The Wild, Wild West

When I offer the introduction: “I’m from North Dakota,” the usual answer is a snarky/incredulous, “People live there?” Well, I am standing before you, and I wasn’t exactly raised by buffalo, although that would be fun. I understand the reaction, and I don’t begrudge the occasional comparison to Siberia, because, in the scheme of the lives of hundreds of millions of American citizens, a state as under-populated as ND just sort of fades in with the rest of the Mid West in the rolling recesses of America’s mind. But the nation is starting to take notice of my scrappy little home state. Why? OIL. And we’ve got lots of it. North Dakota is changing at a booming rate, thanks to its vast shale oil fields, effecting major socio-economic changes in communities that have been static or in decline for decades; many of these changes are acutely affecting the lives of women in North Dakota.

Landscape photo of green field and blue sky

Here’s some background information on the ND oil boom: on February 3, North Dakota made the cover of New York Times Magazine and boasted the (intended-to-be-ironic) heading “The Luckiest Place on Earth.” The article “North Dakota Went Boom” depicts the rapid growth of the state’s population and oil industry in western ND, which climbed from the country’s 9th oil producer to its second, behind only Texas. ND is even projected to pass them, and soon. Eat your heart out, Texas. The influx in oil production began about 7 years ago, fueled by technological advancements in hydraulic fracturing (known scathingly as “fracking” on the East coast) that made it easier and cheaper to extract oil from the rocks.

Most of the oil comes from the Bakken Formation, also known as the Williston Basin. Oil towns in the area have been rocked by the population growth. Williston, ND, a hub of oil production, has grown from a steady, if not slightly declining, 12,000 people, to a bloated 20,000 in the last four years. Much of the growth is attributed to incoming single, able-bodied young men who flock to the high paying jobs in the oil fields. As the New York Times summed it up: Oil Towns Where Men are Many, and Women are Hounded. The article cites that in 2011, the census data showed 58% of North Dakotans ages 18-35 were men. And in the areas most affected by the oil boom, the disparity in gender ratios becomes even more obvious: there were more than 1.6 men for every 1 woman, and that’s only data for those who have reported a permanent residence, which many of the short-term oil labor and construction workers have not. As an aside, strippers often make more money on an average night in Williston than they would in Las Vegas. As women become fewer and farther between, the objectification of women has skyrocketed.

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Occupying Space: A Transnational Feminist Dialogue

As a student of gender studies, a feminist, and someone who spent most of her life outside of the US, I wanted to be a part of the Mumbai seminar for the ways in which it brought my academic interests–feminism, postcolonialism, performance, transnationalism, etc.–into the context of a global South Asian city, somewhere that is “not-US”. I wanted to see how the perspectives and theoretical tools I gained in the classroom at Barnard would change, or if they would at all. How would these often abstract theories inform or alter the ways in which I experience a city which: a) has a colonial history, b) is still strongly involved in feminist struggles, and c) is constantly undergoing cultural, economic, and social change due to the influences of the West and of capitalism, very much like my own home of Taipei?

Group of students in auditorium style classroom, listening turned towards someone in the audience

Nicci Yin, center, at the Mumbai Winter Seminar

Aside from my own curiosities on how the seminar would place theory in dialogue with lived experience, some of the biggest questions that emerged from this cross-cultural exchange between Mumbai and New York were: in what ways do women inhabit or occupy space (or are prevented from doing so)? What specific negotiations need to take place for women to occupy urban space, specifically within cities like New York, Mumbai, and Delhi? The word ‘occupy’ is also somewhat deliberate, as it seems that the energy from Occupy as a movement seems to have influenced the tone of the protests surrounding female and feminist occupations of space, ignited by the Delhi gang rape. Though the rape took place around 900 miles away from where we were, it remained on our minds throughout our conversations within these seminars and outside of them.

Being in a foreign city already makes you especially attentive to what spaces you can or cannot occupy as an outsider. As students from New York, we were curious as to the spaces the students from Sophia and Lady Shri Ram Colleges for Women could occupy in their own cities. To that end, we specifically exchanged personal anecdotes of living in the city as women; the most common questions we asked each other had to do with street harassment and safety, and in doing so, engaged in a transnational feminist dialogue of sorts through the sharing of personal experiences. Our friends from Lady Shri Ram mentioned that they personally didn’t feel as safe to wander around Delhi at night as they did in Mumbai. When talking about street harassment in NYC, I felt stuck when a student from Sophia asked, “So do you say something to them?” The question only underlined the paralysis that ends up taking the place of speaking up when we do get catcalled on the streets.

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Gender-based Violence and Sexual Rights: Intersecting Forces in Women’s Lives

Originally published by International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region at

The 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women kicked off last week in New York. Its focus is on the elimination of violence against women and girls. Nine of the 45 countries that comprise the commission, tasked with negotiating an agreed conclusion document, hail from Latin America and the Caribbean. Yet every country in the region (and the world) has a stake in this major event.

Marchers hold a banner stating "For a life free from Violence Against Women and Girls!"

Gender-based violence (GBV) remains an all too pervasive reality for women and girls in the region, regardless of religion, cultural context, or socioeconomic status. While the roots of such violence are vast and complicated, the impacts are equally immense and wide reaching. In particular, GBV is linked to sexual and reproductive health. Although it is difficult to draw a direct, causal relationship between the two, the issues are closely woven together to form an important backdrop for the lives of women and girls in the region.

Experiencing violence can set in motion a pattern of poor reproductive health that is hard to undo. Worldwide, studies show that women who report abuse by an intimate partner are also more likely to report poor general health, including reproductive health. Women experiencing violence are also more likely to report depression. In Latin America in particular, with only a handful of exceptions, national-level studies show that women experiencing physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner are also more likely to have unwanted or unintended pregnancies. Women experiencing abuse also report higher incidents of miscarriage and induced abortion.

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Mumbai At Home and in the World: Gender, Sexuality and the Postcolonial City

From January 9 to 16, 2013, faculty affiliated with the Barnard Center for Research on Women’s Transnational Feminisms Initiative and the Barnard Global Symposia held an interdisciplinary Winter Seminar, “Mumbai At Home and in the World: Gender, Sexuality and the Postcolonial City,” at Sophia College in Mumbai, India. The seminar reflected Barnard’s investment in innovative and collaborative engagements with partners around the world in an era of new global scholarly and pedagogical possibilities. The seminar was hosted by Sophia College and taught by faculty from Barnard, Sophia, and Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi. The student body for this seminar was drawn from Barnard (8 students), Sophia (50 students) and Lady Shri Ram (2 students).

Students discuss gender and the city at the Mumbai Winter Seminar at Sophia College

Students discuss gender and the city at the Mumbai Winter Seminar at Sophia College

The goal of these seminars is to find ways of sustaining engagement with those cities that have hosted one of Barnard’s annual global symposia. Our objectives are to build upon existing transnational research projects of Barnard faculty; develop new institutional and individual professional collaborations for the specific purposes of creating truly global classroom experiences and curricular innovations; facilitate scholarly exchanges with faculty at multiple, related sites; encourage student exchanges; and deepen ties between Barnard College and institutions abroad.

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I Am a Complicated Feminist Latina, Ending Violence

Originally published by International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region at

Last month after a dinner, I was sitting in my friend’s car, and for the first time in our two-year relationship, we discussed our shared experience of growing up with abusive fathers and abused mothers who did nothing to save us. Recently, I’ve been making an effort to be more transparent about the experiences I had growing up, opening up in ways that go beyond the obligatory statement that my dad isn’t a nice man.

Tina Vasquez as a small child

“How do you explain this to people?” I asked my friend. “How do you explain that you were terrorized by your parent when you were a kid, continue to endure their abuse as an adult, and still go out of your way to help and care for them?”

My friend, who finds himself in oddly similar circumstances to mine, replied, “You can’t explain it. It’s cultural.”

I am a 28-year-old Latina feminist who lives with her dad. Every day, I pack his lunch for work. Every day, I make him dinner and literally serve him his meal. I buy all of his groceries. I give him money. I help him pay the mortgage and utility bills. I can afford to move out and live on my own, but I don’t because I feel an obligation to look after my father.

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