When Disney came out with the movie Brave, I loved it. That’s probably not surprising. I identify with the heroine, Merida, on the levels of appearance and heritage, for one thing. But, more importantly, writer Brenda Chapman is from my home county of just 30,000 people. And, even better, this is one of only a few “fairy tales” I’ve ever witnessed where the heroine’s ultimate happy ending does NOT come in the form of a guy.
And then THIS happened.
This image showing the sexualization of Merida is borrowed from Monika Bartyzel’s story in The Week, which is linked below.
I liked her so much better when she was spunky, independent, and NOT oozing sex appeal.
“Diversity is regularly referred to as a ‘good’ word precisely because it can be used in diverse ways, or even because it does not have a referent.” –Sara Ahmed, On Being Included, p. 80
On Being Included is one of those books that took over my life. It seemed like, for a while, I inserted this text into just about every conversation I had. “Oh, that’s similar to what Sara Ahmed talks about when she says … ” Maybe it’s because I want people to associate me with this brilliant author! It’s also partially because this book is really smart about dealing with the ways that terms–specifically, diversity–are taken up within the institution (and she does a neat job of thinking through what institution means) and used to obscure particular kinds of work. Although diversity is the term Ahmed deals with most directly in this text (she also discusses racism later in the book), I found that many of her observations and arguments were also applicable to the term feminism, and I found a lot in this text that helped me to think about my dissertation project.
On the very first page, Ahmed suggests that some terms, like diversity, make possible “the departure of other (perhaps more critical) terms, including ‘equality,’ ‘equal opportunities,’ and ‘social justice’” (p. 1). Because I situate apparent feminism as an approach to social justice, I am particularly interested in the ways Ahmed sees diversity as a term that reduces our use of the term social justice. Also, I might add feminism to the list she offers. So, the question I am left with is this: In what ways might usages of the term diversity prevent us (academics, those within the institution) from making social justice and feminism apparent? And, equally important: What other important critical terms might be obscured by our uses of social justice and/or feminism? This is something I think through a bit in my final chapter, but it’s also a question I imagine I will be asking for some time.
A passage of particular importance to me in thinking about my decision to base my work around the term feminism comes when Ahmed talks about the “political efficacy”–I might say efficiency–of the term diversity. “I arrived to the research presuming that the emptiness of diversity was a sign of its lack of political value and utility. But the political efficacy of this word was related by some practitioners to its emptiness” (p. 79). Ahmed suggests that this emptiness means diversity can be defined in a variety of ways, and this “challenges a world that refuses variety, a world that considers isues onlly from a singular viewpoint. . . . The very lack of referentiality becomes a certain starting point for a critique of how some viewpoints are given a referential function” (p. 79). In advocating apparent feminism, I hope to sponsor the sorts of conversations that Ahmed is talking about, conversations that are inclusive and that critique singular, “objective” presumptions about “empty” terms.
I went to CPTSC for the first time this year, and I found the atmosphere collegial and the focus of the scholarship presented important. However, I was struck by something that I see as representative of a far larger problem, and that is the specialization of rhetorics of race, gender, and class. In other words, it seems that there are certain people who talk about (what we might call) rhetorics of Otherness, and they get to do that work only in certain, special places. The problem with this is that these rhetorics are (still!) Other; they are not “mainstream”; they are not always already assumed. They are marked, even at an inclusive and progressive conference like this one.
Yesterday, I attended a talk given by Dr. Kristie Dotson. Dr. Dotson is an incredible presenter, and I’ve been told by people who know that she’s shaking up the philosophy community. After hearing her speak, I fully believe this!
Dotson began her presentation by asking why there are so few accounts of black women’s lives that go viral in positive ways. She also pointed out the transient nature of stereotypes of black women; that is, as an example, stereotypes of black men have remained pretty static all the way back to the era of slavery in the U.S. But modern stereotypes of black women–the “welfare mother,” for example–are relatively new. Continue reading
Despite having the highest GPA in her graduating class, a black student (who also happens to be a mother) was forced to share valedictorian status … because having her as the lone valedictorian might “cause a big mess.” Amazingly, no one with enough power to do anything came forward to address the situation. The student then filed a lawsuit alleging a pattern of discrimination, stating that students at the school were often tracked into different levels of courses based on skin color.
This is why it’s important to teach about race and gender.
Reposted from Huffington Post:
“The commissioner of Arkansas’ education department and members of the state board are staying tight-lipped as well, refusing to make statements in support of Kymberly. … What Arkansas school officials fail to realize is that by staying silent, they’re saying plenty about their beliefs on the topic of Black student achievement.”