Engaging in the interpersonal?

I found several connections between Smith’s work and Brigg’s Reproducing Empire, the US colonization of Puerto Rico. Particularly salient, is the US discourse disguised as aid yet explicitly employing state institutions to “civilize” another through race and gender based violence. These forms of colonization take place through sterilization efforts and contraceptive/medical laboratories in order to diminish overpopulation. However, we should have learned by now that poverty does not correlate to overpopulation. What does seem to correlate to poverty is a country violating citizen’s rights to their land.

In the spirit of Mohanty who insists upon not perpetuating monolithic understandings, the differences between Brigg’s and Smith’s analyses are engaging. Brigg’s discussed how the US bought up land in order to export resources which forced an agrarian culture to become working-class. Hardly having to pay any taxes, North American venture capitalists went into Puerto Rico and bought up land to build sugar mills refining the sugar within the country to export. On the other hand, Smith discusses how “race is consistently the most statically significant variable in the location of commercial hazardous waste facilities” (p. 57). Environmental racism is a violation of not just the land but in extension the bodies of Native Americans. Whereas Brigg’s work is a textual analysis, Smith incorporates the words of Native Americans into her work. Smith accomplishes what she ends up advocating for which is to place women of color at the center of analysis.

Smith advocates an interpersonal, state, and structural approach to addressing gender and race based violence. Smith wrote, “There is a contradiction, however, in relying upon the state to solve problems it is responsible for creating” (p. 139). Smith insists that state issues such as colonization, police brutality, criminal justice system, and prisons are all institutions that should be reexamined and reevaluated. These cannot be understood without the structural perspectives such as racism, classism, and sexism that are interwoven into these processes and institutions. In reexamining the state issues, Smith advocates for a social organizing process that connects interpersonal with state issues. From what I have gathered, interpersonal includes both communal and activism in networks such as organizers, educators, families, and friends. My questions stems from how these networks are interwoven into the everyday lived experiences. Throughout the book, I questioned how this approach is inclusive of the everyday realities as opposed to offering up another separatism perspective. I agree that activism starts from bottom up but how do we connect these realities with those who continue to live in ignorance and colorblindness? This question becomes even more pertinent when discussing US colonialism in Puerto Rico. How do we connect the interpersonal relationships that create intercultural communication that embodies listening, understanding, and approach alternative ways of living?


Making Grad School Fashionable?

Today a friend of mine posted on Facebook about a blog called Academichic. It’s now defunct, but its archives are still available. It’s worth checking out for those of you interested in the intersections of fashion, feminism, and academia. It was written by a group of (mostly) grad students who decided they wanted to have fun with clothes. Being grad students, they pulled out the heavy hitters of theory to justify their project:

When beginning graduate school we each had an existential wardrobe crisis. What does one wear in grad school anyway? We recognized that our undergraduate hoodies and jeans were no longer appropriate but were unwilling to accept the shoulder-padded khaki polyester suit that was ubiquitous among our female professors. As feminist scholars, we were also forced to reconcile the perceived-superficiality of our interest in style with our academic commitment to questioning gender and class essentialisms.

Today, in the face of all our eye-rolling colleagues, we defiantly wear dresses, fitted jackets, and pointy toe shoes. To teach in. And sometimes just to the library!

But don’t worry. We’ve done our research on this one too. Cultural critic Fred Davis calls fashion “a visual language, with its own distinctive grammar, syntax, and vocabulary.” Theorist Judith Butler, in Gender Trouble, points to the power of clothing to create and constantly recreate identity. And even philosopher Charles Baudelaire praised cosmetics and garments for creating beauty where nature fails. In short, fashion is a powerful tool for creating identity, subverting class or gender norms, performing self, and appreciating aesthetic beauty.

This won’t be our dissertation, but it might keep us sane in the mean time. With this project we hope to inspire other academics to embrace their love of clothes, to create unique and beautiful outfits, and to engage in a metadialogue about the art, literature, and garments that can move us all.

Then again, isn’t it a typical academic/feminist quirk to think that having fun with clothes has to be justified at all?

What struck me about the blog was not so much the fashions themselves (though one post on chopping up clothes did make me think about carving an old, too-blousy dress of mine into a skirt). More impressive was the camaraderie the blog authors created, very much in the spirit of Iris Marion Young’s idea that finding pleasure in one’s clothes can be a wellspring of community.

Also, should I ever start wearing shoulder-padded khaki suits, somebody please tell me to stop.

Thoughtful approach to gender education

Just wanted to pop in to share an article I came across this morning. I think this type of approach to early education is a step in the right direction to changing things for the next generation to expand understandings of what gender can be (or how it’s OK not to fit into the categories we’ve been taught).


Pregnant and alone

As seemingly kooky as Dr. Storch’s methods appear to be now, I was struck by the visible connection his women had with the outside world. Most of the causal elements associated with the miscarriages or lack of menstruation in his notes, are nowadays widely bracketed under superstitions and just plain old silly fallacies. But yet I am afraid that medical science has conditioned us to not trust anything that is not scientific. In doing so, I believe that pregnant women become more isolated and closed off to the outside world and are encouraged to think of their pregnant bodies as just a series of organs functioning within them.

In Pregnant Embodiment, Young highlights what takes places in pregnancy causing alienation in women.  The medicalization and intervention orientation of Western obstetrics are argued to further add to a pregnant woman’s alienation. Indeed it is hard to feel connected with what is growing inside you when every step of your pregnancy seems to be so instrument and technology oriented.

But I would like to add another important factor that seems to be absent from her analysis, and that is the role that a presence or lack of a support system can have on further adding to or alleviating this feeling of detachment. Young perhaps alludes to the role of the outside world when she speaks of the main attending physician usually being a man and having a socially superior role to the patient. For me, it sure did not help to constantly feel rushed by my OB-GYN, a woman I might add, who clearly sent out the message that she had no time for complaints or whining.

The day after she delivered my daughter via section, she came to check on my stitches and again rushed through the whole process. I was in the room alone with her and remember saying that my daughter was doing a lot of crying. She never looked up to acknowledge what I was saying… and I KNOW she heard me. Her demeanor clearly conveyed the message that she was only there to attend to my stitches and to teach me breathing exercises that would speed up the recovery process. What was going on with the baby was none her concerns. I never forgave her for that.

Thus the attending physician does play a role in the feeling of alienation a woman might feel. However Young does not mention how that can be made even more salient if the pregnant woman is without a partner or a family support system. After being a parent, I have often said that single parents, who do so with the best of their abilities, are my heroes. Similarly, going through pregnancy alone with everything that it entails must be emotionally tough on those women who tackle it by themselves and could add to the sense of disconnect with their bodies.

While pregnant women cannot hide their impending motherhood and are forced to carry it very will publicly, men who choose to not be involved in the process can just go on with their lives. Thus, these women are forced to go to monthly, later weekly appointments alone, without the support of a partner with whom they can share feelings of fear, angst or even joy. In my case, having a partner stroke my hands gently, during my exam helped me connect with what was going on inside my body. I appreciated his presence and the way he seemed to be the bridge between my body and myself. This is my wish for all pregnant women…well at least one of my wishes.




A non-traditional take on the traditional family

This week’s readings draws on many different subjects, one being a very existential one pertaining to ‘where do we come from?’ I, surprisingly, don’t ever remember asking that question when i was younger. I somehow figured out a version of the ‘birds and the bees’ for myself, most likely through my friends at school and/or the media. But i never had the ‘talk’ with my parents. I do remember one distinct memory though from my childhood, when i was probably around the age of eight or so. My aunt from San Francisco came to visit our family one summer. During this time, my entire family would get together and have cook-outs and spend time at our family boat, enjoying our time together. My aunt had always brought a ‘friend’ with her when they would visit. This friend and her also had two children that they raised together, my cousins. It was not until i was eight that i realized there was something not ‘normal’ about this situation. After one particular time spent out at the boat with my aunt, i asked my mom about the situation and why they lived together and raised my cousins together in which she very awkwardly replied that they were very good friends. Thats the only response i was told and we never talked about it again until i finally came to the conclusion myself a few years later.

This example relates to Moore’s reading on the idea of a heteronormative society. The way our society is currently structured, limits many different individuals in many ways. An example Moore addresses is the way that children’s books are structured only to show how babies come to being through a heterosexual lenses. Of course, in biology a baby can only come to being from a male and a female, however, that is not the only way in which a family can form.

My aunt is the perfect example of how you can still form a very loving family, from a homosexual lenses. My aunt and her partner have two children. My aunt gave birth to their son with the help of a sperm donor, while my aunt’s partner gave birth to their daughter, through the help of the same sperm donor. So biologically, my two cousins have the same father, but different mothers. I went to visit my aunt in San Francisco when i was in ninth grade and stayed with them for three weeks. During this time, i saw the love and care in which their family had for one another. This family was perfect in my eyes because they all loved and supported one another in everything they did. What kind of a society (and who in our society) has the right to tell a person who they can and can not love and how they can and cannot decide to form a family? I hope one day to have a family like my aunt’s. We must move past these binaries in order to include everyone so we all can have the chance and freedom to have a family like my aunt’s.

Mothers V.S. Medicine

I found the Duden article about pregnancy in the past to be singularly shocking! I  guess it’s a subject that I never gave much thought to before. Seeing the realities of it written down in great detail was quite a shock to the system.

What I found most alarming was that a woman’s claims of pregnancy were most often met with speculation. She was either dismissed and sent home or diagnosed as a vessel harboring evil. It’s just absurd! When viewed through the cultural lens of a strongly Christian society, one that I assumed would want to produce children at all costs. the thought of limiting the role of a pregnant woman (or even one who might be pregnant) in the discourse surrounding the birth of a healthy child seems entirely counterproductive.

The misconceptions that held menstruation as a process fueled by the evil of a woman’s body no doubt contributed to the poor standard of medical care available to them, but I still find it hard to believe that doctors – supposedly the most educated men of their time – thought that the best solution was to evacuate the evil fluids. You’d think there would have been some kind of communication between medical professionals that could have allowed them to make a more standardized checklist for diagnosing pregnancy. Something along the lines of: “Oh. She hasn’t had her period in a few months. Women without periods have a tendency to have babies. Probably should avoid giving her those evacuation herbs! I wouldn’t want to abort it on accident!”

The cases that Duden described in the article made the women seem more like science experiments that real human beings. Like the doctors were purposefully toying with them in order to figure out what worked and what didn’t (although they certainly didn’t seem too concerned about writing these things down!). It was a cycle that included a sick dance of trial and error. No wonder children seemed like such a blessing when they finally arrived! Carrying a baby to term was nearly impossible with the medical care available at the time.

The lack of concern for women’s bodies (multiple abortions and miscarriages can’t be healthy) reinforces the idea held at the time – and even into modern day – that female forms are objects and vessels that can be occupied but are not owned by the one who embody them. Although prenatal care has obviously improved tremendously, some women are still being given unwanted medication during the actual birth and others are deterred by medical professionals from having the birthing environment of their choice (home and water-births come to mind). Women are still viewed as incapable of making decisions for themselves and their babies. The perception remains that a mother is simply the vehicle that a child is carted around in for nine months. Her sovereignty is secondary to that of the outsiders who will welcome the baby once it is born and therefore her input in the decision making process seen as unnecessary and subversive.

Pregnancy is an incredible experience and to sanitize or ignore the woman’s role in bringing a child into the world is inexcusable. She should have the most control over the entire process from conception to birth and accept suggestions from medicine instead of allowing doctors to rule with an iron fist.

Reading both pregnancy articles from Duden and Iris Marion Young gave me a completely different perspective on the process. The idea of having something living inside of me for nine months still makes me squirm. I don’t plan on ever having children of my own, but I can appreciate the emotional and physical hardships and triumphs of the brave women that chose to carry a child.




The Myth of the Baby Hunters

Many of the readings this week got me thinking about shame, and how it functions in the lives of women are pregnant, want to become pregnant, or even wish not to become pregnant. I felt sympathy for the women of Barbara Duden’s article, in a time where “lifelong flowing and stagnating could take on the meaning of pregnancy or infertility”. I paused at this sentence, considering the concept of your body taking on a meaning, a positive or negative meaning, outside of your mind and personhood, due to biological function.

“What cannot be read from the statistics is the suffering, the fear, the hemorrhaging between the acts of giving birth, that is, the death that occurred inside the body.”

The ambiguous nature of early 18th century pregnancy with the attribution of the personal fault to the termination of a pregnancy were sure to breed a culture of shame – where a woman’s personal experience of not knowing what is going on within the body, unknown excretions, whether your body is either breeding the “good” or displaying symptoms of withholding the “bad”, where your ability to have a child is entirely unknown, and the worth of your body and self as a child bearer unsure. This death was an inner death on two levels, the potential human life within the woman, and the spirit of the woman mired in her ambiguously pregnant body.

It is significant how the female body that was without child was pathologized- the corruption inside signaled corruption and decay, the “fruit” could be killed by the mood of the woman, her “inner” blood, that which could become passionate or angry, was suffocating to the child. Women were placed in a biological double bind, one outside her control to affect or respond to, where not enough blood and health would not provide sufficient nourishment, where too much would smother and kill.

I would argue that the adult female body without children is still pathologized as abnormal and unhealthy. Over a certain age, women are expected to become “expecting”- to enter a time in their life characterized by waiting and preparing, for the arrival of something meriting greater attention than all else in that woman’s life. Births are expected – when a pregnancy unexpectedly ends, it is often referred to as “failed”- i.e. “She has had several failed pregnancies” – which implies both preventability and shame. As I read through Iris Marion Young’s article, I really kept waiting for a section criticizing the “necessity” of childbearing to a woman’s life, but I mainly found positive affirmations of the pregnant body. The connectedness to the Earth, the surprise at the agility of the pregnant body, etc. I finally realized I was imposing personal fears of myself as pregnant on the article, and vowed to read it more objectively from there on.

To be clear- I love children, I am nanny most of my time at home as my job, I love babies most of all, and I think that the ability to make a beautiful and perfect child, exactly one half yourself and one half someone else, is among the greatest blessings the female body was given. However, the fear I have of becoming that vessel for life, and not much else, makes me anticipate the shame I may experience in not wanting to take on that identity for quite some time. My boyfriend, kind of atypically for his age group as a senior undergrad, likes to talk about how fun it might be to be getting married, getting a house in Athens, and having a family in the (somewhat) near future. While I love him and eventually would love nothing more – when I consider that prospect for the near future I feel an unbearable suffocation, an almost palpable weight upon my chest. I have a (selfish?) notion that the day I become pregnant, or confine myself to this small town in a family role, will be the day I put aside myself, my goals, and everything that is me in favor of waiting for this other inside me, that which is me and not me, but certainly not the me I know right now. Young talks about the touching of the belly on one’s leg when bending over, or the suddenness with which one realizes that getting up really is a body project, as it increasingly becomes “a task that acquires my attention”. For myself, I cannot help but wonder that when these movements become a project, how will I complete my other projects, my real projects that define me as someone impacting the world, that allow me my transcendence? How will I run a marathon, join the Peace Corps, work in a career I can contribute real time to and be proud of? I know these are feasible with a family- I just have yet to understand how that will work, and eventually transpire for me. It is in these thoughts that as I face graduation and “real” adulthood, I am beginning to feel the reality of a still present double bind – will these things, the family and the babies and the white picket fence, still be waiting when it is my time?

Technology and the birthing process

While reading Anne Drapkin Lyerly’s “Shame, Gender, and Birth” it made me think about how I would want my birthing process to go if I decide to have children. This question made me want to ask my mother how she felt about her birthing experiences. Lyerly in her article talks about how technology can impact women’s experience when they are giving birth. Lyerly talks about how technology can increase the birthing process. Lyerly shows about her opposition of Barbara Rothman’s “medical model” that talks about how technology can cause women to have a loss of control and dissatisfaction with the birthing experience. I decided to ask my mother about the use of technology in the birthing process to see where she stands.

According to my mother she had experiences of the birthing process with and without technology. Although she still went to a hospital when giving birth to my brother she told me that by the time she made it to the hospital she was 10 cm dilated.  According to her my brother just popped out and she didn’t have any time for an epidural or any other source of pain medicine.  I on the other hand was the complicated one. She had an appointment to have me turned because I was upside down. Her physician realized she was going into labor when she was in the hospital and she had to have an immediate sea section. She explains that I was cut out and given right to her, which is why she felt she was not disconnected from the experience. She explains that she felt the mind/body connection for both of her birthing processes even with the use of technology.

While thinking about how I would go about my birthing process I think I would use technology. I agree with Lyerly that it can help reinforce the mind/body and maternal/fetal connection in pregnancy. Technology can be a helpful way to assist women thru their birthing process. This does make me wonder what other women think about the use of technology for the birthing process. How do women decide if they want a natural birth or to use technology?

Childbirth and the “Real Woman”

Inevitably, as a woman in my twenties, Lyerly’s piece about childbirth and our ensuing class discussion incited me to think about how I might want to approach the births of my own children.   Frankly, I often find myself disinterested when my girlfriends speak of finding a life partner and having children; although I’ve always imagined a future entailing children of my own,  this phase of my life still seems so distant and irrelevant in light of all the other goals I’d like to achieve before building a family.  However, I must concede that I have often been intrigued by the phenomenon of childbirth and excited—albeit, nervous—to experience this act if I do decide to bear children and am able to.

Although I usually merely entertain the thought of experiencing childbirth, this week’s content provoked me to consider my potential pregnancy and delivery more concretely.  Specifically, as Lyerly’s article contemplates the issue of medicine and medical intervention in childbirth, I reconsidered my own assumptions about the situation of medicine and technology in childbirth, namely my rejection of the use of epidural or other pain-alleviating methods.  For one, I perhaps naively and haughtily have assumed that I will be able to endure childbirth and its anticipated pains and difficulties better than most women, as my curvaceous, stereotypically “maternal” body frame and general good-health will grant me an uncomplicated and more tranquil childbirth.  Similarly, my mother did not receive an epidural during any of her three births, and is often vocal about how “easy” it was birthing me my brother and sister, implying that epidurals are largely unnecessary; this rhetoric also reflects the ideal that “real” women don’t need anesthetics during childbirth.

However, Lyerly’s article and class discussion compelled me to reexamine the use of epidurals and their meaning to the pregnant women.  Expressly, I feel that because medical intervention during childbirth has historically privileged the health of the baby, sometimes resulting in the death of the mother, I think women should embrace technology in medicine that promotes their well-being and also their comfort.  Although I am sometimes weary of claims that birthing a child is a wholly pleasant experience, I do think that childbirth is an amazing bodily and emotional achievement unique to women, and one that should be regarded as more of a challenging though fulfilling venture, rather than a burden or an assessment of a woman’s maternal or feminine adeptness.