.–but I do not feel or believe any of it. I believe in humanity. I believe everything, good or bad in this world, is the result of human actions and that every individual has a responsibility not only to this species but to the entire planet to do what is right and just. I feel very strong, real connections with people, but not any omnipotent entity.

I believe the only afterlife we attain is in the memories of those whose lives we have touched; so if you want a long afterlife, change the world. Make history. Cleopatra and Napoleon live on after death because they are remembered. If you want a glorious afterlife, change the world for the better. Hell for me would be being remembered long after death for damaging the world.  It is only fitting then, that in my need for an afterlife, I am trying to make history by working for gender equality.

For me the meaning of life is to help those around me as much as I am able. Working for justice and equality give my life meaning. I consider myself incredibly lucky; I think part of the reason for my optimistic worldview is the satisfaction I feel when I make an impact on someone’s life. To anyone wondering, “What’s the point?” or thinking about suicide I highly recommend volunteering your time to help those less fortunate than you. Also, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK to talk to someone who can help.

I know this has been a long post but I wanted to give anyone wondering some insight as to why I am so passionate about gender equality and activism: they give my life purpose and meaning.


Welcome to Feminist Activism

Feminist Activism will be up and running just in time for Women’s History Month- March 2011. Feminist Activism will be a forum for discussion of all gender issues but the focus of discussion should always be “What can be done to overcome this particular inequality?” Dialogues surrounding socially constructed gender roles, feminisms, sexualities, identities and, in particular, strategic nonviolent activism, are highly encouraged. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”- Rev. Dr. MLK Jr.

In honor of Women’s History Month the first week of March will be dedicated to activism used to advance women’s equality in the United States. The second week will have a focus on international women’s actions- including International Women’s Day, March 8th. During the third week of March nonviolent action that has been taken to eradicate violence against women will be discussed. Finally, the fourth week of March will cover a range of topics in which women have used strategic nonviolent activism to meet their goals, possibly including sexuality/reproductive justice, (dis)ability, the environment, indigenous women’s rights, and class. Any suggestions, recommended readings, links, or favorite feminist/equality-focused quotes are more than welcome.


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