Expanding the Scope of What Women Can Say

This post responds to several questions we sent filmmaker and psychologist Jan Haaken about her work. Professor Haaken will deliver BCRW’s Silver Fellowship Lecture on October 23rd, 2012, and will have a private educational screening of Mind Zone on October 24th, 2012, at Barnard – email bcrw@barmard.edu for details.

On the Margins

My clinical experience has been important in accessing and interviewing people in closed or restricted settings. From refugee camps, war zones, jails and psychiatric asylums to drag bars and hip-hop clubs, my aim is to draw out the complex humanity of the subjects who are of interest to me because they carry a heavy social symbolic load through the work they do. In other words, their place on the social margins evokes fantasies and defenses that reveal something important about the broader social order.

I initially thought of the camera as merely a research tool. My primary concern was to equip myself with gear suitable for the terrain and the data sought. Videotaping captured non-verbal communication in ways that other technologies would not permit, and it allowed for a wider range of options in the analysis and interpretation of field data. As the use of the camera extended beyond the aim of identifying themes, however, it became apparent that working with visual images required specific methodological and theoretical attentiveness, including attentiveness to the projective aspects of field data. Documentary film and video production—with their reliance on visual images—bring into bold relief many of the ethical quandaries of field research more generally. The politics of representation—often concealed in the abstract language of academic writing—are exposed in the documentary. The accessibility and evocative power of visual media invite broader critical engagement in what is shown and what is omitted and demands on the filmmaker to justify such choices. Yet to the extent that a picture “tells a thousand words” it operates as a seductive screen in seeming to obviate the necessity of interpretive concepts.


Trailer for Haaken’s Queens of Heart: Community Therapists in Drag

Beyond Domesticated Speech

My first documentary video project, Diamonds, Guns and Rice, focused on women’s perspectives on the Sierra Leonean civil war. I wanted to go beyond portraying women as passive victims of warfare and to position them as active protagonists—as having something to say about causes of armed conflict and the terms of the peace process. Whether domestic violence or sexual abuse survivors or victims or war, the price for visibility for female subjects often seems to involve adherence to a kind of moral virginity. My interest throughout my career has centered on assessing the costs of feminist strategies of storytelling, and expanding the scope of what women can say about their own lives and the worlds around them—to go beyond domesticated speech.
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What We’re Reading: Biased Science, Foster Families, and Paul Ryan Gosling

A quick look at what caught the attention of BCRW Staff this week…

Picture of Todd Akins with text: "Women who are victims of legitimate rape don't often become pregnant because the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down - Senate Candidate Todd Akins"

The Medieval Roots of Todd Akin’s Theories, Jennifer Tucker

Wesleyan University Professor of History and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Jennifer Tucker provides a historical overview of theories which promoted the idea that pregnancy “could stand for a woman’s consent to an alleged rape.” And while Akin’s science may be decidedly behind the times, his claims and their historical predecessors reveal how deeply held social beliefs can interfere with factual understandings of biology. This fall at BCRW, legal scholar Dorothy Roberts will speak on further examples of the link between social bias, science, and inequality in her Helen Pond McIntyre ’48 Lecture “Race, Gender, and the New Biocitizen.”

This article was picked out by Janet, our Director.

picture of stuffed bear

Jennifer Lopez to Produce Show on Non-Traditional Families, Jorge Rivas

TV has seen some increase in the diversity of family formats presented in the past few years, and now there may be another show to add to the trend. From Colorlines.com:

ABC Family said Thursday they’ve ordered a comedy-drama pilot, titled “The Fosters,” about two women raising a “21st century,” multi-ethnic mix of foster and biological kids. Jennifer Lopez has been named as the executive producer.

Of course, every family comes with its own story, and increased representation isn’t always a good thing when there’s the potential to amplify hurtful stereotypes – we’ll have to learn more before we know what “The Fosters” will have to say about the complex issues surrounding foster care. In the meantime, the producers of “The Fosters” may want to check out real life foster parents sharing some of their stories online – Fosterhood in NYC, Dinner Party for 5, FosterWee, and Mother Issues are just a few – and Issue 8.2 of The Scholar & Feminist Online, which deals with children of incarcerated parents, who often end up in the foster care system.

This article was picked out by Anne, our Program Manager.

Picture of Paul Ryan with text "Hey Girl, Look into my puppy dog eyes and trust me to know what's best for you and your body. xoxo Paul Ryan #ChooseRyanLoseChoice"

Paul Ryan Gosling Twitter Feed

Building on the Feminist Ryan Gosling meme, this snarky Twitter feed highlights the contrast between cute and cuddly sentiments and chilling disregard for bodily autonomy. Activist responses to Ryan’s social policies are part of a long history of women’s health activism, detailed in part at “Voices of a Women’s Health Movement,” a panel in February of 2012 celebrating the anthology of the same name.

This article was picked out by Hope, our New Media Manager.

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Call for Suggestions for The Scholar and Feminist 2013: Utopia

For over three decades, The Scholar & Feminist has taken a bold, critical look at the issues that matter most to feminist movements. Over the years, we have welcomed such visionary scholars, artists, and activists as Coco Fusco, Josephine Ho, Staceyann Chin, Majora Carter, Barbara Ehrenreich, Heidi Latsky Dance Company, and Lani Guinier, whose work not only invites us to think, but also challenges us to act. Sometimes controversial, always ambitious, the conference provides a forum for cutting-edge feminist theories, as well as a space for imagining how we might use those theories to effect progressive and lasting social change.

Next year’s conference, “Utopia” will explore the concept of what utopia means for feminists from a variety of angles. Often seen as impossible by definition, utopia nonetheless can be a driving force for social change: despite inevitable disappointments, utopia provides a vision of a future worth working towards and a framework for achieving it. “Utopia” will provide a space to discuss what would be involved in feminist utopias and what actions we can take in our own imperfect world to help us move towards a better existence.

Utopia 2013

In the spirit of practicing more utopian models, we are trying a few exciting things this year:

  • Pairing academics with artists/activists to collaborate on presenting visions feminist utopia
  • Interactive workshops and working group discussions on creating utopia
  • Soliciting suggestions from our community
  • Requesting your recommendations for suggested readings and your reflections on feminist utopias for the blog

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Mark of Aggression: Disability Activists Arrested

Over at Waging Nonviolence, BCRW collaborator and speaker Ynestra King writes about the arrests of protestors at Gracie Mansion earlier this month. Sponsored by Occupy’s Disability Caucus, activists gathered to protest the Bloomberg administration’s opposition to making NYC taxis more wheelchair-accessible.

Activist in wheelchair holds a sign saying "Taxis 4 All"

Initially, non-disabled protestors were targeted for arrest while disabled activists, who were the principal organizers of the event, were ignored, in part because the city lacked wheelchair accessible vehicles with which to arrest the protestors. As King writes,

The city could commandeer their vehicles to take us to jail at a moment’s notice, but no ordinary citizen using a wheelchair can arrange for transportation within the city on such short notice. Most New Yorkers do not have cars, so we must rely on publicly available transport. This is especially challenging for wheelchair users because the subway is almost entirely inaccessible and we cannot get a taxi, whether we are trying to take a child to school in the rain, or need to go to the hospital or simply wish to be part of the restless spontaneity that is New York. Mayor Bloomberg apparently does not think we have a right to this mobility, and does not recognize our right and our desire to live as ordinary New Yorkers.

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Environmental Justice for the Bronx

This post is part of a series of reflections on the 37th annual Scholar & Feminist conference, held March 3rd, 2012 at Barnard College. The above video shows the Environmental Justice workshop Pam is responding to, featuring Elizabeth Yeampierre, Tanya Fields and Rachel Sapery James discussing their work in the EJ movement. As a staff member working at the Barnard Center for Research on Women, I have the opportunity to attend programming events on a wide range of topics including reproductive justice, domestic workers' rights, and a range of other social justice issues. Every once in a while, the topic is one that is close to my heart, and the workshop on Environmental Justice at the Scholar & Feminist Conference on Vulnerability was one of those topics. Listening to the panelists articulate my thoughts about the injustices facing communities of color was refreshing. What I most loved about this workshop was its emphasis on solutions rather than problems. The panelists talked about empowerment, collaboration, coalitions and making sure people in their communities are “at the forefront of the decision-making process,” in the words of Elizabeth Yeampierre of Uprose, a community-based organization. The panelists spoke about issues including, but not limited to, lack of access, limited resources, air quality, prison and housing.  Skillfully, they informed participants that environmental justice is not just about air quality and health hazards, but is a conglomerate of injustices that are inter-related across several socio-economic injustices. Tanya Fields, Executive Director of the BLK Projek, noted,
Equality is only going to come if you are willing to say that my privilege cannot be had on the back of someone else’s disparity.
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What We’re Reading: Reminders of War, Home Health Workers, What Makes a Family, and Culture as a Toolbox

A quick look at what caught the attention of BCRW Staff last week…

We’re Still at War, Mother Jones Magazine

The Mother Jones‘ “Photo of the Day” offers a daily visual reminder that the United States is effectively still at war – no words necessary.

This article was picked out by Hope, our New Media Manager.

Chart depicting how labor laws around extending minimum wage and overtime projections to domestic workers vary across U.S. states

Home health workers sweat Obama rule on pay, by Tony Pugh

For almost forty years, professional home health care workers have been excluded from overtime and minimum wage requirements. A proposed change to this loophole could benefit nearly 1.8 million workers in the nation’s fastest-growing occupation, but activists have become concerned that the slow process will spell doom for reform.

This article was picked out by Janet, our Director.

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You Are Human, So Am I: The Right To Work Free of Harassment and Abuse

Sexual harassment in the workplace remains a problem for many U.S. women, but some are particularly vulnerable to employer exploitation. Last month, DiMare Ruskin, one of Florida's largest tomato growers, settled a suit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stemming from the complaints of several women who experienced repeated sexual harassment in the fields. As the Coalition for Immokalee Workers states, "suffice it to say that, even by the dismally low standards of the fields, the picture of a hostile workplace painted by the women was exceptional for its harshness and depravity." As the New Feminist Solutions report "Valuing Domestic Work" notes, both domestic workers and farm workers have long been discriminated against under U.S. labor laws:
When New Deal labor legislation was enacted in the 1930s, Southern Congressman, concerned about maintaining control over the African American labor force, insisted on the exclusion of domestic and agricultural workers from Social Security, minimum wage, and collective bargaining laws. Consequently, domestic [and agricultural] workers were denied basic labor protections and avenues for protest guaranteed to nearly all others in the American workforce [...] This lack of legal protection has resulted in a particularly vulnerable workforce that is left at the mercy of its employers.
This vulnerability continues to have a massive impact on labor conditions. In May, respected non-profit Human Rights Watch released a report detailing the pervasive harassment faced by farm workers, particularly women who are undocumented immigrants. And domestic workers around the world face similar concerns, says Liesl Gerntholtz, the Director of the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch: "Because they are such a vulnerable class of employees, employers were able to get away with appalling behavior. " Thankfully, advocates have begun to win broader protections for farm workers and domestic workers, with programs such as the Fair Food Program and the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights. Still, many challenges remain in ensuring that all people are guaranteed a safe workplace. Related:

What We’re Reading: On Girl Doctors, Genealogy, and Genius

A quick look at the articles that caught the attention of BCRW Staff this week…

Disney Finds a Cure for the Common Stereotype With ‘Doc McStuffins’ by Brooks Barnes

Brooks Barnes reports for The New York Times on the newest Disney TV star, a six-year-old African American girl and aspiring doctor who opens a clinic for her stuffed animals. Slotted for a second season, the show is an unconventional but calculated move for Disney that seems to be paying off:

It’s considered an on-screen risk to make your main character a member of a minority, even in this post-“Dora the Explorer” age… But “Doc McStuffins” seems to have struck a cultural nerve, generating loud applause on parent blogs, Facebook and even in academia for its positive vocational message for African-American girls.

In a TV landscape usually inhospitable for girls and African America youth, Doc McStuffins represents a trend toward more diversified leading characters – role models that supporters claim can provide young viewers “an alternative to LeBron and Beyonce” and a way to combat the fact that black women make up less than 2% of doctors nation wide. Is TV programing like Doc McStuffins and productions like Brave (Pixar’s first female-starring film in 17 years) helping to create a new generation of feminists? Is it enough?

This article was picked out by Lulu, our Summer Research Assistant.

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Supporting the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival

Last week, Kolkata, India, was home to one of the largest gatherings of sex workers from around the world. The alternative International AIDS Conference, better known as the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival was held in Kolkata from July 22-27, 2012. This alternative conference was held at the same time as the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in reaction to the fact that the USA does not grant travel visas to sex workers and those with drug addictions. The conference in India was largely organized by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), a Kolkata based organization well established in working with sex workers’ groups. The timing was also aligned with the 20 year anniversary of the Sonagachi Project led by the DMSC, a cooperative that began in 1992 to teach sex workers about HIV, how to use condoms and to stand up for themselves against abuse. Although I was only able to be there for the first day of the conference, it was obvious from all the energy and excitement of the delegates that it is going to be spectacular. Many of the introductory speakers stressed the importance of having this event in India, and in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) in particular. Historically, the city of Calcutta has been one of the largest red light districts in India, and at the forefront of sex workers’ activism. The participants came from Europe, South America, Australia and more. Everyone was excited to finally let the sex workers themselves speak about issues that most affect them. Groups and organizations from all over the world were present. (more…)

The Art Behind the Nuts and Bolts

In May 2012, Barnard alumna Jessica Chornesky and her co-worker Ivo led 10 Barnard students in a BCRW sponsored intensive one week workshop on creating a video for a non-profit. Here, India Choquette, a workshop participant, reflects on the process and her take-aways. Let us know your thoughts on creating video for social change in the comments!

At the beginning of the BCRW’s intensive filmmaking workshop, I quickly realized two things: first, it takes years to learn to make a movie, and second, anyone can make a movie.

Four students operate a video camera, light, and microphone while talking with a seated woman

While these two ideas might seem to oppose each other, they fuse to make up the most important lesson I learned. After the workshop, I have the confidence to pick up a camera and get to work: I know that I can do it on my own. However, I also have a deeper appreciation for the work that goes into shooting and editing a film, and I know that, although I now have a firm foothold in that world, I have years of training and experimentation ahead of me before I become an expert in my own right.

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